Tag: anxiety

Hey, I’m a Zebra: Part One

zebrahorses

Don’t worry. The title will make sense by the end of this, if you make it that far. (My darlings are survivors–no apologies.)

October 9, 2019, I woke before sunrise at my usual 5:30 AM, leaned up on an elbow in bed, and took a Synthroid pill stored on the bookshelf behind me. I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis requiring daily fake thyroid hormones to replace the ones my dumb jerk body no longer makes.

This was a movement I made every morning around the same time – nothing unusual. Slight upper back twist, plus I was going to the gym to treadmill and strength train multiple times weekly, as well as doing regular yoga. It should have been fine.

It was not fine.

I felt a sudden twinge of pain between my shoulder blades that grew rapidly stronger. Ouch. Not “I pulled a muscle!” ouch, but instead “Fuck, did someone just knife me in the back?” ouch. I froze, immediately flipped onto my back to assess, but it kept getting worse. I moved to the left side. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I got onto the right side. Zinging, radiating, pain. I couldn’t determine which muscle or bone was to blame. Lying very still didn’t help at all. Holy mother of cats, it hurt so much. I froze in place, trying to think logically about what to do.

***

Background: I first assumed back injury because 9 years earlier, I was hit by a distracted driver while waiting for a red light to turn green. He was doing 50 MPH and didn’t brake at all. He totaled his Ford Taurus and my Toyota 4Runner, violently slamming me into the car in front of mine. I spent 2 weeks in bed on painkillers, speaking in a hoarse whisper because the whiplash was so severe my neck and vocal cords were swollen, only getting up to roll sideways out of bed for crawl-walks to the restroom. This was followed by 2 months living/sleeping with my damaged right foot tendon (injured instinctively jammed down on the brake) in an Aircast® boot, and then 2 more months of physical therapy to get my foot working again after the boot was removed.

Short version: I assumed I’d tweaked my neck. Also, please don’t drive while distracted.

***

The pain was growing stronger by the minute, and emanating from what seemed to be the middle of my upper back into my neck, head, and jaw area. I began to sweat from the intensity. It was hot, sharp, moving upward, and my extremities had begun to tingle, arms and legs growing peripherally numb. I sat up in bed, stood, and almost passed out.

***

More background: I’ve had a C-section abdominal surgery (7 inch scar, stitches) after a 35 hour labor with my gigantic son, 24 hours of it active and without pain control of any kind, and a few years later, a hysterectomy/left oophorectomy abdominal surgery (5 inch scar, staples). I’ve had shingles on my face, forehead, and scalp for weeks (undiagnosed anxiety disorder). I’ve been been violently punched and beaten by two different men (broken finger, broken front tooth, damaged optic nerves, C-PTSD/panic disorder).

With that in mind, this pain was worse than anything, ever. I am known for my high pain tolerance (natural redhead – we’re weird about pain). An Urgent Care physician once commented, “Why aren’t you crying? If I had a break like yours, I’d be crying, for sure!” The bone had been broken for over 4 hours.

I share this “window into my tolerance for pain” not to sound tough, but to explain how incredibly explosive and horrific this moment was… I’ve literally never felt anything like it.

***

I ran to the bathroom with sweat trickling down my ribs, to empty my bowels in the way only pure adrenaline can. I mention this because 1) I have IBS-C, and the “C” stands for constipation, so this was not in any way normal for me, and because, 2) This complete elimination would be helpful later. (Please enjoy my fecal foreshadowing. You’re welcome.)

I began to involuntarily shake, which I would soon learn in the hospital, is my natural reaction to pain at 10+ on the Wong-Baker Faces Pain Scale. (Oooh… the hospital is coming. More foreshadowing. So exciting.)

I ran for the ibuprofen (<—this blood thinner was a bad idea… will the foreshadowing ever end?) in full primal panic, took 3 gel-caps, grabbed an ice pack out of the freezer, and placed it on my neck. The pain was making it hard to breathe–far worse than the peak of a labor contraction–and I finally accepted more was going on than a pulled neck muscle. My entire upper back/thoracic region was now on fire, and it was becoming harder to walk because of the tingling and numbness in my legs.

In searing pain, now teeth-chattering,  barely able to speak, I sat down alone on the living room couch in the dark, leaning back onto the ice pack because my arms were too weak to hold it up, and tried to once again assess the situation. I began to wonder if I was having a heart attack because of the jaw involvement and nausea/diarrhea. I’ve read that heart attacks can present in these ways for women. This medical show junkie was completely flummoxed, and in too much pain to think clearly. But I had to stay clear. Panic helps nothing. Assess, stay calm, assess, stay calm, panic will make it worse, stay calm, deep breathing, stay calm, assess. What is my next move? Do. Not. Panic. But the pain was making it so fucking hard to stay calm.

***

Oh, crap. She’s giving us more background: I am diagnosed with C-PTSD, which often helps me stay cool under pressure, and able to lose my shit later when I’m in a safe place. I believe this evolved as a coping mechanism to keep myself alive in violent and threatening situations. I can compartmentalize and dissociate like a rock star if needed – but the panic attack will have its way with me eventually. The body keeps the score, and all that. So I was now sitting quietly in the dark, wondering what I should do next. Sweat now literally running down my sides, stomach mercifully cleared of all contents, thinking about my son sleeping on the other side of the wall growing up without his mother. Good times, good times.

***

I should probably mention at this point that my husband, who is normally one of those people I envy who can sleep much later than 6 AM, happened to be awake while I ran frantically around the house groaning, because he’d had hernia surgery for 2 lower abdominal hernias 2 days earlier. He was in the early phase of his week off work for healing where the convalescent eats soup, takes pain meds, and sleeps odd hours. I had spent the day before taking care of him, made a trip to the grocery store to buy foods he could eat, and he was in no shape for a crisis. Poor bastard.

He called blearily from the bedroom, “What’s going on?”

I replied, “I don’t know yet… maybe a spine issue? Pulled muscle?”

Bent over in abdominal pain, he lurched out to the living room where I was leaning limply against the couch. We were quite a pair. (Watch the middle-aged people moaning in agony around the room, kids! Enjoy a glimpse into your future!) I could no longer lift my arms or legs–not even a finger or toe twitch–and they felt heavy, like they were metal and the floor was magnetic. I was for all intents and purposes quadriplegic, and I wondered how much longer I’d be able to breathe on my own or stay conscious if the paralysis moved further up my body. I knew if I succumbed to the panic attack, it would make everything worse, so I left my body a bit. I tried to stay calm by watching the situation from the outside, but the pain kept pulling me back into my body. Stupid pain.

He asked if he should call 9-1-1 and I said yep, I think paralysis of my arms and legs combined with the worst pain I’ve ever felt probably warrants that call. Fucking surreal moment. Also, as he was on pain meds, post-surgery, and not cleared to drive, there’s no way he could have gotten my newly-immobile human meat sack to the hospital. We needed help.

The 9-1-1 operator had him try to check my wrist pulse, which I can never feel, so I told him find my Adam’s apple and move up and to the side like I’ve learned in CPR classes, but then I think he and the 9-1-1 operator decided if I could help him find my pulse I probably had one and they stopped that part. She gave him the excellent advice to lock up any pets (2 indoor-only cats) and to turn on the porch light for the ambulance. He was then tasked with waking up our 13-year-old son, which is the part that makes my eyes water as I type this, because I’m a parent, and we want to protect our kids, not scare them.

