Monday, October 1, 2012

Mountain Memories

On the grounds of the Appalachian Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - September 19, 2012

Just over a week ago, I returned home from my wonderful getaway to Maggie Valley, but it seems like the trip happened in another lifetime.  I knew that I was returning home to a hotbed of stress in my own life, but didn't anticipate the role that my health would play in my ability to deal appropriately with that stress.  Some of it, I can write about - some, too personal to share.  I'm making every effort to use this period in my life to evaluate, learn and grow.  I find it interesting when roaming around in BlogWorld, to find that it isn't just me.  Seems a time when so many are struggling in ways that seem (to them) simply beyond their ability to cope or care.  Blogging becomes far less frequent and when posts do appear, the stories are gut-wrenching.  It parallels our real lives in so many ways because you want to help, but realize that this is where blogging has its limitations.  It isn't real life and our ability to truly help each other when the going gets REALLY ROUGH is very limited.  Some may disagree and that's o.k., but I'll repeat something I've said many times......please make sure that you have friends in real life to whom you can turn when "life" threatens to drown you.  

As for me, the life lessons are coming so fast, I can't possibly write about them all, but thought I'd briefly flesh out the "claustrophobia" thing I mentioned previously in the hopes it might bolster me as well as encourage someone else.   

In the fall of 1985, I traveled to an away football game.  My Tennessee Volunteers were playing the Florida Gators, a rivalry already in place that has done nothing but grow in subsequent years.  Florida's stadium (which looks NOTHING today like it did then) was small, dark and consisted of narrow ramps leading up and into the stadium.  Following the game, while exiting the ramps, my friends and I got caught in an escalating rampage of celebrating fans that can only be described as terrifying.  We could not get out and I was very nearly knocked to the ground.  It was one of the most horrible experiences of my life and since that day, I have been extremely claustrophobic.  I have no memory of being concerned about tight spaces before that time, but since then, cannot handle being in any type of place where there is no escape or where I am surrounded by walls, people, doors, etc.  I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  Point is, the feeling of suffocation is VERY real.

But over the past few years, I have noticed that it's getting WORSE.  And as much as I've fought to understand, control or even overcome the panic, I can't.  I despise it because it effects my quality of life. In a moment of amazing clarity, thanks to my blogging friend, Karen Anderson, and an incredible post she wrote while I was in Maggie Valley, I think I might have had a breakthrough.  Karen, whose blog I've been reading for a long time, writes one of the most honest blogs you'll find about her struggles with weight and self-acceptance.  She writes HARD stuff and I am so grateful that she isn't afraid to put her own weaknesses out there in order to help others.   This isn't the first time something she's written has been an "ah-ha" moment for me.  In this post , she says this very candidly about a phobia of her own, "I have long suspected that this fear is not literal, but rather that it’s the container in which I put generalized anxiety because if I didn’t have something in which to contain it, it would spill out or explode all over the rest of my life."

It was as if the heavens opened up and music began to play.   I don't think I've ever had a moment of realization so clear.   My claustrophobia, although very, very real with an identified source behind it, is also not literal - it's the container in which I put stress/anxiety in the hopes of keeping it boxed up.  Like Karen, I am well aware that I live (if you try to convince me otherwise, you are a contributor to the very thing about which I'm talking) in a state of low level anxiety.   I don't like it, but it's just the way I'm wired.  It has taken a lot of years and a lot of tears to understand that the basis of the stress is the understanding that I am a true radical and that I march to the beat of a different drummer.  I think differently, I have odd personality traits, I am an introvert, my ideas of friendship/relationship are different than most females and the ways in which I choose to spend my time are just unusual.  But that's not where the stress/anxiety lies.   I'm o.k. with who I am and pretty much always have been. I'm happy and I'm content.  I wouldn't want to be any other way.  The stress comes in the fact that I don't expect anyone to change for me, so why must you expect me to change for you?  And why, when I'm NOT like you, when I say "no, thank you", or perhaps, choose not to participate in something YOU organize, or simply not answer the phone when you call for the 85th time to discuss the weather, must you decide that a) I don't like you, b) something is wrong, c) I'm arrogant, d) sick, e) I should change, f) I don't want to be friends with you, g) I'm not a team player, h) yada, yada, yada? 

Karen goes on to talk about how long she resisted seeing the anxiety/stress in her life in this way, "But as it turns out, what I see now is that I could not – WOULD NOT – acknowledge stress in my life. I resisted it. I mean how could I be stressed out? I have a wonderful husband, no money worries, no children. I’m a successful writer and author, and I am launching my Acceptance Whispering practice. I have fabulous friends and a full, wonderful life. 
Acknowledging that I’ve been a big ball of stress for pretty much my entire life would seem to contradict all of that, right? Or maybe acknowledging it would come across as being ungrateful? Or whining? Or weak? Or as if I am blaming someone? Or all of the above?"

