Staying Sane in a Pandemic

Everyone is aware that we are in a time of a pandemic due to a novel coronavirus (COVID-19). I have had anxiety related to the illness. For the most part, I’m remaining calm. I attribute this to my morning meditation. It’s only twenty minutes every morning, but its effects last throughout the day. The best part is that I can do a short meditation any time during the day to renew the effect.

If you want to try meditation, please set aside your preconceived notions first. It’s not as hard as we imagine it to be.

  1. Sit in a good chair with a comfortable seat that has a straight back.
  2. Relax. Do this in any way that works for you.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Take three deep breaths exhaling long and completely each time.
  5. Breathe normally, and concentrate on the feeling you get in your nose from the breath. You may feel the breath right where the air enters your nostrils, or you may feel it higher up in the nasal channel.
  6. Your mind is going to wander. Don’t get upset. This is your mind’s job. Simply recognize that your mind is wandering, and gently return your concentration to that feeling of the air entering your nose.
  7. Your mind is going to wander again. Once more, don’t get upset. This is completely normal. Once more, return your concentration to the feeling of the air in your nose.
  8. Do this over and over again for an amount of time that you decide is right for you. My meditations are about twenty minutes long.

This is all meditation is. It’s so simple. I promise that it gets easier over time. In the beginning, I struggled not getting upset that my mind wandered. It really is not a problem that your mind is wandering. Recognize it, and return your thoughts to your breath.

Give it a try. It works.

More Panic

I woke with a jolt at 1 AM last night. My heart was pounding harder than I could imagine possible. I had been dreaming that I was being executed by electric chair.

In my waking life, I feel OK. I manage to get through the days OK. When I look in the mirror, I generally feel OK. OK? Waking with a pounding heart? OK?

On one level, I’m fine. On another level, I feel awful. It’s not an unreasonable feeling after the tumultuous January I suffered through. My parents disowned me. My job is changing radically, and my salary is being slashed.

I really would like a month off.

I have no idea what else to say. I feel awful right now.

Panic upon Waking

I realized yesterday as I was carefully going through my day that I’ve been waking in a panic often the past six or seven weeks. It’s just a sign of the trauma my parents caused by disowning me. I know I have much to be thankful for even in that awful experience. I know that I am better off without their judgmental attitudes in my life, but I cannot escape the ideals that I hold inside.

I have ideals that American culture gave me about how parents and children are supposed to relate to each other. They’re part of my core. I can’t get rid of them, but I can hope to soften them with time and education.

Last evening, I meditated before bed, and I did not wake up panicking this morning. I have no idea if there’s causation there, but I’m going to keep doing it.

Today, I’m back at work, and I’m being very careful what I allow into my scope of consciousness. As my best friend put it, “curate” your experiences. I’m choosing what I’m giving my attention to. I’m open to surprises – I have to be – but there’s a lot I can control about what I give my time to. This is more of being gentle with myself.

My meditation this morning was medium length, and it was good. I used the guided visualization again like I’ve been doing, but it led me to a quiet place where I could sit and just breathe. It’s so healing.

If you think you want to try meditating, it’s not as difficult as most of us imagine. You don’t have to be a guru. Here’s how:

Sit in a chair with a good back. Close your eyes, and relax as best you can. Breathe in deeply, exhale forcefully three times. Then just breathe normally. Count your breaths. An inhale and its exhale are one breath the way I count.

Now, your mind is going to start wandering and maybe even bombarding you with thoughts. Don’t get upset. That’s the mind’s job. Recognize the thought. Actually give it thanks for the reminder. Then return to counting breaths starting at one again.

A new thought will interrupt your counting. This is not a failure. Recognize the thought, thank it, and return to counting breaths. Do this over and over. You may want to set a timer. Start with five minutes. Over the course of weeks or months, you can increase the time. Do what feels right for you. This is not a race. You are not in competition with anyone.

Eventually over the course of months, you can stop counting and just breathe. I’ve been meditating for years. I still get thoughts in the middle of breathing. I recognize them, thank them, and quietly return my attention to my breath.

That’s it. That’s all meditation is. It is incredibly helpful.

To keep it honest, I have to tell you that I’ve returned to using a guided visualization technique in my morning meditation because of the traumas I suffered in January. I need the structure to help me keep my mind focused and still.

A long time ago for meditation, I created My Happy Place. I wrote about it on this blog ten years ago. You can read about it here. Basically, it’s a place I can go in my mind that is required to always be pleasant. There are elements in it that allow me to refresh myself, and there are other elements where I can pass through gates, over bridges, or through doors that allow me to gradually become even more relaxed and gain more focus.

You can create your happy place and furnish it just exactly as you want. Give it a try. It’s incredibly refreshing. I always feel better after imagining a visit there.

Being Gentle

I woke up after sleeping seven and a half hours in a panic. I was suddenly awake and afraid. I wanted to stay in bed, but it was useless. I was unavoidably awake.

I struggled through my morning routine. I didn’t just sit and breathe for my morning meditation, but I reverted to guided visualization. I needed the steps of walking through the door into My Happy Place and the continued steps to the place of just breathing.

I reached out to the love that I feel when I get to the place of just breathing and felt it soothe me, but I was just not able to stay in that feeling.

There is so much tumult in my life right now.

I ended up having to stay home from work today. I took medicine for anxiety and went back to bed for another two hours.

I called my therapist and was able to see him this morning. That was helpful. I’m using the tools I have that I know have worked in the past: medication, meditation, therapy, etc, and I’m being gentle with myself.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself through 33 years of therapy is that I am not good at handling uncertainty. I have a lot of that in my life right now, so I’m going to be gentle with myself today.

