I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Anxiety

Ten Books and One Musical

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A List

Recently, one of my oldest childhood friends invited me and others from his Facebook community to share the ten books that have touched them over the course of their lives.  Ah, this is perfect for me!  I was an English major, I read a lot, and I love reflecting on what has affected me (and why) as well as what has affected others (and why).  There was just one problem.  I panicked at the instructions:  Don’t think!  (Really?  Don’t think? Impossible!) List 10 books that have impacted you.  Share your list and tag 10 friends to share theirs.

My reaction went something like this:

I can’t remember anything I’ve read except for Little Women and Nancy Drew.  Why can’t I remember anything I’ve read?  How do they remember what we read in high school?  I have no memory of those books.  My list is not nearly as interesting as their list.  There are only women authors on my list.  Aren’t there any books by men that I remember reading that had an impact on me?  Maybe I should Google lists of “important” books and pick some from there.  Share with others?  So revealing and embarrassing.  To hell with this, I am not participating.  Cue:  stomp off and hide.

It’s kind of like when a new friend or colleague asks you what your favorite movie is and the only thing you can come up with is a completely childish and uncool answer, like The Sound of Music (the original version with Julie Andrews).  I have actually burned answers to some of these generic ice-breaker questions into my brain so that I am no longer caught off guard.  I now answer the movie question with more recent movies that reflect more of who I am now and are more socially sophisticated (Wall-E, The King’s Speech and Gravity…oh and dare I admit it, Star Trek:  Into Darkness).

Why is it that all the books that come to mind are from my childhood?  It makes sense that we choose books, movies, and heroines from our childhood.  This is when a book we read really could and did affect the direction we pursued. 

The more troubling question that I kept pondering was why can’t I remember more?  Every explanation comes back to trauma and anxiety and the role it has played as an undercurrent in my life. 

I read voraciously as a child.  Especially in Summer when I was considered too shy and sensitive to go to camp.  Instead, I stayed home and read.  Not just The Secret of the Old Clock, but every single Nancy Drew mystery.  Not just Little Women, but every single book by Louisa May Alcott.  It was my escape and a way of learning about others.  Girls who took risks and survived adventures were my favorite (and still are).

I remember that at my loneliest, most anxious time in my teens and early 20’s, at the height of my disordered eating, I would eat alone and read while I ate.  One bite per paragraph.  That way the meal would last a long time and I wouldn’t have to face my lonely anxiety nor my gluttonous desire to fill the emptiness with food.  It is impossible to remember what you read if you are focused on what you are eating. 

Another important part of remembering is to document your thoughts, your stories, either by writing them down or saying them aloud, perhaps multiple times.   When anxiety felled me, I hid away.  Not participating in the world, choosing instead to live in my head.  I would say what I thought I should say, but not always what I really thought.  What’s the right answer that will get me the A?  It is impossible to remember what you read if you are focused on pleasing the teacher…or some other dominant authority figure.

I was always embarrassed about revealing what I was reading.  It was not cool.  It was not sophisticated.  Or maybe it was too sophisticated.  (Who reads all of Jane Austen at 16?  That’s just weird.)  It is impossible to remember what you read if you are focused on hiding it and not sharing what you are reading and what you think about it with anyone. 

I see this with my mother.  After multiple operations over the last 25 years to remove a benign but persistent growth on her vocal chords, she has nearly lost her voice.  Indeed, metaphorically, she has lost her voice.  Unable to speak, she no longer remembers her stories, the stories of her life.  The stories in the books she reads to pass the time.  I am convinced that she does not have dementia.  She simply does not use her memory muscles because she does not speak.  She cannot speak her truth.  Andperhaps we don’t listen for it.

Memory is funny, often elusive, and changeable depending on who is remembering, who is telling the story.  The anxious, less confident self may not reveal her memory, her story, her truth.  She may defer to the more confident – or at least the more dominant or authoritative person who does speak.  For me, it has taken my writing and the increasingly less tentative telling of my stories and the expression of my thoughts to reduce my anxiety and make concrete my memories. 

Of course, perhaps the most helpful tool for finding my voice has been to be less focused on me, less judgmental of me, and more open to others.  Who cares if my list is not “right?”  So, even though I had to dig deep, here is a list (not necessarily THE list – that is too intimidating a requirement) but a list of 10 books that have had an impact on my life.

    1. Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne.  My mother read the Pooh books aloud to me many times, inspiring a life-long love of reading and writing and sharing.  I felt very close to her.
    2. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.  This book seems so quaint and dated to me now, but I lost myself in it every time I read it.  Jo March showed me that girls could overcome their constraints.
    3. Nancy Drew mysteries (all of them), by “Carolyn Keene.”  Feisty, brave, smart Nancy was my heroine.
    4. The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.  This introduction to the Holocaust and evil remains unbelievable and compelling.
    5. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child.  Julia Child inspired me that dinner could be more than eating chicken and potatoes in 10 minutes at the counter.
    6. A Chorus Line, book by James Kirkwood, Jr and Nicholas Dante.  Music by Marvin Hamlisch and Lyrics by Edward Kleban.  A musical, not a book, that moved me profoundly and set my course in the dance direction for better or worse for decades.
    7. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.  Transfixing terror.  I couldn’t put it down.  Perhaps the heroine’s name, Of-fred, was part of the fascination.
    8. A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf.  Still an amazing feminist manifesto.
    9. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende.  Passionate and magical.
    10. Meditations from the Mat, by Rolf Gates.  This book changed my life, expanding my appreciation of yoga and setting me firmly on my yoga journey.
    11. Where’d You Go Bernadette?, by Maria Semple.  The first book of grown-up fiction I’ve read in years with a wonderful plot, heroine, and funny literary devices for telling the story.  It made me wonder where I went.   And to be happy that I’ve found myself.  And interested in fiction again after decades of reading nonfiction and business-oriented books.

What am I reading now?  I just finished Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins, the third and final installment of The Hunger Games Trilogy.  My daughter turned me on to the series and I found it to be a page-turning suspenseful dystopian story with a strong heroine.  My analytical engineer of a husband gave me a book on Reiki for Christmas.  Hmmm, is this a sign?  This energy stuff has always seemed like a bit of crazy hokum to me, but I am open to exploring it right now.  And impressed with his thoughtful gift-giving.  The other book that is on my nightstand is Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala – the searing memoir by a woman who lost everyone she loved in the 2004 Tsunami.  Why I would want to read such a painful book?  I am drawn to stories of survival, women’s survival.  These stories remind me of what we are capable of, what matters most.  And, after all, I am a survivor.  We all are.

