Anxiety

The first time it happened I was in Vegas of all places. My husband had a work trip in sin city and I tagged along to enjoy a little getaway from the usual chaos of life with small children. My girlfriend and her husband were there too and we were schmoozing and dining out and partying like a bunch of footloose and fancy free twenty-year-olds. I seriously hadn’t had so much fun in years!

After one particularly late night, my husband and I crashed in our hotel room long after midnight and fell into a deep sleep. Around 3 in the morning I shot up in bed. There was a weird pressure on my chest and I was having a hard time catching my breath. I immediately shook my husband awake and leapt up like a crazy person. “I can’t breathe!” I screamed.

He rolled over and looked at me. Perhaps I have just the teeny tiniest history of freaking out for no good reason – so he took a moment before he jumped to any conclusions. “You seem to be breathing just fine” he said sleepily. But I knew better. I was clammy and shaky and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. “I need to go outside” I announced, and I threw on my clothes and made him accompany me to the back of the hotel.

I felt a little better once I had some air, but it took a while for my heart rate and breathing to return to normal. My husband slumped on the sidewalk with his head in his hands and watched me pace back and forth on the pavement, as drunken revellers stumbled past us on their way home from the casino.

The next day, I felt better but I was totally freaked out. What if I’d had a heart attack? Or an asthma attack? Or a stroke? Should I call the hotel doctor? My husband checked the price of sending a medical staffer to our room ($500 US!) and decided that I was probably fine. He seemed completely unfazed by the entire situation, but I was really worried.

As soon as we returned home, I made an appointment with my doctor to check things out. He was stymied. My vitals were fine, my lungs looked good and I appeared to be perfectly healthy. “The only thing I can think of is perhaps it was an anxiety attack?” he suggested. I was taken aback. Anxiety!? But I was happy and relaxed. I’d danced and sipped wine and pulled slot machines until the wee hours of the morning. What the heck did I have to be anxious about?

I chalked it up to a freaky random incident (perhaps one too many glasses of wine?) and I put the whole thing out of my mind. Then it happened again.

Months later, I was in the middle of a wonderful 2-day workshop in Toronto. I’d been fortunate enough to be included in a session led by a well-respected expert from the States and I was happily scribbling notes and basking in the experience of being surrounded by friends and mentors. And suddenly, out of nowhere, my heart started beating quickly and my breath caught in my chest. The same damn feeling from Vegas! I didn’t want to make a scene so I beat a path to the bathroom and sat on the floor until I’d composed myself enough to re-enter the class. It was only ten minutes or so but it seemed like forever. I’d actually felt a bit faint this time and that was extra scary.

So back to the doctor I went. He read my chart and listened patiently to my symptoms and then turned to me with kind eyes. “Lori,” he said “I think this is classic anxiety.” Despite an immediate urge to launch an objection, I let his words sink in. And I knew he was right. I felt terribly ashamed of myself.

We chatted for a bit and he tried to comfort me by sharing how common anxiety is and how many things can be done to alleviate the triggers and symptoms. He offered me some literature and suggested I may want to consider possible medical treatments if the frequency of the attacks increased or became more intense. I left his office feeling like a complete failure.

Listen – to be honest, this diagnosis did not come as a complete shock. Anyone who knows me even casually knows that I’m a worrier. My resting face is basically a furrowed brow, and complete strangers have been known to ask me if I’m ok. But “worrier” sounded so much less dramatic than “anxious”. I’d taken things to the next level.

I knew I wanted to get better not only for myself but also for my children. My anxiety was affecting the whole family and I didn’t want it to completely consume my life. So I went to talk to someone. I read as much as I could on worry and anxiety. I began meditating regularly and working out. I practiced paying attention to my thoughts and labelling them without judgement – “Oh that’s a worried thought” “Hey that’s fear.” “Oh hello anger.” Somehow just noting them seemed to alleviate their grip over my mind.

