Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Story of Panic and Anxiety

The pastor of our church recently published his first book, all about his experiences with fear, anxiety and panic attacks. Reading it has brought back a flood of memories for me, so I decided to write down my own story of panic and anxiety.
The first time it happened I was in the 5th grade. I was home sick with sick that I missed two weeks of school. I was in my parents' bed when I started to feel strange. My breathing was rapid, the room looked different, and I was filled with fear. My fingers started feeling numb and I was convinced I was going to die. My Mom turned to my Dad and whispered "I think Stephanie is having a panic attack"

I've always been an anxious person. I stayed home from Elementary school on days when we had fire drills because the sound frightened me so much. The TV show Rescue 911 absolutely terrified me and left me with a feeling of dread. But before the age of 11 I had never experienced a panic attack. And I didn't again.....until April 1, 2005.

I was about to graduate from college. I was working part-time at our Credit Union, but I had an excellent full-time job lined up to start the next month. I had just purchased a brand new car. Life was good.

Then one day at work I suddenly felt like I was going to pass out. I was standing but felt like I was swaying. I was light-headed and I was instantly consumed with the fear that I would lose consciousness. Not wanting to draw any attention to myself, I fled to my car in panic.

Eventually the physical symptoms passed but my fear remained. The idea of passing out was terrifying. What had caused me to feel that way? I found myself worrying about it, and the light-headed feeling began returning. Over the next few weeks things got worse. I was experiencing occasional light-headedness, irregular heartbeats, dizziness, and feeling as if I couldn't catch my breath. I never knew when the feeling of passing out would hit me, and I developed a phobia of standing up. By the time I started my new job in early May 2005, I was a mess.

My phobia of standing up and fainting became all-consuming. Doing anything that required standing up would bring on my anxiety, and often a full blown panic attack. Simply walking to a co-worker's cubicle to have a chat would induce panic. One day at work the room started spinning and I had to go lie down in the nursing mother's room. It got so bad that my parents had to be called to take me home. I was unable to walk, so my boss brought me a rolling chair and my parents wheeled me outside on it. To say it was humiliating is a gross understatement. My boss approached me one day soon after and let me know that missing so much work was not acceptable. He was sympathetic but unable to understand what I was dealing with. I was so embarrassed and frustrated. I felt like I was letting everyone down but my symptoms were out of my control, and there was nothing I could do to stop them.

I was in such a bad state that we made special arrangements for my college graduation ceremony. I sat in a tent behind the stage and jumped into line at just the right time so I could walk across stage and accept my diploma. Then I escaped back to the tent, unable to stand up anymore. I felt such guilt for inconveniencing everyone.

During the summer of 2005 one of my friends from college reached out to me. She began calling me every single night to pray for me. While we were on the phone she would pray that my symptoms would subside and I would have peace. I felt so blessed to have her in my life. Even though she couldn't exactly understand what I was going through, she cared enough to faithfully call me every evening that summer.

Around that same time I memorized the bible verses Philippians 4:6-7. I would repeat the words in the middle of a panic attack. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

I began talking to my doctor, who ordered a variety of tests.  Everything came back normal. I did blood work, urine tests, hearing checks, vision checks. I remember one neurological test where they had to stick electrodes to my head with a sticky substance. Halfway through I started panicking and they had to rip everything off and cancel the test. I wore a heart rate monitor for 24 hours to test my heart. When the cardiologist reviewed the results she said that my heart had spiked so high at one point that she may recommend I stop driving until I could figure out the cause of my problem. They monitored my breathing and told me to just breathe normally. The more I thought about it, the harder it became to "breathe normally". The doctor told me I was hyperventilating myself and was unable to continue with the test. I even had an MRI done. Everything came back completely normal.

My doctor finally suggested that my problems may be mental rather than physical. I had suspected this all along, but it was still frustrating to hear. My constant anxiety was causing all my symptoms. But I was anxious because of my symptoms. It was a vicious cycle that  I couldn't seem to break.

Trying to explain this to someone who has never experienced panic and anxiety, like Adam, was impossible. He just could not understand. He would tell me to stop worrying so much. I would tell him, IF I COULD, I WOULD!

My condition was so embarrassing to me that I didn't really share with other people what was going on. They knew I had these symptoms of passing out, but I rarely shared with people the anxiety I experienced. It was like there was a lion in the room waiting to eat me, but nobody else could see him, so they couldn't understand my fear. If I had an obvious physical handicap, like a broken leg, I wouldn't be shy to let people know. But mental illness is so different. People assume you can get better by simply changing your thoughts. Like if I just tried harder, I could somehow overcome this. But I couldn't, and it made me feel weak and embarrassed. So I kept things to myself.