August

August photo at the beach

Anticipation

The shift happened.  Did you notice?

After the heat wave where it took energy just to go out and pick up the newspaper.

(Yes, I proudly read and relish my physical copy of the newspaper.  Saving longer articles to read later.  Bringing recipes home, so sure I will be inspired to try something new over the weekend.   Lugging entire sections around in my chaotic bag for days to share with anyone who is in synch with my sensibility:  You have to read this – it’s funny, fascinating, horrifying!  My energetic optimism for potential reading eventually ends up in recycling.  Besides, I can always find it online.)

After the days and days of drenching rain where I actually took the subway across town (something I never do, preferring to walk), multiple times, because I was fed up with soaking my sandaled feet in the puddles and fighting with the other umbrellas.

After the June first-burst of roses faded and the black-eyed susans took over, the shift happened.

The sound changed.  Did you notice?  Last week.  The cicadas are brurzing.  (One of my father’s invented words.)  The tree frogs are singing.  I heard geese honking the other day.  Flying south already?  Too soon!  I am not ready for September!  It can’t be!

You see, I love August and can’t stand the thought of it ending.  It hasn’t begun yet, but I am already preparing myself for August to be over.  For the Summer to be over.  Kind of like how I both love and dread Sundays.  Or life.  Instead of living it and loving it, I am anticipating my sadness at being at the end of it.

I love August.  The anxious transition to Summer is behind us.  The kids are settled into their Summer.  There is no homework.  Unless you count Summer Reading.

(Who thought Atlas Shrugged was a good choice for Summer Reading anyway?  I am encouraging my daughter to read the Cliffs Notes and don’t care if anyone accuses me of being a bad mother and a defiant English Lit major who should be ostracized for disrespecting the canon!)

The days are still blissfully long.  Minimal clothes.  No shoes.  (Well, I go barefoot year-round.  Thank you Yoga.)  Work slows, a touch.  And we have our vacation week on the horizon.  Resting, reading, writing, walking, cooking, connecting with my family and friends at the beach, free from routine.  I can’t wait.

Then it is over.  September.  The relentless pace will be back.  School, activities, deadlines, pressure to perform.  The kids are in the next grade.  I am another year older.

I get depressed in August.

Last year, I forbade myself to get depressed.  As if by sheer force of will, I could control my mood.  Deny my mood.  Instead, I launched full tilt into two enormously demanding, challenging, and creative projects.  I began teaching yoga consistently once a week.  I started my blog, writing consistently once a week.  (More or less.)  Determined to not quit, I persevered even when my confidence waned and my enthusiasm was shaky.  I find myself looking back on those early yoga classes, those early blog posts, with a blushing mixture of pride and embarrassment at their amateur quality.  Because, you know, I am so sophisticated now.  Beware the sophomore year.  Beware the pressure to perform at a higher level.  Hang on to beginner mind.  I teach because I love sharing yoga and how it makes me and my students feel happy.  I write because it is my way of understanding and revealing who I am in a way I have never had the guts to do before.  It is not about how many students I have, how many followers I have.  Process not results.

This year.  What?  What shall I do with this seasonal pause?  The sabbatical before September.  How can I stay in the present moment and enjoy every minute of this long wonderful month?  I do think one can make choices about ones’ mood, or at least how one reacts.  I can choose to be sad about Summer ending or I can choose to be grateful that my favorite month is here.  I choose to be grateful.  To live and love my life.  Every moment of it.  Every person in it.

It is tempting to set myself an assignment.  To get through August with GOALS.  I will begin to meditate!  That’s it!  I will meditate EVERY DAY in August.  I will post something I am grateful about EVERY DAY in August.  I will connect with one friend EVERY DAY in August.  I will look at the moon EVERY NIGHT in August.

All worthy ideas, but the pressure to perform them makes me feel depressed.  And anxious.  Well, to be honest, the ideas kind of jazz me up to a manic achievement-oriented state.  YES!  That’s how I am going to handle August!  I am going to do ALL of those things!  The depression comes later.  Either when I’ve done all those things and still feel sad or I haven’t done all those things and berate myself for failing.  And still feel sad.

To hell with good intentions and impossible-to-achieve resolutions.  Perhaps I should take a cue from the seasonal pause of nature.  And let myself pause.  Pause and breathe.

And maybe, just maybe, do something completely out of character, like watch Sharknado, with laughter instead of my customary derisive judgment.  Laughter with my family.

August with my family.  I can’t wait for it to begin.

“Enjoy the Food!”

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Secret Eating

When I got engaged to my husband, 20 years ago, perhaps my biggest worry was how I was going to keep my eating weirdness a secret.  I recall that I also had more typical concerns, like:  are we still going to be in love 20 years later?  (Yes, but it takes work to navigate the differences as we have matured into our older, more distinct selves.)  Funny, the eating concern is vivid and fresh, like it was yesterday.

Food was and is a big part of our relationship.  In the beginning, dates and weekends together revolved around either eating out at a new restaurant or eating in by picking a recipe and planning a meal to cook together.  We were both very active and thoroughly enjoyed eating a lot to offset all the physical activity.  Cocooned in our relationship, we developed a repertoire of delicious meals together.  Before our engagement, we spent the weekdays apart, where I happily could revert to eating alone my secret meals.

I would eat alone, secretly, so I could indulge my desire for gorging.  I learned to gorge on food that has few calories so I could eat a lot of it without gaining weight.  A classic strategy for a ballerina.  Some of my favorite foods for gorging, because they can be consumed in large quantities with little adornment except for some olive oil & vinegar or plain yogurt, include:  Shredded Wheat, Oatmeal, Quinoa, Lentils, Baked Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Escarole, Broccoli Rabe, and FRUIT.  Staggering quantities of fruit.  So sweet and refreshing, I still eat a lot of fruit every day.  Now I am better able to manage portion sizes and enjoy what I eat mindfully.  Back then, I would make the meal last by reading while I ate and not letting myself take another bite until I finished a paragraph.  There is so much food I did not savor because I was reading and so many books I did not retain because I was eating.  Both the eating and the reading were stalling devices – I was avoiding dealing with whatever anxiety I did not want to face at the time.  Avoiding human contact and conflict, avoiding taking risks to put myself out there in the world to claim who I really was instead of who I thought I should be.  Or who I thought they wanted me to be.  Anyone other than me.

