I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Anxiety

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

Plutchik-wheel

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

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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