When I opened up to friends, I was amazed by how many people shared similar experiences. It was comforting to trade horror stories of being in the throes of an attack (one friend passed out on the bus!) and to uncover what was working for other people. One girlfriend was trying medicine and seemed to be feeling better. Another was going for hypnosis, and another was working through her issues with a psychologist. Even just saying it out loud seemed to make us all feel better. We cried and laughed and learned from each other. It helped.

It’s been over ten years since the incident in Vegas. Am I cured? Heck no!  In fact, just a few weeks ago I was in a movie theater when my heart began to pound and I felt a familiar tightness creeping across my chest.

But instead of leaping out of my seat and immediately freaking out like I would have done in the past- I try to handle things differently now. “Oh hey anxiety” I said in my head. “Are you trying to tell me something?” Boom, boom, boom – goes my heart. I fight the urge to panic. Breathe in and out Lori. In and out.

My rationale brain starts a familiar back and forth with my reptilian brain – “You are fine” versus “Holy shit – you can’t breathe!”. My meditation teacher suggested that our emotions are like beach balls on the surface of the water. The more we try to shove them down, the harder they’ll spring up in our faces. So I focus on relaxing, breathing and letting the feelings wash over me. It’s a struggle but slowly, I start to relax and the panic passes.

“Geez mom.” my little guy leans over in his seat and snatches a bag of popcorn from my hands. “Why are you making your worried face? This is the part in the movie when the water buffalo has a farting attack. It’s supposed to be funny!”  Leave it to a kid to put life in perspective. It also helps to have a sense of humour about yourself, I’ve learned : )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Pot In The Parking Lot

On December 23rd, after a particularly stressful few weeks, I left a stock pot containing a severed head and limbs in the parking lot of the Burlington Mall. It was haphazardly wrapped in an old grey sheet, and I glanced back only briefly as I drove away and wondered who would be the first person to lift the lid.

When I reflect on the days leading up to that incident – I know several things to be true:

  • I had abandoned all of the practices that traditionally help me stay calm and grounded. No working out, no meditating, no reasonable bedtimes, no decompressing on the couch with a glass of wine or meeting up with girlfriends. I was woman on a mission. Why you ask? Well…..
  • Despite promising myself every year that I won’t go overboard on the holidays-  I inevitably become this harried list-making uber-mom – searching fruitlessly online for “the trendiest gift for a teenager”, “the most thoughtful present for your dad” and “touching homemade gifts for your closest friends.” It starts small and before I know it I’m staring red-eyed at my computer monitor at 1am ordering a $250 curling iron from a website in California.
  • I also took on an obscene amount of work to be completed by Christmas eve.  Justified or not, I still feel a nagging sense of guilt over the years I spent as a stay-at-home mom, and the financial burden that put on my husband. So – the writing assignments kept rolling in and I decided I could tackle them ALL goddammit.
  • It was only after I dug in that I realized what an intense undertaking I’d agreed to. I was burning the midnight oil writing about time traveling zombies and war and violence in 14th century Europe. In once particularly gruesome show, a contract killer was sent into the forest to ambush two members of the royal family. After he’d completed his task, he returned to the local courthouse and dumped a bag containing their heads, hands and feet onto the tiled floor. Many nights I was up until 2 or 3 in the morning rewinding and re-watching these images over and over and inserting appropriate description.

So back to the pot. On December 23rd, I dragged my little guy to the mall to retrieve one last “perfect” present. I knew I was overtired and strung out – but the end was in sight!

After we me made our purchase, we trudged back to through the lot. The first thing I noticed as we hiked back towards the van was that the back door was ajar. Odd. But I figured my son likely hadn’t closed it properly or had wedged a pack of goldfish crackers in the runner.

I opened the door and spotted a lump covered in a wrinkled grey sheet wedged between the back seats. “Buddy – was that sheet here when we left the house?” I asked warily. “No mommy. I’ve never seen that before.” My little guy answered. I nervously peered under the sheet and could see that there was a stainless steel pot underneath. I tried to lift it and found it was unusually heavy. In a flash I knew immediately what it contained – either a severed head or dismembered body parts. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind.

