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Daniela Miller

False anxiety

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It is only very recently that I have been introduced to the concept of “false anxiety” when reading Ellen Vora’s book “The Anatomy of Anxiety” (I highly recommend it to anyone experiencing anxiety). The idea is that certain physical things such as a lack of sleep, caffeine, poor nutrition and also hormones can put our body into a chemical/physical state of anxiety. When that happens, the anxiety we experience is a “false” kind of anxiety, as it is a physical experience triggered not by anything in our environment but by processes happening within our body.

The anxiety I experience while ovulating is of exactly this kind and unfortunately it did rear it’s ugly head while on this trip. 

We were at Lake Tahoe, a beautiful, crystal clear alpine lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains where we took a couple of days to relax in between driving. I really wanted to experience the turquoise waters the lake is famous for by kayak. I know how to kayak and I’m also a strong swimmer but the day we were meant to head off out onto the lake, I woke up feeling nervous and shaky. It was day 11 of my cycle. The lack of sleep due to jet lag combined with the hormones around ovulation put my body into a physical state of anxiety before the day had even begun.

Nevertheless, we went to get our kayaks (transparent ones to get the best experience of the clear waters) and set off. Within a few minutes of leaving the shore and getting into deeper waters, my anxiety intensified. I felt shaky and uncomfortable. I applied logical reasoning and reminded myself that I am a good swimmer (wearing a life jacket!) and a good kayaker and that there was absolutely zero reason to feel anxious. There was no danger!

But my body took no notice and I started to visibly shake, getting closer and closer to a full blown anxiety attack. I felt so frustrated and annoyed, I wanted to cry. I also really wanted to get out of the kayak and the water. I called over to Tony to let him know what was going on for me. He responded perfectly by just stopping and giving me time to figure out what I needed to do. I decided to steer my kayak into a shallow bay where I felt more comfortable and waited. Slowly, my nerves started to calm down again. I asked Tony to carry on while I stayed in the bay and continued to allow my nerves to settle, because I really didn’t want him to miss out on the experience because of me. After making sure I was really ok with this, he set off but said he wouldn’t go far and be back shortly to check on me. I waved him off and paddled around the little bay, building my confidence and slowly starting to feel more comfortable. By the time Tony returned I was ready to follow him and continue.

I never felt 100% comfortable again on the water that particular day but I also didn’t give in to my false anxiety and just gave up. Somehow, I managed to find a middle way where I neither pushed myself too hard nor allowed my anxiety to control the situation. False or not, the truth is that I did feel shaky, but I also knew that there was no rational cause for this to be found in external circumstances. And if I learned one thing about anxiety, it’s that it gets worse the more I just give in to it. But I also learned that pushing myself can backfire. As much as it frustrates me to feel unreasonably anxious, pushing myself when I’m physically shaking is not being kind and caring towards myself.

The best way I have found to deal with it, is to give it the time and space to let it run its course, to just allow it and wait for it to settle down. It certainly worked well on this occasion and the rest of our stay at Lake Tahoe was lovely (and uneventful with regards to “false” hormonal anxiety). We went for a hike up in the beautiful pine forests that surround the lake, hung out in the motel jacuzzi and pool and enjoyed the general holiday atmosphere there. We left just in time for the official start of the holiday season and the lake getting busy. We’re heading further south along the Sierra Nevada to see the giant Sequoias next. I hope that some serious tree hugging will provide a calming balm for my nervous system.

Here’s a photo of me after my wobble, when I was able to actually enjoy the experience 🙂

Me sitting in a kayak on Lake Tahoe with snow covered mountains in the background.

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Daniela Miller

Weed, Wine and Giant Redwoods

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Edited by Daniela Miller, Wednesday, 21 June 2023, 23:45

Day 8, Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Well, it’s been quite a journey to get here. First travelling to Madrid, then a 12 hour flight to LA the following day and then a couple of days making our way up the west coast to Northern California with stopovers in Santa Barbara and Carmel Valley Village on the way.

All has been quiet on the hormonal front so far (inner spring is my favourite season) and the driving here is very easy and relaxed compared to Europe. People here cruise rather than race. Big thumbs up from me on that front.

What I hadn’t worried about or really taken into consideration (proving again how pointless worrying really is), was the jet lag. It’s been a real bitch and we’re only just getting over it.

