Farewell to 2014… End of Year News!

Hello my friends !

Well, 2014 is about to come to a close. It has been a year filled with many new and exciting changes on this end.

When I look back on it the year started out very “usual.”  I was a bit bored after the holiday sales from my online business ( “artisticfx” on ebay and etsy and http://1web-boulevard.com) came to an end and was pondering what I would do after my initial “house cleaning” was completed. Gradually I built up some momentum and finally took care of some minor health issues. Then one day I got a call from a reporter from the Tampa Bay Times asking me if I’d do some interviews surrounding my first book, Behind These Eyes: One Agoraphobic’s Journey To A Meaningful Life. It sounded intriguing so I agreed. After the interviews were completed I decided to put the information I had come up with for the reporter on how I lived my life into a few YouTube videos, hoping someone would get some helpful info from them. From there the whole thing snowballed and I decided to put the information into a small handbook entitled, Coexisting With Agoraphobia, Anxiety & Panic Attacks. That book was put into print and is available for Kindle, Nook and in print on Amazon.  Whew…. I also met someone and have been newly dating once again!  Ya just never know what a new year will bring so I hope you are all happily looking forward to the new one coming up. Life can change in a dime, and sometimes it is in a wonderful and exciting way!

I hope 2014 has treated you all well and hope that 2015 will be even better!

Namaste!!

Ellen

New Book Release! “Coexisting With Agoraphobia, Anxiety & Panic Attacks”

Hello everyone!

I am happy to report that I have a new book out (presently on Kindle, but hopefully it will be in print in a week or so) entitled, Coexisting With Agoraphobia, Anxiety & Panic Attacks. I wrote it as a result of my interviews with Zack Peterson, a reporter from the Tampa Bay Times and the subsequent YouTube videos. I realized that I had spent a lot of time looking deep within to see how I make my life work with the challenges of servere anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia and perhaps a little handbook might be of use to some people. My hope, as always, is that it will be of help to even one person.
The book is available on amazon.com and all other major online stores.

The “holidaze” are upon us and I wish you all a loving and peaceful season.

Namaste!

Coexisting With Agoraphobia, Anxiety and Panic Attacks Part 6 : “Always Improving”

Hello once again!
Below is the text from the last video I made for my YouTube series “Coexisting With Agoraphobia, Anxiety and Panic Attacks”….Again, I hope some of the information will be useful!

Always Improving : Video 6

Hi there….Ellen here again in probably my last video in my series “Coexisting With Agoraphobia, Anxiety and Panic Attacks. I may make a few smaller videos if a topic comes to mind that I feel will offer helpful information, but for this particular series this is my last video. I entitled this section “Always Improving” because, even though we have limitations, perhaps even many limitations, we can always strive to do better and try to become all that we can be.

Once a trusted counselor of mine told me that I was the only self-actualized agoraphobic she had ever known. Since I was a young adult and came to know what that word meant becoming self-actualized had always been a goal for myself as a human being. I assumed however, that since I had developed this intense anxiety condition which inflicted many limitations on me that goal was off the table. When my counselor made that statement it brought tears to my eyes. I asked her how she could think that given all the things that were so difficult, if not impossible for me to do, and she simply said that being self-actualized simply meant that one was always striving to fulfill their full potential, and she thought that was what I was continually trying to do. I am suggesting that we can ALL do that, no matter what the limitation.
In my video series you have heard me talk a lot about simply “accepting” yourself as you are on any given day. Accepting in the way I mean it does not in any way conflict with the notion of improving. . It means just accepting where you are at any given moment so you can relax with it and live your day to its fullest potential and keep moving forward!

Many of us ask “How did we get the way we are….?” I am not sure it is absolutely necessary to know the answer to that question, but to try to fill in some of the possibilities we might look at things like:
A: Some of us have abusive backgrounds that made us fear the world. I know that is at least in part true for me.
B: There may be a genetic predisposition or family history that is at work for some of us.
C. It can be a combination of predisposition and environmental factors…such as neglect or abuse.
D: There have been studies that show that the amygdala portion of the brain may be of an unusual size and may contribute to extreme fear reactions in certain people.
E: Certain traumas such as a hospital stay can cause anxiety and panic.
So you see, it is not an exact science, but what IS important is to try to find coping mechanisms in order to live the best life you can, whether anxiety is a short term visitor or it is something you have been dealing with for a very long time.

When I ask myself about how I have improved or am improving my life what I
have mainly come up with is:
1. I have a great deal of trouble with social phobia as well as agoraphobia and panic attacks. I continue to try to expand my world and bring people in despite the intense level of discomfort it brings me. I suppose it is a choice to work on this particular challenge at this point in my life rather than territorial expansion. There are only so many things a person can work on at one time. Connecting with people and developing a support system seems to take precedence over getting to the “grocery store.” I have managed a way to get my groceries and other goods from the outside world but have been sorely lacking in day-to-day support from “in person” people. Examples of my efforts to stretch in this area are:
A. My friend recently moved here and I allowed her to stay with me for an open -ended amount of time until she found a place to live. That was tough for me since I am severely socially phobic, but I tried to just come out of myself to extend myself to another. After writing my book “Behind These Eyes: One Agoraphobic’s Journey To A Meaningful Life” I really came to know that when all is said and done in this life it is the people connections that mean the most.
B. In May of this year I started bringing in medical professionals to address a few health issues. This felt very threatening to me, but I stretched and did it anyway. I probably had 30 or so visits from various medical personnel to address various issues. I was way out of my comfort zone and medical problems are on the top of my fear list these days. So, having to have strangers come into my house to deal with medical issues was a double challenge!
C. I keep trying to make new friends and am finally getting successful in this area. I have recently brought two new friends into my life that look like they will be a part of a wonderful support system for me. Granted I have to see them in small increments, but they are willing to work with me and inch by inch my world is beginning to expand once again.
D. I am currently helping the owner of the house behind me get her home ready for remodeling. She does not live here so I am meeting all kinds of construction people on her behalf. This is an ideal situation for me to practice being around new people because I can come and go freely and only have to see each one for a short period of time.
E. I keep up with old friends who don’t live here but are close enough to visit. I make sure I manage to see them here for dinner at least occasionally.
F. I keep up with repairs and improvements on my house which requires having people here from time to time. This is especially difficult for me but I continually keep chipping away at it.
G. I recently had a reporter from our local newspaper come to my house to interview me about my book. All in all I had about eight interviews (not all in person) and next the photographer will come to my home to take photos. This is a HUGE stretch out of my comfort zone.