I had been answering my husband’s questions in short bursts through my pain-clenched jaw, and now that my son was awake, I had to put on the strong mom mask. It has never been harder. I remember saying things like, “It’s probably just a slipped disc in my back, buddy. It hurts a lot, but I’m okay, don’t worry, the ambulance is on the way and they’re gonna fix me up,” and a bunch of other happy horseshit I didn’t believe. I honestly wondered if I’d ever see my child again.

We heard sirens and I was so relieved. The sirens stopped once they got into our neighborhood, which I later learned they do to avoid waking everybody up, which makes sense. At the time, however, I worried they’d driven past our neighborhood entrance.

We had our son grab my stuff, and open the door to wave down the ambulance. I will never forget the look on his young face as he stood by the front door, holding my purse to his chest while the EMTs rushed in, followed by the firefighters. He looked pale, and so, so scared. I hate that my stupid, weak body gave him that awful memory. I couldn’t protect him. I’m supposed to protect him. Damn it.

After asking the appropriate questions, the EMTs confirmed I needed to go to the hospital.

“Can you walk to the gurney?” they asked.

I tried to move my legs, and was horrified to find they were still completely paralyzed. I couldn’t even wiggle my toes. I then tried my arms. I couldn’t lift them or move my fingers. I tried so hard to do these simple things I’ve taken for granted my entire life, and no matter how hard I focused my brain, nothing moved. Lift an arm or leg as you read this. Go ahead, do it. Now imagine willing those limbs to move and nothing happening. No, not like when your arm falls asleep and you can flop it around tingling until the feeling comes back–I mean no movement at all, no matter how hard you try, you’re trapped inside your body. Like being held down by an invisible force, and completely helpless. That nightmare you have where the monster’s coming for you but you can’t move at all. That feeling.

(My biggest fear in life is being helpless, by the way. I was so far beyond horrified I can’t even describe it adequately with words. Just know that sometimes, still, at the end of a day when my back hurts badly in the affected area, I get scared enough that it’s happening again to shake and cry. I don’t want to go back to that helpless place ever again.)

I told them I couldn’t move, and the firefighters came in to help the EMTs lift all 5’9″-ish-and-not-underweight of me onto the wheeled stretcher. Yeah, not my best look. I was in a flimsy nightgown, too, with no underwear, which is just awesome. They came towards me with a small towel to support my neck. Terrified the tiny blanket would wiggle and make whatever was going on worse, I said, “Shouldn’t we put on a collar to support my spine?” The firefighter gave me an annoyed look, said, “Yeah, I guess,” and got a cervical collar. They put it on, and I was then 1-2-3 lifted onto the gurney like the dead weight I was, bless those strong men and women.

So here’s the thing about that collar, in case you’re ever in a similar situation. What we’d later learn was that what happened to me was so rare (without trauma) that there’s no way they could have known I definitely needed it, but the neurosurgeon with whom I’d soon become acquainted told me if I hadn’t gotten that C collar, I might have been permanently paralyzed. So trust your gut, kids. (And any awesome first responders reading this, please don’t dismiss annoying medical show fans, because we learn things sometimes while we watch TV and wish we’d pursued a nursing degree instead of a double major in English and psychology. Ahem.)

On the way out the door, I told my son I loved him more than everything, and not to worry. I still can’t think about his face in that moment. Stricken is the only word that comes to mind. Some combination of mortified, horrified, and bewildered that defies language. I never want to see that look on his face again. My husband called our next door neighbor, who happens to be a lifelong friend of his, because he couldn’t drive himself behind the ambulance (recent hernia surgery… again, poor bastard). Our friend drove them both to the hospital where they languished in the waiting room. My husband had his parents come pick up our son and he took the day off school because he was understandably freaked out. They took such good care of him, for which I will be eternally grateful.

I’ll never forget the bumpy, shitty roads of our state on the ambulance ride to the hospital because the pain blossomed like redneck fireworks as we hit every one of them. The sweet EMT woman put in an IV, attached electrodes, did something (I had my eyes squeezed shut because the ambulance lights were so bright) and said, “Well the good news is that you’re not having a heart attack!” and I felt a bit of relief. She noticed my eyes and asked if I’d like the lights off. I told her I’d love that and thank you (bright lights give me migraines). Eyes now open, I looked out the back ambulance windows at the city lights in the dark, moaning in pain with every bump, praying we’d get to the hospital quickly, because I’ve learned from 2 previous major abdominal surgeries hospitals have wonderful stuff that makes pain bearable.

When we got there, they loaded me into a dark bay where I could see a well-lit hospital hallway and people walking by casually, talking and laughing in scrubs. Concrete floors and barren white walls surrounded me. That’s it. No lights, no machines, no clock, no people–just me alone in the blank, shadowy loading area. It felt like a storage room in the back, like the bright hallway with the people were a doorway-shaped television set I could watch, but not access. The nice EMT lady wished me luck and left after giving my details to someone.

The intake nurse in the bay told me all the Acute Care rooms were full because there’d been a sudden weather change (it was Wednesday… not usually a busy day, she said) from warm to cold overnight. I knew this phenomenon always deflated my car’s tires, but didn’t know it was a thing that so dramatically affected people, too, before that morning.

Then she left me. For a long time. I tried to be patient (pun alert!) but I had been in the worst pain of my life for going on 2 hours at this point, and the lifting, jostling, and bumpy ride hadn’t helped. I. Wanted. Fucking. Pain control. And I wanted it NOW. It was growing harder and harder to choke down the panic attack. I felt vulnerable and helpless. I felt scared. I felt forgotten. I still couldn’t move my arms or legs. I thought I was going to die. Alone. In the dark.

Soaked with sweat and terrified, I started to shiver so violently (in the chest/torso area) I looked like I was convulsing, and a nurse checked in on me. Nurses know the signs of a person in severe pain, and she deemed me worthy of Percocet, the only pain medication my body will tolerate in pill form. It dulled everything down to maybe a 7 or 8, but I was bewildered by the lack of care. Nobody seemed concerned about me. I still wonder if I’d had the panic attack I was desperately holding in and started hyperventilating and wailing like I usually do in the master closet of our home, if they might have bumped me up the priority wheel. Screaming wheel gets the grease, right?

I later talked to my husband because I assumed it was one of those “felt like forever but was really only a few minutes” kind of things, but he assures me I was lying alone in the dark, empty bay-room, wondering if I was ever going to walk again because there was no sense of urgency–and why nobody was concerned that I was PARALYZED–for around 45 minutes. I’m completely serious when I say I could have coded and I don’t think anyone would have noticed.

***

Sad background: I remember in that moment I wanted my daddy, like a little kid. Except I didn’t get a loving biological dad, so I wanted the father I never had. I wanted a daddy, like a little kid, I guess. I wanted a guardian. I felt helpless and vulnerable and I wanted protection. I thought about how when my husband herniated a neck disc, his father drove him to the hospital and fought them to give him pain control–he angrily made them take care of him, the way a parent is supposed to advocate for their child. I remember wanting my husband’s father there because I knew he would make them come help me–he would angrily demand someone help me like he did for my husband, his son. I get frustrated with my father-in-law sometimes for needing to manage and control situations that maybe aren’t his jurisdiction–but when you’re in the shit and you need help, he’s exactly the kind of person you want on your side. I suddenly appreciated him so much more. I still do.

So yeah. I wanted that. I always feel alone. I’ve always been alone. But I’ve never felt more alone than in that moment. If I die here, I’ll die alone, I remember thinking, and my people won’t even know that these people ignored me instead of helping.

