Panic Attacks and Understanding Your Symptoms

Nope, I’m not a doctor or psychologist.  But I know the pain and stress of anxiety attacks, have had a bit of training in how to deal with them and how to help others deal with them.  Problem is, too many people don’t want to hear anything during their panic attack that might help them; they are only interested in an expensive and largely useless trip to the emergency room. The most helpful thing an emergency room can do for the average person having a panic attack (when you know that’s what is happening to you and it’s not your first time) is make them sit and WAIT.  Most often people calm down in the waiting room because they are distracted by the real emergencies, and they also have a lot of time to think about things other than if they are going to die – because hey, you are already in the hospital so if you keel over you are in a place where you might move up in the triage formula!  There are legit emergencies happening there – your best course of action is to understand why your symptoms are happening and realize you need to formulate healthy ways to treat yourself.  Oh, and see your regular doctor during normal hours as soon as possible to talk about if therapy and/or medication might be helpful to you as well.

Your heart is racing:

Rapid heartbeat and palpitations during a panic attack are generally not dangerous (if they are not part of a pre-diagnosed heart condition).  A person’s healthy heart can beat up to 200 beats per minute for days or even weeks without sustaining any damage.  Yes, it can be uncomfortable and may interfere with sleeping.  Do not add to your stress during this time with caffeine or extra sugar. If your heart begins to race (most common symptom), acknowledge it and allow it to do so, but don’t let it become your focus.

Your breathing is labored:

Under stress, your neck and chest muscles are tightening and reducing your respiratory capacity.  This sensation will lead to a sudden fear that you are going to suffocate.  There is nothing wrong with your throat or lungs, and this will pass, although it is understandably scary.

You are feeling dizzy:

The muscle tension in your body is also affecting the semicircular canal system in your ears, which is the system that helps regulate your balance.  Also, you may be trying to breathe more rapidly which actually reduces your blood circulation, and that might be making you lightheaded.  Slow, deep breaths from the abdomen (sometimes called “belly breathing”) will help relieve these feelings.

You are feeling detached or “out of it”:

That arterial restriction of blood flow to the brain due to rapid breathing might be making you feel disoriented or detached from the world around you.  You aren’t going crazy.  As your body starts to relax with whatever method works for you (exercise, meditation, belly breathing, distracting activities, music, etc…) this will pass.

You think you are going to faint and/or your fingers are numb:

That dizzy, lightheaded, detached feeling strikes again!  You are breathing too rapidly and hyperventilating, which means the blood flow to your brain and extremities is slightly reduced.  This situation isn’t dangerous unless you are trying to do something tricky like walk the stairs and you fall, so lie down and get comfortable while you practice taking long, SLOW, deep breaths from your lower abdomen.

Some panic attacks are over in minutes while some last for days.  Sometimes you know what causes the anxiety, and sometimes it may seem to just happen.  The important thing is to acknowledge what is happening without letting it control you.  Try different methods of healthy stress relief to see which ones work for you, and never doubt how strong you are!

I Suck at Playing eBay

I’m not one of those people who can figure out which things to buy at thrift stores for $1 that they can turn around and sell on eBay for $75. I wish I was, because it would make the restoration of Freddie the Mercury a lot less stressful.

Rather than scouring Goodwill for hidden gems, I’m scouring my house this week for valuable crap. But I’m also not one of those people who have super fancy crap that they can resell for at or more than they paid for it. Which isn’t fair, because some of my coolest stuff SHOULD be resell-able for a good bit, and I know I’D end up paying a good bit for it if I was shopping online, but somehow I never catch the attention of the big spenders. Thus, I am reduced to selling things for a buck just to get them out of my house and not much else. Thank God for that automatic relisting three times or my shit would never sell.

I’ve never had good luck at yard sales either, even though I have craaaaazy deals. I wish I had a yard so I could try one now but I don’t, and I don’t have the energy to box it all up and take it to someone’s yard only to bring it all back home again at the end of a failed day. Yard sales can be soul sucking.