I began speaking with a psychologist at Kaiser the following year. She referred me to a class for people dealing with panic and anxiety. I faithfully attended every week and did my homework. I practiced all the tips my psychologist gave me, but nothing really helped. I was now on the verge of panic at all times. Standing up in public felt impossible. Lines at the store, singing in church, standing in the elevator with was all torture.

My panic attacks morphed into constant anxiety, even when sitting down. I dreaded being in any situation that would be difficult to get out of. Meetings at work were torture. I just wanted to escape. Picking out my wedding cake, flowers, and venue were dreaded instead of enjoyed.

I was diagnosed with Panic Attack Disorder as well as Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

This illness was taking over my life.

My psychologist referred me to a psychiatrist, who recommended I start an antidepressant. I hated the idea of it, but I needed relief and nothing else was working. I tried a few medications but each one had its own set of side effects that affected how my body felt. This only made me more anxious, because most of my anxiety stemmed from bodily sensations.

Whenever I would feel light-headed, I would tense my body, as if to prevent myself from passing out. This constant tensing of my muscles finally caught up to me one evening. Suddenly my entire torso was in pain. As the pain intensified throughout my chest and shoulders, it hurt to even take a breath. I ended up in the ER, but they were unable to find a cause for my pain. I felt so weak.  Physically, emotionally and mentally weak.

I was still dealing with the anxiety beast when my wedding day came on September 23, 2006. It was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, yet all I could think about was the possibility of passing out during the ceremony. Somehow I made it though the evening but I couldn't relax enough to enjoy myself. Many of my wedding photos were taken in a sitting position. I felt ridiculous. I couldn't even escape from my anxiety on our honeymoon in Hawaii. Our wedding had been so stressful for me that I developed nausea for the next 5 days, and felt so sick that we weren't able to get out and do much. Whenever we did, the humidity made me sweat so much that it would bring on more anxiety.

At some point in 2007 I started taking Zoloft, and not only did the side effects not bother me, but the medicine actually helped! I gradually started to feel like myself again. I was able to get through situations that involved standing without being overtaken by panic. I remember how wonderful it felt to just relax and laugh and not feel like I had a cloud of worry hanging over me. My body relaxed, my breathing regulated, and I could think clearly. I continued taking a low dosage of this medicine for the next few years. And although it caused me to gain a good amount of weight, I decided the trade off was worth it. It just felt good to feel like Stephanie. When I became pregnant in 2009, I made the decision to wean off the medicine.

I am happy to report that I have not experienced a panic attack in 10 years. I never felt the need to resume taking my medicine after giving birth. And although I no longer have a constant fear of fainting, I do have certain situations that trigger my anxiety, mostly related to my children's health.

I used to pray constantly, asking God "WHY?" Why was I consumed by panic and anxiety, while everyone around me seemed perfectly fine? While I still don't have the answer, I do have a few theories related to my personal weaknesses. And I know that God allows us to suffer and struggle in order to achieve His greater purpose. His power and strength are made known in our weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9-11 states: "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Easter 2016

Easter 2016 was another great one! We started the morning off with church and Easter baskets. Jenna received her first baby doll and the boys got a little candy and "Green Eggs and Ham".
Excuse Lucas' face. He took a fall the night before Easter and cut his forehead.
After church we went to my sister's house for lunch and some playtime. All the grandparents were there, which was really nice!

My sister and her neighbors set up a big egg hunt outside which the kids absolutely loved!
Ryan found $2 in his Easter eggs and Lucas found $1. They spent some of it the next day on the Ice Cream Man! Because they obviously needed more sugar.

Happy Easter 2016!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Easter Egg Hunts

Friday was a day full of Easter Egg Hunts and parties! We started off the morning with an egg hunt at our local park with Lucas' preschool classes.
 Jenna joined in the fun as well.
At one point I couldn't find Lucas. When I found him he was up on top of the playground stuffing candy into his mouth. Oops! He had a tantrum the whole way home because I wouldn't let him have any more candy. But then we regrouped and headed off to Ryan's school for more fun.
 Ryan's Kindergarten class had an egg hunt and then some treats and crafts inside.
It was a really fun morning!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Stitch Fix Review #23

Before I head in to my latest Stitch Fix review, I wanted to announce that Stitch Fix is now offering shoes! I don't typically spent much on shoes (hello Target!), nor do I own many shoes. (I think Adam honestly owns more shoes than me.) But from what I have seen, the shoes Stitch Fix is offering are incredibly cute and high quality. I actually requested a pair of strappy low-heeled wedges in this box but I didn't receive any. I'm guessing lower-heeled wedges are hard to come by. I'm excited to see what kind of shoes they may send me in the future though!