***

Meanwhile, my husband had been in the waiting room harassing the guard every 10 minutes to check and see if I was in Acute Care yet, asking could he please go be with me, feeling as confused as I was by the lack of urgency. It was really weird. I think, once again, the rarity of what was happening inside my body factored into the nonchalance of the medical professionals.  They had no idea that time was of the essence, and that I am freakishly lucky to not be paralyzed to this day, according to my neurologist and every study I’ve read. I think they thought I’d pulled a muscle and was overreacting, having a panic attack. Mostly, I think if I’d been a man, they might have taken me seriously. And that’s why I’m sharing this publicly. Because I’m hoping the next person who has a non-trauma-based, rare spinal injury like mine will be taken seriously from the start, regardless of gender.

(Yes, I went there. I’m playing the sexism card. Bam! It’s on the table, bitches. If you’ve never been given what I call The Little Lady Treatment by a condescending doctor with a God complex, as in, “Now, now… don’t worry your pretty head, little lady. No need to get hysterical. I know your body better than you do, and there’s nothing to worry about,” only to find out later from a doctor who listens that there sure as hell WAS something to worry about… you’re either lucky or male. Women are strong as hell. If we say we’re in pain, fucking BELIEVE US. We can silently, quietly take a lot of that shit. End rant.)

Possibly because my husband was harassing the front desk about me so much, they rolled my bed from the dark room out into the bright hallway to wait for an Acute Care room to open up, and finally let him come stand next to my wheeled stretcher. My husband tells me we then waited at least 30 more minutes for a room to open up. The Percocet had dulled the pain a little, but my husband remembers that I was still shivering. The medication that had seen me through two major abdominal surgeries, a broken bone, and shingles wasn’t touching this pain.

A room finally cleared and they wheeled me into a room with glass doors that slid open and shut, with a privacy curtain if needed. There was a brushed nickel toilet in the corner that made me think of prison. They hooked up hydrating solution to the IV the ambulance EMT had placed in the crook of my right arm. (Yay! Breakfast!) The pain had dulled somewhat, but was still in the 8+ range, and the incredible Acute Care nurse, Delores, believed me and added morphine to my pain control, which helped so much. It calmed me down and pulled me out of the panicked animal phase of whatever was going on so I could stop shaking and answer questions.

My arms and legs had regained a little bit of feeling, but whenever a nurse or doctor did the “squeeze my fingers with your hands, now push my hands with your feet” test, I could barely lift my arms a few inches and they said I was extremely weak. I was in shock, thinking about how I’d been pushing 180 pounds on the leg press machine at my gym a few days before, and now I could barely make my feet move forward into the open hands of medical professionals. I’d been treadmilling a few miles and lifting weights 4-5 days a week for years… and now I couldn’t walk. It was unfathomable.

I saw multiple doctors and had to re-tell the above story of my morning events to them all. They were busy and kept apologizing for how long it was taking to diagnose me, but said they had more pressing patients and kept leaving. Delores was an angel and kept my pain under control, and was so kind. I started to need to pee, but found that I couldn’t, either in a bed pan or when helped to weakly walk over to the prison toilet in the corner by Delores and her nurse trainee holding me up. This was both my and my husband’s first clue that something very, very wrong was going on with my spine, because if there’s one thing this girl can always do, it’s pee. I can pee, and then 5 minutes later, before we leave to go somewhere, I can pee again. My son rolls his eyes when we get to doctor appointments because mom always has to use the restroom before we go in. It’s a whole thing, how wimpy my bladder is, and now I couldn’t pee, even though my stomach and kidneys hurt. I now understand this is a symptom of spinal cord compression-related paralysis blocking the muscles needed to release the bladder, but I didn’t know that yet. It really scared us, because I’m normally the Pee Champion and all that.

Finally a doctor ordered 4 MRIs with and without contrast, of my thoracic and cervical spine/neck regions. Delores did a bladder sonogram, determined my bladder was indeed full, and put a pee pad under me in case I lost control during the MRI. Someone came and wheeled me off to the MRI while my poor exhausted husband waited in my Acute Care room, off the pain meds he needed for his hernia surgery, hurting and not resting like he should have been. My stupid injury set back his healing process dramatically, and I still feel guilty, even though I obviously didn’t mean to do this. But I’m not alive if I’m not feeling guilty, so, you know. It’s fun in here.

The MRIs took what felt like forever (do… not… like… clanging bright claustrophobic metal tube time… at all) and I was having a muscle spasm during the first one, for which the frustrated disembodied female voice inside my tube kept chastising me, as in, “You need to stop moving your neck. I don’t know why you keep wiggling your neck.” I told her I was having an involuntary muscle spasm starting between my shoulder blades on the left side, shooting up into my neck, I was sorry, and that I was trying to hold my breath to see if that would help. She never spoke to me or answered and it was making me panic, feeling like I was ruining the MRI, making it last forever. Would I ever escape the loud tube of doom?

Then, a kinder disembodied male voice inside my tube spoke up and said, “I’ll be taking over your MRI now,” and proceeded to guide me through it, telling me what to expect and for how long. It was like night and day, the difference between the two MRI techs, and I kept thanking him for telling me what was going on, and that it was helping me so much to know what to expect. My muscle even stopped twitching.

(Any MRI technicians reading this: I was anxious because fear of the unknown is scary for some people, especially those of us with trauma in our backgrounds and major trust issues. As soon as the nice guy started talking me through the MRI, my stress levels decreased dramatically. Please don’t shove us in the clanging bright claustrophobic metal tube, criticize us, and leave us alone with our thoughts because some of us catastrophize and need reassurance. Trauma Informed Care is the future of medicine. Learn it, please. Thank you. Love you.)

I got out of the MRI tube and the nice tech and a nurse helped me weakly wobble back into my rolling bed, which we later learned I shouldn’t have done. But there’s a saying in medicine: “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra”. We still thought my pain was a horse, because usually the hoofbeats are coming from a common bay mare. Unfortunately for me, we would soon learn from the MRIs we were dealing with a zebra. And it was a rainbow striped zebra, like the Fruit Stripe gum zebra, except my ordeal would not be anywhere near as fleeting as that ancient gum’s flavor.

I was wheeled back to the Acute Care room where my husband sat mired in post-surgical abdominal pain, and we waited for the results. A doctor came in to talk with us about them, sitting next to me, typing information into a computer. I did the hand-squeezy/foot-pushy tests for the umpteenth time that day, and he informed me there was bleeding inside of my spine, anterior (front of spine, not back) left, from the C/2 or C/3 neck (cervical) area and extending all the way down past the T/5 (thoracic) region. It seemed to be coming from what might be a tumor, lesion, or abscess around the T2 vertebrae, which could be cancer, and infection, or something else. No. Please no. My husband asked if this meant medication and physical therapy or what, and the doctor scared the daylights out of us both by grimly snapping, “Oh, no. Make no mistake… this is very serious. She’s going to need emergency surgery today.” Oh no. No, no, no. He told us the neurosurgeon would be in to talk to us soon, and left. OH MY GOD, NO. My husband asked, “Are you scared?” and I quietly replied “Yes,” but I was scream-thinking, “YES! Shitless! I am scared shitless!” I didn’t want to scare him further, so I kept that reply to myself.

What had happened is officially called a Spontaneous Spinal Epidural Hematoma, or SSEH. They’re so rare (0.1 in 100,000 per year) that I couldn’t find much research on them, which is why I’m writing this. I’m hoping that by telling my story, I might help anyone (medical professional or patient) recognize what’s going on more quickly if they recognize similar symptoms, because according to everything I’ve read, I shouldn’t be able to walk or use my legs today (i.e. acute neurological deficits), as my spine was compressed for just over 12 hours. The bleeding was towards the left, causing greater weakness on the left side, so if my issue had been mistaken for a stroke, and anticoagulants given, for example, it would have possibly caused more blood to enter my spine.

