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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

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

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…

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Daniela Miller, Thursday, 1 June 2023, 15:58)
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