A List of Things that May Have Eased My Anxiety This Week

A List of Things that May Have Eased My Anxiety This Week

It’s been a rough few months. Nothing earth-shattering, nothing that ripples past the inner circles of me and my little family, just a tough transition. From maternity leave to full-time work for me. From home to daycare for Little A. From private to public kindergarten for GG. From summer to a new year. From known to unknown. From comfortable to oh-my-god-what-have-I-done-I-don’t-know-if-I-can-do-this.

And somewhere in all this, my old friend anxiety raised her ugly head and came back for a surprise visit. The whole bit – panic attacks catching me unawares, largely imagined health scares, loops of negative thoughts plaguing me night and day.

But the last week or so, things have started to feel different. Lighter, more manageable. Possibly just because time passed, because all things come and go, and possibly because I so desperately needed to push this weight of anxiety off my chest that I tried everything I knew how.

And maybe one of those things worked.

So here they are, in no particular order:

1. Meditation 

You’d think I’d know this by now – meditation works for me. It clears space and grounds me. As usual I don’t manage to sit as much as I’d like to, but whenever I do, it helps.

2. Movement 

At the moment it’s walking and yoga. In the thick of anxiety getting sweaty makes me feel like I’m bringing it all to the surface. Whatever “it” may be.

3. Therapy

I’m blessed to have a supportive therapist that knows me well, who I can check in with when times get rough. Sometimes just talking helps, and other times we’re doing what feels like real work. Reaching down into the depths of the bullshit, making some order and releasing what I no longer need.

4. Rescue Remedy

Maybe it’s just a placebo, who knows. It seems to help at times.

5. Massage

Enough said.

6. Getting a check up

When my anxiety gets bad, I pretty much always decide something is wrong with me. I have some crazy physical symptoms and then the cycle of worrying gets started – and it gets ugly in my head. This time I decided there was something wrong with my brain – sparked by a spat of dizzy spells and weird sensations up and down my arm.

As it turns out, I have carpal tunnel syndrome. And probably not a brain tumor causing numbness in my forearm and fingers and electric tingles. I think, oddly, that diagnosis probably did more to lift my anxiety than everything else on this list combined.

And apparently I’m somewhat sleep deprived. Which brings us to.. .

7. Sleep

Not like we’re getting full nights or anything crazy like that, but I’m doing my best to prioritize rest.

8. Recognizing anxiety 

This is a big one for me. I think I was having panic attacks for a couple of weeks before I realized – hang on a minute, I’ve been here before. This is anxiety.

And it helps, calling a spade a spade. Knowing that it will pass, that it has passed before and it will pass again.

9. Eating well 

And

10. Eating pizza

Because balance, right?

 

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When Savasana Smells Like Pee

When Savasana Smells Like Pee

My yoga teacher, like most yoga teachers, is always going on about how five minutes of savasana is equal to three hours of sleep. How they do that calculation I have no idea but this morning I could really do with an extra three hours of sleep. It’s been one of those weeks.

So I decided, screw it. Instead of spending another five minutes staring blankly at my screen trying to remember what I was working on, folding washing or throwing something in the slow cooker, I’m going to try it.

I opened my meditation app (which apparently needs to be updated because I haven’t used it in I hate to think how long) and set a timer for five minutes. I lay down on the ground, in the corpse position. It was quite easy, really – I kind of feel like a corpse most of the time anyway. I brought my attention to the tingling sensations of my muscles relaxing, the supportive feeling of the carpet beneath me. I made my mind body-shaped.

And each time my mind started to wander, I remembered the subtle threat in my yoga teacher’s tone when she explained how the magic five-minutes-for-three-hours-time-swap works – you have to really do savasana. Not just lay there thinking about whether or not the baby’s about to wake up, or if she’ll take a bottle later today, or the blog post you’re gonna write in a few minutes. So I took heed and let it all go, melting into the ground, bringing myself back to the present moment time and time again.