The extent of neurological recovery has been shown to be related to the interval between the onset of symptoms and surgery and also the degree of neurological deficit. It took the hospital, from loading me into the ambulance bay at 6 am-ish until emergency surgery at 5:30 pm-ish to diagnose this, which means I’m incredibly lucky to be able to type this right now. Or walk. Or pee on my own again. 50% of patients do not recover.

Above, I’m hyperlinking some of the fun information my husband found on the internet while I was having spine surgery and he was wondering if he’d be raising our son alone, or perhaps also taking care of his quadriplegic or paraplegic wife, what kinds of ramps/door-widening we’d need in the house for my wheelchair–if I got lucky and survived. All while in pain from not taking that day’s post-hernia surgery meds or lying down to rest. (Ugh. Guilt guilt guilt.)

My husband later told me he was paranoid the whole time they diagnosed my injury because as mentioned above, it happens literally once in a million without trauma, he’s 6’5″, and they always blame the husband. It didn’t even occur to me the whole time, but I had no signs of outer trauma on my back at all, so I don’t think this was never really in question. We both wonder if that was possibly why the doctor was so abrupt and snappy with him. He had an angry glare on his face while he told us I’d need surgery. Maybe it was just the end of his shift and he was tired or something, but he scared the fuck out of us both.

Delores, the best nurse ever in the history of nurses, had been by my side all day, and was about to give me a temporary in-n-out catheter to empty my bladder because her portable sonogram said it was really full (of IV fluids… I’d had nothing to eat or drink all day and it was now late afternoon). She told me we didn’t want my bladder to burst because that was very bad. But as soon as she heard I was going to need surgery, she told me she’d stay late so she could be the one to put in my Foley catheter (the kind that stays in, not the intermittent catheter). She told me less catheters means less chance of a UTI, so we might as well just place the Foley now. She was at the end of a 12 hour shift, AND she’d picked up an extra day that week, yet she still offered to stay late to put in my Foley catheter. I love her so much. If anyone reading this knows Delores at St. Francis, tell her she is an angel straight from heaven and I will be sending her positive energy and goodness for the rest of my life. Seriously. Somebody make me a millionaire so I can buy her a car or something, please.

The neurosurgeon and his assistant came into the room next, right as Delores was getting ready to cath me, and that queen stepped aside to wait, again, proving that nurses are amazing humans. She stood aside while the nice neurosurgeon with kind eyes and a calm manner talked to me about how he was going to have to open my spine and suck the blood out to decompress it, a laminectomy. He said they’d check the evacuated blood for cancer cells and infection while I was on the table, and go from there. His assistant was also kind, and I felt in very good hands. Fortunately, I hadn’t eaten anything since 5 pm the night before, so that wasn’t a conflict.

They left and a phlebotomist came in to put an IV in the crook of my other arm. I have tiny veins and the EMT already placed an IV into my right arm (the one good vein), but Blake must be the phlebotomist they call for tough cases, because he got a smaller needle into my left arm vein. (The Blood Whisperer, I call them. Every office has one, and they usually call them out to help after lesser phlebotomists have poked my hand veins to the point of massive walnut-sized swellings.)

Delores finally had the chance to put in the Foley catheter, and I immediately filled the bag. My stomach and kidneys stopped hurting. Oh, the relief… the bizarre relief of not being able to release your pee muscles until someone inserts a tube up your urethra, into your bladder, and then opens a balloon to hold it in place. It sounds awful, right? Except hold your pee all day long even though you’ve tried repeatedly to release it, until your lower abdomen hurts, and you’ll welcome that catheter tube, I promise you. Heaven.

***

Anxiety disorder background/Trauma Informed Care rant: In addition to my morning thyroid replacement pill for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, I take an anti-anxiety med 3 times daily to prevent Complex PTSD/anxiety disorder-related panic attacks. This is on record, and I’ve been on this prescription for years, under the treatment of a very good psychiatrist. I’ve tried to wean off this medication, for which my doctor has yelled at me because it can cause seizures to suddenly stop taking it, and because he says my brain chemistry is what it is–the neural pathways were formed as such–and I will need this medication for the rest of my life. (I don’t like taking medications. I’m sorry, doctor. I won’t do it again.) When I foolishly tried to wean off the meds, I noticed my hands and feet were tingling all day, looked it up, and sure enough, this was a symptom of weaning off my anti-anxiety meds. I took one and it stopped. Oh. Duh.

With this in mind, because most medical people don’t seem to understand Complex PTSD, generalized anxiety and panic disorder, which are two of my official diagnoses, the doctors typing my medical history into the computer kept recording my anti-anxiety medication as “1 daily, for sleep” rather than “taken 3 times a day” LIKE I REPEATEDLY TOLD THEM. Maybe because “for sleep” is a more typical dose? I don’t know, but I got all-caps shouty back there because this was immediately a source of frustration because I shouldn’t have to relive my multiple lifelong traumas explaining why I need doctor-prescribed meds to complete strangers because it’s triggering and none of their fucking business – and in this instance would continue to be really irritating for my entire week-long stay at the hospital.

I write “immediately a source of frustration,” because when various people coming in and out of an Acute Care room keep having you squeeze their fingers and push their hands with your feet, they also ask if you have any tingling and run pens along your toes and poke them and such. And I kept saying, “Yes, my hands and feet are numb and tingling, but I normally would have taken 2 anti-anxiety pills by now and when I go off them suddenly, my hands and feet get numb and tingle, so it could be that.” My logic being, let me take the damned anti-anxiety pills because 1) I can’t tell you exactly why my extremities are tingly if I don’t take my usually scheduled pills, and, 2) I’M FUCKING ANXIOUS AS FUCK BECAUSE I’M SUDDENLY PARALYZED AND IN PAIN AND I REALLY FUCKING NEED THEM. It was taking everything inside me not to have a panic attack for almost 12 hours straight, and nobody would give me the pills I’ve taken for years to stop the panic attacks. Before the meds, I had worked up to 2-4 panic attacks weekly and become agoraphobic because they’re humiliating. The anti-anxiety meds literally gave me back my life. I need them. (Sorry Big Pharma conspiracists. Rubbing coconut oil and turmeric on my asshole while sniffing essential oils wasn’t going to fix me. Western medicine and science for the win. Deal with it.)

So there was that. I had my anti-anxiety meds on me, but I was worried about surgical/anesthesia contraindications, so I didn’t take one all day. It didn’t help. I’ve had positive reactions to morphine after my other 2 major surgeries (good pain control, no itching), so I think that drug filled in a bit of the anxiety control for my missing daily pills. But still. The cause of the tingling was inconclusive.

Once the 2 inner arm IVs and Foley catheter were in, I figured we’d be waiting all night to be worked into the neurosurgeon’s schedule, but I think once he realized how long I’d been sitting in the hospital with a compressed spine, with my chances of not having neurological/motor deficits waning by the minute, he bumped me to the front of his surgeries because suddenly the orderlies were there to wheel me away. My husband and I were shocked by how fast everything started moving after the neurosurgeon spoke with us. I guess that’s why they call it emergency surgery.

It’s really important for me to be an organ donor–I’ve felt strongly about it since high school–and for the rest of me to be donated for medical research/students for learning purposes. If I hadn’t been so freaked out, I would have reminded my husband of these things, in addition to telling him I love him, but that’s all we had time to say and then they rolled me off to the giant white operating room.