Then the question became what should I do next? I didn’t want to open the pot because I didn’t want the contents to frighten my young son. How would he ever recover from seeing such horror?

So – I did what any rational person would do. I lifted that pot out of my van and set it down in the parking lot. “What are you doing mommy?” My son asked. “You know what – I think this belongs to someone else so I’m going to leave it here and that person will come find it.”

He accepted my answer at face value, I set the pot down in the parking lot and we drove away. By the time we got home – the usual chaos of dinner prep was in full swing and to be honest, as odd as it might sound, I kind of forgot about the whole thing.

The next night I was snuggled up in bed reading with my son when my husband popped his head into the bedroom. “Hey hon – do you know what happened to Lisa’s chili pot?” he asked. “I left it in the van and I can’t seem to find it. It was wrapped in a sheet. Did you see it?”

I felt the blood drain out of my cheeks. Chili?! Chili!? Holy crap! The pot was full of chili. Not a head. Chili. My mind started racing – how was I going to explain what I had done to my husband? He already thinks I’m impulsive and overly anxious. What would he think if I told him the truth? He leaned in a little farther – “Did you see it?” he asked again.

“Mommy left something at the mall.” my son offered helpfully. “It had a sheet on it.” My husband met my eyes. I raced through a few different scenarios in my mind then decided I had to fess up. “You what?!” my husband said incredulously. I was hoping he’d see the humour – perhaps view it as proof of my adorable whimsical nature. But he just shook his head and drove back to the mall to see if the pot was still there.

In the end, he found the it but the lid was smashed and the sheet had blown away.  And a few days later, I had to sheepishly show up to Lisa’s house with her dinged-up pot and explain why the lid and sheet were no longer part of the set. Thankfully she has a forgiving heart and a great sense of humour.

Looking back, I keep trying to figure out why I didn’t just lift that lid. It makes me kind of uneasy that I so quickly jumped to such a rash conclusion and acted so impulsively. It took me a few days of pondering to refocus on what I could learn about myself from this experience.

I learned I need sleep. I need to go easier on myself. I need to stop taking on so freakin’ much. I learned that when I don’t have “time” to do the things that ground me – I absolutely, positively need to make time right that very moment – or chances are good that I will get a little loopy! (or a lot loopy ; )

I learned that when I try to be the perfect mom, the perfect hostess, the perfect writer – I only end up leaving a trail of wreckage in my wake…. and a severed head in a parking lot.

Animal Poison Control

image

My husband was at a work function and I was home with the three kids. As soon as they were happily entertained, I snuck downstairs to do a bit of work. No sooner had I plopped at my desk then my oldest yelled down “Mom – get up here quick! Velma is sick!” I bolted up the stairs two at a time to find our 5-pound shih-tzu retching on the living room rug.

Poor Velma was heaving over a gooey pile of half digested green tomatoes. My husband had unearthed the plants the day before to prepare our garden for the winter and dozens of unripe tomatoes had fallen into the soil. It hadn’t occurred to any of us that the innocent looking pup could ingest her body weight in spoiled fruit.

 The kids were hysterical. “Mom – is she going to die?!” “What are we going to do??” “I wish dad was here!!!”

I desperately wished my husband were home too. While I have perfected the art of the “instant freak-out” – he is famously the calm one in any given situation. The world could literally be crumbling around us and he’d be holding up the house with one hand and the kids in the other while stating “Easy now, I don’t think this is the time to panic…” In fact, in almost 20 years of marriage the only time I’ve seen him visibly shaken was the night Wayne Gretzky retired from hockey. (I won’t harp on the fact that he wept more that night than on our wedding day or at the birth of any of our children. Nope – I’m not bitter about it at all!)

Immediately a rush of anxious feelings overcame me accompanied by a burning stomach, shaky legs, dry mouth and a head reeling with a familiar message- “I can’t handle this! I can’t handle this!”