2. Developing my spirituality:
I am deliberately trying to develop my spirituality in terms of connecting more fully to this earth we live on to enable me to function better on a day-to-day basis so that I might be able to reach whatever goals I might have. I do this mainly through reading, taking related college courses online, doing regular meditation practice and listening to audio books. I have decided for my own life that my inner world is every bit as important if not MORE important than my outer world. Who I am as a human being….how I treat others…. and what I am able to GIVE of myself is so much more important that any place I can “go”…..
3. Progress territorially… I have it in the back of my mind to try to venture out into the outside world again when I have developed my new support system more fully…..to the extent that I feel safe and confident with these people.

In conclusion: I suppose that, as with most things, the proof is in the doing. What I have done with my life to date, in spite of massive amounts of anxiety and panic from time to time is……
1. Got my college degree
2. Had a career for about 13 years as a mental health counselor
3. Owned and operated a T-shirt shop
4. Presently have a small online business doing custom printing
5. Took care of my mother in my home in the last years of her life
6. Had a few wonderful love relationships
7. Wrote a book and may write a second
8. Consulted on two plays and one movie
9. Currently am having an article written about mylife for a large local Newspaper
10. Managed to maintain good health
11. Have had several lasting friendships
12. Took care of a good friend until she passed away…..running her care mostly from home via phone!
13. I own a home, car and have a rental property.
14. I ran two different support websites at one time trying to help others.
15. I have wonderful pets
16. I have managed to run my own life and remain independent.

I believe that my challenge over all these years has made me the person I am today. I am better able to empathize with others who have any disability or hurdle to climb in their life. I believe I was born with a loving heart and that still exists within me. I have given up trying to swim upstream and have simply for the most part made peace with where I am at on any given day. I know you can too, no matter where you find yourself.

I once had a psychologist/ medium tell me that she believed that the fact that I am still homebound after so much “trying” might mean that there is a reason for me to be here. Who knows? Maybe I am meant to experience this anxiety disorder to the fullest so I might understand it and help others. No matter what the reason if I continue to just accept where I am I know I will be ok…and you will be too if you live each day as it comes and simply do the best you can! Please remember as well however, that recovery includes setbacks! Setbacks are inevitable so just try to accept them as well and then continue putting one foot in front of the other and move slowly forward.

Living with anxiety is like always having a shadow ….the trick is to put the shadow behind us (as in ..let it run in the background) and learn to co-exist with it. Believe it or not, there is room for both you and your shadow!

I want to thank you for tuning in to my series…..I hope you have gained some useful information that will help you on the path ahead of you.

Namaste!

Website: http://living-with-agoraphobia.com or http://eaisaksen.com
email: eaisksen@gmail.com

Coexisting With Agoraphobia, Anxiety and Panic Attacks Part 5: “The Toolbox”

Here I am again with the text from my 5th Youtube.com video entitled “The Toolbox.”  Again, I hope some of this information is of help to some of you. I can be reached via email at: eaisaksen@gmail.com if you need clarification on anything… Be well!

Youtube Video 5….”The TOOL BOX”

In this, my 5th video, I’d like to talk about what I call the “toolbox.” For me my toolbox is my list of “go to” things to do when I am especially stressed or anxious. I thought I’d like to share some of these things with you. Some of this may be redundant from previous videos, but we can never hear these kinds of things enough!

It seems to me that we all have “something” in this life. We all have our crosses to bear and mountains to climb. It is helpful, if not wise, to have at our disposal a collection of things (tools) that can help us cope in difficult and stressful situations. Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error to find out what actually works for us. Then again at times one thing will work and the next time it may not, which is why it is a good idea to have a large assortment of aids to pick from. Over the years I have built a fairly large collection of helpful tools and have written them down, because in the times when I am the most anxious I often can’t even remember what my tools are let alone to use them. Some of the things that may help me when I am very stressed or anxious are:

  1. Breathing Exercises: I have found that using some simple breathing exercises can slow my body (heart rate) and mind (racing /catastrophic thoughts) down. I find that I can think better and often the anxiety will subside after only a 5 or 10 minute session. The simplest exercise that I learned is to just breathe in and out to a count of 4. Do this evenly for as long as it takes to get you into a better place. It works very well if you are hyperventilating. There are many more elaborate exercises that you can find on the internet that might work for you. I have recently started doing something called “alternate nostril breathing” that helps me enormously to get a rested night’s sleep for example. I also have an app for my ipad called “Breathing Zone” that at times works wonders. Search around on the internet and see if any of the exercises work for you.
  2. Positive Self -Talk: I have noticed that mostly what I believe to be true IS. If I tell myself something is horrible or a disaster it certainly turns out to be, at least in my eyes. People with anxiety often need /want to be comforted and reassured by others that they will be ok. When we are scared and panicky we often desperately think we NEED someone else to tell us that everything will have a good outcome and that we will survive the current perceived trauma. The truth is, it seems to me, that it is what WE tell ourselves that really matters. Our belief about a certain situation is what affects us. When we learn to calm ourselves down we have a tool that will always be available to us! Along the same lines, if we tell ourselves that we cannot ever be a whole person if we can’t drive to or go into the grocery store (for example) then that will be our reality. If, on the other hand, we decide to not buy into what society seems to tell us is “normal” and focus on what we CAN do on any given day our whole perspective about who we are can change. It is my belief that who we are as people (our inner life) is much more important than what we do or how far we can travel (outer life). And…if it be true that inner life is at least as important (if not more important) than outer life, you can be a whole person without ever leaving your bed or recliner! So, try on different perspectives and see how talking lovingly and supportively to yourself can make a difference in how you feel and view your world.
  3. Put Your Anxiety in The Background: I can hear you all now….lol That seems like an impossibility, and at times it is. What I am suggesting is that each and every day not be totally focused on your anxiety level and how you did /did not get somewhere. I am suggesting that one learn to co-exist with “it.” I am suggesting that there is life outside of it, if you only give it a chance to develop. For decades I got up, put the key in the car and focused only on if I could even get around the block that day. If I couldn’t I felt like a failure and the disappointment coupled with the exhaustion of the energy spent (anxiety can be exhausting) left me with not much interest in the rest of my day. I started just getting up and focusing on what I really WANTED to do. If that included going out fine, and if it didn’t that was fine too. As a result I ended up developing my creativity (as I mentioned before,most agoraphobics are very intelligent and creative) and found myself developing a home-based business and writing and doing all kinds of FUN things. My focal point was NOT on anxiety…it was on building my life to be the best it could be with what I had to work with.
  4. ACCEPTANCE: Acceptance might be the most important tool in my toolbox! It was a word I learned years ago from Dr. Claire Weakes who was a specialist in agoraphobia. She continually suggested that acceptance was the key to dealing with this condition. Instead of getting up every day hoping and praying that the anxiety is GONE, or perhaps more to the point, fearing that is not, if you just ACCEPT what is that day and not try to swim upstream so-to-speak, life can be much more peaceful. Acceptance is not the same as “giving in.” Acceptance just means that you are willing to roll with WHATEVER comes up that day or with however you feel. Promise yourself you will do you best each day to accomplish what you can and be the best person you can and let the rest just fall where it may!
  5. DISTRACTIONS: Distracting yourself from the anxiety that is going on in the present moment can be most helpful. Sometimes I can get lost in my work, especially if I am involved in a creative project. I try to find something that requires a lot of concentration and see if I can redirect my attention and energy there. I love electronic gadgets so if I have something that needs figuring out in order to use one of them I often will do that at those times. Of course there are times when anxiety is just so high it is hard to concentrate on much of anything. In those moments just trying to walk it off or do some form of exercise might help.