I wished I paid more attention to information about things I buy at estate sales or antique shops. I buy weird small stuff that I think is cute but is really kind of useless. But I’m really not good at describing things in a way that will make people need to buy them.

Here, humor me – write a ridiculous description of these items. Maybe I’ll edit my eBay listings. Couldn’t hurt.

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I’ve Decided to Complicate My Life with a Classic Car.

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Add another random life topic to this blog: the odyssey of owning a classic car. In our case, a baby blue 1953 Mercury Monterey sedan. Say hi to Freddie. We’re in love. I figured it might be nice to write every now and then on our progress with the car for those that are interested – especially if you are dreaming about owning an oldie one day of your own. It’s definitely a different experience.

If you know me at all, you know about The Mighty Geo, my 1995 Geo Prizm that is going to run until the End of Days. Well I wish, but we know it has a terminal illness that will eventually lead to catastrophic failure and I didn’t want to pass up this deal while Freddie was available. In my family, when the dog starts getting old and you know it’s almost time, you bring in a new dog. I never thought of that as cruel to the old dog until now. I’m going to feel really guilty when I park them next to each other. But knowing The Mighty Geo’s days are numbered, I’ve been thinking for a while now that as a replacement I’d like to have a classic car instead of buying the cheapest piece of new crap I can find. They say they don’t make cars like they used to and since my husband is a mechanic I have a guy willing and excited to work on this project. Maybe project is the wrong word for this though – this is not a long term overhaul restoration…

I’m going to do two really blasphemous things with this car:
It’s going to be an “everyday driver”, not registered as an antique auto.
It’s not going to be sheltered – we live on a college campus and a house with a garage is just not a reality for me right now.
So I apologize right now if that gives you chest pains; I don’t like the no garage bit either but as far as driving it all the time I stand by that decision because I don’t buy useless things.

Life would have been SO much easier if I had never seen this car last week in Pigeon Forge at the Shades of the Past car show. But if we had thought seriously about taking a trailer and wad of cash life still wouldn’t have been as hard as going home, thinking about it, then deciding to drive seven hours to go get it this past weekend. And nine hours back, since a U-Haul car hauler is a poorly designed piece of crap not good for distance (not to mention mountain roads), and also since our truck’s computer and/or transmission were deciding not to work properly. ANYWAY…

Things I’ve learned/done so far:
1. Classic car guys prefer cash. Then they can turn around and buy more stuff from other classic car guys. And of course no paper trail through large bank deposits that might mess with their income tax. Making a large cash withdrawal, however, gets you a look of disapproval from the credit union lady who is concerned for your safety.
2. Proper insurance will be expensive when compared to your newer vehicles. I am currently underinsured through Progressive so it can at least be legal to drive but at some point we will need to get insurance instead through a company that understands how to value and insure classics.
3. Property tax, on the other hand, is far cheaper than a new car. Maybe you don’t live in a state that makes you pay property tax on a vehicle in which case I hate you. It adds two more long lines to stand in at a location different from the DMV.
4. Even if the car is a solid, drivable vehicle (like Freddie is), it’s still going to be a bit of a money pit. Things like hoses, gaskets, window seals and tires probably need to be replaced because of their age. Freddie is almost all original with one owner most of its life. We have to convert it from 6volts to 12volts, replace a rear window seal, and I’m trying to ignore the dry rot on the tires because whitewall tires are about $200 each. But it’s a beautiful car with all the chrome trim and we got a really sweet deal.

For the car fans out there who care, the engine is the original flathead V8. This sedan was a luxury model in its time and is a “Merc-o-matic” – automatic transmission. The keys are pretty too :)

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Facebook is Making Us Stupid

I’ve just realized in the past day or two how I’ve been sucked into enabling students thanks to Facebook.  I meant well, really I did.