But the kids had their eyes glued to me and I knew I had to step up. I combed through my brain for any gems of wisdom I’d gleaned over the past 8 weeks at my meditation seminar and one particular piece of advice popped into my head – “Respond don’t react.”

My instructor had recently spent an entire class focused on how many of us live our lives in a purely reactive state. And it really hit home. Instead of taking the time to consider my responses – I frequently rush right to panic mode.

But weeks of faithful meditation with my butt glued to a chair and determined efforts to quiet my busy mind have helped me recognize my conditioned responses and I’m working very hard to reprogram the looped tape stuck on “worry, worry, worry”.

Back to Velma – after about 10 minutes she stopped throwing up and I scooped her up in my arms, took a deep breath and turned to the kids: “Let’s call the vet and find out what we can do.” I spoke to an emergency vet who told me that green tomatoes are in fact poisonous to dogs  – who knew?! And they had me call an Animal Poison control hotline to get protocols for handling the situation. Yes there really is an Animal Poison Control Hotline and I have the number if your pet ever decides to indulge in green tomatoes or another toxic delicacy.

In the end – the puppy was fine and the only real victim was the rug that is now permanently splotched with light green circles.

Afterwards, I saw that the kids were still shaken, so I invited them to tell me how they were feeling. “My stomach hurts,” my youngest said. “I’m shaky,” said my daughter and my oldest admitted that he felt twitchy too. I used it as an opportunity to connect with them and to share some of what I’ve learned- how pausing, taking a deep breath, recognizing your physical symptoms and challenging your thoughts can transform a stressful situation into something much more manageable.

That’s right, ME – the panic queen – was able to turn the entire event into a teachable moment. I showed them a breathing exercise that helps me (breath in on a count of 4, hold for 7, then breath out for 8), I taught them a mantra I frequently use (“I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful”) and we even brainstormed strategies for handling stress and anxiety (ok maybe my youngest suggested that we keep dad home more often – but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!)

That night as I was tucking my 15-year old into bed, he met my eyes – “Geez mom – I thought you’d totally freak out today but you actually handled it pretty well.”  Hot damn! Not only do I have the direct line to Animal Poison Control, I’ve also gained a modicum of respect from a teenager. Booyah!

I allowed myself a moment of pride, then I kneeled down, took a deep breath and began scrubbing barf off of the living room rug. I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful…..

 

 

Garlicky Marinara Sauce with White Beans

I think it’s safe to say that most kids adore noodles. Pasta is number one in my house and a staple on the menu at least once a week. If your children are like mine they probably much prefer plain noodles to any fancy tomato or pesto sauces but that leaves a lot lacking in the nutrition department and I always feel bummed out if the kids make a meal of pasta with just butter and cheese.

Throw this sauce together in under an hour and the heavenly aroma of garlic and tomatoes will waft through your house…and trust me it tastes as good as it smells. Aside from my cooked-tomato-averse toddler, the kids really enjoyed this sauce on their pasta. And here’s an extra kid-friendly hint: if your children are opposed to chunks you can always pop the finished product into the blender to smooth it out.

In addition to a whack of veggies, this delicious dish also sneaks in a serving of protein-rich white beans that are barely undetectable in the sea of tomatoey goodness. Like most tomato sauces this one tastes even better the next day and it freezes well so you can save some for your next Italian feast.

You can use any noodle you choose but I served mine over rice fettuccine noodles with a side salad and a baguette for mopping up the extra sauce. Be sure to load up the table with napkins and let the noodle slurping begin!

Marinara Sauce with White Beans

spag sauce in bowl
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup water
¾ cup dry red wine
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup navy beans, drained and rinsed
½ tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried crushed rosemary
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 6 oz can tomato paste

Heat oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat. Add onion, mushroom, garlic, red pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for approx. 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

spag sauce in pan

Remove bay leaves and blend if you want a smooth consistency (I always leave mine chunky).
Pour over cooked pasta of choice, top with vegan or regular parmesan and enjoy!