Last month I gave my stylist zero direction and I felt like my box was a bit of a miss. So this time I included an extensive list of requests. In addition to wedges, I also requested an Easter dress, white or light-wash jeans, and a solid colored dolman or tunic style top, to wear over some of my printed jeans and leggings. I did tell my stylist that I was really happy to have kept the purple paisley tunic from last month, and that I have already worn it a couple times over leggings.
My box this month was pretty good, but a few pieces left me scratching my head. I'm not sure if my expectations are too high or if Stitch Fix just doesn't have the items in their inventory that I'm requesting. Here is my note from my lovely stylist:

"Hi Stephanie! I am so happy to hear you found a new and different piece to add to your wardrobe! I took a peek at your blog and the tunic looks fabulous on you! I saw your request for some light wash denim and I can't wait to hear what you think of these jeans by Liverpool. They will push you slightly out of your comfort zone with their pull-on waistband, but the skinny fit and the high waist will flatter your figure and look great with the sleeveless tunic! Or try them on with the pastel printed top by Bobeau for an effortlessly casual outfit in the spring hues you are loving. I saw a floral pencil skirt you pinned and can't wait for you to slip on this skirt by Pixley! Wear it with your grey Market and Spruce Chelsi top from your September Fix and some slip on sneakers while running to a play date with the kids! Enjoy! Heather"

Katarzyna Split Neck Tunic by Collective Concepts
This tunic just really confused me. I wasn't a fan of the print at all, especially because I requested a solid colored tunic. I was picturing a light colored dolman style top that I could wear over leggings, my camo jeans, or my patterned leggings. This just isn't at all what I had in mind. However, the point of Stitch Fix isn't to requested specific items from your stylist, but more to give them a general idea of your style and let them pick out some surprises for you. In any case, this one is being returned. Status: RETURNED

Mira Skinny Jean by Liverpool
I am SO torn over these jeans. They are perhaps the most comfortable jeans I have ever put on my body. They basically feel like soft leggings, but they still look like jeans. The waistband is stretchy, with no buttons or zipper....almost like maternity pants! They are also pretty high-waisted and tight fitting. I wore them around the house for a little while, and NOT ONCE did I have to yank them back up due to sagging. This is huge! I can see myself wearing these jeans all the time during the cooler weather. My hesitation over buying them now is that I was really looking for some lighter wash cropped jeans. I'm considering sending these back and requesting them again during the cooler months, and instead using my clothing budget to buy jeans I will wear now. But should I risk sending them back? Status: UNDECIDED

Eve Floral Skirt by Pixley
My stylist sent this to me because I pinned a floral pencil skirt on my Pinterest board. I had a lot of fun trying this on with different tops in my closet. I thought the overall look was cute, but I finally decided it just wasn't a practical purchase for my lifestyle. I could wear it to church but I don't think I'd ever have another reason to wear it. I will say that it was incredibly soft and stretchy! Status: RETURNED

Shawnly Printed Knit Top by Bobeau

This top had some pretty muted Spring colors, but other then that I disliked everything about it. It was long-sleeve, which I don't need right now because the weather is already warming up. The higher neckline wasn't too flattering, and it was quite see-through, as you can probably tell by the pictures. Status: RETURNED

Kessie Knit Faux Wrap Dress by Brixon Ivy
Last month my stylist sent me a wrap dress that fit me beautifully. I wasn't crazy about the print, so I asked if it came in any other colors or patterns. This faux wrap dress is a pretty pattern, but unfortunately it is not the same dress. This dress has that darn cinched waist that is so unflattering on me. It makes me look boxy and lumpy. The other dress had a higher waistband on it that hit me in the perfect spot. Status: RETURNED

So there's box number 23! What do you think about the jeans? Should I keep them or send them back and request them later in the year? My original plan was to keep some great Spring pieces from this box and then take a 2-3 month break from Stitch Fix. Because I may not keep anything I'm tempted to request another box this month and give Stitch Fix one more shot before taking a break. What can I say....I'm hooked!

If you'd like to try Stitch Fix for yourself, would you please consider using my referral link?

Remember, you can request shoes, accessories, maternity, and petite sizes in your fix! Let me know if you have any questions!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lunch Bowls

What do you eat for lunch? I eat leftovers if they are available because they are fast and convenient. But on the days when we don't have leftovers or I just want something a little different, I love to put together a lunch bowl!

I've made quite a few variations of the lunch bowl, but it always has the same basic food groups. I start with some type of grain, and add in protein, healthy fats, vegetables, and a dressing. There are so many different possibilities for flavor combinations! I love to mix together a big batch at the beginning of the week because the flavor only gets better as the week goes on. Here are some ideas for ingredients:

Grains: Quinoa, rice, orzo, couscous, pasta etc.
Proteins: Chicken, Beans, Chickpeas, leftover steak, eggs, taco meat, etc.
Healthy Fats: Avocado, hummus, any type of cheese, etc.
Vegetables: Any veggies!
Dressing: Any combo of olive oil and an acid such as vinegar or lemon/lime

Here are a few combinations I have tried and loved:

Brown rice, leftover taco meat, black beans, corn, shredded cheddar, avocado, salsa or olive oil and lime juice (Like a Chipotle burrito bowl!)