A FUNNY story that I have about distraction centers around an attempt to visit a mall. I got there ok and was about ¼ of the way in when I started to panic. A good friend was with me who noticed my face and decided to distract me. She was a funny character who usually could make me laugh. On this occasion she grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and turned me around and headed me to the door. As we walked she stopped at EACH store window and made me look in and told me if I didn’t STOP it she was going to drag me into the store and put in a job application. I laughed so hard I ALMOST forgot I was so panicky. I DID get back to the car and did survive.
The key about tools is to keep trying all that you have until you get to something that helps. That is why it is so important to have a wide variety to work with.

  1. MEDITATION/ RELAXATION: I can’t emphasize the importance of practicing some kind of meditation or relaxation technique enough. Learning to bring our bodies and minds down to a low level of excitation is so very important. Meditation has become very popular these days and it is widely known that many infamous people and leaders make it a point to do some form of meditative practice for at least 20-30 minutes each day. Many people claim that they simply cannot sit still and shut down their minds no matter how hard they try. Meditation, however, can take many forms. You can look into traditional methods and various yoga practices, but simply “being” with nature or listening to soothing, soul-touching music can be meditative. Holding your pet close and just cuddling for a while can have similar results. Keep trying different things to see what works for you.

**Sometimes while meditating if I try to focus on and draw forward my “inner Ellen”…the one that is loving and peaceful that I remember from my days in college for example….I relax. I am in touch with the true authentic “me”…the one that is suffocated and stifled by the anxiety. Anxiety truly suffocates creativity and our real loving being….try to get in touch with yours by visualizing and calling forth the person you once remembered yourself to be w/o all the anxiety. Visualization can be very powerful….truly KNOW and BELIEVE that person is still in there, because he/she truly is.

  1. HUMOR… A little humor goes a long way, especially if you can laugh at yourself. I remember a time when I was having a panic attack while trying to put my parrot back in his cage. Instead of heading for his cage once I tried putting him in the garbage can and another time I tried to stuff him into the microwave! It always gives me a good belly laugh these days!!
  1. DIET…I’ll keep this simple….Eating high protein foodss can help your blood sugar stay stable …..also avoid caffeine and sugar as they are stimulants and stimulants are usually the last thing we need.
  1. I keep a cane close by so when I am too anxious I can use it to balance me when my legs feel like jelly or when I feel a little light headed (going to mail box etc…especially)
  2. At times /periods of severe anxiety I keep items I may need close by…esp at night. Next to bed might have food, cool rag, water, valium, phone and phone numbers, porta potty or bucket. It can be comforting to know we can take care of ourselves should we feel immobilized by anxiety.
  3. I use headphones to distract myself in certain situations such as cutting the lawn or even talking to people if very nervous. Music or audiobooks can distract us wonderfully at times when we need to get the focus off of our anxiety. If you are not too anxious to read, try reading inspirational books. It can take our mind off of the place we are in.

12  Think creatively….use computer or some other resource to get focus off the anxiety.

  1. Plan ahead…make dinners ahead if possible so you don’t feel under pressure to perform….Don’t RUSH…allow ample time for all things etc…
  1. Take Baby steps in all things you want to accomplish, especially new things…..Try not to care what people think about what /how we are doing things.
  1. Call a friend or counselor. This is a tool I use OFTEN and am blessed to have a couple of good friends who really “get me”…..It is a great release and a way to get a new and better perspective in many situations.

16.. The last tool that I am going to mention here is something called the “ ABCD Principle”… This is a tool/method that can be EXTREMELY helpful in dealing with our negative or catastrophic thinking process. We create so much misery for ourselves with negative thinking and anticipating the worst in most all situations. With this method we challenge those thoughts. I have used it hundreds of times with wonderful results.

Basically, in the ABCD method you are writing down your negative thoughts and trying to counter them with more realistic thoughts.

The “A” stands for the “activating event” that has triggered your anxiety. i.e. Going into the grocery store caused me to become very anxious and panicky.

The “B” stands for the belief about the triggering event (i.e. “I will get so anxious I will go crazy if I go into the store” or People will see how anxious I am and think I am weird or crazy.

The “C” stands for consequence of the triggering event… i.e. I don’t go to the grocery store?

The “D” stands for “Dispute” the event…. i.e. What other way could I see this? Is that thinking really in line with reality? Have I ever gone crazy going into the grocery store? You might also add these disputes:

People may see me a little wobbly or hurried but many people in that store probably don’t feel well either and I don’t view them negatively.

Or

What OTHER people think is of NO importance to me. I need to live my life as I see fit. Everyone has weaknesses and quirks and it is no big deal.