In those happy years of early marriage and those busy years of raising young children, I did not have time to be so anxious and did not miss being lonely.  My husband accepted and ignored or laughed at my food oddities.  I adapted my rules, strategies, and preferences to our life together, eking out some secret eating time when he had his tennis nights.  But when the weight gain of mid-life settled in and the anxieties of mid-life settled in, I found myself pulling out my bag of tricks.  But this time, my kids were watching.  Desperate to model healthy food choices to my son who would prefer to eat macaroni and cheese exclusively; desperate to model “normal” eating behavior to my daughter who regularly lounges in front of the tv, eating alone;  I became obsessive with healthy food choices and regular meals with minimal snacking.  I lost my 20 pounds but am not convinced there isn’t collateral damage.  I can no longer control when and what my children eat.  Perhaps I never did.

When I found out I was pregnant with a girl, 18 years ago, perhaps my biggest worry was how to raise a girl without an eating disorder.  I vowed to raise a daughter with a happy sense of her self and her body and a healthy approach to eating that included enjoyment of food.  I recall that I also had more typical concerns, like:  will she be healthy?  Will she be happy?  Will I be a good mother?   (She is healthy.  I hope she is happy.  And, good or bad, I certainly am the mother I was meant to be.)  Funny, the eating disorder concern is vivid and fresh, like it was yesterday.

As girls, it makes complete sense to me why we eat alone.  There is too much pressure to eat socially.  Like Scarlett O’Hara, we have to eat a private meal before (or after) the public meal.  We are so laced into our form-fitting party attire and so expected to eat properly, pretending we don’t need or enjoy the sensual pleasure of eating to satiety.

There is too much pressure to eat what everyone else is eating.  Either too much or too little.  What if it doesn’t taste good?  What if it does taste good, so good I can’t stop eating it?  No, better to sit quietly with a vat of fruit, filling up on something healthy and tasty that won’t make me fat.

There is too much pressure to make food choices that are what “normal” people would choose to eat.  The homemade pasta with short ribs sounds delicious, but I am afraid of the calories and am cutting back on meat.  I’d really rather have the vegan farro with grilled vegetables.  Does that make me weird, someone to look askance at?

When the meal arrives, it is unseemly to devour the entire plate load of food.  “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly eat another bite” is what the good girls say, covering their plate with a napkin or mushing the food so that it is no longer appetizing or (my personal tactic) simply dividing it in half mentally and using their tremendous self-discipline to stop.  I don’t believe the thin celebrities who brag that they eat burgers and fries without guilt.  They go to the gym to work it off – or worse if they are bulimic.  They pay a price for their bodies.

Our children watch us, learn from us, imitate us, reject us.  When all is said and done, they take parts of us even as they separate and evolve into their own selves.  I am regularly terrified that some characteristic of me that I can’t stand lives on in my children.  Cuticle picking, secret eating, and all sorts of obsessive-compulsive and perfectionistic anxiety.  But they are not me.  They did not have my parents, my life.  They are loved, I think they know they are loved, and they have different life experiences and coping skills to grow into emotionally strong and honest adults.  Still, I can’t help but have a frisson of terror when I see myself mirrored whenever they exhibit anxious behavior traits.

When my brother-in-law urged me to “enjoy the food!” on a recent trip to New Orleans, I laughed.  He had no idea what a complicated feat that would be for me.  (Or did he?)  Balancing my fear of getting fat with my desire to eat, it used to be easy to lose track of what really tastes good and what really satisfies my body.  Now, though, with years of eating behind me and an increasing yogic sense of awareness of my body, I am more able to choose what I really want to eat and to enjoy it.  Nothing beats a delicious bowl of fruit.  Now, though, I prefer to share it.

Hide-and-Seek

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I am at my childhood home, playing Hide-and-Seek with a little girl.  Myself as a child?  The little girl and I go to hide while another little girl (also young sally?) counts to 60.  Or is it 50…my age?  Yes, there are two little girls.  They are both me as a child.  One is hiding and one is seeking.  Hiding girl waves to me and urges me to hide with her.  She slips seamlessly into some bushes.  Small, young, lithe, flexible – poof!  Young sally is gone.  I study the bushes.  There is no place for me in there.  I cannot hide.  I don’t want to disappoint this sweet and innocent girl so eager to play with me, so eager for a friend.  I crouch into a nook beside the house and behind the bush where hiding girl is obscured.  I know I will be found – ending the game…ruining the game.  Seeking girl’s counting is coming to an end.  “48! 49! 50!  Ready or not!  Here I come!”  I hold my breath.  Here she comes.  Humming around the corner of the house, she spies me immediately.  Yelping, “I see you!”  Exposed.  Found out.  Game over.

I am “it” – my turn to be the seeker.  I walk to the side of the house, unsure of the spot where I should count or to what number I should count.  100?  I find a spot (not sure it is the right spot), cover my eyes, and begin counting out loud.  “1!  2!  3!”  I hear everyone sneaking behind me to find their hiding place.  I raise my voice.  “98!  99!  100!  Ready or not!  Here I come!”

The sneaking footsteps were heading down the hill to the backyard.  I begin my search in that direction.

I walk toward the backyard where the swing set used to be, like the swing set my children have outgrown and that we are now passing on to a younger family.  The childhood swing set was where I bit Mary-Ellen because I was so angry and didn’t know how to deal with my frustration.  I don’t remember what I was angry about but I felt so provoked that all I could do was lash out with my teeth.  My father was furious with me.  I remember no effort on his part to discover why I was angry; to support my side of the argument; or to teach me a more constructive way to be angry.  In shame, embarrassment, and with complete humiliation, I had to face her scary and formidable father and go to her to apologize.  My father made me do it after dinner.  You can’t disrupt the dinner routine.  It was the end of my friendship with Mary-Ellen, because I didn’t know how you could be angry and still love someone.

Heading to the backyard in my dream, the swing set is gone.  In its place are cats.  Not small cats.  Big cats.  Cougars.  Pumas.  Panthers.  Sexy older women?  Cougars everywhere.  Baby Cougars.  Adult Cougars.  Slinking, Stalking, Hunting.  Frightened for my life, I become desperate to find my husband.  Where was he hiding?  I had to find him and save him.  He wasn’t in the backyard.  I run to the front yard.  More cougars.  A voice was speaking to me in my head.  “They may seem to not notice you, but they are aware of you and very dangerous to you.  BEWARE!”  I could not find my husband.  The little girls were gone also.  Just me, grown up Sally, exposed.  Heart beating with fear at the danger.

What Did You Learn From Your Father?

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I Wonder

I hope that my children will like me and my husband, their father, and that they will want to spend time with us when they are grown and we are old.