By the time the gong went off I was actually totally relaxed, tingly and floating. I slowly stretched my neck, turning my head from side to side and took a deep breath. Left was the baby’s change mat, so I probably rubbed my face on poo. Right was a distinct aroma of urine, and I was reminded that my toddler had an accident in that very spot a few weeks ago. Oops. Back to reality.

Do I feel like I had three hour’s sleep? Who knows. I can’t really remember what that feels like to be honest. But I do like to think my eyes are stinging a tiny bit less than they were earlier, and I might just lay on the floor and pretend to be dead for a few minutes tomorrow, too.

How Meditation Got Me through another Pregnancy Loss

How Meditation Got Me through another Pregnancy Loss

This wasn’t the blog post I wanted to write.

The blog post I wanted to write was about early pregnancy – particularly early pregnancy right after a miscarriage. It was about overcoming my anxieties, exhaustion and nausea, about gradually feeling more and more confident that everything would be okay.

But I never got around to writing it. This is a different post.

This post about how the skills I’ve learnt from meditation over the past 10 years seem to have equipped me to deal with a second pregnancy loss.

The week before last I was 15 weeks pregnant. My husband and I went in for a scheduled ultrasound excited to find out if we were having a boy or a girl. Instead, we found out that the fetus had a serious defect in the skull, and were advised to terminate the pregnancy.

That was two weeks ago now, and somehow here I am on the other side of it all. The shock of the diagnosis. The weight of telling friends and family (on my birthday, no less). Through three horrible days of feeling fetal movement and knowing what was to come. The procedure itself. Hours of sobbing.

And somehow, I’m ok. We’re ok. Our little family is stronger than ever. And the sky is still up there. Somehow.

I’ve been going back and forth about how to write this post. How to word it so I’m best understood. And today I realized – everything that got me through this experience, I gained through meditation. Through dozens of Vipassana retreats and Dharma books. From the wisdom of teachers who brought Buddhist contemplative practices to the West. And from the simplicity of meditation practice itself.

Through meditation I learned the power of being present. I’ve learned how to center myself in the moment and to find out if everything is ok – and I’m yet to find a moment where it’s not. Once I filter out all the bullshit, all the noise in my head, everything is always ok. Even in that terrible moment, when the ultrasound technician shook his head, looked up sadly and said “the head hasn’t formed properly, I’m sorry.” Even then, somehow, everything was ok.

Through the practice of Vipassana I’m learning to come to terms with the reality of my human body. That it will get old, it will decay. Just like everyone else’s. That shit will go wrong. And rather than being sad and horrifying, that knowledge can be a comfort. Liberating, even. The knowledge that my body is just like every other body. That things that happen to other people – random, horrible, unwanted things – can happen to us, too.

But it’s more than just accepting my body. Through this  practice I’m learning the art of accepting reality as it is. Even when I don’t like it, and I wish it was otherwise. I’ve learned how to identify when the pain I feel is stemming from my refusal to accept the facts of my situation – from wishing something was different than it is. Something out of my control. And conversely, I’ve experienced the release and freedom that comes from surrender. From giving up the fight that doesn’t really exist to begin with.

Through meditation I’ve been exposed to the art of gratitude. To focusing on the “what is” rather than the “what isn’t.” I’ve been constantly surprised by just how much gratitude has naturally come up in my heart and my head during this whole experience.

I’m grateful to live in this age of medical science that can detect defects (relatively) early on in a pregnancy, and provide safe options for termination. Thirty years ago, this pregnancy would have continued to full term and the defect would only have been discovered at birth. The baby would not have survived. Thirty years ago, I don’t think my meditation practice would have done shit to make me feel better.

I’m thankful for my beautiful little family. For my eternally supportive, patient, rock of a husband and our beautiful son. We want another baby and I’m sure we’ll have one very soon, but even if we never do – that’ll be okay too. It’s not a tragedy. The three of us are healthy and happy – so happy – and that’s more than enough.

