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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Have a plan for the unknown

“Have a plan for the unknown”,

my trainer said, during the preparation for the Pebble Beach show.

Something will happen – and you won’t know what it is. Your horse jogs during your medium walk. You forget your test or maybe go off course and the judge doesn’t ring the bell. Your horse spooks, or bucks, or does something it’s never done before and it surprises you – and not in a good way.

If you don’t have a plan for the unknown, your instincts will take over, and those instincts may or may not be the right ones. Your body curling into a fetal position is less than effective on a bucking or spooking horse. Panic and stress is less than useful for clear thinking while trying to decide what the best thing is to do next.

So have a plan for the unplanned. When your horse does something unexpected, tell yourself that your reaction will be to sit back and sit up, and push your leg down and long. This is the correct response in 99% of the unplanned horse situations, if not all of them. Visualize this response. Practice this response. Make this response your own. Do it until this response is now your instinctive response. Revisit it often.

Do this is your non-horsey activities too. I have a bad habit/instinct of meeting some new situations and unexpected difficulties with a high, un-called-for level of stress. This level of stress makes it difficult, if not impossible, to think clearly or communicate. I can’t talk. I want to burst into tears. Dealing with that much stress sets off adrenaline and fear pathways in my brain, even if the situation is a non-physical danger. In fact, I deal with physical danger far better than I do with unexpected circumstances. Part of the issue is I deny early on that the situation is causing stress or causing the other related responses – meaning I don’t even try and head off the situation until well past the “RED DANGER” point of complete mental overload. What do I need to do? I need to have a plan for the unplanned. A way to react before I’m even aware that I need react. Much like sitting a spook where you don’t have to time evaluate whether your position is good and your leg long, I don’t have time to critically evaluate my reaction before I’m in the middle of it. Through visualization, practice, and planning I can install new software in my brain to deal. A plan for the unplanned and unexpected. One that does not involve totally freaking out.

If you can think back on a situation and wish you had reacted differently, start doing the steps TODAY that will help you to do so when it happens again. Chances are, you will repeat your past behavior and keep reinforcing those reaction pathways if you leave it up to chance. There’s been a couple situations that have happened recently that I wasn’t exactly proud of my reaction. No harm came of it – but I think we all have certain images we try to live up to, and when I do something that contradicts that image (for example – of being cool, collected, relatively unflappable, and able to meet the unexpected with a sense of humor) it bothers me. I’m proud of the horse-women I am today and it has only come about through a lot of thought, effort, and visualization of my reactions in various situations. If I spent just half the time on my non-horsey life, that I did as a rider, I’ll bet I spend a lot less time freaking out, and a lot more time being able to just enjoy life. Because I’m pretty sure I’m not going to DIE it doesn’t go to plan – I just have to convince my brain of that fact.

Sometimes I think we need a little help with the reprogramming. It was not my intention to use this post to talk about this, but it seems that’s where it’s going, so I’m going to stride boldly onward.

I’ve been seriously contemplating my reactions to various life situations over the past year. While working, while not working. I’ve taken into account the various physical ailments that have reared their ugly head over the past year – migraines, gluten intolerance, seasonal affective disorder that has steadily grown worse each year.

I think that intermittent stress is good – I perform my best and strive for the impossible, I’m incredible focused and I feel alive, and I accomplish more than I ever dreamed possible. That being said, I seem to operate under an inherently high stress state most of the time. It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do – I create the stress internally if I don’t have an outside stressor. Up until this point it was manageable. Then something happened over the past year. It could be that I’ve had more major life changes in the past year, as opposed to the last 5 years. I seem to do very well with the intermettint stressors – crisis at work, riding the Tevis, researching a new sport, getting a new animal. I seem to do less well with life changes – career change, moving, relationship changes. Even if those changes are positive. I thought that when I quit my job most of the stress would disappear, but that hasn’t proved true. I thought things would settle down after 2 months. They haven’t. I spend very little time being able to just relax in my own head and not being wound up, irritated, or worried about something.

Here’s the problem – vet school is purported to be extremely stressful. The school term happens to coincide with the worse time of the year for my SAD – which has not shown long term significant improvement with supplements. Stress is also a trigger for my migraines and how well I tolerate gluten and other foods. Vet school lasts 4 years. I need to get to the other side of vet school intact mentally. I want to get the most out of vet school – Not something I’m sure I can do and also manage ME.

I am considering that I have tried my best to manage this without a formal diagnosis, medication, or other professional help. Most of it was fear that a diagnosis or prescription related to depression or other mental health issue would limit me in certain careers. At 26 it’s highly unlikely I will be going into the military or law enforcement (yes, this was a consideration) and I will have plenty of career choices where it won’t matter. I am considering that I would really like to still have my boyfriend at the end of vet school – and there’s only so much someone can take of a person who is moody, unreasonable, and irritable – even though they might be the most understanding and accommodating person in the world. I had always thought that my problems were the cost of being very very very good in other areas of my life. That you couldn’t be really good at something and not pay a price somewhere else. I’m willing to give up that part of me, if it means I can stop driving myself crazy.

I hate Hate HATE the idea of taking a pill every day. I hate the idea that I wasn’t able to will myself to change. But I hate more the idea that I will go through the next 4 years in the same state that I’ve lived the last decade.

Recently, several people have come to me – both knowing what I’m going through, and not knowing – and given testimonials on how deciding to take a pill every day has changed their life, and while it was hard to admit they were “broken”, were so happy with who they are now.