We were met by 2 anesthesiologists who were super nice, and I told them how I grew up with bright red hair, even though it’s fading, and before I could mention how redheads handle anesthesia differently (I’ve woken up during surgery – we’re hard to keep down), the blonde one said, “So you need extra anesthesia,” and I was relieved she obviously knew her stuff.

She took off my nightgown so they wouldn’t have to cut it, which meant she had to lift each of my paralyzed arms for me, and this was such a touching moment for me, even though I felt like a weak child. I asked the anesthesiologists if they wanted me to count and they laughed, saying they didn’t make people count, and to just breathe. The mask went over my face. I stared at the bright lights, wondering if I was seeing my last glimpse of this world. I told myself to be brave, and I breathed.

Then darkness.

***

(To be continued, next blog, with pictures…)

Living with ADHD: Tips to Help Your Child Succeed at School

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If you are parenting a child with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), then you know how exhausting it can be to stay on top of their performance in school, and to help their neurologically atypical brains retain information.

The educators at your child’s school can be your best supporters, and under Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, they are required to work with parents to meet the needs of children significantly affected by ADHD. This means you will need to set up a meeting about your child’s ADHD to find ways to help them learn.

Below are some accommodations and teaching tips used to help kids with ADHD achieve success in school:

 

1. Paint It Positive—

For the psychological well-being of your child, it’s extremely important that you don’t describe their condition in a negative manner, and instead present it to them in a positive way. (Example: “You have a really fast brain… like a race car!”) Remind them that everyone learns differently… and that’s okay.

Be sure teachers are also treating kids with ADHD as “quick-brained” kids who learn differently, and not isolating them from the other kids, so they don’t feel ostracized or flawed.

 

2. Praise is Powerful—

Kids with ADHD often suffer from low self-esteem because they feel like they’re constantly failing at the things all of the neurologically typical children around them can do.

This makes it crucial to give them positive reinforcement for appropriate classroom behavior whenever possible.

 

3. Accountability for Actions—

It is important that kids are not allowed to use ADHD as an excuse for bad classroom behavior.

Even if the impulse control commonly exhibited by kids with this condition caused them to do something without thinking, there still need to be clearly defined and consistent consequences.

 

4. Selective Seating—

With the high distractibility factor of ADHD-brained children comes the need for a learning environment with the least amount of external stimulation possible.

Seating by windows, doors, pencil sharpeners and other concentration-breakers is not recommended.

Placement as close to the teacher as possible, facing forward is best, but if the classroom is organized in groups or tables, be sure to seat them near a well-organized, obedient child to provide a positive behavioral role model.

 

5. Simplify Steps—

One of the hardest things for an ADHD-brained person to do is remember more than a few steps at once. Be sure to deliver instructions one at a time, and repeat if necessary.

Because they are so easily distracted (when not hyper-focused and ignoring all around them), those with ADHD neurology can have very limited short term memory, so adjust classroom lessons and homework accordingly.

 

6. Orderly Organization—

Kids with ADHD are known for being disorganized and forgetful due to their distractibility and impulsive nature, making it hard for them to think beyond the moment.

These qualities are caused by a developmental delay in the prefrontal cortex of the brain: the part that controls executive functions, such as impulse control and focus.

This means they will need help remembering what to take home and bring back to school, with plenty of parent-teacher communication. A written system to remember important work or due dates can help, as can a list posted in their locker to be checked before leaving school every day.

For older children, an extra set of all textbooks to be kept at home can help eliminate the issue of forgetting to bring books home for homework.

 

7. Remembering Routines—

Getting into a routine can be helpful for any child, but for the ADHD mind, routine is necessary for remembering important daily tasks. Forming regular habits can eventually train the brain to better recall what needs to be done every day.

In the classroom, giving the ADHD child a set schedule and sticking to it will help them feel less anxious about what is expected from them.

If this weekly routine can be written down for them to reference, it will help eliminate worries about forgetting something important.

 

Kids with ADHD have trouble sitting still, exhibit impulsive, distracting behavior, and have trouble focusing or paying attention; all of which can make them very difficult to teach.

But with up to 12% of the school-age population diagnosed with this condition, it’s important to remember that you are not alone, and there are many ways for you and their teachers to help your child thrive. With your help, and the support of professional educators, your ADHD-brained child will be able to find success at school.

Do Better, Henry

I recently read a Spin article discussing the stance Henry Rollins took on the topic of suicide via his website; that it is a selfish act, rather than something depressed and desperate people fighting mental illness do because they can no longer tolerate the pain of being alive.*

I used to be ignorant too, because I was genetically “blessed” with the opposite of depression: I am diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorder with associated agoraphobia. So rather than “pick-me-up” pills like anti-depressants, my brain functions better with “calm-the-eff-down” pills, which I take daily, with success.

Because I had never experienced depression growing up, I never understood it. I had always felt happy to be alive, grateful to be given every day I received, and I too, used to think depressed people simply needed an attitude adjustment. Back then, I might have nodded my foolish head along with Henry Rollins as he recently stated: “Fuck suicide. Life isn’t anything but what you make it.”

In my youth, I wasn’t openly dismissive of the depressed, but would privately think, “Why don’t they just get some fresh air and take a walk, exercise, read a book, or go be with nature?” because these were things that comforted or uplifted me if I needed peace.

As if people are all the same. As if what worked for me would magically cheer up other people. As if my particular brain chemistry applied to all.

I was so stupid.

***

My 20s panic attacks were an occasional thing I attributed to either low blood sugar or asthma. I felt humiliated when they happened and lived in denial, because if they weren’t happening for a physiological reason, that made me one of the weak people who couldn’t handle life; one of the people Henry Rollins has spoken out against with his disdain** for depressed people.

What I didn’t yet understand is that anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental illnesses DO happen for physiological reasons, and are as beyond the control of the person experiencing them as any other illnesses.

If I had been experiencing seizures because of a chemical imbalance in my brain, for example, I would have immediately headed to a doctor for anti-seizure medication. But because so many people chastise those with the brain chemical imbalances behind mental illnesses and dismiss them as weak, I’d bought into this theory, too.

So I didn’t seek help, and would instead try to hide when the panic attacks happened in public. When my chest would tighten and I’d begin to gasp for air, when my vision would start to tunnel, when I’d drop my basket in the middle of the store and run for my car, soaked with sweat, my heart-pounding, and when I’d have a panic attack in the car while driving, pulling into the closest parking lot to cry tears of terror, I was bewildered because I had no idea why my body was doing this.

And I was ashamed. So very ashamed. I am weak and pathetic, I’d think to myself.

And I was terrified, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Am I dying?

But then the mean, all-logic, no-emotion voice in my head would chastise me.

“Come on, you wimp. Pull up your big girl pants and move on,” my inner drill sergeant would bark, “You’re lucky to be alive, somebody always has it worse than you, and you have no reason to be crying, so get on with it!”

I’d take deep breaths, finish crying, feel utterly humiliated by my self-perceived weakness… and I’d eventually get on with it.

***

Cut to me at age 34, a book-loving, classic introvert with severe social anxiety. In bars and at parties, I used alcohol as a natural sedative to function amongst people without breaking out in hives. At work with the public, I wore an over-compensatory cloak of extreme friendliness to hide my social fears that employers loved, as an always smiling, non-confrontational employee makes any company look great.

(I waited on Henry Rollins while working at a Trader Joe’s in West Hollywood, by the way. He was always very kind, polite, and really loves cheese popcorn.)