Through meditation I’ve learned that nothing is solid. I’ve practiced looking deeper and deeper into sensations – physical and emotional, alike – only to discover that everything is always flickering. Even in the midst of despair there are moments of happiness. With this understanding, I’ve learned to feel sadness when it arises, to be with it and acknowledge it and let it run its course, and then to leave it and move on with the next sensation that comes up. To be with my pain when it arises, and then to equally be with the pure joy of our 2-year-old son whenever he bounces in the room. I’ve learned that while I don’t have the power to control what emotions arise, I can take responsibility for my reactions to them.

To be clear: this diatribe on the glory of meditation is not to say that this situation doesn’t suck – it does. It sucks big-time. There have been many moments and minutes and hours of sadness and disappointment. Tears and sobs that come from deep within, seemingly out of nowhere. That sinking feeling of “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” The unfairness of it all. To have to terminate a pregnancy right after a miscarriage. I mean come on. But when these moments pass, they pass. I take a deep breath, wipe my face, and then move on (usually to a block of dark chocolate).

Sometimes, I feel like I’m kidding myself. Like I haven’t cried enough. Like maybe the worst is yet to come. Like this whole line of thinking is all bullshit rationalization and bravado and that actually I’m so broken inside that I can’t even see it.

And that might be so, I suppose. Only time will tell. But right now, in this moment – this long, eternal moment – everything is ok. For once, it seems like my mind is on my side.

The Opportunity Cost of Being a Mindful Mama

The Opportunity Cost of Being a Mindful Mama

Coming to terms with the new priorities in my life over the first year of parenting has been and continues to be a huge challenge for me. I’m finding it hard to accept that if I’m going to be the type of mother I want to be – mindful, present and intentional – other things need to give.

In practice, it’s all been pretty natural – my family is number one, health is up there – exercise, sleep, meditation and food alike – and though it’s at a slower pace than before my career is definitely still a factor.

So what does that look like in practice? Let’s start from the morning – though sometimes I still feel like there’s no real night and day, just the constant flow that I first met almost one year ago when Gadi was born. We wake around 6am and spend an hour or so together as a family. We eat, get ready, chat, cuddle, sometimes dance. This time is precious – crucial to anchor us all together in preparation for our days apart. We head off to daycare and our respective workplaces, where the baby has a ball and my husband and I do our best to do our little bit of good in the world (read: try not to fall asleep at our desks). On the three days a week that I pick Gadi up, we have about two hours together before bath and bed time.

That two hours feels like nothing. Not nearly enough time to properly reconnect, to ask and tell each other about our days – without words for now. To cuddle and play and eat and wind down. So I put my phone aside, I try to forget about work, and about all the things I want to get done once he goes to sleep. All the phone calls I want to return, blog posts I want to write, work calls I have scheduled for the evening. I want my attention on him 100%, and I want him to see that. Even if I’m just watching him play. I want to teach him about doing one thing at a time, about being where you are – and I think the best way to teach is by example.

Then we start the bedtime routine – which is sometimes easy and sometimes a bit more challenging and pretty much always exhausting. He’s asleep by 7pm. And to be honest, half the time I fantasize about snuggling up in his cot with him. I’ve been meaning to work out how much weight that thing can support for months now.

Evenings are important, too. Because when I say that family is a priority – I don’t just mean Gadi. The time that Uri and I spend together at the end of the day is a huge part of what keeps me sane and grounded. What keeps us together. What has made this past year the most amazing one of my life. Often all we manage is eating dinner and chatting on the couch before we both start to fade, but those moments are precious, too. Same goes for an episode of The Big Bang Theory or whatever we can manage to keep our eyes open long enough to watch. We collapse into bed together every night, exhausted but happy, and wake up – once if we’re lucky and three times if we’re not – through the wee hours to feed Gadi and help him get back to sleep.