So apparently, although I was able to train myself to sit a spook, there’s a limit to how much I can override who I am. I am committed to taking a pill 9 months out of the year while I’m in school. I won’t do it unless I can take a very low dosage pill that will require minimal “weaning off” period. I will reevaluate after each summer. On August 15th, when my school insurance kicks in, I will, for the first time, admit to my doctor that I have an issue and will ask for help.

It’s hard to talk about this. The reason I am posted publically (and it’s REALLY public now that these posts are linked to my facebook page!) is the hope that someone else might read this, and it might help – just like my friends sharing their stories helped me.

On a lighter note…..

Tess is growing up so fast. She has a vest now, so she knows whether she’s in “work” or “play” mode. While I was working on my computer, she was on a towel in a “down-stay” at my feet. For 2 ½ hours. She was so good!!!!!! For the first 10 mintues or so she was fidgety but then she just totally chilled – played with her toy quietly for a while and then took a nap. I can’t believe 6 weeks ago she was a little terror who had to be contained in her kennel unless all eyes were on her (and my body poised for leaping and grabbing). Tess-the-puppy is growing up so fast, even while I lament that it is taking her FOREVER to grow out of whatever-undesirable-behavior-she-is-currently-doing (right now – submissively peeing whenever and wherever she greets someone). One thing that I’m doing is appreciating her “dog-y-ness”. She is rarely disobedient, but will sometimes be overcome with instinct. If she gets her nose or eye on something across the field, I cease to exist and no amount of calling “come” will matter. She isn’t ignoring me – the call of that bird just so overwhelming it overrides everything else at this point in her development and she isn’t capable of coming to me at that instant. It’s my job to set her up for success, so if I’m negilegent in that she is allowed to be in a situation where instinct will overcome reason – then that’s my fault. I’m trying to minimize those types of situations, and salvage them when I they do occur (this morning that meant sprinting through an orchard after her and when her concentration finally broke and she RAN towards me when I said come, give her a treat, pick her up, and put her on a leash). So I’m walking that fine line between being fair to the dog, while also being consistent and clear with what I want. Because she improves every day – both with commands and how she interacts with me and others – I have to conclude that so far I’m on the right track.

I am LOVING my new computer. No longer is everything I do electronically an exercise in patience! This morning I borrowed my aunts internet connection and loaded all the programs onto the new computer, that I treasured on my old computer…. Roadtrip (Garmin), Dropbox, Rapidweaver (they came out with an update! Wheeee!), as well as transferring all my files. Many of the new programs that had come out didn’t run on my pre-intel mac computer so I’m doing a lot of “catch up” (for example, Evernote). I don’t tend to update my computer or other electronics very often – so when I do it’s like being in a candy store – it does this, and This, and THIS! Wow!!!!! It was a HUGE chunk of (required by the vet school….) money to upgrade my system to this – but at least I can have fun with it before it becomes an instrument of torture on August 15th.

You probably won’t hear from me until next week – unless I suddenly get copious amount of draft posts done and scheduled. I’ll be at an event this weekend, returning on Monday.


  1. When I was in my 20's I remember feeling just as you are describing in this post.
    I sometimes fretted and worried over stuff despite the fact it did no good. I was moody and would create things to be anxious about if there wasn't any immediate crisis to take care of that for me.
    I also had migraines and was taking meds for them but they just seemed to get worse.
    Finally my Dr put me on low dose hormone pills (birth control pills) that I take continually. My migraines have all but disappeared, although I still get sinus headaches quite a bit.
    I've also mellowed out considerable and am not so obsessive as back then. I don't know if its aging or the hormones but I doh't feel that way anymore and I'm sure a lot easier to live with!
    I hope you figure something out that helps- life is too short to be anxious all the time.

  2. birth control really helped. Probably TMI for most of my readers (so stick your fingers in your ears and go lalalala) but I'm on a continuous one that I only break every 3 months and it's made a HUGE difference. But, I also have to listen to those who know me best who tell me to get some help, and recently I've realized I've had more bad days than good in the past year - something that isn't usual. I'm really really hoping that this can be something that is temporary - something to get me through this section of life until I can be older and wiser.

  3. Mel,

    My day job is in a large Mental Health agency. I've seen so many people who struggled for decades because they were resistent to the idea of balancing their brain chemistry. I guess it is the "stigma" of a mental health issue. But I find that ridiculous.

    If you were a diabetic would you just lay there and die? Or would you take insulin to survive?

    It is really the same thing. Instead of an insulin hormone, your brain is telling you that it needs something it isn't getting. Just be patient though, not every pill out there is going to work. You will have to wade through some side effects until you get to the right balance of medication. It may take a while. But I've seen people transform their lives. REALLY. ~ E.G.

  4. You really might not need it forever, either. I was a total emotional wreck the first couple years with G and I finally broke down and tried Lexapro. It helped, a lot. I quit taking it during one of the most stressful times of my life (when we had no health insurance so I couldn't afford it!) and I was fine without it. Miserable and stressed, but not incapacitated with worry and panic attacks.

  5. I had a typo in my title! My my my. Really need to get my head out of where ever it is!

    Funder - that actually makes me feel much better. One thing I'm feeling a bit guilty for is that this is suppose to be a HAPPY time in my time, and instead I'm just overcome with worry.

    You guys are all great. Really apprecaite the kind words and encouragement.


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