I had been playing in bands for the last 12 years, which people who really know me have trouble understanding, considering my anxiety. The best way I can explain it is that onstage, I got to be someone else, and that girl wasn’t the shy, awkward chick who couldn’t make small talk to save her life. (It felt like an acting role. It was a beautiful escape from The Unbearable Lightness of Being Me.)

Then I got married, pregnant, had a baby at 35, moved from Los Angeles to Tulsa, and was suddenly isolated from all family and friends, no longer playing music, while staying with a lovely and kind member of my husband’s family.

The once-carefree, guitar playing and singing rocker chick was now alone all day in the suburbs with a 2-month-old who didn’t sleep more than 2 hours in a row until his 9th month (and stopped napping at 2-years-old).

We now know his sleep issues were symptoms of his ADHD/gifted neurology, but at the time I just thought I was doing everything wrong, as new parents are wont to believe. I was deliriously tired to the point of hallucinating, and… BAM. I experienced depression for the first time in my generally happy life.

I need 8 hours of sleep a night to function, and I was now going on months without REM. Sleep deprivation is used as torture for very good reason. I think this, combined with roller-coaster-ing postpartum hormones, had everything to do with my depression, and I hazily remember tears pouring down my face as I fed the baby.

I was strung out, wrung dry, beyond exhausted, alone without the support of my family or friends, and for the first time in my usually positive, high-energy life, everything felt pointless.

I logically knew I was the luckiest woman alive, with a healthy (albeit sleepless) new baby, a husband who loved me and treated me well, a roof over my head, and food on the table.

But despite all logic to the contrary, my emotional side simply couldn’t grasp that I had no real problems and nothing about which to complain. Sadness was sitting on my shoulder like an unwanted gargoyle of misery, and I couldn’t shake the ugly bastard off, no matter what I tried. Exercise didn’t work anymore. Nature wasn’t cutting it. I was officially depressed.

Possibly the weirdest thing about my depression was that I didn’t even have the will or desire to complain… I just felt kind of numb. I’m a lot of things, but numb isn’t usually one of them. I’m a fighter of injustices. I’m a complainer. I kvetch. I speak up – like I’m doing right now. The numb feeling was my main clue that things were very, very off inside my brain.

The old me that could look optimistically into the future, the girl who simply appreciated “every day above ground” was gone, and in her place was a drained and empty shell that couldn’t figure out where she’d misplaced her hope. It was so weird to logically know all was okay, yet emotionally feel a huge disconnect. I had no reason to be depressed. Nonetheless, I still was depressed. But logic and emotion, as we all know, are two completely separate things.

I had a new understanding about the physiology of mental illness, and oceans empathy for anyone experiencing depression. I vowed to never be of the callous, unsympathetic “People who commit suicide are selfish!” mindset again. Because I wanted to stop feeling sad more than anything in the world, and there was no way to “choose” happy anymore. I finally realized that for many people, happiness is not a choice.

And it’s insulting and cruel to say this. Are you really telling depressed people they’re choosing to be miserable?

I stopped breastfeeding at 6 months, even though I’d wanted to continue for at least my son’s first year. But I needed sleep. My brain chemistry was obviously imbalanced and I was horrified by the fact that I couldn’t escape the fog of sadness. I never reached the point of suicidal thoughts, but I’d definitely checked into Hotel Hopeless, and that was scary enough.

I started getting more sleep, and very slowly, the fog of depression lifted for me.

Because I got lucky.

***

I was entering my 40s before I finally spoke to a psychiatrist about my anxiety, and the only reason I did this was because my hyperactive son needed a calm mommy, and the panic attacks were now happening on a near-daily basis. Only because I could no longer function as a parent (as “leaving the house” is necessary for that job) was I forced to the doctor.

I got on daily Xanax and the panic attacks stopped immediately. I feel no euphoria on the medication, and only like a calmer version of myself who doesn’t go straight into “fight” mode at every perceived threat. The medication gave me back my life, gave my husband back his wife, and most importantly: it makes me a better mother for my son.

I only wish I’d sought help years ago. I’ve wasted so many years living in fear, and it’s partly because people like Henry Rollins who equate mental illness with selfishness made me feel like the chemical imbalances in my brain were a sign of weakness, and something I could control. Because my life isn’t anything but what I make it, right, Henry?

Wrong. And fuck anyone who thinks so. I now know I’m not weak, as I once believed – I’m actually incredibly strong for dealing with my anxiety alone and without help for so long. And I feel the same way about every depressed person on the planet – yes, even if they kill themselves.

***

Two of my mom’s brothers (my uncles) committed suicide in their 20s. They held onto life as long as they could stand it, and killed themselves because the pain of being alive was unbearable, and I don’t see anything selfish in that. It just makes me feel really, really sad for them. Because I have empathy.

Mental illness is legitimate and real, and it’s time we stop making people feel ashamed and alone for physiology beyond their control by ostracizing them for their “icky” feelings because we’re too uncomfortable to talk openly about them. Everyone has a different life perspective, and everyone is allowed to interpret their experiences any way they will, without shame.

What might be “no big deal” to one person can severely traumatize another, because we’re not fucking robots.

Pain is not a contest.

And showing pain is not a sign of weakness.

You’re not stronger than the person dealing with mental illness because you’re handling rough situations better than they are; you might have simply gotten a luckier roll of the genetic dice.

Or maybe you compartmentalize bad things more efficiently.

Or maybe they’ve been pushed over the edge into darkness, and you haven’t yet. Who knows?

But maybe instead of feeling cocky or stronger than them, you could try feeling grateful or compassionate.

Or shit… feel whatever the hell you want to feel… but please stop shaming others for their feelings, because you’re making them feel too humiliated to seek help, and that’s just mean.

 

What anyone who thinks depression is a “choice” made by people who aren’t “making their lives into what they should” needs to realize is that the one thing in the world depressed people wish they could be more than anything else is happy.

 

Nobody “chooses” depression.

 

All Henry Rollins has done with this ignorant opinion is potentially shame people suffering from depression by making them feel weak and pathetic, and possibly too embarrassed to seek help.

 

Way to go, Henry.

 

 

*I am not linking the website of Henry Rollins because I don’t want to increase website traffic for someone with an intolerant and uncompassionate view of mental illness.

 

**Actually, on his website, Henry Rollins spelled the word disdain as distain, but as an English major and Hall & Oates fan from way back, I can’t go for that. (No can do.) Both are official words, which is probably why he didn’t catch it with spellcheck, but in this context, he was clearly using it to mean “scorn or contempt,” which is the definition for disdain.

 

Also: Here’s an excellent article about suicide I highly recommend:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katie-hurley/theres-nothing-selfish-about-suicide_b_5672519.html

Fitness Faux Pas: 5 Ways You’re Doing the Gym Wrong

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Every day, I go to the gym after I see my son off to school. I’m diagnosed with ADHD and generalized anxiety/panic disorder, so after I have a green protein shake and my delicious daily Xanax, I go to the gym. This allows me to burn excess energy, get the positive endorphins flowing, and work off anxiety.

And every day, the people in my gym unknowingly cause me some of the anxiety I’m there to alleviate.

I’ve been working out at home and in gyms since I was 14, and am well-versed in proper weightlifting form. I’m one of those wacky people who’s always loved to exercise, probably because it corrects a lot of my brain chemical imbalances and raises my low self-esteem. (Let’s hear it for body image issues! Woo! No? Just me?) If I start my day with a good workout, I have a better day. It’s guaranteed. So not going to the gym isn’t an option.