Or

I know I am not crazy. I have never gone crazy. These are just feelings and will pass…they always DO!

It is VERY helpful to make up index cards (or a pad) with 3 lines drawn vertically down the front with each of the 4 sections labeled ABCor D…..as an activating event happens to you throughout the day write it down and dispute it over and over again…..in time your brain will see the situation differently!

I hope this set of tools has been helpful to you. I know they help me enormously…. “Til next time, this is Ellen saying “Namastel.”

Youtube Series “Coexisting With Agoraphobia, Anxiety and Panic Attacks” Video #4: Systematic Desensitization

Hello all….Below is the text from my 4th Youtube video in my series “Coexisting With Agoraphobia, Anxiety and Panic Attacks.” This video is about a subject called systematic desensitization… I expect there will be two more in this series. I hope some of this information is helpful to you!

Systematic Desensitization

Hello again my friends….Ellen here back for video #4 in my series “Coexisting with Agoraphobia, Anxiety and Panic Attacks”…
Today I’d like to talk about an important method used to help overcome anxiety reactions in certain situations that I have used in the past that was very helpful to me. This method is called “Systematic Desensitization.” Before I do that I’d like to briefly define what we mean here by “Sensitization”…at least in psychological terms.
Technically sensitization is the process of becoming highly sensitive to specific events or situations (especially emotional events or situations in our case). For most of us who are agoraphobic there can be a highly charged emotional reaction to many life events. Most, but not all, of these reactions pertain to trying to do things that are outside of our homes, safe place or comfort zone, such as going to the grocery store, or driving. We could call these types of situations “territorial.” These reactions however, can also happen in relation to situations that can happen WITHIN our safe place, or comfort zone. An example of such a situation might be having people enter our safe place or comfort zone. This might fall into the category of social phobia. Agoraphobia may encompass several different types of phobias. No matter what the trigger, however, systematically trying to desensitize to whatever the stimulus is can be very helpful.
A medical example that is similar and may be helpful in explaining desensitization is in reference to allergies. The first similarity is that a person can be allergic to something but not know what he is allergic to. The allergy specialist first determines, by testing, what is causing the sensitivity. Secondly, a person may be so overly sensitive that even the smallest amount of material will cause a severe reaction. The third similarity is that the treatment requires diluting the sensitizing material down to a level where it can be injected and only a mild reaction occurs. Then, by frequent injections the dosages are gradually increased, and by allowing the individual to recover fully before the next injection, desensitization takes place. By proceeding on a regular basis over a period of time, the person builds up a greater tolerance for the allergen or stimulus and finally arrives at a place whereby exposure to the full strength material produces no allergic reaction or very little reaction.
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Now let’s translate this into phobias. We might say that the phobic person has become allergic [supersensitive] to certain emotional stimuli so that when exposed to that stimuli he overreacts both emotionally and physiologically. So if you have phobias, and the anxiety reactions that go with them, you first have to identify the specific stimuli that touch off the super reaction. Once you have identified a noxious or triggering stimulus, you can then expose yourself to that stimulus in small doses on a regular basis in gradually increasing amounts until a tolerance is developed to full strength exposure to that stimulus. It’s like taking baby steps out of your comfort zone and trying to accomplish doing a new or difficult task an inch at a time.
Now how do you discover what your triggering stimuli are? One way is to write down everything you can think of which causes you any problem at all. You can do this over a period of time …perhaps a week. During that week, you write down anything and everything that occurs to you at the time the reaction is occurring..
Next, arrange the list from the least troublesome fear to the most troublesome fear. This will be your hierarchy of fears.
The goal in desensitization is this: When there is a stimulus that triggers anxiety, you need to get to the point where that stimulus loses its capacity to cause you anxiety, so that in the presence of that stimulus, you can remain relaxed.
Basically, the desensitization process for phobias is composed of three parts: imaginal desensitization, visual desensitization, and in-vivo or “real life” desensitization. You must always start with imaginal desensitization, since our first area of avoidance is always in our minds.

Imaginal desensitization:
Start with your least bothersome fear.
1. Imagine that you are in the situation that causes anxiety and stay there in your imagination until you react to a point where you are just only slightly uncomfortable (we call this a #3 in the anxiety scale). Anxiety might be measured on a scale of 1-10 with #1 being no anxiety and #10 being full fledged panic. A #3 might have symptoms such as sweaty palms, some muscle tension and a strong or rapid heartbeat. Do not picture yourself anxious at all in this situation-instead picture yourself dealing with the situation the way you would like to feel.
2. Retreat in your mind from the subject and distract your mind and go to your safe place in your imagination.
3. Allow yourself to relax completely.
4. Wait, relaxed, until you are completely recovered. If feelings are stirred up, allow yourself to express them. Often strong feelings will begin to emerge as you go through this entire process ,but do NOT run from them, it’s a wonderful sign that you are making progress.
5. Then you repeat the process over again.
You keep repeating this process until the stimulus in the situation you have chosen to think about causes very little or no anxiety when you think about it.
These steps might be called the “five R’s” and they are very important:
React
Retreat
Relax
Recover
Repeat

Many people report that they cannot seem to arouse any anxiety when they are just thinking about a stimulus. That is fine!
But the tendency under this circumstance is to skip over this first step in the desensitization process. Do not fall into this trap! You do not have to feel any anxiety in order for imaginal desensitization to work. The key is in the frequency; the more frequently you practice imaginal desensitization, the better the transference to the real-life situation. The Imaginal desensitization process is vital to your recovery. Always start with it whether it arouses your anxiety or not.
Visual desensitization
Using the same stimulus (subject or situation), the next step is to use pictures or slides.
1. Look at the picture or slide until you react only to a #3 anxiety level.
2. Retreat- walk away from the picture or back off from it or turn it over, and distract your mind.
3. Relax
4. Allow yourself to recover completely. If feelings are stirred up, again, allow yourself to express them.
5. Repeat the process, going back and forth until looking at the picture or slide causes very little or no anxiety.
Now you are ready for the last step- approaching the situation in- vivo (real life). I want to stress here that you do not start this step until you have progressed through the first two steps in the desensitization process: imaginal and visual desensitization. After you have progressed through these two steps, using the same stimulus, then you are ready to try in- vivo desensitization.
In- vivo desensitization:
I’d like to mention here that it will be very helpful if you engage the help of a supportive person when you get to this step. Someone who can actually go out with you or actively participate with you in what you are trying to accomplish. The added support and encouragement is invaluable.
Using the same stimulus to use in the two previous steps, approach the situation with no intention of accomplishing anything specific. For example, your troublesome situation is a supermarket. Do not approach the market with the idea of buying anything. Your goal is desensitizing yourself, not buying groceries. It is very important that you make a clear distinction between practice and demand situations. Again the process entails the “FIVE R’s” of…
React
Retreat
Relax
Recover
Repeat

