Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mind Change Day 6: Stress Management Redux

Ok, Lisa here.

Today was worse than yesterday. Dropped kids off at high school, came home and my husband looked like he was having a heart attack. A real, true, keeling-over heart attack. Gray skin. Grabbing chest muscle over his heart because of stabbing pain. Radiating pain down arm and across back.

I asked him a few questions because he didn't think he was having a heart attack and I was vaguely curious as to why. [I was also looking for my phone to call 911, so we weren't exactly wasting time.] His reasoning went something along the lines of: I don't feel like dealing with this, and don't want to go to the hospital. Let's see what happens.

Got it, both the phone and the nonsense. Five minutes later the paramedics were there.

After taking a quick history (including the new-to-me info that he'd had chest pains the day before and during the night but...yeah...didn't want to deal with it and didn't want to go to the hospital), they gave him nitro and 4 aspirin to chew, started an IV, took EKG readings (not bad) and we decided on a hospital. I was pretty calm but alarmed at the thought that only one ambulance attendant would be in back with him. What if that guy fell asleep? What if Mark needed CPR? Two seemed to be my psychic minimum to avoid a total freak-out.

The extremely nice and competent paramedics told me one was planning on going with him also. And that I should calm down, not blow through red lights, get a coffee and put together a bag of clothes for him because they thought that if he blood work markers were clear he'd be released.

So I did exactly as they said, which is one of the reasons I like the DOCC framework.  Very direct and directive works for me. The Back in Control summary on stress management is here.  .

And Mark was okay. The problem was some muscles he vaguely remembered pulling at work yesterday but had been too busy to pay attention to until the pain woke him up in the night, and then in the morning he realized the pain was so severe he couldn't stand.

The day therefore gave me plenty of time and opportunity to review the second part of stress management (after yesterday's post on filling my tub with good stuff like these DBT pleasurable activities, sleep, healthy food, loving relationships while blocking the drain so anxiety and anger didn't suck them dry). That is--awareness (this links to a nifty pirate analogy).  Slowing down enough to feel your body, feel your feelings, take care of problems before those problems take you down.

This is the gist of mindfulness, though mindfulness alone isn't enough (as Dr. Schubiner reasons though here). I'm a challenge junkie and Mark is a multitasking wonder but he was not deeply immersed in flow from a deeply satisfying creative endeavor when he chose not to think about his chest pain yesterday--he was highly anxious, agitated, frustrated, and unsettled. The store he was running did about $1000/minute for much of the weekend he worked as the sole manager instead of the usual 5-6. He could "handle it" by going into crisis and triage mode, but he had to shut out all of his bodily needs to do it, including noting damn, that hurt" when he tore a bunch of scar tissue and muscle.

His assignment, from his wife, was to settle on the couch when we got home and tell me or himself every 15 minutes or so what felt good, what felt bad, what felt weird, and where his thoughts were going. This proved nearly impossible for him. Instead he focused on television (The Matrix) and telling the kids what to do from his perch. Saying maybe he just needed more caffeine, he was tired.

Every so often, though, he'd say something like "The Tylenol helped. Pain is down by half." Or "I'm was thinking about work so I turned off my phone to keep myself from texting something I forgot to do yesterday and that helped."

I felt fucking brilliant. I not only understand this stuff but I can teach it to someone worse off than me. Total rush.

Well, actually that particular emotional tidal wave was from having the love of my life relatively healthy and whole. But his doing the body check a few times was also awesome. I tried to get him to say something like the mantra that "All is well. All will be well" but he gave me a look. I said I could download him a few self-compassion meditations and he passed.

He he did let me go to the library and get him some miscellaneous hiking gear books and magazines to help him think about something other than work, what he wasn't getting done on the house today, and what our kids were asking for at the moment. He needed to move his brain into more interesting, less rote and more pleasurable directions.

And despite it being almost dark on my way home, I walked the boardwalk on the beach for half an hour, seeing a weird tree on a jetty, hearing the rush of the water under the planks, memorizing the bizarre Medusa cloud formation because I'd intentionally left my phone in the car to resist taking pictures (or answering texts) instead of talking to the people I passed by. Because my anxiety level was pretty damn high still and I needed to get it down so I could sleep.

Baby steps, man.

Love, Lisa

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