Overcoming Overwhelming Problems, Worries, Anxiety, and Fears: A Mindfulness Exercise

When Life gets overwhelming, we sometimes just have to stop and think for awhile.  Unfortunately, when you have OCD, thinking can become our worst enemy.   For me,  I tend to over-think and then over-think on what I am already over-thinking about, which is just a vicious cycle (a broken record) of thinking that leads absolutely nowhere.  It just creates more anxiety, stress, and ultimately, emotional suffering.

I am also a problem solver with OCD, which simply means I have no patience.  I want to resolve problems as quickly as possible, if I don’t, it causes me emotional suffering.  I get anxious (I want to solve it now), I begin to worry (what would happen if it doesn’t get resolved) and I stress over the anxiety and worry (emotional suffering).

So, after years of emotional suffering, I eventually developed a sort of mindfulness exercise that helps me ground my OCD emotions.  Not only does it prioritize the level of importance for worrying about things, but also allows me to better organize my thoughts and emotions to make better decisions on things.

This exercise works well with all different kinds of worries and/or anxieties.  It is also great for prioritizing life problems or even just a stack of overwhelming work projects (I used to get stuck on list making rather than actually working).  I love this exercise, because it basically tricks the OCD brain into moving forward (fixing that broken record of thoughts and emotions).

This exercise incorporates a few different practices that often help overcome OCD ruts, such as identifying root-causes, implementing acceptance and mindfulness.  It also incorporates prioritizing and goal-planning.

Listing helps us identify stressful situations and then with a series of certain questions, we can better assess the situation to make better decisions about them.  In addition, writing all of this down on paper (it is important to do this exercise on paper and don’t be afraid to read it aloud), gets the thoughts out of the head (breaking internal thought cycles) and prioritizing the thoughts allows the logical part of our brain to step in and pick it up (breaking the OCD hold on the thought).  I love it! 
The Exercise:

1) Take a piece of paper and make 6 columns:

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1st COLUMN: List specifically all the things you are worried, anxious, or stressed out about.  The purpose of this column is to identify the root cause of your worry, anxiety, stress, fear, or problem.  Don’t think, just list them all! 

2nd COLUMN: Is this something that is out of your control?
If yes, stop here and let it go!

There is no point in wasting anymore energy into things that are out of our control.  This part focuses on ACCEPTANCE.  Sometimes we stress over things we do not realize we have don’t have any control over; this is often because our OCD sends us into a cycle of overthinking with ‘What if’s” and “Catastrophe thinking.”  But, once we identify the things we have no control over, we can redirect our energy into letting go (disconnecting our emotions from it), accepting there is nothing we can do about it, and having faith that all will be okay in the end.  Acceptance is a powerful tool in overcoming OCD.  

3rd COLUMN:  If you answered NO, in the previous column, then now is the time to think of reasonable and realistic solutions to resolving your problem, or easing the anxiety, worry, and stress.  Take your time with this one, do not rush through it.  You might even realize that this is something that is truly out of your control, going back to column 2.

If you are stuck on catastrophe thinking, ask yourself first, “WHAT IS ABSOLUTELY THE WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN,” and start from there.  For some, writing down our fears and reading them aloud, allows us to recognize (from a new perspective) irrational and unreasonable thoughts.  Sometimes things sound good in our head until we speak them aloud.  

4th COLUMN:  At this EXACT moment in time, can you do anything about it? YES or NO?

This part focuses on MINDFULNESS.  We all have things to realistically worry about and that is why mindfulness is so important.  Practicing mindfulness allows us to reduce stress by not having to worry about everything at once.  There is no point wasting energy today on something we don’t have to deal with or worry about until tomorrow (or next week, next month, or 5-10 years from now).

5th COLUMN: If Yes, write down the things you need to do and then go take care of it!

I love this part, because it just feels good getting stuff done, especially, if held back by OCD.

6th COLUMN: If NO, here is the section to make a game plan.
List all the things that need to take place to resolve this problem, or ease the anxiety, worry, fear, or stress.

If possible, include a task you can start today, just something to get you started and moving in the right direction.  Create a checklist and make small achievable goals.  It might just be something as easy as putting it on a calendar for another day, with the realization, it isn’t something you have to worry about right this second.

Often times, we can reduce stress by having a game plan.  A game plan can eliminate some of the unknowns we are worried about or just simply reduce stress by being confident that there is a plan.

Afterwards:

When finished, you should have prioritized everything into 3 different lists:
1) The list of things to let go!
2) The list of things you can resolve right now!
3) The list of things you don’t have to worry about right this second, but now have a plan to deal with it later (hopefully, reducing some stress over it).

Tips:

  • Do not be vague.
  • Be specific, yet to the point.  It’s not a journal.
  • Be honest, reasonable, and realistic.
  • Write down your thoughts and read them aloud for a new perspective.
  • If it causes more anxiety, stop, breathe, and decide whether or not you want to continue.  Pushing through your emotions to solve a problem is kind of like exposure therapy – it can be intense.