1. Approach the situation until you react only up to a #3 anxiety level.
2. Retreat-stop or back off, or turn around, or take a few steps toward the door, or walk away.
3. Distract your mind and allow yourself to relax.
4. Wait until you were completely recovered and allow yourself to express any feelings that have been stirred up.
5. Turn toward the situation and repeat the process.
There are a few points here that need to be emphasized:
1. Do not let your anxiety rise above a #3 before you retreat. If your anxiety gets.
2. Retreat is not cowardly-it is absolutely necessary. Retreat and regroup just as they do in the military-that’s how wars are won. Retreat does not mean that you have to leave the situation or run away-you may only need to stop where you are and back off a few paces, or go to another room or outside for a few minutes. If you can’t actually leave the situation, even for a few minutes, you can also retreat by going to a safe, calm scene/place in your mind until you get used to the situation. Remember, you are not retreating forever– just until you recover.
“RETREAT” seems to be a very difficult concept for people to think about, let alone do. Thoughts and comments such as “I’ll feel like a coward,” or “people will think it’s funny or something’s wrong with me,” etc., often keep people from practicing retreating. This is no time to worry about what other people will think. You want to recover, and in order to do so, you need to learn how to desensitize yourself-to practice this process. Retreat is a necessary and vital part of the desensitization process. Practice retreating as much as you can.
3. You must keep repeating the desensitization process (all three steps) in order for it to work. You’ll find as you keep repeating it, that you are able to approach closer and stay longer in the situation.
The desensitization process that I have just described is a natural process. If left to our own devices, and if we were not worried about what other people think, we would automatically use this process when we approached anything new. For instance, a small child goes to the beach for the first time and sees the ocean. He does not plunge into the water, but cautiously approaches it. He looks at it from a distance and then, as his courage grows, gets closer. Each time he gets closer, his courage grows and his fears diminish. Eventually he sticks his foot into the water, then his legs, then his body and arms, etc. Notice, however, that the child has been left to his own devices. If, on the other hand, the child is overly cautioned by his mother about the dangers of the water, it will start to worry about his mother’s approval, be frightened by the dangers his mother has suggested, become sensitized and will probably not approach the water. This could spread to all water, so that the child will become panicky at the thought of taking a bath. At this point, instead of the natural desensitization process, the child will have to begin to consciously practice desensitizing himself to the water.
Because you have become sensitized to some stimuli and situations, just as the child, you need to start practicing desensitizing yourself. I hope this method proves to be very helpful to many of you. It takes time and may require the cooperation of many of the people around you, but the payoff can be amazing!
‘Til next time, this is Ellen saying “Namaste!”

Youtube Series “Coexisting With Agoraphobia, Anxiety and Panic Attacks Part 3: How I Make Things Work.

Hi again everyone!

In this 3rd of my series “Coexisting with agoraphobia, anxiety and panic attacks “ I’d like to share with you the nitty gritty about how I make my life work on a daily basis while living with my challenge. Maybe some of you might pick up a tip or trick that will make your life a little easier. The first thing I would like to address is the ever popular question of “HOW DO I GET MY GROCERIES???” LOL

1….Everyone asks me…like it’s rocket science: HOW DO I GE T MY GR OCE RIES? ! Consulted on two plays and one movie and in all the interviews that was the #1 question. It’s not like there aren’t people all over the place that you can hire to do errands for you! I myself found a wonderful way that works for me today. I barter. I found a gal named Tammy on Craigslist and I make her shirts or other advertising items for her bisiness and she shops in return. It’s a great way to do business and a lost art!

2. Haircuts: Since July of 1981 I have been using a Flowbee. It’s the greatest gadget for cutting hair and saves me a lot of money as well as solves my hair cutting problems. Of course if you feel you can go out and get your hair cut GO, but if you cannot, this is a great solution. Also good for the elderly who can’t get into the shop or someone just home from hospital etc.

3. Clothes shopping, banking and shopping for almost anything else can be done online. God Bless computers and my friend Luci for convincing me to get one many years ago! When I find something that fits such as jeans or shoes I usually buy more than one pair. For most all things other than clothing I use ebay or amazon.com. I don’t have enough good things to say about amazon.com, especially their Prime plan which includes second day delivery.

4. Medical Services… This one can be tricky. Sometimes I have to go without medical services, but sometimes, like now, I am lucky enough to have found a visiting physician’s service that comes to the home. I used to have a dentist who made home visits, but no longer do, but hope to sometime soon. One way to find a doctor who might visit you at home if you have not had luck so far is to call the local nursing homes. Often doctors who visit there will come to see others at home as well.
I’d like to mention here again that if anyone has a service that comes to their home for any reason I’d appreciate your contacting me through my website at http://eaisaksen.com and let me know so I can add it to the list.

5. To help me keep a handle on my day-to-day anxiety I have two counselors that I consult. I have one, David, who I see regularly and who keeps me on an even keel with the daily happenings in my life and one that I have known for even longer that I talk to via phone when I really get stuck with the anxiety etc…Flora is an agoraphobic specialist and can usually help me through a hard time in a heartbeat. Both bring different and invaluable things to my life. Ongoing support is so important for anyone with our challenge in life.