For me, I choose to spend as little time as possible with my father.  The only way I could become my grown-up self was to leave home.  Whatever love I felt for him could not coexist with the suppressed rage I felt at the life-long expectation that I be obedient.  “Children should be seen and not heard,” was his not-so-joking mantra.  I rarely visit.  I feel guilty that I don’t visit; that I don’t want to visit.  My father’s grip on me is subtle but pervasive and insistent.  I silently stay away, unable to fight his hold, unless I stay away.

For Father’s Day, as we honor our fathers and fatherhood, I am sensitive to the poignant images of loving fathers.  I wonder how many of us long for a relationship with our father that we didn’t have?  I wonder if I can allow my anger and disappointment to recede for the day so that I can acknowledge what my father has given me?  I wonder what his father did to him?

Like me, my father was an only child.  He describes his early childhood as being unsettled.  While his father opted to continue his education because he couldn’t find work, my father and his mother lived with her parents.  He was very close to his mother and describes her as adventurous and very smart and well-educated.  His father was absent, preoccupied, and didn’t really understand my father.  Like me, my father was a sensitive and introspective child.  He discovered the violin around the age of 12 or so and poured all his energy into learning to play.  When his father invited him to spend the summer in New York with him while he had a short-term job there, my father refused.  He wanted to stay home and practice the violin all summer.  What young teen refuses their father and what father accepts such a refusal?  Didn’t the family function as a family or was it a collection of individuals?  At a young age, my father prioritized his own pursuits over family and friends.

Music formed the backdrop of my childhood.  As a young child, I fell asleep to the sound of my father practicing his violin.  On Saturday nights, he played string quartets with a loyal foursome who formed my father’s primary social circle.  My mother and I would watch tv (The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Carol Burnett Show).  When they were done playing, they would have coffee and dessert.  When I was older, I was allowed to join.

I started playing piano when I was about 5.  Endless years of practicing, lessons, and recitals.  It’s amazing I wasn’t a better piano player.  I would complain about practicing, but my father insisted.  When I looked to him for approval after working on a piece, he would say in his undemonstrative way, “Hmmm, it was good,” which seemed the ultimate put-down.  Of course, there was the recital where I forgot the notes, so my teacher brought me the music and I had to start over.  Beyond mortifying.  I found out much later that the reason my father did not become a professional violinist was that he had severe stage-fright.

Around 7, he introduced the violin to me.  What a mistake.  Screechy and my father’s instrument.  I quit.  Then there was the year when I played the flute, around 9.  When my father revealed that violinists don’t like flautists because they compete for the same melodic line, I quit.  Later, around 11, he persuaded me to try the cello.  He explained that I didn’t have to be as much of a virtuoso to get an opportunity to play.  Somewhat of a backhanded rationale, but I complied, as usual.  More practicing, more lessons, more recitals and competitions.  It’s amazing I wasn’t a better cellist.  My mother says I was a very good cello player, that I got a deep and robust sound out of the cello that spoke to her.  My father hangs on to my cello asking periodically if I wouldn’t like to take it back to my grown up home.  Maybe next time.

When my husband and son took up the guitar two years ago, I contemplated joining them, gently strumming the guitar, picking at the notes and paging through the instruction book.  I enjoyed their lessons and usually beat everyone at “Name That Tune.”  No.  I didn’t want to practice an instrument any more.

The only time I saw my father cry (when I was a child) was when he was watching a violinist perform.  “Daddy, why are you crying?”  I exclaimed in confusion and alarm.  I don’t remember that he answered.  My mother explained that he was moved by how beautiful the music was.

I too am moved by music.  (Thank you Dad.)  The sound of a violin or a string quartet brings back the entire aura of my childhood.  But the music that moves me is music that I associate with dance, for that was my world, and not his.  Or pop music from the 70’s.  Other teens rebel by breaking rules and having fights that allow them to bond with their peers.  I rebelled by replacing music lessons with ballet lessons and by replacing classical music with Fleetwood Mac and Aerosmith.  It was the closest I could get to breaking the rules of our family, without leaving home, until I did leave home.

I wonder if his father had been able to be more present, more emotional, more tuned in to him if my father would have been less self-absorbed and more able to allow for differences and dischord to coexist with love within the family.  I wonder if something darker happened to my father to cause him to retreat into his own world, unable to express or share love in a mature way.  How much of my tendency to retreat, to go to a place of depression and anxiety is a habit learned from him and how much is cellular, genetic?  How much of the anxiety gene did I pass on to my children?  They say trauma, and how one reacts to stress, is passed on through the genes.

Now I see an aging man who is frightened of the end of life.  Exhausted at the amount of energy required to take care of his and my mother’s survival.  Unapologetic.  Needing me most just as I am most determined to assert my grown up self and establish severely distinct boundaries.  I wonder if I can allow my anger and disappointment to recede so that I can acknowledge what my father has given me?  I wonder if anger and love can coexist?  He did not show me how they could, being perhaps more conflict-avoidant than me, but it seems important to reconcile these emotions honestly so that I can model a better way of being for my children and theirs.  After all, they will need to leave home and become their grown up selves.  I hope they will want to visit.

Yogini Guru

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Help!  Get Me Out of This Tight Spot!

I am angry.  At my yoga teacher, Yogini Guru.  Which is a little like being angry at your therapist, or your most honest and compassionate best friend, or even a generous stranger doing you a favor, when they hold you accountable and don’t cater to your neediness.  Because they love you and want you to be your true self.

I have decided that identifying that I feel anger is a positive sign of personal growth.  Instead of numbing low-grade depression or frenetic ruminating anxiety, I now feel anger!  At everyone!  Constantly!  Is there a diagnosis of Generalized Anger Disorder in the new DSM-5 just released?  Because I am angry at the ubiquity of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and ready to free myself of that label – the one that has been with me for 30+ years – ready to free myself of being a good girl seeking the approval of others.

Yogini Guru doesn’t know I am angry.  I haven’t told her.  She probably would not be surprised.  She knows me pretty well.  I imagine her laughing knowingly or hugging me with acceptance and compassion or simply wondering why I wouldn’t just talk to her directly.  My reasons are based on old habits and are constructs in my mind.  I have twisted what she has said and fabricated what she is thinking in my mind and haven’t given her the opportunity to be her self.  For what it’s worth, Yogini Guru is petite, funny, self-deprecating, inclusive, loving, supportive and not at all austere.  I want her to tell me I’m good, a good yoga teacher, but she knows I need to feel my worth without her validation.