I hope this mindfulness exercise is just as helpful to you as it has been to me.  Everyone is different, so feel free to modify it to your own specific needs and please don’t feel discouraged if it doesn’t seem to help at all.  From my own personal experience in overcoming OCD, it’s all about trial and error.  

 

Managing Chaos: Look It Straight In The Eye And Don’t Blink

I am not Wonder-Woman, although some people think I am… IMG_7326

Most of the time, I choose to be a busy crazy person.  I enjoy organizing chaos, but sometimes, I do get overwhelmed, because chaos is not meant to be tamed.  Chaos is meant to be crazy, sporadic, and unpredictable.  It plays a vital role in maintaining balance in the Universe and us, human-beings, often have this unhealthy need to control it, confined it, or eliminate it, when all we really need to do is just let it go.

 

Chaos can sometimes feel like the Warner Brother’s Tasmanian Devil, sweeping in like a crazy tornado, kicking up a mess of things into the air, just to find out later that they all fall back down in perfect order afterwards.  It’s the chaotic act of things going up in the air that bothers us the most and rarely do we ever just step back and see what happens.

Although we cannot control chaos itself, we do have the ability to regulate how much chaos we allow into our lives and we can certainly guide chaos along a more healthier path.

Just like flash floods, we cannot control the force of a flood or when they happen, but we can set up cement barriers to help guide it a certain way to avoid a complete catastrophe when they do happen.  Guiding chaos is kind of like that, by setting up emotional barriers that allow us to recognize the chaos, respect the chaos, and guide it away safely so that we do not get emotionally attached, for that emotional attachments is what fuels chaos and our need to control it.

Everyone has a little chaos in their lives, most of the time chaos is tolerable (not always controllable); however, there are times when chaos can become extremely overwhelming.  The flash-flood types of chaos is what we need emotional barriers for, not to prevent chaos, but more so to help reduce the impact of overwhelming emotions that might make chaotic situations worse.  Every chaotic situation, requires a quiet calm mind to achieve balance and resolution.

Emotional barriers should be accepting not cold.  Accepting chaos allows us to better calm the mind.  Recognize and respect the chaotic situation and take a step back.  Breathe.  Then, disconnect emotionally, (emotional attachments cause emotional suffering) so that the mind can think more clearly.  Sometimes, chaos just has to run its course, or perhaps just needs a gently nudge into a different direction.  Nonetheless, chaos cannot be controlled.

Although you cannot control chaos, you can certainly control how you react to chaos.  Taking a step back and disconnecting emotionally, helps you make better decisions.  Perhaps it is a situation you need to panic and run away from, or it’s a situation that is frustrating, but would best be resolved if you were to remain calm, cool, and collected.  If we over-react, we cannot think clearly, and the situation either worsens or we get stuck with emotional suffering while the situation resolves itself.  Sometimes, there is nothing we can do about chaos, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the best of a chaotic situation.

Nothing is ever black and white, so there is always room for a brighter side of even the most terrible of things.  A new perspective to a chaotic situation is another way to reduce emotional suffering and better guide chaos a long its way.

Fear fuels chaos too, so be sure to look chaos straight in the eye and don’t blink!  We can all try to prevent bad things from happening, but bad things will find a way to happen anyway (it’s part of the Universal balance).  It is best to deal with things as they come, because worrying is nothing but wasted energy, especially, if the things we worry about never come.  This is why it is so important to focus on the present rather than an unpredictable future.  Plan, make goals, take precautions, but also enjoy life to the fullest.

In short, when chaos is reigning down upon you, stop, breathe, take a step-back and see what happens.  Sometimes you don’t need to do anything but let it run its course and yet, sometimes, you need to guide it into a different direction without your emotions trying to take full control of the situation.

Tonsillectomy Post Op: If They Miraculously Grow Back, They Stay Forever

I know tonsils don’t grow back, but I swear, if they miraculously do grow back, they will never be removed again! 


My personal opinion about having a tonsillectomy as an adult:
Unless your tonsils totally hinder your daily life and majorly impact your health, I say, KEEP THEM!  Tonsillectomy as an adult is no fun!

My recovery has been anything but normal.  I have not experienced a single thing that I have read, watched, or that my ENT doctor even said was part of recovery.   Instead, I had a rare complication (inability to swallow) extending my recovery time from 1-2 weeks to 6-8 weeks.

Why I had a tonsillectomy

I had a “cyst” with recurring tonsil stones.  

My ENT doctor gave my tonsils a look and told me they had some scarring, due to tonsil stones and past infections.  I rarely have sore throats and my tonsil stones never bother me, as I never really notice them.

However, this time, I supposedly had the “mother” of all tonsil stones, that my doctor believes was causing a cyst to form next to my tonsils.   There was no recommendation to drain the cyst.  I was just told, that due to the cyst, it was “necessary” to remove them.  So, whatever, sign me up.

I was told by the ENT doctor that recovery is rough for adults (lots of pain), but generally, adults are feeling pretty good by the end of the first week.  Expect a diet of lots of ice-cream, popsicles, mash potatoes, and Tylenol.