The Field Trip from Hell & Hot Spiked Apple Cider

Earlier this week I went on a field trip with my littlest guy who is in junior kindergarten. “A lovely day at a nearby pumpkin patch” was what it said on the form that he brought home. “Spend time at a local farm learning about agriculture and the importance of farmers in our society.” Wow – it sounded so inspiring that I immediately signed up as a supervisor. I could picture my son and I hand in hand skipping through the field whilst the sun shone down on the gleaming orange pumpkins and reflected off of the smiling faces of his classmates.

Unfortunately the reality was not so lovely at all. In fact I would categorize the day as one of the most miserable I have spent in recent memory. It was bitterly cold and the rain poured down incessantly from the time we loaded onto the bus until we arrived back at the school drenched and grumpy.

Aside from getting to meet my son’s classmates and their parents and having the opportunity to spend some quality time with my youngest – the day was a wash (quite literally actually). We tried desperately to huddle under flimsy umbrellas but even the most hearty kids and adults ended up soaked to the skin. The barns and covered buildings were damp and chilly and inevitably the kids started losing it- some falling face first into mud puddles and others shaking and blue lipped from the cold. Good times!

Fortunately however there was one bright spot amongst the deluge of rain and the dripping snotty noses and the incessant whining (coming mostly from me btw). As we were all huddled up under a sheltered area watching an incredibly sappy cartoon about dancing and singing pumpkins, a fellow mom tapped me on the shoulder. “There’s hot apple cider for the parents over on that counter” she said. And it was all I could do not to kiss her then and there!

I practically tripped over the children to get at that urn of cider and it was quite possibly the best thing I have ever tasted. Hot and sweet and comforting……like a warm hug on a crappy day. I sucked back every last drop and as I was making a beeline for another cupful, the same mom leaned over and whispered “the only thing that would make that cider better would be a stiff shot of rum.” And that time I did kiss her ; )

This recipe is my own take on the cider that I drank on that day. I made it as delicious and healthy as possible (thanks to inspiration from Meghan Telpner’s recipe) and I think it turned out pretty darn tasty. And since I made this batch at home – I did add in that shot of rum. And you know what? It WAS even better! In fact, after a few glasses – I practically forgot all about that horrifying field trip ; )

Hot (Spiked) Apple Cider

cider 1

 

I bag of organic apples (I used Macintosh)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp nutmeg
Dash allspice
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup goji berries (optional- adds antioxidant power)
Rum (optional but highly recommended)

Wash and cut apples into chunks (skin on). Place apples in a large sauce pan with the cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, allspice, maple syrup and goji berries. Cover with water.

cider 2

 

Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and let simmer for approx 1 hour until the apples are mushy. Remove from heat and take out the cinnamon sticks. Strain the cider through a nut sack (insert joke here) or through a mesh sieve. Pour into mugs and add a generous shot of rum to each if desired. Enjoy!

 

 

 

An Imperfect Rockstar

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about an amazing contest that was being run by Tuja Wellness with the prize of a scholarship to Meghan Telpner’s School of Culinary Nutrition. They were looking for a “Nutrition Rockstar” – and I am thrilled and humbled to announce that I am the very lucky winner. I am beyond excited to dive headfirst into the learning that is jam-packed into this incredible course.

Actually, “Rockstar” is quite a fitting moniker for a gal like me given that I already like to think of myself as a young, fun-loving, cool, plant-eating vegetarian hipster. Something of a “green smoothie goddess” if you will. A veritable whiz kid in the kitchen – my family gobbling up my kale and quinoa-laden dishes just like they were candy.

Ok yes – the reality might not be quite so rosy. Actually, I’m just a 40-something mom- neither as young or cool as I used to pretend to be who’s mostly just trying to keep my family healthy and well-fed. And by “healthy” I mean getting them to ingest their green smoothies without gagging or complaining bitterly. And by “fed” I mean with as much humour, taste and nutrient-rich plant foods that I can reasonably achieve and afford.