After graduating from the 200-hour yoga teacher training program that she directs – essentially a masters degree without the bells and whistles of academia – and apprenticing with a more experienced teacher, I auditioned to teach for Yogini Guru.  I was nervous, serious and stiff.  She stopped me after just a few minutes and we discussed what I needed to work on.  Chagrined (and angry), I wondered if I would ever be a teacher worthy of teaching at her studio.  This is the type of obstacle – feedback that suggests I am less than perfect – where I feel overwhelmed and give up.  Rejected! Fuck You!  I quit!  But I love yoga.  I love Yogini Guru.  I knew this was another crucial crossroads where I have given up in the past.  I had to fight through it.  It was time to move past depending on others’ evaluation of me to feel good about my self.  It was time to feel good about my self.

What I imagined I heard from Yogini Guru:  You are a terrible teacher.  Worse than I realized.  You are a failure.

What she actually said:  I like your theme.  Your assists are good.  Your students trust you.  Eliminate the repetitive language so that you are more succinct.  Keep practicing.  You’re not ready yet.  Have fun and be joyful.

Another year later.  (Personal growth takes a long time.)  I am teaching once a week at a near-by gym refining my teaching skills and my teaching style and nurturing my growing group of beloved students.  I have signed on to take a 30-hour continuing education module of teacher training.  With Yogini Guru of course.  One of the requirements is that I video myself teaching a class and critique it.  Then she critiques it.  Good God.  This is torture.  What if I am still not good enough?  I schedule time in her studio to video myself, inviting some of my regulars to be my students for this videoed class.  I succumb to my anxiety and tense up.  The class is well-designed, but flat.  I am too mechanical.

I reach out to Yogini Guru:  What is the goal of this video?  Can we work with my stiff anxiety or should I keep trying?

I wanted reassurance:  Oh Sally.  I can’t wait to see your video!  I am sure it will be fine.  Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.  We’ll talk about it.

Instead, she is holding me accountable for the decision and not catering to my neediness.  She said it was my decision.  After spending three days alternately fuming, panicking, and on the precipice of giving up – which would sabotage my potential for success – I videoed a second class – my regular class at the gym.  It’s not perfect and it is a less well-designed class than the first video, but I was my self.  And that is all I can be.  My anger (at least at Yogini Guru) is resolved.  After all, she has done nothing except be true to her self and compassionate to me.  She deserves the same from me.  Besides, if and when I teach at her studio, there will always be another challenge, another obstacle, another achievement, another rejection.  I need to do this for my self.  Not for her or anyone else.  Which changes my perspective on the process.  If I am not attached to her evaluation of me as a teacher, what is my goal for teaching?  Can I enjoy teaching for the sake of sharing my yoga with others and feel confident, in my grounded self, that yes indeed I am a good teacher?

Thanks on the road to personal growth goes not only to the teachers, therapists and coaches, family, friends and enemies (they always have lessons), but also to the random strangers who help you along the way.  The other day, as I was leaving an early morning session with my therapist – who was encouraging me to voice my anger in a safe and constructive way – I discovered that my car was blocked in.

I had the new car and had carefully parked it in a corner spot where it had less of a chance to get a ding (and less of a chance to incur the anger and dismay of my husband who adores this car).  I fumed and panicked.  My instinct was to call my husband.  Help!  Get me out of this tight spot!  My instinct was to run in and implore my therapist to find the offending parker.  Help!  Get me out of this tight spot!

I took a breath.  I spied a woman in the car parked next to mine and asked her for help.  She willingly jumped out of her car to direct me out of the spot (such a good woman).  I maneuvered carefully back and forth.  She assured me that I could do it.  I fumed, panicked and was on the precipice of giving up.  She went into the building to fight my battle for me (such a good woman) – to find the offending parker.  No luck.  Back to the maneuvering, she assured me that I could do it.  I fumed, panicked and was on the precipice of giving up.  Then it was my turn: I went into the building to find the offending parker.  No luck.  When I reemerged, she had left.  My alter ego was gone.  I fumed, panicked and was on the precipice of giving up.

On the verge of a panic attack (does this nascent feeling of anger lead to increased anxiety?), I took a breath.  I decided to trust her confidence that I could do it.  I decided to trust my self.  I got in the car.  Maneuvered back and forth.  Got out of the car to see how much room I had.  6 inches.  I got in the car, maneuvered back and forth, got out of the car to see how much room I had.  5 inches.  I did this a seemingly endless number of times, not quite sure I was going to succeed – kind of like personal growth.  And then I was free.  I inched past the obnoxious, self-absorbed car who had parked in the non-spot blocking me.  The relief flooded over me.

Who was that woman who helped me?  I didn’t get her name.  Generous woman in a black dress – I thank you.

Image is Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

But What About the Laundry?

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My Deepest Fear

Sunday morning, my daughter woke up crying.  She had a class trip to Six Flags and was overwhelmed with homework.  Frightened of her anxiety born of perfectionism, too much like mine, I galvanized her to go on the trip.  “When you’re 50, you will wish you had spent more time having fun and less time on work.”  A tearful mess, (her, not me) I deposited her at the school and went home and worried.  My husband suggested that I surprise our son by taking him to Six Flags.  That way, I could check on our daughter and please my son at the same time.  (Conveniently, he had a business trip that day and could not join us on this “great adventure.”)

I don’t like amusement parks.  I was terrified of the local Halloween Haunted House as a child.  Dark with costumed figures jumping out and bowls of spaghetti guts and peeled grape eyeballs to feel, it was not a frisson of fun for me.  While the other kids were laughing, I was quaking and looking for the exit.  My fear was compounded with embarrassment at not fitting in with the other kids.  What was the matter with me?  When it came to rides, I could barely stand the Merry-Go-Round.  The Ferris Wheel was too high.  The Round-Up was too fast.  I never went on those flying swings.  And forget about roller coasters.  As amusement parks became theme parks and got better at supplying a well-rounded overall experience instead of just rides (think Disney, Busch Gardens), I grudgingly accepted them and even have been known to have a good time, usually in the company of more adventurous and extraverted souls.  The log flume ride was fun!  But roller coasters – I hated them.  The safety belt strapping you in so that you don’t die when you go upside down.  The adrenalin as you crank up to the first swoop.  The force of the swoop on your neck.  The wondering when the ride is going to be over.  The nausea.  The screaming.  And the newer ones in the dark?  I hate them.  I hate amusement parks.

I looked at my husband like he was crazy.  “But what about the laundry?” I exclaimed, grasping at a responsible-sounding excuse.  I wanted to go to yoga.  I wanted to plant spring flowers.  Maybe go for a bike ride.  And, of course, I had the weekly laundry to do.  I did not want to go to Six Flags.  But I was worried about my daughter.  And I did want to make my son happy.  Rarely spontaneous, I am quite sure that when I am 90, I will wish I had spent more time having fun and less time on laundry.  I woke my son and told him we were going to Six Flags.  The surprise, the disbelief, the thrill on his face gave me joy.  Off we went.