Reading Karen's words during a deluge in Maggie Valley on a day when I was supposed to be hiking, but instead felt the walls closing in on me, brought a clarity which I pray sticks with me for a long, long time.  With the exception of the words about being an author, her words fit my life to a "T." At that very moment, I began a private journal. Every time something occurs which causes me to feel "claustrophobic," it is recorded in that journal.  As of this morning, there are 21 things in the journal. Sadly, I cannot share them here as they are simply too personal.   What I CAN share is the fact that I still have a long, long way to go, but feel as if I've made great strides in identifying what the real "issues" are, determining when compromise is needed, letting go when not, and perhaps as Karen says, "relaxing into acceptance.I'm not sure the walls will ever stop closing in on me completely, but I'd like to think that this is a start.

If you don't read Karen Anderson's blog and feel as if your weight issues are tied to much deeper things than food, I highly recommend that you begin reading her words.   Don't just start with her most recent post, but go back and systemically work through the whole blog.  You will not be sorry.  I have made her aware that I have have quoted liberally from her September 17 post and YOU need to know that all words in red are copied from that post.  Please give her credit for that writing.  No way could I have said it better.  

Do you have a "claustrophobia" that is not a literal fear?   Think about it - share if you can. 


  1. Simply, yes. And thanks for this today.

  2. Well Sharon, I have to say that reading YOUR words gave me a particularly powerful AH-HA moment, especially the part about friendships/relationships and being introverted and feeling pressure to change for others (and I can think of a very specific "other" who have been in my life since the very beginning for whom this holds true). Thus, the stress...forever. Which, if not addressed, can lead to all sorts of other issues such as not being able to truly relax and enjoy food, which leads to eating too much, not getting the proper nutrients from food, digestive issues, etc. etc. One thing you probably know is that anxiety tends to be exacerbated by hormonal changes so if you're "going through the change" that could explain why it's gotten worse.

    Thank you for your very kind words...I appreciate them...and you.

  3. Many, many people suffer anxiety on some level. It really can be debilitating. I used to suffer from performance anxiety big time and that constant pressure was one of the myriad of reasons I stopped pursuing my doctorate in performance. I always overcame the anxiety and played well, but it took a real toll on me physically and emotionally.

  4. I function at a low level of anxiety too. Many of the ways you describe yourself, introvert and being unlike many females for instance, I have used to describe myself. The anxiety may all stem from the relationship I'm working on. This is something powerful to ponder. I'll have to check out Karen's blog.

  5. I can relate to so many things in this post Sharon. I have often felt like the odd man out - in many social situations. I am an introvert but I had no idea that you were also. I always assumed that you were very out going! I think my shyness is often mistaken for being aloof.

    I have what many would call a "charmed" life. If they knew how stressed out and filled with anxiety I am at times they would be shocked.

    I think I need to read Karens blog. Thanks for sharing about this.

  6. First, big ((hugs)) to you, Sharon. I'm sorry that such a dear, wonderful person is going though some traumatic experiences. You are a strong woman though, and I have no doubt that you will overcome.
    Second, Karen is absolutely an amazing person/writer and I second the idea of reading her blog. She's very powerful and open about so many things that some of us are unable to put into words.
    Third, as you know, I suffer from anxiety disorder and that fuels the stress I commonly have in my life; and I, too, should be feeling like the luckiest woman around. I'd have to participate in weeks of therapy to get to the heart of the matter, but part of my anxiety/stress comes from the fact that I think I'll never be good enough. Mediocre artist; struggling maintainer, weak blogger. There are many, many more where that came from. These negative thoughts could eat me alive if I let them. It is something that I constantly battle. We all have our thorns but we choose how deeply they puncture.
    Thinking of you, Sharon. Sending much, much love.

  7. And why wouldn't you be happy with the way you are? You're absolutely wonderful!

    I do let anxieties into my life (some real, some created), but I'm always working at putting them into their proper places.

    (Enjoyed our visit SO MUCH! The rain today? Not nearly as much. :))

  8. I've been thinking about this post all day. Something about it bothers me. I don't like the way you describe yourself--odd, different, unusual. That's not what I found when I visited. And then second, why would you continue a relationship with the person you describe? Why would you give a second thought to what someone like that thought about you? (LOL at the person calling for the 85th time to discuss the weather. One of the things I just cannot abide.)