6. If you don’t have or can’t afford a counselor good friends who can lend an ear can be just as valuable. I have friends that I have made online that I have never met that I consider family! Luci is one such person. She is also a homebound agoraphobic and is the person in my life that I can most identify with and can who can identify with me. We have known each other over 25 years and I am very fortunate to have her as a friend as she can understand so much more about where I am at at any given time than the average person who does not have the same challenge. It’s very important to maintain friendships even if you cannot always get to see that person in person. Talk to your friends about how you feel, and ask them for what you need from them. Opening up about how you feel is a large key to reducing anxiety. If you are hurting or grieving for example, let yourself FEEL those feelings. Pain, hurt and grief are all parts of life…parts we need to experience fully. By all means make a point however, to balance your conversations with friends and loved ones with fun and lighter things as well so there is a balance in your connection/relationship.
If you are trying to bring new people into your life and personal space and feel awkward I have had good luck telling them a bit about myself and then arranging to do a project with them that will keep us occupied while they are here. It makes things less awkward and makes it easier to get used to one another. It works with family members too….it’s a good way to be together and NOT focus on anxiety!

7. The telephone can be our best friend. I have learned to use my telephone to accomplish almost anything I could do if I actually went out. Sometimes I have to get assertive or creative but it usually works. When my mom was ill and living with me my home was like command central and I covered all her medical care etc right from my home. Sometimes I’d even arrange teleconferencing with her doctors and health care providers to straighten out certain situations!
Other issues like tending to bill problems can be dealt with via phone especially if you tell people you are disabled. I hate that word, but often it gets people’s attention and they will cooperate with you.

8. Eat a healthy diet….I try to eat fairly well. I eat a good breakfast, my main meal at noon and just eat lightly at night. By now many of you know sugar and caffeine especially can be bad for us as they are stimulants. Most of us already know that there are many healthy diets out there but what I mainly wanted to add here is that high anxiety can wreak havoc with our blood sugar. I learned in a course I took that at times of high anxiety to eat high protein foods if possible…..even when going out it is a good idea to carry something like a cheese, eggs, chicken or peanut butter. If you feel weak-ish or light headed it can be from low blood sugar due to the anxiety. Protein is the healthiest way to bring the blood sugar back up.

9. Stay creative….try to get up every day with some thought of something interesting that you can do or become involved in. I can’t tell you how much this has helped me. It may take a little effort to think about what that might be, but if you can focus on the things you can do it will give you more reason to be joyful in your day. Stay as positive as you can and try to have FUN with what you choose to do. The important thing is to try to get out of your own head a little and stay involved in the world, even from home. You can take college courses online or do home repairs or just play on your computer. I have a business making mostly custom printed items and OFTEN get very excited when I think about a new design I can make for the holidays for example. I have a T-shirt design and Christmas ornament that I designed for agoraphobia support. You can find these things again on my website at: http://eaisaksen.com or http://living-with-agoraphobia.com.

10. Keeping positive thoughts in your head as much as possible….I know how easy it is to have your mind race all over the place. This is never helpful for those of us challenged with anxiety. One way I have found that helps a lot is to listen to interesting or inspirational audiobooks. I work from home and am fairly busy most days and don’t’ have time to read many books cover to cover so I belong to audible .com ( a division of amazon.com) and listen to books all day long at times. If I am not listening to books I am listening to peaceful music. I find that even if I don’t hear every word of a book some of the messages really do get through and when my mind decides to run amok many times it is the words from the book that I am thinking about instead of random scary or negative thoughts. It gives our brain an alternate and positive place to focus. I have many book recommendations on my website as well.

11. Have a routine….. For me having a routine is very important. It helps keep me organized and less scattered. I don’t do well with “scattered”….It’s good to break from your routine once in a while so you don’t become rigid, but for me at least a usual daily routine helps to keep my anxiety down. One thing to be sure to do however, is not make your routine so full of things you have to do that you get overwhelmed. Once again small increments and baby steps are the way to go!

12. Laugh and play…..Laughing is so healing. Find something humorous every day to laugh about, even if it is at yourself. Some of my funniest stories pertain to mef and agoraphobia. One of them is about my parrot Crackers. Once I went to put him in his cage and was very anxious and not focusing and tried to stuff him in the garbage. Another time I tried to stuff him in the microwave! POOR Crackers! I hope your stories are less threatening to your pets than mine! Pets, btw, can also be very calming influences on us. Their unconditional love is invaluable. I am an animal lover and have had everything from horses and sheep to monkeys and reptiles. Today I just have two dogs and a parrot named Graycie

13. SLOW DOWN, Don’t RUSH …. As a group we are people who are easily stimulated and tend to move quickly and have racing thoughts. SOMETIMES I have noticed that if I can’t slow my thoughts down IF I MOVE slowly, walk slowly, and talk SLOWLY it helps a lot. Sometimes the mind will follow. Try it out, especially if you have an appointment or something to do outside…..plan ahead so you don’t have to rush and move slowly and talk to yourself SLOWLY….it will give you your best shot at keeping the anxiety down.

14. Following closely behind slowing down is the concept of SLEEP. I wish I could tell you the difference in myself when I don’t get enough sleep. I am pretty rigid these days about my sleep habits. My days start pretty early in the morning (I am usually awake around 5ish) but I also make them end early and no matter how busy I get that is not negotiable. I go into my bedroom very early…soon after dinner… and just rest. I might watch a little mindless TV and then read a bit or listen to music or meditate. One great thing to meditate on is the person you really are deep within ….the one without the anxiety. We all have that part. If we can get in touch with other parts of ourselves, the parts we truly love and remember from days when we didn’t have anxiety, it gives us hope that we can be that way again. That person in not gone, just a bit covered up! So, what I am saying here is I do my best to bring my day to a peaceful ending by giving myself enough time to unwind before going to sleep. I hope you are all able to find a way to find your own version of doing that in a time frame/ pattern that works for you because it really can make a difference.

15. I try to remain as open as I possibly can about my challenge with anxiety and easily tell others about it. I used to be embarrassed and would always make excuses for why I didn’t want to do things with people. These days I no longer care much about what people think. It’s my life and I have to live it as best I can. I share how I feel, which is extremely important on many levels, one being that fact that people cannot tell how I feel by looking at me as a rule. SO, when I am anxious I have to share it. This takes some getting used to, but honestly it is easier in the long run to just be open about it than to try and hide it and expect others to be a mind reader. I ask people to try to just accept what I am telling them even if they really can’t understand it. I ask them to work with me to try to make some things doable. Those who are willing invariably stay in my life longer.