However, when we finally arrived at the first “proper” destination of this trip (and one of the main reasons for coming here), and entered the Avenue of the Giants today, everything we went through to get here felt completely worth it.

I don’t know how to describe the feeling of driving and then walking amongst these giant trees but I can tell you that I burst into tears several times, feeling overwhelmed by awe and wonder. Majestic is one of the words that springs to mind to describe these trees and the experience of being amongst them was truly humbling. 

What was interesting and unexpected was the intense smell of weed that wafted through our car on occasion when driving through the area, and on the free area map, “Wine and Weed Tours” are advertised as one of the 101 things you can experience here. Because apart from wine, weed is also professionally grown here and not just legally but also illegally, which unfortunately brought a whole lot of problems to the area. We were reminded of this reality when we stopped for petrol and spotted a shop window covered in missing person posters. People have been disappearing here and it earned the area the nickname “Murder Mountain” (you can watch the documentary on Netflix). I purposely didn’t watch the documentary before coming here but probably will watch it now when we get home. 

Although we are mainly sticking to tourist places on our trip (and purposely so), it’s difficult to not become aware of the shadow sides of this country. In Santa Barbara for example, I was also moved to tears but not by awe and wonder but by the shocking contrast between the affluence on display and the amount of homeless people living on the streets and searching through bins for food.

Call me naive, but I really can’t get my head around why as a species we still haven’t learned to share and make sure there’s enough for everyone. 

Trees, on the other hand, are experts at sharing resources with each other. Possibly another reason to look up to them…

Woman (me) looking up at big Redwood trees

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Daniela Miller

Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik

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Edited by Daniela Miller, Tuesday, 6 June 2023, 16:02

Day 2

I’m lying. There’s no sugar, sex or magik. Just loads of blood. Sorry. But I do love that Red Hot Chilli Peppers album.

Apparently, heavy bleeding during menstruation, also known as menorrhagia, is very common among women transitioning into menopause. One study found that 78% of women aged 42 to 52 reported their blood flow as heavy.

Last night I had to get up twice to avoid a blood bath and not surprisingly, due to the blood loss and lack of sleep, I’m feeling wiped out today. I had my blood checked and I’m not anaemic yet from this monthly blood letting ritual but I do take iron supplements during my period to make sure it stays that way. My gynaecologist also prescribed me some non hormonal tablets that reduce the blood flow. She says they have no side effects but I read the little leaflet and it lists thrombosis as a possible side effect and as I’m about to go on a 12 hour flight, I figured this wouldn’t be a great idea right now. So I’m just waiting for it to pass. Luckily, the really heavy bleeding doesn’t tend to last much longer than a day or two.

Knowing I wouldn’t feel great today, I made sure most of the travel prep was done in advance and all I had to do today was go to the bank and collect the dollars I had ordered via the banking app last week. Following the order I was informed by email my money would be ready for collection from yesterday afternoon in the branch I requested. Expecting a bit of a mission (banking in a branch in Spain is always a bit of a mission), I was prepared for some hassle but after around 20 minutes of them faffing around I was informed that there were in fact no dollars for me to collect. Trying to be helpful, the lady suggested that maybe the money was sent accidentally to the branch where our account is registered (about half an hour away) and called the branch to check. She was informed that yes, they have my money.

Annoyed, I checked in with the hubby whether or not he thought it was worth driving to the other branch or if we should just get the money at the airport. He wasn’t particularly bothered but offered to drive me there as he was on his lunch break anyway and knew I wasn’t feeling great.

So off we went. 

Upon arriving at the other branch, there was more faffing around and then we were informed that no one in the branch knew anything about any dollars and that they didn’t have our money either.

What was the name of the person the people in the other branch had spoken to? 

How on earth was I meant to know?! 

The tired and blood deprived Tasmanian devil inside of me was ready to throw a tantrum. Luckily, Tony was at hand to discreetly remind me to stay calm and that it wasn’t the lady’s fault. 

I’m pleased to say that I didn’t lose my shit but I did make a point of telling her that I was angry, that this whole situation felt like a bad joke and that there would be no next time when she tried to tell me how to approach this differently in the future (basically don’t use or trust the app). And although I’m still annoyed at having wasted so much time for nothing, I feel like I can let it go now because I had my say. When I was younger I would have probably been a polite, “nice girl” instead, swallowed my anger and stewed over it for ages afterwards. 