Youtube videos and other blog articles from people sharing their adult tonsillectomies, pretty much said the same thing:  Pain and sore-throat.  So, I felt I was well prepared for the worst.  I was prepared for Pain. 

Surgery Day

I was so nervous!  I have never had general anesthesia before and I was absolutely terrified of what might happen.  So, while I was being prepped by the nurses, I really worked on breathing and acceptance.  Often times, when I am stuck having to do something I am terrified of doing, I imagine the situation is like being on a roller coaster.  That point of no return when you are clickity-clacking up the first initial incline of the roller-coaster track: You just have to accept this is where you are at and you can only move forward from here.

Before my surgery, I remember the nurse and general anesthesiology rolling me down the hallway to the surgery room.  They were talking about allergies.  The very last thing I remember, is backing through two blue doors and seeing a clock on the wall, thinking, the clock on the wall, looks just like the clock in the surgery room where I had my C-section for my kids.  Then, I was out.  I vaguely remember moving from one bed to another, but that could of just been a dream.

In what felt like minutes (reality, it was almost an hour), I woke up in recovery with a different nurse talking to me.  Who knows how long she was talking to me or what she was even saying.  Another hour later, I was sent home, tonsil free.

ER Visits

I couldn’t swallow anything, not even my own spit.  

As lady-like as I tried to be, I had to adopt a spit cup.  So gross!  I was also getting dehydrated, because I couldn’t swallow anything.   I was forced to go to the ER, which terrified me, because of the global pandemic.  But, I had to go.  They gave me a couple bags of fluid and a steroid shot, then sent me on my way home.  It helped a little bit, but wore off and I had to go back the next day, where they did a CT scan and diagnosed me with epiglottitis, inflammation of the epiglottis, in which is rare for adults.

The epiglottis is a flap of cartilage that covers the windpipe when you eat.  When, it’s swollen, there is a risk of not being able to breathe (life threatening) or cause aspiration that could lead to pneumonia.  So, they admitted me, but I went home the next day, because my ENT doctor did not agree with their diagnosis.

My Throat Muscles Were “Frogged”

Now, I am not from around here parts, so I’ve never heard of the term, “frogged” before, but that is how my ENT kept explaining it to me.

According to my ENT doctor, and this is my best understanding of it, my throat muscles were “frogged,” meaning not exactly paralyzed, but not fully awake either.  Supposedly, my tonsils were “nasty bad” and it took them longer than usual to get them out.  It also required a little extra cauterizing (burning) to stop the bleeding.  So, my understanding of all that, is that my throat muscles are temporarily shocked due to too much trauma, but it’s not forever, even though it feels like forever.

No Pain, Just Can’t Swallow

All this time, I have not experienced any pain- none.  Not only are my muscles “shocked,” but so are the nerves.  It has taken over a month, to gain some feeling back in my throat.

The only normal experience I have had so far in recovery, is having white gross looking scabs in my throat, swollen uvula (punching bag that hangs down from the middle of your throat), sore tongue from the clamping during surgery, and extra thick phlegm due to inflammation.

The not so normal experiences include, a numb throat, numb tongue, a tongue that had limited range of motion, and inability to swallow food or liquids.

According to my ENT doctor, I have to practice strengthening my throat muscles.  Not only are some of them still “asleep,” but they had to cut away some of the muscle with the tonsils, so those particular muscles need to compensate for the muscle taken away.  I also have to learn how to swallow again.

This is Week 6

Today is Week 6, if my calculations are correct.  At this point, it feels like forever.
I lost nearly 20 lbs, since my tonsillectomy, with my lowest weight being 112 lbs.  I have a collar bone that I haven’t seen since high-school, no more double chin, and my pants are as loose fitting as “MC Hammer” pants.  Can’t touch this!

I am burning more calories than I am taking in, so with 2 high-calorie shakes a day, my weight is hovering around 116 lbs.  I still can’t eat any solids; however, I am not limited on liquids anymore.

Improvements are slow and gradual, with the first successful milestone being able to swallow my own spit, next, being able to swallow thin liquids (popsicles, water, and almond milk), getting rid of the spit cup, graduating to thicker liquids (milkshakes, milk, and coffee), and now, I can have any kind of liquids, except for soda.  I still have raw spots, and anything carbonated just fizzles like pop-rocks and burns.  I can now swallow pudding and yogurt without any issues; however, other soft foods (or really chewed up solid foods) require me to wash them down with water.

It’s a slow recovery, but I am convinced it’s not forever, for that every few days, I am able to eat something new.

Benefits Outweigh The Risks

All though not a fun experience, I am grateful I didn’t experience any pain.  Hopefully, my swallowing continues to improve!  I look forward to the day I can eat a juicy delicious hamburger again.

But, this was a lesson learned; no surgery is without risks.  The inability to swallow is supposedly a rare complication, so I do not mean to discourage anyone from having their tonsils taken out; especially, if they need their tonsils taken out.  Sometimes the benefits do outweigh the risks.