One or two nights a week I might “make it” out of the house to meet a friend for dinner or a walk. I keep scheduling yoga classes in my diary for 8pm but I haven’t made it yet – once I’ve got the baby to bed it’s just so hard to get out of the house. I know my body would probably thank me for it but… I just don’t seem to manage it. Maybe once we’re sleeping through the night – if that ever happens. At this point I make it to one afternoon class and one weekend class – and that will have to be enough for now. My semi-regular meditation practice could do with some work too and ditto for running… but c’est la vie.

And weekends? My priorities don’t change. We love our time just the three of us. Sometimes at home, sometimes out and about, often eating. Most things in our household revolve around food and cuddles – and Gadi’s sleep. We enjoy time with friends and family, too – but nowhere near as much as I used to.

But my point was neither to share our routine nor to complain about it – I love every moment I just described. That is, unless I slip out of the moment and start thinking about the opportunity cost. About the phone calls I haven’t returned and the parties I don’t attend and the type of friend I used to be. Hour upon hour of phone calls helping my friends and family sort out their issues and mine. Minor and major alike. Bottles of wine. I loved those hours, and I miss them dearly – but I just don’t have them at the moment. Instead I’m choosing to spend them on real, present time with my family, on sleep, and on my own mental health.

It’s not my new priorities that I struggle with per say – it’s what I’ve had to let go of to put them into place. And I guess in some way I’m still coming to terms with the opportunity cost. I know that this is the way to be the type of mother and wife that I want to be – but at the same time, I miss the me of one or two short years ago.

When I do finally catch up with the dear people that I used to have so much more time for, I feel pressure to complain. To complain about being tired, and about how hard it is to be a mother, and about the laundry. But honestly, that’s not it for me. My challenge is learning to accept where I am right now, to respect it and embrace it.

Otherwise, how can I expect anyone else to understand?

A Loving-Kindness Meditation for Today

A Loving-Kindness Meditation for Today

At a bit of a loss for what to do with myself between packing up our apartment (moving this week), playing with Gadi (currently sleeping) and listening out for the next rocket warning siren (last one in Tel Aviv was about 18 hours ago), I decided to sit down and shut up. I usually end each meditation session with a few minutes of lovingkindness (metta) meditation. Here’s what I did today:

 

May I be happy;

May I be peaceful and harmonious;

May I be liberated from suffering;

May I be healthy and free.

 

May my family be happy;

May they be peaceful and harmonious;

May they be liberated from suffering;

May they be healthy and free.

 

May everyone in Tel Aviv be happy;

May they be peaceful and harmonious;

May they be liberated from suffering;

May they be healthy and free.

 

May all Israelis and Palestinians be happy;

May they be peaceful and harmonious;

May they be liberated from suffering;

May they be healthy and free.

 

May all beings be happy;

May they be peaceful and harmonious;

May they be liberated from suffering;

May all beings be healthy and free.

 

And for bonus points (NB: points not redeemable for anything tangible):

If I have harmed anyone, intentionally or unintentionally, I ask forgiveness.
If anyone has caused me harm, intentionally or unintentionally, I offer peace.
If I have caused myself harm, intentionally or unintentionally, I forgive myself.

 

Practicing metta meditation is pretty simple. It’s not a magic spell or prayer; just about creating some good vibes (I’m buzzing a bit now). If you feel inclined: sit down comfortably, straighten upwards, and focus on your breathing for a bit to settle into the present and give your mind a moment to quiet. If you have a regular meditation practice you can also do that before or after – whatever feels right to you. Then repeat the lines above quietly to yourself, in your heart. Repeat or ponder if you feel like it. Bring your mind back if it wanders. Feel the lovingkindness grow in and around you. 

 

May all beings be happy, peaceful and free. 

The Only Thing I Can Control is Laundry

The Only Thing I Can Control is Laundry

The last few years have been a real journey for me – from therapy and NLP to new friends and new places, yoga and meditation. I’ve learnt so much, and yet really it all comes down to acceptance – and control. Accepting the things I don’t like about myself and others, learning that everything comes and goes – regardless of my desires. That even the things I think are in my control generally are not.