Couscous, chickpeas, feta, cucumber, tomato, mint

Pasta, diced pepperoni, bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, parmesan, oregano, basil, olive oil (Adam used to love taking this in his lunch!)

Spaghetti noodles, diced chicken breast, shredded cabbage, shredded carrot, green onions, peanuts, sesame seeds, olive oil and soy sauce (or stir in a little peanut butter!)

Today I made a caprese salad using red quinoa, chickpeas, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. It was delicious and filling. For just 10 minutes spent in the kitchen, I now have lunch for the next 3 or 4 days!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Monkey Number 3

The reason it is getting harder for me to find time to blog? This little monkey:

My boys were climbers from a very early age. At the time I wasn't sure if it was just because they were boys, or if all kids love to climb. Well it may have taken her longer to get to this point, but Jenna is officially a little climbing monkey.

I turn around for one second and she has climbed onto a chair and then up on to the table,
Every single chair in our house is turned on its side right now. It's quite the interesting decorating approach.

One thing that Jenna seems to be doing much earlier than her brothers? Understanding every single thing I say! Just this morning I could tell she was about to go number 2 in her diaper. I sang out "Poopoo goes in the potty!" because that's pretty much all I've been saying for the past year while potty-training Lucas. Jenna immediately went to the baby-gate and started whimpering. I opened it for her and she ran into the bathroom and sat down on Lucas' potty. My boys didn't do this type of thing until they were ohhh maybe 2 and a half or 3? I'm hoping my little monkey number 3 will be an early potty-trainer!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Ryan's First Tooth Fairy Visit

Ryan's bottom two front teeth have been really loose all week. Ryan has been so excited about his upcoming visit from the tooth fairy that he has been sleeping with his tooth fairy pillow! He had an appointment to have his teeth cleaned yesterday at the dentist. So when the dentist asked me if we'd like her to wiggle out one of his teeth, I said go right ahead! Ryan was so happy!
Of course I immediately texted pictures to the grandparents. He's our first child, so these milestones are exciting for Mommy and Daddy too!

Ryan placed his tooth in his tooth fairy pillow last night and told me he would wait up for her. He told me that if he didn't see her in the middle of the night, he would probably see her someday in Heaven.

The tooth fairy came and left Ryan $2 for his first tooth. (I wanted to leave $1 and Adam wanted $3, so we met in the middle.)

Ryan came into our bed in the middle of the night and was so excited to show us the money he had found in his pillow!
His current plan is to give $1 to his brother so they can each buy a new hotwheel car. Once he gets money for his next tooth (which should fall out this week), he plans on saving up to buy a bike for Jenna. Isn't that sweet?? Although I have a feeling his plans will change many times as he continues to earn money! We plan on getting Ryan his first piggy bank when he turns 6, so then he will have a special place to save his tooth fairy money. (And allowance, but that's a topic for another post!)
The best part of all this is Ryan's new adorable little lisp. It sounds so cute. I love these little milestones!

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Daily Life Cycle of My Thoughts

6am: Whoa that was a rough night. I'm so tired. I just need coffee and a little food.

7am: Awww my kids are so cute in their PJ's. Today is going to be a great day!

8am: Whee! I'm going to accomplish SO much today! I'm going to do 5 loads of laundry, mop the floors, assemble 10 freezer meals, take the kids to the park, organize the play room, run some errands and cook a gourmet dinner!

10am: Ok, the house doesn't look any cleaner, but if I just try a little harder, I can get it all done!!

1pm: Oh my gosh. I. AM. SO. TIRED. Can I just lay down for a few minutes and rest? Why can't the kids just give me a few minutes of peace and quiet??

3pm: This house if officially a disaster. I give up. So far I've gotten 1 load of laundry washed, and I've broken up a million fights. Why did I think I could accomplish so much? Let's go outside.

5pm: I can do this. I can do this. 2 hours until bedtime. I just need to get through dinner and baths. Where is ADAM??
 5:30pm: I'm ready to throw my children out the window. TV time!!!


8pm: Why can't my kids just go to sleep? They're never going to fall asleep!

8:30pm: Ahhh all 3 kids are asleep. I love them so much! They're so cute and sweet in their jammies. I kind of miss them.

9:00pm: Now is my chance to get everything done!

9:30pm: Nevermind, I think I'll just eat ice cream.