Ours is an invisible illness…one of the most difficult to deal with because no one can “see” it. If we had no legs no one would expect us to dance , but when they see nothing “wrong “ with us others may have expectations at times that are beyond what we can do. We need to trust ourselves to know that we are honestly doing the best we can do and that’s all we can do and NOT beat ourselves up for what we cannot do OR WHAT OTHERS think or don’t understand. Many people, however, are very willing to go the extra mile to get to know us…we just need to find them. When we do we have to do our best to let the love and caring in so we can have as much support as possible to go forward on our journey.
It is my wish for all of us that others would see beyond the anxiety and fear and agoraphobia and into our hearts to the real being inside. We are so much more than anxiety!

I thank you all again for watching my little series. See you next time!

Namaste!

You can reach me by email at: eaisaksen@gmail.com

Youtube Video #2 : “Quirks”

Hi everyone…

Below is the text from the Youtube video #2…..I hope some of you find it helpful…. You can see the video by going to youtube and typing in my name (Ellen Isaksen)….I hope you are all happy and healthy!

Video Text:

Hi there…I’m Ellen Isaksen and It’s nice to be back here in part two of my series “Coexisting with Agoraphobia, Anxiety and Panic attacks. Since I know that most of you watching are either challenged with agoraphobia or some kind of anxiety disorder or are a loved one of someone who is I feel like I am among friends 

I’d like to start by saying that what I think makes my videos and information different is that I am not offering a cure here but rather, just as the title of my series “coexisting” with Agoraphobia, Anxiety and Panic Attacks implies, I am trying to offer ways to live alongside it/ or “with” it or to just make ROOM for it to just “be” while it is here. To suggest that you embrace it might be a little far out, but that’s the general idea. That doesn’t mean it will be here tomorrow if you find something that works for you, it just means to ACCEPT life as it is today while you are finding your way to healing. Swimming upstream and fighting against “what is” only seems to work for salmon!

If you watched part 1 of my series you will know that I have been living with this challenge (my preferred word for “it”) for over 5 decades. I have been all over the place with it…been in and been out and been in between. There was even a time when I was first “hit” with massive anxiety that I had to have my meals slipped to me under my bedroom door because I was so terrified of the outside world….and to me at that time “outside” meant anything outside my bedroom. I’ve come a long way since those days, but am still to this day challenged with this disorder. The difference these days is that I know what I have and after trying so many different remedies for it that didn’t work, I have just made peace with it.

Recently a reporter from the Tampa Bay Times found my memoir, “Behind These Eyes: One Agoraphobic’s Journey to a Meaningful Life” online and asked me if I’d be willing to do interviews so he could write a story about my life . As a result I had to think long and hard about what my life has been like and what I have learned etc…I felt all that information might help someone else so here I am. I’ve had a career, relationships, and now have a business, but still life is challenging, even VERY challenging at times. The more I try to stretch out of my comfort zone, like anyone else, the more challenging it becomes!

In my first video I explained a bit about how I functioned for a long time in the outside world by abusing alcohol. My book tells this entire story if you’d like to know more about that aspect of my life. I spent a short time in my career as a counselor in a cocaine rehab unit and I can tell you here that abusing substances is not the answer…..it only creates another problem. Unfortunately for me I went over 25 years undiagnosed and used alcohol to self-medicate. Fortunately for me, when I found out what I had in the early 80s I was able to give up the alcohol and pursue other methods to help myself.

I expect my videos will be like a quasi-journal….part informational and part real life daily accounts of actual events in my life. In this second video I’d like to talk a little about quirks, traits or idiosyncrasies that are typical to many people who suffer with anxiety disorders….
OK, so here we go….

Quirks:
1. First… A lot of agoraphobics won’t take meds. For me I became medication phobic after experiencing a lot of adverse reactions back in the 70s… We generally have very sensitive nervous systems and various other sensitivities. For me a sensitivity to drugs is one of them. When I HAVE to try to take a new medication the best way for me to ease into it is to actually shave the pill with a razor and take in in tiny increments until I see if the pill will agree with me or not. You can even just dip your finger in the powder of the pill and put a little on your tongue if you like. If a little works out ok you can take more. Doing things in small increments and baby steps seems to work best with us for most things.

2. We need control in certain situations, especially in new situations.. For many (but not all ) of us we had times in our lives when we felt control of our lives was not in our hands. We may have been abused, had a serious illness or other trauma. I believe that is at the bottom of a lot of our fears. Today If we are in a situation where we feel we have no choices (or feel TRAPPED in ANY WAY) we panic. It is helpful to remind ourselves that we are adults today and have complete control over our lives and keep repeating that over and over. I always like to point out that we are NOT trying to control other people even though it may at times appear that way. We are simply trying to set up or control a situation (which may include other people) so we can make it doable. If we can’t see it as manageable in our minds then we simply cannot do it, so we need to take steps to lay things out in a manner that makes us able to envision it as possible. There is a very definite, albeit subtle difference, but a very important difference and one I hope others will be willing to accept about us.

3. We can feel trapped in even the most common of confining places … even in the home ..For example: the shower, dinner table, elevator, talking to visitors or neighbors, waiting in supermarket lines, doctor’s or any office etc. We can feel trapped in most any “have to” situation where we feel we MUST do something and have no out. Ordinary everyday tasks can cause us much anxiety because we feel confined by them.

4. Light/sun and sound sensitivity: I did not know at first that this was an issue for me and was so relieved when I found out that light and sound sensitivity was common for people with anxiety disorders. I live in Florida and at times just walking out to the mailbox can trigger anxiety. Fluorescent lights in stores can also be great triggers. Sudden changes in lighting or sound can also trigger a lot of uncomfortable feelings for me. If, for example, a cloud passes over the sun it can quickly change my mood from calm and peaceful to scary. We are extremely sensitive people who can easily be OVERSTIMULATED and we need not be ashamed of it … it is just our makeup. The more we recognize it and simply accept it the better we will be able to make peace with ourselves.

5. We often need to do things or even see people in small increments. This again relates to how easily we can get emotionally overstimulated. If we re socially phobic we may need for people to come and visit for only short periods of time, especially if they are new people in our life. If we are trying to do a task we could not do before (driving for example) we may need to try in tiny increments to get out again. I’ll talk much more about this in my video on systematic desensitization in the near future (video #4)

6. EVERYTHING we do is overshadowed by anxiety and the first thought in every situation is how much anxiety will this trigger? We have to think about almost EVERYTHING we do before we do it in terms of what price we will pay with anxiety for doing it. We live with fear of having to go to hospital etc….or the dentist. We also live with a constant underlying fear that something in any given day will happened that will bring us back to the worst time of our life anxiety-wise. If it is not in the forefront of our minds it’s a constant undercurrent and it can be exhausting. Sometimes anxiety is the only emotion we feel and it is used to cover other emotions. Believe it or not anxiety can even be trying to help you by not allowing you to feel those other feelings (like anger) that you might be afraid to feel. Learning to identify and feel all of your feelings can be very helpful in helping anxiety to ease.