    Well, even after thinking about it all day, I can see that I am not expressing what I want to say. How about you seemed very NORMAL, quite charming, funny, and personable. A wonderful conversationalist and a good friend. Someone I wish I could spend more time with. But not to discuss the weather. And not on the phone. XXOO

  9. And for the millionth time, I wish we lived closer! *sigh* I know exactly what you mean when you know you're an oddball, but you're OK with it - the stress comes when other people expect you to be different. I feel like I have no place in the world, and that I am more than unwelcome... I'm worse than unwelcome. When I was a teen, this lead to a lot of suicidal feelings. Now? Now I'm just a hermit, where I can be me all by myself. I can interact with some people now and again, but when I have to do it with people who want me to be different I feel my stomach tie itself up in knots, I start sweating, and panicking... a claustrophobic type of attack. It's their labels and expectations that fence me in and scare the life out of me.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say "hugs" and to show you that I totally get it, and I'd rather YOU be YOU, than you be someone else. ;)

  10. Hi, Sharon. Long time, no read. :)

    We just came back from the Smokies and as we hiked (climbed), I thought of you often, so decided to pop over and say, "Hey!"

    What an interesting post to have dropped in on! Although I've never thought of myself as "a true radical," the rest of those couple paragraphs could have been written by me, about me, in spades.

    Once I came to the place of acceptance re: the fact that I'm just odd, things got a bit easier for me. Even so, your description of others' attitudes and the resultant anxiety is spot on. Your lettered list re: others attitudes toward you is a list I have said almost word for word. Really, I have. With a mix of bewilderment and resentment.

    This post caused me to realize with greater clarity what is going on in my own life right now. Instead of an "Ah-ha", I had an "ohh, right...I had forgotten that..." kind of moment.

    My husband and I had to move from the church we'd attended for over 20 years. It was a small congregation of about 75 people, and like most churches, only a few were "workers." I was one of those few. After 20 years we knew each other very will. Explaining myself, proving myself, defending myself was rarely necessary.

    While people there recognized that I was a bit odd, they were willing to accept and work around it. :} Despite being relegated to the "odd" category, I felt accepted and valued. I was, in fact, the women's ministry leader.

    (Which was too funny. I wouldn't take the job unless the elders promised that they wouldn't expect me to be "social/" I told them that I would lead, teach, speak, organize, and provide oversight, but that someone else had to be assigned to do the party/social events. haha. Yeah. odd. Fortunately, two women who lived for parties, enthusiastically agreed to handle that aspect for me.)

    Anyway, enter the new church. A very fellowship oriented church. Lots of nights...picnics...sigh. I tried. I really did try. But I'm just not good at those things. And so began the explaining and justifying and defending. and apologizing...and anxiety.

    They are a well-meaning and loving congregation who just wants me to feel like I belong. And it's been incredibly painful.

    This post reminded me of what exactly has been going on and that I needed to take a deep breath and let myself be who I am. Odd as I am, turns out it's not just me. :)

    On that note, it has occurred to me many times over the years that if I lived in a different culture, a more contemplative and introspective culture, I wouldn't be so odd at all. Our culture applauds extroverts ant Type A personalities. shrug. It is an accident of birth, not a deficit of temperament, that leaves me in the out-group.

    Thanks for this post, and I'll be praying for your health.


  11. Wow, know, my head is so full of things I want to say that I've been rendered speechless. So I'll just say...reading this makes me feel such a kinship with you. I think we are more alike than I realized. I'm so sorry you're dealing with so much, but I'm so glad you've experienced such clarity. Sending good thoughts and prayers your way, my friend...

  12. I'm not claustrophobic and tend to not be anxious, but your descriptions of low level anxiety fit my mother, my daughter and half of my extended family so I completely get it. Sometimes it's just the way you're wired. We addressed it with my daughter in her teens and sent her to counseling to learn techniques that she uses all the time to help her manage her stress levels since we've seen others in our family not deal with it well. However, I did identify with your description of how you do/don't interact with others in the world. One of my "ah-ha" moments was when some tv character said something about not honoring the social contract. Why, that's me! Like you I don't do things just because it's what is expected or polite, and while it makes me happy it doesn't make me popular. My most recent offense was work related. I was being "trained" in selling vitamin supplements by a representative on the phone and just couldn't keep my mouth shut about how I didn't need to know all that information because if someone showed an interest I would note it for the doctor. While true, in order to keep the peace I shouldn't have said it. My co-worker told me next time to "not be me" (in a loving way, she gets me) next time I spoke to the rep. Unfortunately I'm more "me" with every passing year! Strange how that happens. Hang in there, none of us are perfect!

    Currently I'm dealing with some gastrointestinal issues that have me so frustrated I find no joy in food and have dropped 6 pounds in two weeks. While I'm happy to have finally lost last year's extra pounds, I'm shocked to find I'd rather have the pounds and not feel miserable all day long. Who knew? Doctor on Tuesday, hope to get some answers. Keep working on it, Sharon, it's all we can do!