livelovelearn.comI have tried to write the final post in my Food: Friend or Frenemy series for over two months (it took a solid four months to de-weaponize food and come to peace with it). I lost count of how many times I sat in front of my computer, put my hands on the keys, then got up and walked away.

Anxiety is like a pesky fly in the house. At first, it’s annoying but you can deal with it. Then the noisy little sucker starts dive bombing and doing loud flybys and you can’t focus on anything other than getting rid of that damn fly.

I gave myself permission to focus on defusing the anxiety. I knew I wouldn’t be able to figure out the trigger until I got rid of the anxiety.  And sure enough, after two months, and a lot of defusing, I figured out the trigger. It’s a trigger I’ve known about for well over a year but failed to recognize despite it’s familiarity.

Perfectionism.

Brené Brown described perfectionism in Daring Greatly asthe belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” Sister Brené continued, “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.”

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert added more nuance to Brené’s definition. Gilbert wrote about a novelist named Robert Stone who “joked that he possessed the two worst qualities imaginable in a writer: He was lazy, and he was a perfectionist.” She continued, “Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes- but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work. Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.”

Liz’s Gilbert’s definition of a lazy perfectionist fits me to a “T.” I know what I write won’t be perfect and may open me up to blame, judgment and shame. So when I sit down to write for the blog my inner lazy perfectionist starts poking my anxiety.

However, the great thing about identifying the trigger is I can develop tools to manage it. One tool I use to deal with my lazy perfectionist tendencies, is an affirmation from Brené Brown.

Unsued creativity is not benign It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame.

This quote is so important I made it the wallpaper on my phone.  It serves as a daily (hourly or minute by minute) reminder that expressing my creativity has to be a top priority. Writing is my primary creative outlet. I need it, I crave it. This mantra reminds me that if I don’t express my creativity, it will manifest negatively inside my body. So I have to write. I have to create. What I write may not be perfect or right or even good. But it’s me. And I’m trying.

 

 

 

*Trigger Warning: I talk candidly about eating disorder thoughts and behaviors in this post.

This is an interesting exercise that narrows in on the mechanics of my motivation to be Recovered. This exercise forced me to stop and think about my main eating disorder trigger (spoiler alert: it’s anxiety), what exacerbates that trigger and how I can defuse the anxiety without reverting back to unhealthy thoughts or behaviors. I have made several changes in an effort to manage my anxiety and my goal is to maintain those positive changes.

Anxiety is one doozy of a trigger. I am an anxious person by nature so sometimes I feel anxious and I don’t even know why. Other times my anxiety meter rises for reasons like: feeling like a bad Mom (big anxiety source), not connecting with Steve, the witching hours (between 2pm-4pm, my nemesis!), fear of not being able to get enough stuff done, body weight variations, feeling left out, feeling old, feeling ugly, feeling stupid, past trauma, feeling like a failure for not pursuing a career, and too much truth-telling (ie. a vulnerability hangover).

The overwhelming theme behind most of my anxiety triggers is shame. Shame makes me feel unworthy of love, belonging and connection which then triggers anxiety. As the anxiety intensifies I start searching for ways to release or relieve the pain. For a very long time, I used my eating disorder for this purpose because I thought it relieved the pain. Boy, was I wrong.

Several months ago I had a breakthrough. I discovered my anxiety cycle. I realized that I used my eating disorder to both fuel and cope with anxiety. The cycle started at baseline the day after a binge/purge episode.  By baseline, I mean zero to minimal anxiety because, let’s face it, the purging left me numb and exhausted. The numbness and exhaustion started to wear off around day three or four. I’d hate myself and feel like a failure because I’d sabotaged myself again, but, at that point, the hope that “things would be different this time” was stronger than the anxiety.

I used behaviors like restricting, counting calories and over-exercising to manage the daily anxiety.  I thought that if I just “lost the weight” everything would be better. What I failed to realize was that those thoughts and behaviors magnified the anxiety and made it worse.  So week after week the anxiety would continue to build and build until finally, it became too much and I would binge. I might binge once or twice a day for a few days. Then the shame of having binged would shoot my anxiety meter off the charts and I would turn to purging. I hated myself for doing it and I hated the fact that it was my “go to” anxiety release.