Because of the aforementioned anxiety disorder, I belong to a smaller gym. I chose it because I can see the exits from everywhere in the gym, and the front is made of glass. If this sounds odd to you, familiarize yourself with the symptoms of generalized anxiety and panic disorder (similar to PTSD), and you’ll understand.

(I don’t like crowds, I need a clear escape route wherever I go, I have an overactive startle reflex, and I trust no one. Xanax literally gave me back my life; at least the life outside of my home.)

But the people. Oh, some of the people in my gym. Just… wow.

I should say that most of the people in my gym are nice, have great manners, we say hello, and they’re lovely humans. But there are a few that stress me out on a regular basis, and those are the people I’d like to discuss here.

With this in mind, I want to send out into the intellectual ether a list of annoying gym habits, so people may nod their heads in agreement with me – or will please stop doing these things if they recognize themselves.

***

 1. The Super Slammer— 

Hi, Meatbird. May I call you Meatbird? No? Okay, sorry. It’s just that you seem obsessed with amassing flesh on your upper body, while completely ignoring the lower half. Your workout regimen is giving you the appearance of a bulky, top-heavy bird, and calling you “Turkey” seemed rude. Forgive me. I’m probably just being bitchy because I’m jealous of your delicate ankles.

Anyhow… Chad. Todd. Blake. Whatever your name is. If you could stop slamming the weights down after every… single… one… of the 5 reps you’re barely able to do because you’re lifting more than you can handle, that would be great. (<— Say this in the classic “Office Space” annoying boss voice for extra points.)

Because firstly, you’re scaring the ever-loving shit out of everyone in the gym who isn’t looking in your direction when you loudly drop the weights. Yes, even the people who don’t have anxiety disorders.

And secondly, those who are knowledgeable about weightlifting realize that controlling your repetitions on the way down is just as important for muscle-building as the upward movement.

In short: You’re being such a loud jackass that I can’t even drown out your crashing noises with my headphones cranked to the max. Stop it. And learn proper weightlifting form, brah. You look like total newb.

 2. The Heartrate Hog— 

Hi, Lady at My Gym Who Wears Jeans and Does the Crossword on the Recumbent Bike for an Hour. I just wanted to let you know you’re being rude.

“Why?” you may ask. Or not. I don’t care. I’m going to tell you either way. You’re being rude because there are only 2 recumbent bikes in our smallish gym for middle-aged people like myself who trashed our knees via youthful running, and can now only do knee-friendly cardio. Since we can’t fit a swimming pool in our gym, this leaves only the bikes for bunk-kneed folks like me.

Except… when you monopolize 1 of the 2 bikes while the other is in use to pedal so slowly you’re able to legibly write words across and down. Then, this doesn’t leave any bikes at all. Just you. In your jeans and cardigan. Doing the crossword. For an hour.

It’s sometimes written via signs on gym walls, but mostly it’s an Unspoken Rule of Gym Club (it’s the second rule, actually… I’m breaking the first rule with this article) that if all versions of a cardio machine are full, polite gym members limit their cardio to 30 minutes per machine.

Did you know this? Of course you didn’t, or I’m sure you would stop your rousing hour-long game of newspaper trivia to let someone else have a chance to bike.

In short: Why you don’t spend your gym membership money on a recumbent bike for your home, and give those of us who want to break a sweat a chance to do some fucking cardio? Thanks.

3. Just the Pro-Tip, I Promise— 

Hi, Brian. I’m calling you Brian for this article, because that’s the actual name of the guy at my gym who used to give me constant pro-tips. Because of this, all pro-tippers will forever be known as Brian to me. Sorry, nice Brians of the world. It’s not your fault. Brian at my gym ruined it for you. Blame pro-tip Brian, other Brians.

Even though I don’t know Brian at all, Brian likes to walk over to me while I’m doing leg lift machine reps and give me amazing pro-tips like “twist your legs from side to side to work all the muscles.” I stupidly tried it. This resulted in my wrenched knees becoming so painful from twisting them while lifting that I couldn’t walk the next day.

Brian also gave me a pro-tip that involved my neck muscles, which are easily hurt ever since I was rear-ended by a distracted driver doing 50 MPH as I waited for a light to turn green. I told Brian this, but he assured me that no, it wouldn’t hurt my neck. That pro-tip set my fitness regimen back about a week as I waited for my strained neck muscles to heal.

Now I ignore Brian, and all the other pro-tip givers trying to “help me” (read: boost their insecure egos by condescendingly trying to teach someone who already knows how to exercise).

In short: Unless I’m paying you to be my personal trainer, get the fuck out of my face and let me work out. And save your ego issues for your therapist, unless you’re going to pay me to help you with those. Brian.

4. My Long Lost Relative— 

Hi, My Long Lost Relative! It’s great to meet you!

What do you mean, we’re not related? I don’t understand.

No, I’m not crazy, I promise. It’s just that you left so much DNA via the oily rivulets of fluid dripping down the seat and back of the weight machine you last used, that when I sat in it, I figured we became automatic Sweat Siblings.

So what you’re saying is that we’re not Sweat Siblings now? Darn.

I’m disappointed because I was hoping that you could be the younger Sweat Sibling. And then cleaning repulsive human secretions off the weight machines would be a chore our Sweat Mom would make you do. You know, since you left them there and all.

In short: You’re disgusting. See all the free paper towels and bottles of cleaner our gym has conveniently placed in all areas? Use them, you horrifying perspiration beast.

5. The Lazy Lifter—

Hi, Lazy Lifter! Yes, you. I’m talking to you.

“But I’m at the gym… how can I be lazy?” you ask?

You’re lazy because you come to the gym, in theory, to exercise, and then despite the signs asking you to rack your weights, you still leave them on the bars and machines for someone else to take off.

I notice this most often when I walk over to use the leg press machine and there are 4 heavy weights on the bar – on each side – that have been left by the last user. This makes me worry that someone is still using it, and also, that I’m going to pull that pesky weak-ass neck muscle I mentioned above as I unload the 8 large weights you left behind.

This is equivalent to getting a glass of milk and leaving the carton out for the next person to put into the refrigerator for you.

This is equivalent to taking a big dump in a toilet and leaving it for the next person to flush for you.

This is equivalent to being an inconsiderate asshole who leaves weights on the machines for the next person to take off for you.

In short: There’s no short version of this one. If you don’t know what I’m asking you to do, you’re as dumb as the weights you don’t put back where they belong.

***

This concludes my current list of top gym etiquette frustrations, with a bonus shout-out to the guy who “saves” machines by putting his gym bag on the one he’s not using at the moment, like we’re in a high school cafeteria rather than a gym.

Also: An extra-special bonus shout-out goes to the large man who was at the gym the one – and last – time I tried to go at 4 a.m. to avoid the crowds (and be guaranteed a precious recumbent bike).

When it was just you and me, alone in the gym, sir, and you growled in a disturbingly sexual way while lifting weights, and then counted your reps out loud in a raspy serial killer voice behind me, I decided I’d never go to the gym in the dark again. Thanks for the extra terror-calories I burned that day, dude. My hot bod will totally be worth the nightmares.

*Cool photo at top by SandyJo Kelly, via Flikr Creative Commons.

Are You That Person? 8 Common Gym Etiquette Offenders

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Those who work out in a gym may recognize certain people who annoy others with rude or oblivious behavior. Discourteous actions can put a damper on a workout, making it a frustrating and irritating experience, rather than a positive one.