And now with a four-month-old baby, it seems to be the perfect time to put that understanding into practice. To really be in the moment, release my minute-to-minute desires, surrender to the timeless flow of breastfeeding. To realize how little I really know.

And that’s why I love doing the laundry. Very non-feminist of me, I know – but seriously that shit does what I say. If I program the machine to finish at 8am, it complies. I can take out all my OCD tendencies on putting the socks on one side of the line, the baby clothes on the other, and of course separating sheets and towels (despite my darling husband’s efforts to the contrary). I can fold it all neatly and it never fights back.

And best of all – it’s never-ending. Lucky me.

My Baby is a Guru

My Baby is a Guru

My baby is a little Buddha. A tiny, super cute & portable meditation teacher.

In simple mindfulness meditation, we learn to bring our attention back to the breath, over and over again. “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, start preparing dinner, do I have any onion in the house? Oh, I have to write that email, ah – breathe in, out, in, out, in, out – hey what’s that pain in my knee, oo my ear itches – wait – breathe in, breathe out.” And so on. Each time we remember what we’re meant to be doing, mindfulness comes back and we return to the meditation. The longer we’re able to keep our attention on the breath, the more subtleties of sensation reveal themselves to us, and the deeper our concentration and insight grows.

So too with caring for a baby – the more we keep our attention on what’s happening in the here and now, the quicker and more accurately we’re able to respond, and the deeper our connection grows. Even from the very first day, it’s so easy to lose sight of what’s actually happening – especially through the exhaustion, confusion and emotional roller-coaster that comes with a new baby. It’s natural for our minds to wander to all the things we want to get done once the baby finally goes to sleep, to get obsessed with schedules and milk quantities and not waking the neighbors.

But babies don’t care about this stuff, their minds aren’t running around like ours – I presume that doesn’t happen until the development of language. Instead, babies are right there in the moment, always. Just trying to get their needs met, and to work out what the hell is going on out in this strange, dry, new world. And so each and every peep they make, each groan, each cry can be a lesson in stopping the mind babble and coming back to the present moment to see what’s really happening. To investigate it with the patience and curiosity of the deepest, most silent meditation.

Here’s an example – not one I’m proud of, but a good one nonetheless: earlier today I spent almost an hour trying to help a crying Gadi relax and get to sleep. Definitely out of character for a daytime nap, but okay. I tried everything – from singing, patting, humming and “shh”-ing, leaving him for a couple of minutes to try work it out himself, even the dummy he’s never liked – everything. He was not hungry and definitely tired, but here’s the truth – I was starving. Somewhere between noticing that he was tired and putting him down in his bed, my mind had raced ahead to the quinoa and vegetables awaiting me in the kitchen, and I wasn’t really paying attention. I was ignoring the mindfulness alarm screaming at me, loud and clear and flashing red.

When I realized, I felt like a complete moron: He was hot. I took his pants off and the screaming stopped instantly, and a smile spread across his tired little face. And then the next moment was something different again – he was thirsty (not surprising since he’d just spent 40 minutes trying to get his point across!) And so he drank, and he’s still passed out in the middle of our bed now, over 2 hours later.

This new level of mindfulness that he’s teaching reminds me to examine the reality of this very moment – not what came before or what I want to come after – and to deal with just that. To accept the present moment rather than trying in vain to resist or to manipulate, or to take anything for granted. Just because the baby went to sleep easily at 6:45pm last night after a bath, massage, story and feed DOES NOT guarantee that he’s going to do it again tonight, or in fact ever again. He might – but taking the assumption for granted is a surefire recipe for disaster, and for missing signs and igniting a battle of wills between the two of us. Instead, my little mindfulness teacher guides me with his signals – helping me avoid hours of him crying and me feeling like a failure. And every time I slip out of focus, start senselessly expending energy on changing the present moment – he beckons me back with his tiny fingers and his not-so-tiny cry.

All I have to do to learn is watch and listen, now.