Maybe perimenopause is trying to help us grow out of such unhealthy behaviour patterns and to finally learn to express our anger appropriately, because clearly, suppressing it is no longer an option. It certainly helps to feel supported in this process and I really appreciated Tony understanding and acknowledging how I felt today and offering his support, both physically and emotionally. Otherwise, my inner Tasmanian devil might have made an unwelcome appearance today…

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Daniela Miller

We’re going on an (actual) adventure

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Day 1

My husband Tony and I are about to head off to LA this week, from where we will take a 3 week road trip through California, Nevada and Arizona. We have both travelled quite extensively, both together and individually, but this is nevertheless a big adventure for us that ticks “seeing the giant Redwoods and Sequoias” off both of our bucket lists.

It all happened quite spontaneously and impulsively. One evening in February, Tony told me that he had booked two return flights to LA for June. This was an anticipated quiet time work wise for him when he could fit in three weeks away (which doesn’t happen often) and he decided to just go ahead and book the flights. At the time my reaction to these news was swaying between excitement and anxiety. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good adventure but the older I get the more anxious I seem to get. I’m not sure if it’s simply the fact that with age comes experience and with experience unfortunately an extended knowledge of all the things that could possibly go wrong or if it’s just these bloody hormones. Anyway, anxiety tends to ride shot gun with me quite frequently nowadays. 

In addition, a road trip is not exactly my preferred method of travelling ever since I had a panic attack while driving on a motorway almost 10 years ago. Why and what exactly happened back then would require a whole blog post of its own but suffice to say that I myself don’t drive on motorways anymore and I don’t particularly enjoy being a passenger in a car on a motorway, either. 

Anyway, so the flights were booked and we now had to put together a route and an itinerary, which we did over the following weekend. We picked, quite intuitively, everything that interested us and that was  doable within the given time, and very quickly, an obvious route started to take shape. I was particularly excited to discover that the itinerary we put together meant that we would end up in Las Vegas for my 47th birthday. Way to go! The scales started to tip towards excitement rather than anxiety. 

Then, in the last few months, my perimenopausal symptoms started stepping it up a gear. I’ve been experiencing horrible mood swings and random outbursts of that “hot rage” I mentioned before, and suddenly, my main concern became less to do with the trip itself or even the driving on motorways but whether or not I would be able to not let my hormones ruin this trip for us. Because when I’m in “one of those arsehole moods” as Tony, quite appropriately, refers to them, I could be in the most beautiful environment and I don’t think it would make much of a difference.

What’s quite interesting is that despite Tony not having consulted me about my hormonal cycle when booking the flights (I do generally try and book holidays to coincide with inner spring and summer), it turns out that we head off just at the end of my inner winter, which couldn’t be more ideal. However, as we’re away for three weeks, my inner autumn will eventually catch up with us and as my hormones have not really been abiding by seasonal rules in the last few months, anything could happen at any time.

“If you know it’s just your hormones that are causing these feelings, can’t you work with that?” Tony asked me the other day. It’s a reasonable enough question from a male perspective, I guess; and as someone practicing yoga and meditation, a part of me asks myself the same question.

“Feeling possessed” is the best way I can describe how it feels when one of these moods comes over me. It seems to come out of nowhere and takes me by surprise, whereas “real feelings” tend to develop and allow at least some space to adjust my stance before meeting them full on. This shit feels like being barrelled under a wave catching you from behind. One moment you’re happily waving at your family sitting on the beach, the next one your desperately trying to come up for air.

But I will try. I’m determined to not let my hormones ruin this adventure for us.

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Daniela Miller

A quick note on cycle tracking

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Before I get into things I want to share a quick note on cycle tracking and how a normal menstrual cycle generally works. Even though I am in perimenopause, I am still menstruating and roughly follow a normal menstrual cycle. It’s just that everything has become a bit more extreme and jumbled up. As I intend to start my entries with noting where I am in my cycle to provide a hormonal context, I hope it helps to give a quick overview of this subject first.

The general idea of cycle tracking is to keep a journal where you note where you are in your menstrual cycle and how you feel. In time this helps you to understand yourself better in relation to your hormonal cycle and to better identify and meet the needs associated with each phase of the cycle. The below is my general and personal understanding of it and may vary for other women (hence the importance of tracking your own individual cycle).

