Teacher, Teach Thyself

Do I need to even say that I was distraught? I had been struggling at work for days.   I had been lately having panic attacks. Now I knew why but knowing why had not really helped.

One thing I knew was that I had to take a leave of absence from my employment. Tearfully, I sat in the hallway at the ophthalmologist’s office and called my employers. It was not fair to my clients to do a poor job. It was not me to do a poor job. The only option was to hang it up for a while.

It was not me to do a poor job. I had to hang it up for a while.

That weekend I continued with the panic attacks in earnest. I was waking up hyperventilating with my pulse racing. I felt as if I had a rock in the pit of my stomach. This is what dread feels like.

For the past two years, I have had the opportunity to teach the educational components of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Just by chance, the unit I was teaching was Emotional Regulation. If anyone needed emotional regulation at that time it was me. Teacher, teach thyself.

I will go into some of the tenets and strategies more in-depth later on in my postings. Suffice it to say now, I needed to use the first of the PLEASE strategies (PLEASE is an acronym that I’ll explain below) for dealing with Emotional Regulation—the strategy is taking care of physical illness (that’s the P).

The P in PLEASE stands for taking care of physical illness.

I was in my general practitioner’s office that Monday morning. I was totally worked up. I have been up with panic attacks at least three times the night before and I was using over-the-counter sleep medication to get any rest at all. Even worse, my blood pressure was up to 182/ 81. I think this was my personal best!

After listening to my tale of woe – about going blind, taking a leave from work, not being able to drive, and, on top of everything, having my mother-in-law in intensive care – my general practitioner prescribed psychotropic medication to help me deal with my anxiety.

DBT stresses that you have to take care of physical illness in order to deal with emotional distress. I am not a big believer in medication but having a stroke was not going to help the situation.

I accepted that I needed the prescribed medication to help control my panic.

The S in PLEASE is sleep. I wasn’t doing a lot of that but I needed to. I had never given it a lot of thought but, take it from me, losing your vision is exhausting. The emotional stress of losing your vision is exhausting.  That is one thing but just trying to SEE is another. It has been taking me three and four times as long to do basic tasks like reading my mail. I have a reputation for being a high-energy-and-always-on the-go woman. It amazes me that in the last few weeks I have started taking naps.

The S in PLEASE stands for sleep.

The first E in PLEASE is proper eating. One does not eat well when she is in crisis. In fight or flight mode, the digestive process is shutdown so the blood can go to the limbs. Before I started on my medication, I had no appetite and when I did eat, it sat undigested.

The problems with being in fight or flight mode were two: first this was not some short-term problem. This crisis was going to last for a while. And two, what was I going to fight? Where was I going to flee? Better to interrupt the process so I could get proper nutrition. After all, every army marches on its stomach and this was going to be a protracted campaign.

The E in PLEASE stands for proper eating.

For you curious sorts who wonder what the A and the second E are (the L is part of the word Physical; I did not forget it), I will inform you. The A is to avoid mood- and mind-altering drugs. That has never been one of my problems, but it might be a problem for some of you. Remember that drugs and alcohol work in the short run but in the long run, your problems are still there and often worse. Escaping with drugs and alcohol is not going to allow you to learn skills to deal with you problems and they certainly will do nothing for your Macular Degeneration. End of lecture.

The A in PLEASE is for avoiding mood- and mind-altering drugs. Not one of my problems but I’m informing you of it.

The E is one of my favorite things in the whole, wide world…exercise! A little autobiographical note here. I have, in at least one aspect, lived my life backwards. I was an intellectual in high school and college. Never did any physical exercise that I was not absolutely obliged to do. That changed when I was in my mid 20s and discovered STRESS. The one thing that helped to relax me and let me sleep was exercise and I was born again. It is true there is no greater zealot than a convert. I will witness to you any time you like. I may also witness to you when you don’t like.

The E in PLEASE is for exercise which is one of my favorite things in the whole, wide world.

So, be that as it may, this time of the year, I generally take Zumba, hip hop, yoga and walk. Exercise is an amazing stress reliever and great for calming crazy emotions when you are in crisis. Even though my vision had gone to serious crap, I continued my classes. I have had to. Friends and my exercise have been my life lines.

When some people hear that I am legally blind in one eye and nearly legally blind in the other, they assume I cannot dance any more. Not the case at all. Macular Degeneration affects your central vision. If I concentrate on looking at something off-center of the instructor, I can see the moves with my peripheral vision just fine.

Even though my vision had gone to crap, I continued my exercise classes.

People also think I am not able to navigate on a walk. That’s not true either. Keeping my head up and focusing on a spot a bit beyond where I am walking, I can see what is at my feet. The peripheral vision is still there.

When I walk, I can use peripheral vision.

Then there is yoga. Sorry all of you exercise haters, but totally blind people do yoga. ‘My’ yogini is hands on and will physically correct your alignment, etc. I have worked with another yogini who is about 100 pounds and will literally climb on you! Yoga is great for flexibility, balance, strength and even endurance and can be done by people of all ages. Yeah for yoga!

Totally blind people do yoga. Yeah for yoga!

So, trying to keep myself from being a screaming, crying basket case, I practiced what I was preaching and used the PLEASE skills from Marsha Linehan’s Dialectic Behavioral Therapy.

I also used ABC and Master from DBT. A is accumulate positives; I got out there and had fun. I walked to the park with my yoga instructor and her two daughters. I contacted a friend and went to a blues concert. These may have been just pleasant interludes that don’t do anything to help my eyes but they helped my soul.

The A in ABC means accumulate positives. I got out there and had fun.

B is for building mastery. My job is very visually demanding. I never realized how often I needed to use my eyes. My vision was there and taken for granted. Yesterday I tried to do something I have done thousands of times over the last 38 years. It was a debacle. I cried whatever is left of my eyes out. Tried again today and it was better.

Also today, I started to use Siri on my iPad for my searches. She found something I was wondering about. Minor triumphs matter and I am trying to celebrate them.

The B in ABC means build mastery.  I started to use Siri for my searches.

The C is for cope ahead. Basically this is a positive imagery technique. What do I imagine? I see me lecturing on Macular Degeneration to Lion’s Clubs and other civic organizations. This is, of course, after I have become the most successful lab rat in the history of Wills Eye Hospital and have written a website that is turned into a best seller for people who are suffering from AMD. There IS life after your macula does a mass extinction worthy of the Jurassic period or whenever the dinosaurs ceased to be.

The C in ABC is for cope ahead which is a positive imagery technique. I imagine myself the most successful lab rat in the history of Wills Eye Hospital.

Do these strategies always work? Hell no. I want to be back at work. I want to drive. I want to read a paperback mystery cover-to-cover in a weekend like I used to. Screaming and crying, frustration and disgust have been part of my life recently and I suspect they will continue to visit. The skills may not be 100% effective but I will take all of the help I can get at this point.

Do these always work? Hell no, but I will take all the help I can get at this point.

Next: A Tutu and A Tiara



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