After I deconstructed my anxiety cycle, I started to look at my anxiety triggers and how I could defuse them before they got too intense.  I figured that if I could keep my anxiety low then maybe I wouldn’t be tempted to revert to eating disordered thoughts and behaviors.

I talked about it with my husband, friends, in group and with my therapist. I started to notice that anytime I said the word “defusing” I would make a motion with my hand, that to me, symbolized defusing anxiety. I do it all the time now and, for whatever reason, it helps me get centered and focus on finding a positive way to defuse anxiety.

So, in addition to a super sweet hand gesture, I figured out that working out (limited to a one hour class, three to four times a week), reading, writing, reaching out to Steve or a friend, positive affirmations, laughing with the boys, sharing my story with others and getting lost in a television show or movie help with my anxiety management.  So now, I turn to one or some of those coping mechanisms when I start feeling anxious. It wasn’t easy at first but the more I used the tools, the more I realized that they worked better than my eating disorder.

Yesterday morning is actually a good example of how I use several of the aforementioned coping strategies to keep my anxiety in check. I usually get up around 5 or 5:15 am. Harrison doesn’t get up until 6:30/6:45am and Wyatt graciously sleeps in until 7:30am. So I typically get at least an hour to an hour and a half all to myself. During that time I employ two anxiety management tools: writing and reaching out to a friend (I talk to my friend while she drives to work – she’s on the east coast).  These two tools help me start my day at a baseline level of zero to minimal anxiety. Needless to say, this time is sacred.

So yesterday, like most days, I was up at 5:15 am and ready to write before my friend Jamie called. It was a lovely morning, I took the dogs out, got my coffee and at approximately 5:25 am, I sat down at my computer and started to write…and then I heard it. A door opened, the little patter of a 3 year old’s footsteps and a then a little hand shaking the upstairs gate. Super. Harrison was up (curse you Daylight Savings Time!).

So my darling Harrison, whom I love so much, was up which meant no writing time. I did get my friend time which was nice but I was already starting to worry that I might not have enough time to write.  That, coupled with some “I’m a bad mom” shame for wishing Harrison would stay in his room (and leave me alone!) until 6:30 am, got my anxiety brewing.

As the morning progressed I started worrying about not being able to get everything done. I wanted to workout, clean the house, finish the laundry, write (this blog post and get it posted plus do some emails), read, play with the boys and then be a taxi service for their activities. Around 7:00am the anxiety started to intensify, “Would I have time to write while the boys are in school this morning?” “I really need to clean the house.” “What if I can’t think of anything to write about?” “Why are the boys constantly screaming at each other, is that normal?”

I started to think about skipping the gym so I could use the time the boys were in school to write. But then I got nervous that I wouldn’t write during that time. I might get writer’s block and then focus on cleaning the house and doing the laundry.  The anxiety was starting to snowball and manifest physically (dry mouth, sweaty palms, uneasy stomach, nerves on high alert). So I stopped. I took a moment, did my “diffusing” hand gesture, and focused on my next step.

Instead of letting the anxiety get worse, I decided to get to the gym. Physical exertion is a great anxiety diffuser, especially if you don’t give a rats ass about weight loss or what you look like and are only in it for the anxiety release. I did a Gold’s Fit class (kinda like crossfit) and, by the end of the class, my anxiety had dissipated.

Since I wasn’t on high alert anymore I was able to come home, clean for 10 minutes, take a shower and sit down and start writing. I had two hours of (almost) uninterrupted writing time. I didn’t get all the writing done that I wanted too (note: this blog post didn’t go up until the next day) but it felt great to have some time to explore and process my feelings.

Throughout the rest of the day I found time to read, play with the boys, write, and watch The Flash with Steve. At the end of the day I reminded myself that, regardless of what got done, today I was enough. Then I feel asleep.

I deal with anxiety everyday and some days I have to employ more tools than others. But by focusing on positive anxiety management I have been able to start living my life without using eating disorder thoughts or behaviors.