Funnily enough, our first assignment in this course is to craft our very own food philosophy. Something along the lines of the brilliant Michael Pollan who wrote:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

In Defense of Food

So I started wondering about  my own personal credo and I’m thinking that maybe something simple like my lofty goal of keeping myself and my family healthy and well-fed might be a good place to start.:

“Feeding a family of meat-free, animal-loving, plant-munching, green-drink guzzling hipsters.”

Lori Wilson

That sounds pretty darn  good! I’ll start with my own clan and then branch out and hopefully my honest approach to cooking and eating will inspire a few others along the way. My goal is that in addition to my own growth and learning, I will also share the ups and downs of this educational journey with all of you.

Yep – I’m going to pick up that “Rockstar” title and run with it goddamit! Thank you to Tuja Wellness and Meghan Telpner for taking a chance on me – a decidedly imperfect rockstar. I am dancing around my kitchen, belting out a tune and strumming my wooden spoon air guitar as I get set to cook up some culinary magic. Let the fun and learning begin!

 

 

Lori Wilson – Nutrition Rockstar

I can confidently define myself a number of ways: mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, voice-over actress, writer, small-town girl, Western grad and lover of 80’s pop music. Those labels are 100% me. But “nutrition rockstar“? I’m not so sure.

Yes it’s true that I’m a plant-based foodie and that I love to prepare healthy foods for my family. And yes I’m willing to experiment with new ingredients and recipes to create culinary masterpieces in my kitchen. But here’s the rub – I fail just as many times (if not more) than I succeed. For every “Mmmm…mom this is yummy!” I get an equal number of “I can’t drink any more of this smoothie – I just gagged twice” and “quick get me a drink of water so I can swallow this stuff down!”

And it’s not just the kids – it’s me too. Most days I smugly start off the morning with lemon water followed by a glorious green smoothie. And then there are the days that I groggily hit up the Starbucks drive-thru for a grande soy latte and a sesame bagel. I can rock a Kathy Freston 21-day cleanse with as much vigour as I can spend the whole day lounging poolside sipping Prosecco and eating junk food with my girlfriends.

Like most people, I have a long and complicated relationship with food. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30’s that I decided to make a major shift in my eating habits and it’s been a journey of self-discovery, successes and setbacks. And I certainly haven’t unlocked the secret formula- I still have a LOT to learn. But for me, a diet free of animal products and rich in plant foods (and the occasional hunk of chocolate) has been the best fit.

The good folks at Tuja Wellness in partnership with nutritionist Meghan Telpner are giving away a scholarship to the fall Culinary Nutrition Expert Program and I would dearly love to win it. They are looking for a “Nutrition Rockstar” and the more I think about it, I wonder if perhaps I wouldn’t fit the bill. I certainly don’t consider myself to be better than anyone else – quite the opposite. I’m just like most of you. A regular person weaving on and off of the path healthy living with more than my fair share of bumps along the way. But I am confident that there are some lessons to be mined (and connections to be made) if I take this incredible program and continue to honestly share the inevitable ups and downs and screw ups and successes that will unfold.

I have wanted to take this course ever since I took my first cooking class in Meghan’s pink kitchen back in 2011. I was immediately drawn to her passion for real, whole, unprocessed ingredients and her impressive knowledge of the transformational power of food. However with 3 young children, there has always been something else for me to spend the tuition money on (Do you know how much it costs to outfit a young hockey goalie? Or the expense of competitive dance? Or that kids grow so darn fast you have to keep buying them practically a whole new wardrobe every single year?!)

But maybe the time has come for me to really focus on myself. I’m open and willing to learn and I’m determined to keep steering myself and my family towards making more nutritious choices. And I’m not going to quit even when my 4-year-old tells me that his smoothie looks like brown mushy poop. Or when my daughter dramatically rolls her eyes when I announce what’s for dinner. Or even when I finish off a day of healthy eating by sitting on my butt watching So You Think You Can Dance with a big bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine. Because after I throw myself a little pity party – I will pick myself up and try again. In my heart I know it’s worth it. And all things considered – doesn’t that sound kind of like a Rockstar?