When we arrived, I remembered why I hate amusement parks.  The long lines.  The loud music.  The rickety rides.  The junk food.  (I brought my own peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, of course.  I cannot eat that food.  Thank god the security guard didn’t make me throw it away when he inspected my purse.  Speaking of purses, do not bring a purse to an amusement park.  You cannot go upside down on a roller coaster with a purse.)  Six Flags pretty much consists of roller coasters, ranging from scary to terrifying.  It doesn’t help that I wonder about their maintenance and safety records and am skeptical of the nonchalant teens operating them.  For better or worse, the first ride we hit was the most terrifying.  (SUPERMAN:  Ultimate Flight)  I used my yoga:  Breathe.  Remember it doesn’t last long.  I willed the adrenalin to subside.  We swooped and screamed and I did not lose my purse.  I acknowledged, firmly and with no embarrassment nor apology this time around:  I hate roller coasters.  I hate amusement parks.  I wished that I could be a more enthusiastic and spontaneous and fun-loving mother for my son, but I couldn’t do it.  We spent the day sauntering the park, looking for rides that were not too terrifying.  He solicitously didn’t want to make me go on any rides that were too scary.  We ran into my daughter once.  She was having a good time with her friends and didn’t want to be stalked by her mother and little brother.  We let her be.  Exhausted, and about $200 in the hole, we drove home.  My daughter returned on the bus to her mounds of homework.  Life returned to its normal relentless pace of too much to do and too little time for joy and connection.

A 13-year-old boy killed himself this week.  I don’t know him.  It doesn’t matter.  I am devastated.  So sad for his mother.  I am the mother of a 13-year-old boy who can’t imagine life without him.  Even when, (especially when), we have days where I fall short of being the fun-loving mother I aspire to be and imagine he wants.  Tragedies like this one remind me that every day is precious, even when they’re not perfect.  Perhaps being the careful-loving mom that I am who acknowledges who she is and who she is not may be the best mom I can be to him.

Life is hard.  We all suffer.  Some more than others.  At 50, I have more self-knowledge and self-acceptance than I had as a teen.  I have become resilient, surviving the troughs because I have the experience of surviving previous troughs.  Surviving because I have people I love and who love me.  Surviving for those precious and imperfect moments of joy and connection.  Surviving because I am grateful for all the good in my life.  My deepest, most unfathomable fear is to lose a child.  I pray that my children never experience so much pain that they feel there is no way out.  I pray that my children speak their anger and ask for help.  I pray that my children do less laundry and have more fun.

Surya Namaskar Ski

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A Fervent Salute to the Sun

It was a cold and windy week at Stowe Mountain.  My smug celebration of triumph over my anxiety demons vanished with the lack of sun, the bitter cold, and the icy trails.  The smart decision, for me, would have been to accept that conditions were not good, for me, and to settle down with my book: Cyndi Lee’s May I Be Happy.  But it was too early in the vacation week to “give in” to a day off.  And so I fought the conditions, determined to have a magical week.  Our skiing abilities have converged at that happy and temporary moment where we all can ski together.  I wanted to enjoy this week together.  And so I did.

I ski because my husband skis.

We met on a group cross-country long weekend, 20 years ago this February.  I tease him that it was false advertising, because he is a downhill skier not a cross-country skier.  I had my one and only certifiable full-blown classic panic attack when attempting downhill skiing earlier with a former boyfriend.  Of course, I had much to be anxious about as we navigated the fork in the road in our relationship about whether or not to marry.  After sweating, hyperventilating, and resisting the urge to throw up, I decided that downhill skiing was not for me – and I decided not to marry that boyfriend.

I came to more adventurous sports, like cycling and hiking in my 20’s.  I was not brought up with much exposure to athletics and team sports.  I was one of the last girls picked for the softball team.  I discovered physical activity through ballet and loved having a strong and active body.  But skiing was forbidden to ballet dancers, deemed to be too risky.  These adventurous activities were so foreign to how I was raised, that I really got a charge out of the challenge of pushing myself physically.  Skiing, however, added a whole new layer of anxiety and discomfort.

I fell head over heels in love with my husband at first sight.  In my attempt to impress him, I agreed to go downhill skiing instead of cross-country skiing that weekend and fell and hurt my knee.  When we returned from the weekend, he checked on how I was doing post-ski-injury and we began dating.  We had a joyful and passionate courtship and married a year later.

Part of a loving relationship is sharing interests with the other person and doing things that make the other person happy.  I had spent years learning what I was interested in and was very insecure and suspicious about giving up my Self to take on another person’s interests.  This time it felt different.  Somehow it was okay to do things because he wanted to do them.  I learned to ski.

Learning to ski is an enormous challenge, especially as an adult.  It is a scary and uncomfortable activity that requires travelling, carrying equipment, and enduring a variety of less-than-ideal conditions.  For the first few years of our life together, it was difficult to actually ski together because our levels of ability were so different.  I took a lot of classes with other adults at my level.  I was very good in these classes, eager to please the teacher and work towards progressing to the next level.  Then I would ski with my husband and all my eager enthusiasm would dissipate.  I became passive aggressive, going extra slow on trails that should have been easy but I wanted to make sure he knew they were HARD for me.  I would stand at the top of a steep section and my heart would race and my stomach would lurch and I would exclaim that I couldn’t do it!  Somehow, for the most part, he patiently coached me or ignored my save-me-I’m-a-victim theatrics and we built a skiing life together.  It helped that there would be magical days when I wasn’t too cold and nothing hurt and I felt confident and skiing was actually exhilarating. I never gave up on skiing – feeling compelled to prove I could do it; feeling compelled to make him proud of me; and feeling compelled to achieve it because it was such a crazy different achievement from all the intellectual pursuits I had been directed towards by my parents.

We introduced our children to skiing at as young an age as possible and have been skiing as a family for 10 years.  My skiing, our skiing, has changed over the years.  In the early years, it was a lot of work to manage their equipment and our equipment and get them to ski school on time.  My daughter, an obedient first-born girl, unquestioningly and energetically went off to ski school every year and has become a beautiful and technically proficient expert skier.  My son, never one to separate easily, resisted spending the day away from us in ski school.  We insisted and he has also become an excellent skier, though I see elements of my anxiety and passive-aggressiveness in him.  I also see how he enjoys the thrill and the challenge when he skis in the woods and the terrain park.  My husband has become a more patient skier, willing to take breaks and ski less advanced terrain.  And I have lost my anxiety – most of the time.  It still lurches up when I am cold or the wind is blowing and I can’t see well.  But when the sun is shining, I love skiing.  I never thought I would say that or feel that.  It took 20 years – and I really only feel the joy when the sun is shining.