Day 1 is the first day of menstruation and starts the inner season of winter. While it can be physically challenging, on a mental/emotional level it’s actually a very calm and grounding phase for me when I feel most settled within myself. However, just like winter in nature, it’s a slow, quiet time that asks for rest and retreat, especially as our physical energy levels can be extremely low. When these needs aren’t met, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and therefore irritable. Personally I really enjoy solitude during my inner winter and find meditation sessions to be particularly productive. Somehow the mind settles more easily and more deeply during this time.

Once menstruation is over, inner spring begins, usually around day 6 (each woman’s menstrual cycle slightly varies). This is when energy levels finally start picking up again and I feel like I want to get on with stuff and get out into the world again. I feel bouncy, sociable and productive. 

Day 12 (ish) marks the beginning of inner summer and the time around ovulation. Like summer in nature it’s a time when we seek pleasure and enjoyment and generally feel good about ourselves. It’s the most sexy time of the month. However, some women, including myself, can also experience heightened anxiety around this time. My personal theory around this is that this increased sense of vulnerability makes us more prone to seek out a partner for emotional support. In that way, it lowers our emotional barriers and makes us more approachable. Fact is that physically, our immune system is at its weakest during this time in order to make it as easy as possible for male sperm to reach the egg. 

Around day 20 most women enter inner autumn, when our energy levels start to slowly go down again and we feel a need to withdraw a bit more and to turn inwards again. Similar to inner winter, due to less energy, things that feel easy during inner spring and inner summer can quickly start to feel like too much and with that sense of overwhelm, irritability tends to set in. It’s also a time when our inner critic is at it’s worst, and when we can’t take it anymore there can be a tendency to unleash him or her onto others instead, just to catch a break. For me it’s definitely the most unpleasant time of the cycle and to me, perimenopause actually feels like an extended inner autumn. 

If anyone wants to find out more about this, I highly recommend the book “Wild Power” by Alexandra Pope and Swanje Hugo Wurlitzer. It was a game changer for me and set me on the path of working with my monthly cycle instead of against it.

They just recently released the book “Wise Power” which is about menopause and equally as good. It certainly opens your eyes to look at this transition phase as an opportunity and potential gift instead of just a nuisance. 

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Daniela Miller

What the fuck is going on?

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Contrary to popular belief, menopause itself actually only lasts one day as it’s defined as the moment when a woman hasn’t had her period for 12 months. The time leading up to this moment, is called perimenopause and can last from a few months (lucky you!) to a decade or more (please no!). It’s the transitional period in which your estrogen levels go on a rollercoaster ride alongside the decline in ovarian function. From what I hear from women past menopause the “fun” isn’t over afterwards but I don’t want to look that far ahead yet and am trying to take this one step at a time.

Having periods and a monthly hormonal cycle has never been exactly enjoyable but after years of cycle tracking I managed to live quite harmoniously with it and even reap some benefits (such as the deep wisdom and insight that can occur just before the bleed). However, since hitting my mid forties, it’s become a bit of a bumpy ride. What was once a predictable, reliable and therefore manageable hormonal fluctuation has become highly unpredictable with sudden and extreme hormonal spikes and troughs. Suddenly there are no smooth transitions anymore between the inner seasons but the weather of my hormonal landscape can change as abruptly as a summer storm ruining your picnic.

What that means in practice is that, as my husband put it, I can go from “sex goddess to evil witch” within a matter of minutes, which is as confusing for him as it is for me. And let’s not even speak of the hot rage that is provoked by the slightest of inconveniences and looks to other people like watching a mad woman and feels to me like being possessed.

Anyway, I hope you get the picture. There are physical symptoms too, which I won’t bore you with but let’s just say that they don’t help the mental and emotional symptoms. And before someone feels the need to comment on all the products and things that can help, thank you very much but I’m on it! However, while they can indeed help, they don’t eliminate or “fix” this natural developmental phase in a woman’s life and as much as I’d rather not experience this, I believe that there must be some growth and wisdom to be found in all this too. After all, it’s the manure (shit to you and me) that makes the garden of life grow and bloom.

So with all this said, this blog will be a place for me to share and reflect on my experiences navigating this period in my life: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Enjoy the ride…

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