Prior to returning to Alaska 7 weeks ago, I was having a pretty hard time of it. In a nutshell: I was experiencing chronic, terrifying, and nearly debilitating panic attacks. (And that was the last time I updated my blog. I mean, how nice of me — I dropped my crisis in your lap and then disappeared. Sorry about that.)
It was really hard to leave France. But I was clearly waaaaay off-balance and I needed some solitude to figure a few things out. Looking back, my panic attacks and developing phobias were my body’s way of making me pay attention to something. Luckily, I decided that I’d devote my time here to ruthless self care. Having only a few months before I head back again, I have been disciplined about re-programming my brain with new habits that I can take with me to France next time, and it’s quite astounding how far I’ve come in a really short period of time. If change is something you’re after, let me just say — if I can do it, anybody can. So read on.
Now, I’m going to share my experiences so far with you, but I’m not at all trying to “give unsolicited advice” or paint myself as a “winner” or anything like that. I’m not an expert and I don’t have it all figured out yet and I don’t think what necessarily works for one person will work for another. But if something here seems right to you and it helps you, that’s super cool.
I just spent most of the day at the Alaska Native Medical Center. I’m incredibly lucky and grateful that I have such great medical care at my disposal and I knew it was time for me to take full advantage of that.
I was a bit nervous going to a new doctor (lost my last one to doctors without borders), but she had taken the time to study my history before I even met her (how cool is that?) and she discussed my case with a therapist beforehand and was so happy that I was open to meeting with her (well, of course!). She took all the time I needed to discuss my philosophy about things and was in total alignment with all of it. I tend to take an eastern approach to wellness, and we chatted about chakras, hypnosis, seeing one of the tribal healers (apparently, it’s all about energy and I’m so down for that), the exercise classes offered at the hospital (it’s about wellness, incredible!), my relationships, getting out into nature and letting the sunshine hit my eyeballs and all kinds of wonderful things. And, my strong desire to not get addicted to meds that I really like that really help — “I won’t let that happen. I don’t practice medicine that way.” I hugged her at the end and almost awkwardly grabbed a boob and she said, “It’s okay, they’re small.” LOL I LOVE HER SO MUCH.
Anyway, she confirmed that I’m doing a lot of things right. And, we discussed traditional medicine as well — I’m no hero. Sometimes when your brain chemistry is all screwed up, it’s not something you can deep-breathe your way through. She wrote me a couple of prescriptions to take as needed, but said that going on a short-term program of meds is something we might do if life hits the fan again. I’ve tried to avoid this all my life, but so long as I know I’m hitting it from all possible angles, I’m open to that.
The first thing I did was fix my sleep. That’s pretty much the approach I take whenever I’m out of balance. Nothing is harder than trying to implement new habits when you’re not getting good, restorative rest. I have been taking melatonin, and have been going to sleep early and waking up very, very early. I spend those early morning hours doing things for me: meditating, studying, exercising, reading, enjoying my one indulgence — a daily cup of gloriously strong coffee with organic half & half.
I also stopped drinking. This was a tidbit of advice I got from one of my blog readers that really resonated with me. It was just time. I haven’t had anything to drink in two months and while I do miss my wine, this was the right direction for me. The benefits far outweigh the sacrifice of a habit that wasn’t, ultimately, doing me any good. I knew this intuitively, but it really took these panic attacks scaring the hell out of me to make the change. The result is better focus and energy, more control over my emotional ups and downs, and much better sleep. A moment of silence for delicious wine. *moment of silence*
I worked on nutrition. I started doing Isagenix, which is a nutrition program that came complete with the support of some really good, positive, health-minded friends who are also doing it (it’s awesome to have cheerleaders!). I now have the peace of mind that I’m getting the nutrients from quality sources that I know my body really needs, and having the luxury of having it all thought out for me and delivered to my door every month really works for me. I don’t consider this a “diet” but a way of life for me now. I have lost my cravings for comfort food (emotional/stress eating has done a lot of damage, I gained over 10 pounds in three months on my last trip to France — but now, I crave stuff like lentil soup and cauliflower. SO WEIRD!) and I feel energetic and strong. I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight (about 15 pounds) and know that my body is coming back into balance and I’m getting closer to a much healthier weight. There’s a cleanse component to it as well, and if my initial throbbing headaches were any indication — I had some toxins to get rid of.
I decided that learning French would help me get my power back too, because some of the stress I feel when I’m in a foreign country is down to me just not feeling entirely secure and independent because of the language barrier. So I’ve been studying more and every single day without fail, and Michel — my toughest critic of all — says my French is getting better and better. I can even pronounce portefeuille now. (It’s a huge deal! YOU TRY IT! lol)
And most importantly, I started exercising and meditating. A good friend of mine basically broke it down like this: my brain responds by going into panic mode when it’s not appropriate, so I need to teach my brain how to relax. The exercise helps me burn off the stress energy and the meditation gives me a peaceful place to go every day, my inner day spa. My doctor and the therapist were quite pleased about this in particular; the therapist said, “if more of my patients used meditation you don’t even know how much easier my life would be.” I have a zen buddhist therapist on my team now y’all, YAY!
My panic attacks haven’t completely gone away. I’ve had a few zingers since I’ve been home, but mostly — I feel a tingle and that burns right off really quickly before it takes hold, and I go for days with no symptoms at all. Progress!
From here, the next thing I’m going to work on is learning how to relate to other people who I sometimes let take my power away. The therapist will be vital in this regard, and I look forward to learning some coping skills from a pro.
All in all, it’s been a very good seven weeks because ultimately, I am feeling ready to book my next ticket to France soon. And it’s going to be better than ever.
Before I go, I want to thank everyone who reached out to me with compassion and advice — I took so much of it to heart and used so much of it that’s been incredibly helpful. Perhaps most of all — hey, thanks for just letting me know none of us are alone in this world. We all have our struggles to overcome. I’m lucky to know people who do that LIKE A BOSS.
PS Resources I’ve found immensely helpful if you’re interested:
PS2 Happy Birthday to my dearest friend Frances. <3