Read below about 8 common gym etiquette offenders anyone can avoid becoming with a little consideration for others.

 

1. The Slammer—

You may be startled this person’s weights crashing to the ground, or by their weight machine clanking deafeningly between repetitions.

Not only are these loud noises annoying for those near The Slammer, people with anxiety disorders such as PTSD can find them to be anxiety triggers, turning a trip to the gym from cathartic to stressful.

The Slammer is also known by anyone with knowledge of proper form as The Cheater, because not controlling weights on the way down doesn’t allow muscles to be fully used, and is lazy lifting.

 

2. The Super Soaker—

Yes, sweating at the gym is normal, but people should realize that excess sweat has to go somewhere, and unfortunately, the weight machines, bikes and benches are not made of sponge.

Most gyms have paper towels available and conveniently placed, hoping people will wipe up their own wetness. But if your gym doesn’t offer this feature, there is an amazing moisture-absorbing invention called a towel we can all use so the person after us won’t be forced to share our DNA.

 

3. The Machine Monopolizer—

Boy, you’d love to use that weight machine. And that one, too. But that person at your gym has decided to drape a towel over each one to “save” them while rotating, making it so nobody else can use the machines they’re monopolizing.

This is very rude, because by making people wait to use an empty machine, The Monopolizer is saying to everyone, “My time is more important than your time.”

Working different muscle groups is effective, but can be done without hogging machines.

 

4. The Slowpoke—

The Slowpoke is that person casually reading a book, or sitting for long stretches of time between sets on the same machine, not really working out hard enough to accomplish anything.

Usually only at the gym to placate their nagging doctor, or to feel like they’re “doing something for their health,” what The Slowpoke doesn’t realize is that if they aren’t going to actually work the muscles, they’re only wasting their time. And yours.

 

5. The Cardio Keeper—

The general rule in most gyms, whether posted or not, is that if the cardio machines are full, gym members should limit time to 30 minutes to allow other members a chance to warm up.

You’ll recognize The Cardio Keeper as that person who sees people waiting to use a cardio machine, but inconsiderately stays on for an hour.

 

6. The Weight Leaver—

The most perplexing of gym etiquette offenders, The Weight Leaver is an elusive and confusing creature.

You won’t see the weight leaver, but you will know them by their trail of weights. You know… the weights they came to the gym to lift, yet lazily left on every machine they used?

Gym etiquette experts have yet to figure out why anyone would come to a gym to use their muscles, but then be lazy about doing exactly that.

Perhaps someday the mystery of The Weight Leaver will be solved, but until then, the rest of us will have to rack the weights these slothful mammals leave behind.

 

7. The Expert—

That’s funny – you don’t recall hiring a personal trainer. Yet looming over you while you work out, giving you “pro-tips” is a complete stranger who has decided to boost their ego by telling you what you’re doing wrong.

If nobody asked, there’s a reason for that, but The Expert seems to have no clue. The best way to avoid The Expert is by ignoring them until they go away.

 

8. The Yapper—

This person has a cell phone, and they’re not afraid to use it – loudly – and usually while you’re trapped next to them, trying to get some cardio.

Try as you might to outpace their conversation, it will race along beside you, forcing you to be an unwitting participant in a complete stranger’s relationship with another human.

When faced with The Yapper, feel free to hum loudly, or even join in on the fascinating discussion about what their co-worker said today and what they’re making for dinner.

 

It really isn’t difficult to be a considerate gym member or human. By trying to avoid the behaviors above, and having respect for the people around us, we can all have a great gym workout every time.

Exercise Away Anxiety: 6 Tips to Naturally Reduce Tension

Nature Walker (2)

 

We live in a sometimes stressful world, with work, family, and financial problems listed as common reasons for extra pressure. But there doesn’t always have to be an obvious cause for stress, and many people have anxiety disorders or panic attacks – even when there seems to be no logical reason for the fearful feelings.

The good news is that in addition to anti-anxiety medications, there are many all-natural ways to reduce the overwhelming, scary feelings stress can cause, with exercise being the most soothing solution for many. Exercise can sometimes even alleviate tension to the point that medication is unnecessary, making it a valuable resource for anyone with anxiety.

 

Below are 6 easy ways to naturally reduce tension and lessen stress:

 

1. Find Your Joy—

It doesn’t have to be a strict exercise program, or even anything conventional; just find something you enjoy doing that gets you moving and do it, because any form of exercise reduces stress hormones and increases positive endorphins.

If your idea of a good time is window shopping at your local mall, for example, that works just fine. If it keeps you walking, you’re moving, and if you’re moving, it counts as exercise – no gym required.

Gardening and landscaping is another activity not generally considered traditional exercise that has all of the same benefits as working out in a more structured setting, combined with the calming effect of nature. Keep an open mind, find something you love to do, and leave that sedentary lifestyle behind.

 

2. Yoga is Calming—

Yoga is the most recommended form of anxiety-reducing exercise because it’s done in a mellow atmosphere in a meditative fashion that seems to soothe most people who participate.

Something about quietly, gently stretching muscles and moving slowly forces our minds to be in the moment, shutting out the worries as we focus on the positions and deep breathing.

Find a class if you like instruction and human interaction, or buy yoga DVDs to do at home if you’re an introvert. No matter how you do it, the tension-relieving benefits will be felt immediately.

 

3. Martial Arts Can Be Empowering—

For some personality types, calm exercises don’t quite get rid of the tension like a more intense form of exercise, making martial arts training an excellent choice.

People with fearfulness borne from PTSD (or other types of anxiety disorders involving safety issues) who are nervous and jumpy may find martial arts training to be extremely empowering.

Because of this, many realize that by learning to defend themselves in all situations, they feel less afraid and more confident, greatly reducing general anxiety in all areas of life.

 

4. Weightlifting is Cathartic—

Strength training—especially when it involves using the bigger muscles of the body—can work off major amounts of nervous energy, as well as increasing muscle mass and building bone mineral density.

People with ADHD and anxiety disorders often find great relief in exercises that involve resistance, such as using machines at the gym, elastic bands, squats and lunges with barbell weights, and dumbbells for arm exercises.

In addition to reducing stress hormones and increasing good endorphins, weightlifting can be cathartic because it gives the anxious person an outlet at which to direct their feelings of stress so they can be released in a healthy way.

 

5. Take a Walk—

It’s estimated that anxiety disorders affect around 40 million people in America, and many studies have been conducted that prove exercise greatly helps relieve stress and depression.

For example, psychiatrists now suggest that taking a 10-minute walk can be as effective at elevating mood and releasing tension as a more strenuous 45-minute workout.

Sometimes a change of venue and a quick stroll through nature, a neighborhood, or your favorite city streets can derail a negative train of thought, setting you on the right track for some fresh air and a new frame of mind.

 

6. Sneak in Exercise—

If you’re not one for gym workouts, yoga classes or other such formal versions of exercise, don’t forget there are ways to get your body moving that don’t have to make it “official.”

To trick yourself into more motion, start parking the car on the outskirts of parking lots and walking further to businesses you frequent, rather than trying to find the spot closest to the door. Take the stairs at work instead of riding the elevator. Wash your car by hand instead of using the drive-through version.

You get the idea. Take the road less traveled as often as possible, and you’ll be accidentally active and eliminating anxiety before you know it.

 

Whether you have occasional, situational anxiety, or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it’s very apparent that exercise can reduce or eliminate stress for many people, providing relief from tension and worry. If you’re dealing with anxiety, consider adding one of the excellent stress-relieving exercises to your daily regimen to work off nervous energy and soothe your soul.