I really wish I could cry. I can’t. Years of forced repression of my emotions and my homosexuality inhibits my ability to show distress.

At least for today, I don’t feel good. I know this will pass, but I’m feeling it today. I’m using the tools that I know work. I will be OK, but for today, I’m going to be gentle with myself and stay home and read.

Dating Again

Last night, the man I call my ex came to dinner. I invited him earlier in the week, and he agreed.

I didn’t cook anything elaborate: pasta with pesto, garlic toast, and salad.

I began to get nervous in the morning yesterday, and by the afternoon, I was scared. The fear was coming out in lots of very odd ways. It was focused on all different kinds of objects. I was afraid of stuff at work. I got worried about retirement, which is a long way off.

I was able to chat with my best friend, and just being heard helped me calm down for a while. Then, I got home, and I was honestly panicking. I was certain I was going to lose my job and live on the streets. I was positive that all the changes I’ve made in my life in the past 3 or 4 years were disasters. I told myself I should have never taken my present job and should have stayed on disability.

All of this was redirected anxiety about the date. The truth was I was scared of seeing him again. I was scared of rejection.

My best friend helped me remember to concentrate on one thing at a time. All I had to do was prepare the garlic toast and salad and cook the pasta. That’s all I had to do. So I concentrated on preparing dinner. It was very simple to cook the pasta. The whole thing was easy, but it felt good to get into the actions in the kitchen.

And it paid off nicely. We had a good evening. I kept the conversation light. We had some laughs. The whole evening was good.

The result is he’s no longer my ex. We’re dating. Now comes the hard part for me. I have to allow this relationship to develop slowly and at its own pace. I can’t rush.

I’m going to have to allow. Allow. That word is foreign to me.

Allow.

I’m going to have to use meditation techniques to the fullest.

I’m going to have to breathe through this.

I Still Have Bipolar Disorder

My bipolar life is a storybook success at present. I’ve just finished a period in which I received free job training and then a three-month paid internship, for which I was highly rated. I am actively involved in community theatre where I live, and I’m well-respected for it. I acted in a play recently, and now I’m directing another one that will hit the boards in November. Plus, I will be directing Shakespeare next summer, and that takes a year-long preparation. It’s a major undertaking. On top of it all, I’m writing and reading. I have dreams of a book with my name on it.

Last weekend, I went to see a play produced by the community theatre organization I work with. The play is a true smash hit. Eight of the nine performances have been totally sold out, and they are trying to figure out how to extend the run one more weekend.

My daughter and I arrived early to get good seats in the theatre. We took our programs and sat in the front row. I put on my reading glasses and buried my head in the very informative program made for the historical drama we were about to watch.

After reading the program, I put my glasses away and looked at the stage before us. Then I felt it. The theatre was nearly full, and the house manager was looking for empty seats for people waiting at the door. There was a crush of humanity around me. I didn’t have to turn around and look. I could feel them.

My stomach churned; my chest tightened. I began to squirm in my chair, and my thoughts began to race.

I was getting very near a panic attack, and I haven’t had one in ages. I thought of the Klonopin at home in my medicine chest. It was useless to me in my situation.

So, I thought of WRAP. I tried to remember what was on my Triggers Action Plan for just these situations. Crowds can cause me to panic, and they are listed as a trigger for me. Thankfully, WRAP does not stop with the knowledge of what hurts us, but we make an action plan for each item in case they arise. In the case of panic due to a crowd, I remembered to concentrate on slow breathing and to feel my body .

I took methodical breaths, and I placed my mind on exactly where my feet were and then how the chair felt and then the temperature in the room. I soothed my racing mind by giving it clear, concise things to think on.

My panic was not rising, but it was not easing either. Luckily, the play began, and the action whisked me away with its story.

I came away from the experience enriched. I survived a near panic attack.

I can see now that I have built strategies for dealing with triggers. For example, I hate large parking lots. I have an unreasonable fear of them. As a result, I learned many years ago to visualize driving into the parking lot, going down a certain row, and taking the first available space. It works for me. As a result, I am able to enter large parking lots without the unpleasant emotions.

My last post may have sounded smug. I was reminded that while things may be going well, I still have an illness. More importantly, I learned I have strategies to help today. They may not be foolproof, but they give me hope.

Agoraphobia

A simple definition of agoraphobia is “a pathological fear of being in public places, often resulting in the sufferer becoming housebound.”

Yesterday was supposed to be a happy day of sorts for me. Instead, it was what I would describe as one long panic attack. I had to take my full daily prescribed dose of my anti-anxiety medication to make it through. Yesterday was the twelfth anniversary of my sobriety. Instead of feeling happy, joyous, and free, I experienced an elevated heart rate, racing thoughts, and thoughts of impending doom. The panic-attack-like symptoms lasted nearly all day.

I was extremely uncomfortable at the noon meeting I went to and had to sit on my hands to keep from standing and rushing out of the room. I was again uncomfortable during the evening meeting and could not keep my feet still. In both meetings, I had a hard time concentrating.

I have for many years had an unreasonable fear of parking lots. I hate them. I overcome this by having certain rows I go down at certain places, and I never vary. If I can’t park in my regular row, I don’t shop that day.

I have quit my volunteer position at the library’s learning center. I have quit another club I was a member of.

On a continuing note, I can’t watch TV. I simply can’t sit still for it, and I get feelings of high anxiety trying to watch it. I can’t even watch videos on the internet. They make me antsy in the extreme.

I don’t feel like I’m winning against my brain today. I feel broken.