7 People with anxiety to the degree we have it are always focused on how they feel. It can be a very self-centered disorder. It’s like you have to be prepared at all times for the body to betray you and throw you into panic. Often it seems to come totally out of the blue. Triggers can be unconscious. – I am as surprised as anyone sometimes when I get so nervous in a situation that I was perhaps even looking forward to! I don’t sit and say, “oh this is a horrible scary situation”… I’m just going about my day and maybe even looking forward to an event of some kind and then BAM I can be overwhelmed with anxiety. Sometimes it can take days to “recover” from a big event.

8.Sometimes we have to do things in the exact moment we feel we can. i.e. Me jumping in car to see if I can go around the corner. On the other hand we may have to really plan out things so we can see them as manageable in our heads. If it’s an event we may have to know what our escape route is (i.e. sit in the back seat of church). If it’s an event in our home we may need to know someone else can take over for us in the event we have to leave the room or can’t complete a task like cook dinner).

9. Change of any kind is hard for us. We love the predictable….too bad life doesn’t usually work that way. I love the teachings of Buddhism myself but I go kicking and screaming when I have to look at their concept of the impermanence of all things! A counselor friend of mine told me when I am at my worst to not even wear a new blouse because it could throw me into more anxiety. I came to realize this even more with Zack (the reporter) when he asked me how I choose what I wore every day. I realized that I used to put something new or newer on when I had company then I noticed I reacted to doing so with more anxiety because my body knew something was UP! Now I just pick something familiar and comfortable in new situations.

8. It’s hard for us to make commitments because we never know how we are going to feel on a given day. We make a commitment on a day perhaps when we feel OK and then the day comes and we wonder what we were thinking! Our body betrays us and we are saddened and frustrated and feel like a failure. Please try to remember here that you can only do the best you can do…..even just trying is a triumph! Just because it is hard to make a commitment doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make one and try to follow through. For me, the minute I get out of bed do everything I can … for example, the garbage and mail go out in case I can’t do it later. It’s not always how you feel on a given day, but in a given minute!

** I’d like to point out here that some of our responses may be out of our control. I Know myself I have tried EVERYTHING I could find to overcome this disorder but have had little permanent luck. There are studies being done as shown even in the new TV Series “Black Box” that show that people with agoraphobia for example have abnormally sized amygdalas in their brains. The amygdala is the fear response part of the brain. Goolge it and you will find some interesting studies!

7. At times /periods of severe anxiety we might keep items we may think we need close by for fear we might “freeze up with fear” and not be able to get what we need…especially at night. Next to the bed we might have food, cool rag, water, medication, phone and phone numbers, porta potty and bucket. It’s like we have to make a little safety nest in case we become immobilized! We are good boy and girl scouts and think we always have to think ahead and be prepared!

9 We are usually loaded with anticipatory anxiety and “what if” thinking……for example, if I know I am going to be very busy next week with potentially anxiety-provoking events, I sometimes can’t do much THIS week thinking about next week. Trying to learn to live in THIS moment can be very helpful. Mindfulness meditation has become very trendy these days and can be very helpful with this.

10 When you are anxious it’s hard to talk about where you are at and when you are calm you don’t want to talk about it ‘cause it might make you anxious!!

11 Getting medical attention is often difficult. We are afraid of what the doctor will find and if we will be able to handle it. Some of us, however, if we can get out to a doctor like to go often to be reassured that all is well and what we are feeling is only anxiety. I myself, at this point in time, refuse to get BP taken due to anxiety…..it scares me to know it because maybe they will make me take meds that I’ll react to and have to go to hospital which I perceive as worse than having high BP. Truth is my BP is very high when the doctor is here just because he is here in the house so it is impossible to get a valid reading. Medical attention can be challenging for sure!

***I’d like to make a request here that if anyone, in any state has services performed in their home for anything that they pass that info along to me via email. I am starting a section on my website (http://living-with-agoraphobia.com) with a list of doctors, dentists, and ALL kind of services that come to the house. Mobile services are so valuable to us and there are not enough of them.

12 Most of us seem to have a Need to be organized. A lack of control inside creates a need for control of “things” outside. It may even border on a compulsive type behavior.

13 It may take us a long time, especially if we live alone (which is not all that common) to do home repairs….ie replace a bathroom faucet. We don’t like people coming into our “safe place” especially when we don’t know how long they will stay. We’d rather put up with a bad TV picture than call the cable guy!

14. If we are socially phobic we may dread the holidays because they are “have to” gatherings. Birthdays as well can feel more threatening than a joy!

15. Our “self-talk” is usually scary and includes catastrophic thinking or “awfulizing”… This is a case where having such wonderful creative and imaginative personalities can work against us. We imagine all kinds of horrible scenarios for ourselves and get carried away with “what if” thinking. Again, trying to stay in the here and now and think only about what we are doing in any given moment is a great way to combat this. After all, THIS moment is the only one we really have and we need to take full advantage of it by staying present for it.

I have mentioned here several ‘quirks’ we might have in common…Yes, we can be very sensitive and at times over reactive and may need to reel in our thinking from time to time, but we are also people who:

…..can be a lot of FUN to be around with outgoing personalities (seems like a contradiction if we are homebound, but I AM that way)
…..are very creative and imaginative in the best of ways
…..are very loving and loveable
….. are very interesting
…..are very intelligent and have very high potential
…..are very ethical

So, it is important to know that we are so much more than our anxiety. The anxiety is just one small part of the whole that is “us”…..please always try to keep that in mind so you can continue to develop all the other sides of yourself.

I’d like by just saying “Namaste” which is a Sanskrit greeting still in everyday use in India.
Roughly translated it means….”The spirit within me salutes or bows to the spirit in you.”

Have a great day and see you next time in Part 3.