I use all my yoga on our ski trips.  I remind myself that nothing is permanent and that the bitter cold chairlift ride will not last.  I remind myself that my anxiety is a bad habit that I can change, have changed.  I remind myself to breathe and to change the tape in my head to something more positive.  I remind myself that I have nothing to prove and that my reason to ski is to have fun with my family.  I remind myself to be grateful for the happy moments, patient with the uncomfortable moments and compassionate with the different moods that swirl in close quarters.

I have such sympathy for the children and the parents snapping at each other as they struggle off to ski school, such sympathy for the woman at the top of a steep section yelling at her partner that she can’t do it or frozen with panic, such sympathy for the woman who says I am going to go to the spa.

With only one or two exceptions, we’ve spent every annual family ski week at Stowe.  Just as our family skiing experience has evolved over the last 10 years, so has Stowe.  Stowe has always had an active town with many shops and restaurants and plenty to do for non-skiers year round.  Like all ski towns, though, it welcomed a rugged attitude:  “I’m just here for the skiing!  I’ll ski anytime, anywhere, with any conditions!”  Toughness was embraced.  It took several years but the new resort at Spruce Mountain, the Stowe Mountain Lodge, has changed the tenor of the town and the skiing experience.  I wonder what locals think?  The new resort is beautiful, very expensive, and adds a level of luxury and comfort that didn’t use to be at Stowe.  The older resorts seem faded, as if they can’t grasp how to compete or to respond to the new type of person visiting Stowe. Most of our vacations have been spent at the Golden Eagle Resort, a mid-priced resort with not a lot of luxury.  It is familiar, but very dated and awkwardly large and spread out.  Tired aura.  At The Firefox Inn for a basic Italian dinner, we were shocked at the drab décor and the ungracious service.  Bad aura.  Frida’s Taqueria is crowded and doing a good business.  The food is authentic and the service is friendly.  Good aura.  West Branch Yoga exuded yoga.  When we walked in, we looked at each other and smiled.  It smelled like yoga.  We were welcomed generously.  Warm aura.  As for the luxury resort at Spruce, it is not my favorite place.  It is well-designed and convenient, but very expensive and haughty, with closed off sections “for members only.”  The guests there seem self-absorbed and in their ivory tower.  Narcissistic aura.  (Full disclosure – if I could afford it – I would probably stay there.)  I feel for the town and the older establishments as they face this junction in their business.  The more frugal die-hard skier still exists but the money to support the businesses will come from the affluent visitors.  I’m looking forward to heated seats on the chairlifts.  Surely that will be the next upgrade.

Friday, our last day, was the warmest day – though still no sun – and we were all eager for a good day after all the cold days before.  Rested from a day at the spa, I was ready to feel the exhilaration and to conquer the mountain.  We tackled Lift Line, a double black diamond trail, a rare event in my skiing repertoire.  My son wanted to say he did a double black run and my husband wanted to get it in before his knees failed him and I didn’t want to be left behind.  As we headed for the run, the anticipation of anxiety got the better of me.  Just making the commitment to do the run made my heart race.  It’s a nerve-wracking chute down to the top of the first drop off.  I got there and giddily sang:  “Hello Terror, My Old Friend” and made the mistake of stopping instead of just jumping in.  Frozen, I had to talk myself out of panic.  Once I jumped in, the run was fine.  My son was so excited to have done it.  He too conquered his anxiety.

We enjoyed every moment of the day.  Perhaps it was our last in Stowe.  What will our skiing life together be like when my daughter goes to college?  Is it time to give Stowe a break?   Finally, on the last run of the day, the sun tried to break through and we found a faint rainbow in the sky.  Magical.  Good-bye for now Stowe.  Thank you for some wonderful family moments and memories.

Waking from Anxiety

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Letting Go of an Anxious Past

Sunday I woke.  That familiar feeling was there.  I didn’t want to face my day.  In times past (before children), I would succumb, lying in bed, staying home-bound, overwhelmed with the feeling that it was all too much to handle.  In times more current, I ignored the feeling, plowing through my day, my duties.  This time, I observed the feeling without getting lost in the feeling.

I lay there reconstructing my dreams.  All anxiety dreams.

Dream #1:  A classic – I forgot to go on my upcoming business trip.  After that horrible moment when I realized I had missed my plane and was supposed to be in Miami for an important meeting, I was rushing around trying to find another plane to get me there that same day.  New job performance anxiety.

Dream #2:  Our parakeet, Cooper (who I am ridiculously attached to probably because I feel guilty for not being a better pet care-giver as a child), was struggling up the stairs looking for me.  When he found me, something was the matter with him.  I looked at him and his body was missing.  Just his head and his tail feathers.  A big gaping hole where his body was.  He was going to die.  And it was my fault.  Parenting anxiety.  I am a terrible mother.  Especially when I am absorbed in my work.  See Dream #1.

Dream #3:  I had a tattoo.  I thought it was kind of cool that I had acquired this tattoo.  My having a tattoo would be quite out of character.  But the tattoo was of a stick dog with a skull.  I did not like it.  It was not my choice.  And now it was a permanent fixture of my body.  Anxiety over what?  Not having a say?  Elements of my past imbedded in my body that I don’t want – were not my choice. were inflicted upon me?

I lay there ruminating.  I made a decision.  I did not want to have a “generalized anxiety” fog of a day.  I decided to not succumb.  Time is too precious to waste a blissful day off feeling unsettled and blue.  I made an important discovery for myself a few years ago on a ski vacation that anxiety was a habit that I could choose not to give in to.  We had arrived at the top of the mountain.  The wind was blowing, which always increases my skiing anxiety, and we were going to do a challenging run.  I stood there looking down.  My heart was pounding and my breath was short and shallow.  “I can’t do it!  I hate skiing!  It’s your fault and you better notice how hard this is for me and take care of me!”  My husband, truly the perfect match for me, calmly chooses not to notice my panic, calmly chooses not to cater to my false victim-y incompetence.  And then the shift happens.  I change the tape in my head.  “I can do this run.  I did it several times last year and loved it!  I am a good skier.  Anxiety is a habit.  It got me attention as a child, as a young adult.  But it does not serve me well any more.  Let it go.”  I took some deeper breaths and felt my confident persona rise up.  There she is!  Let’s go.  And down we schussed, my confident persona and me, leaving the anxious child behind.

I left my anxiety dreams in bed and got up and enjoyed coffee with my husband and went to my Sunday yoga class with wise Alex.  I have worked hard to create a community of friends at my yoga studio.  But I regularly forget that they are there and that they notice when I am not there.  I walked in and was greeted with hugs and a genuine welcome.  Good God, I have friends.  Friends I have cultivated with care.  And then another shift happened.  During Warrior 2, where my left hand was my back hand, it started vibrating.  What was happening?  The only child of (anxious) cerebral scientists, I searched for a scientific and physical explanation.  Probably some mildly pinched nerve was being released.  But maybe, just maybe, there is a different point of view worth considering, worth being open to considering.  I wonder what the yogi’s have to say?  Some crazy hokum, I am sure.  Kundalini awakening or some such nonsense.  Oh yeah, I am a yogini.  I am supposed to believe this crazy hokum…right?  Skeptical, I ask Alex.  He suggests that my back hand represents my past.  I am releasing energy from my past.  The left side is my feminine side, my heart.  I am releasing energy from my past, from my past with my mother, my anxiety enabler – as I make the passage through mid-life and become more grounded in my confident self.  Good God, this resonates as true and believable!  Could it be that it is not crazy hokum?  Perhaps the logical explanation is not the only point of view?  I felt the decision I made that morning, to leave anxiety behind, in the vibration of my left back hand.

My Left Thumb

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Healing My Left Thumb

My left thumb is healing.  Slowly. 

I pick at the cuticle. 

I pick compulsively at the cuticle even though I know I should stop.  Any rough edges of the cuticle become fodder for a picking session.  I will create a rough edge in order to have an excuse to pick at it.  The slightly painful sensation is a pleasurable distraction from anxiety. 

I pick when I am sitting at my desk looking at my computer wondering which project to tackle or which decision to make – the one that makes someone happy or the one I believe to be the right one for the business.  So, more to the point, I pick while postponing confronting a person or situation that makes my stomach lurch. 

I pick when I am driving.  Yikes!  Two hands on the wheel!  I stopped when the kids were in the car, mainly because my son would point it out:  “Mommy, stop picking!”  I started wearing gloves when I drove.  That was annoying.  Now I place two hands on the wheel and breathe – commanding myself to focus on driving and not the incessant chatter in my head.  It works for about a minute.  And then I try again.

I pick when I am sitting still, because I can’t sit still.  My mind races through my to-do/to-worry list as my hands fidget and pick. 

I pick when I am standing in the kitchen, ostensibly preparing a meal, felled by some anxious thought until I shake myself back into the task at hand.

When my cuticles are smooth, I will find a rough spot somewhere else on my skin to pick at.  Usually around my right ear.  My hair covers my ear so you can’t see the damage.  It is better than it was.  The cuticle of my right middle finger is also a target.  At its worst, my left thumbnail was so damaged and ridged that it throbbed in the middle of the night and I was afraid it would get seriously infected.  I wore band-aids.  This was effective if I didn’t use my hands or wash my hands.  The best bandage was Band-Aid Ultra-Strips.  They stayed put – so well that it hurt to remove them from the nail.  Keeping my cuticles and rough skin patches moisturized helps.  The best moisturizer for this task is ChapStick, neither too light nor too greasy.  I got manicures.  The manicurist would tut-tut and scold me for picking and try to fill my left thumbnail with ridge-filler.  Manicures helped for the first few days after I got my nails done and are a recurring tactic for weaning myself from this ocd, addictive, self-injurious behavior, which apparently has a name:  Dermatillomania.  I made this discovery after reading Alexandra Heather Foss’ post about Trichotillomania in the NYT superb anxiety blog.

But manicures don’t fix the underlying cause of obsessive, ruminative, anxious thought and behavior patterns.  Is it genetic?  Definitely.  I do not need any scientific proof to know this is true at the core of my being.  My parents are anxious, risk-averse, cerebral introverts.  My mother rubs her cuticles and cuts them with cuticle nippers all the time, resulting in thick, ridged 90-year-old nails.  My father, who is arguably borderline Asperger’s, has a ritual for many activities and a well-thought-out explanation for each routine.  My son picks his nails and my daughter likes the sound and feeling of her hair ends pricking her skin.  What have I done to my children!  How can I help them?!  The tendency toward anxiety is genetic and the response to the anxiety in the form of nail-picking is modeled in the family. 

Nail-picking must correlate with thumb-sucking.  I was a thumb-sucker until age 11.  My daughter was a thumb-sucker until the orthodontist forced her to quit cold turkey at 7.  My son sucked a pacifier until he started biting them and they became a choke hazard.  When I called to order a case of pacifiers, the telephone customer service rep asked me why I needed a case of them.  I told her.  She refused to sell them to me.  Kudos to her.  Cold turkey for him at age 2.  One year, I created a chart and goals for us.  After all, I optimistically announced, it only takes 21 days to change a behavior, to break a bad habit.  We decided on what incentive we wanted when we achieved our goal of unpicked healthy nails:  A Playstation for my son; a bed frame for my daughter; a Prada bag for me.  They got their prizes.  That was about 4 or 5 years ago.  I am still waiting for my Prada bag.  I don’t need the bag.  I would be happy with unpicked healthy nails. 

Yoga for Anxiety

I don’t pick at yoga.  It is perhaps the only place where I am able to still my mind and my picking.  Here is how yoga works for me:

    • I move inward, closing my eyes, paying attention to how my body feels.  Usually, I tell my body what it should feel.  With yoga, I listen to what my body tells me.
    • I breathe.  Slowly counting my breath gives my mind something to do besides dither, helping me to relax and to focus.  Breathing and meditation have helped my perimenopausal insomnia, a profound relief. 
    • I enjoy being in a yoga community with other people who are contemplative and supportive.  I have friends!  (A big deal for an only child.)
    • I listen to the teacher and her many directions.  Concentrating on the poses and her voice gives my mind and my body something to do besides think and fidget.
    • I learn that I am not my mind’s obsessive thoughts.  I can observe my thoughts and begin to change them.  I can observe my anxiety and choose a different, happier and more optimistic way of being. 
    • I become aware of habitual ways that I hold my body.  I question why my right shoulder rolls forward chronically to protect my right breast and the tense pain in my neck that results.  I stand straighter, more sure of who I am and that I am all right.
    • I realize that I am not what I wear.  I stop shopping compulsively.
    • I savor the taste of food and eat mindfully.  I eat less and enjoy food more.
    • I learn that every step in the process is crucial and can’t be skipped.  I slow down and stop grasping at achievement.  The pose never ends.  
    • I make an intention on the mat to be more loving, honest and authentic off the mat.  I do it. 
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