It seems the majority of students (mostly new but returners as well) would rather ask a question on Facebook and wait for the minority to find the answer than use their technology to find it themselves. However, it’s hard to make these “helpful” students understand that it’s important for the majority to figure out how to find information themselves.  I mean, I just made myself understand it today.  In particular, the school where I work has a public Facebook group for each class of student.  As you can expect, the Class of 2018 group is the most needy right now.  I keep an eye on the groups to make sure the helpful folks don’t go spouting incorrect information, especially where it pertains to housing.  I try to be as helpful as I can but over the course of the summer it started to get really frustrating that people were asking the same question over and OVER again.  Not searching for the info themselves, not even searching that group for the key word to find the other 10 times the question was answered.  Then my sister posted a link to this blog entry about not allowing students to email for simple things that were already covered in class or the syllabus:

http://serenecriticism.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/banishing-student-emails-yes-we-can/

Amen sister, amen.  Why do we go to such great lengths to have things written down (paper or online) to help when most people don’t read it?  And then we humor their helplessness by providing the answers instead of referring them back to where they can find it (or ignoring the request)?  Once the student gets one thing answered, it’s like they become addicted to asking question after question and I don’t know how to wean them off because some people just like being helpful.  I mean, who doesn’t like to feel needed, right?  It’s one thing for a professor to decide they are not answering emails so the student learn to look at their information and have face to face conversations, but these Facebook groups are like a Pandora’s Box of learned helplessness with so many people contributing.  Even if I had some control over posted content, it wouldn’t help the bigger picture.  This is just a symptom of the disease, showing itself in a very public way.

Ugh.  All these folks have grown up with so much powerful technology to help them navigate every part of their life, and they don’t even bother to use it.  Such expensive gadgets and they are only used for texting and selfies.

Super Easy Toggle Bracelets

This is one of those projects that I had to come up with myself  because I wanted something really badly and no one else was selling it.  It can’t be an original idea – seriously, I can’t believe no one else does these.  So I wanted toggle bracelets, using silk and leather as the main part and glass or semi-precious stones as the toggles.  I don’t have too many pictures for you because it’s really that easy.

Blue toggle

Blue faux suede with quartz crystal toggle using 20 gauge copper wire.

Honestly, you can pretty much see how I did it by looking at the picture.  In fact, the toughest thing about this whole project is finding toggles in the correct shape with a hole in the center. You almost always find top drilled holes and sellers look at me as a curiosity until I show them what I’m making.

Some center drilled possibilities.  Glass and freshwater pearls.

Some center drilled possibilities. Glass and freshwater pearls.

Generally, the hole you find in the correct shaped toggle candidate will not be huge.  What I prefer is a hole large enough to pull leather or silk through and knot it.  That’s awesome, and makes for a more secure toggle.  It’s also nearly impossible to find anything with a hole that large (except for a legit toggle button but I wanted glass or gemstone).  Usually, I end up using a 20 gauge wire to secure the toggle to the silk or leather, although in the case of some things like pearls that have notoriously tiny drill holes, I have had to use 24 gauge.

Rare useful things with large drill holes!

Rare useful things with large drill holes!

As you can see in the pictures above, sometimes I knot the leather into a loop at one end (I always knot silk when I’m using it) and sometimes I take wire and wrap it a few times for a more polished look.  When I have to use wire for attaching my toggle I wrap it as tight as possible around the band, making sure to get both ends as secure as possible.  Much easier when using 20 gauge wire because it tends to lay flat where you end it, smaller wire gets trickier and you have to do some messier securing.  If I had a good way to do that every time I would let you in on the secret but I haven’t perfected that yet.

Glass toggles on silk with 24 gauge rose gold wire.

Glass toggles on silk with 24 gauge rose gold wire.

When I’m using wire to secure the toggles the nice thing is I can adjust the bracelet size to a point if I’m careful.  Attach the toggle to where you think you want it.  Try it on.  See how much slack you have that you don’t want (I like form fitting bracelets and I find that makes them more secure).  Take it off and firmly pinch the sides of your toggle on the wire with one hand – don’t grasp the bracelet at all.  Slowly pull the end of the bracelet with the other hand in the direction you want.  If you held your wire tightly you shouldn’t have ruined any of the wraps you made around the toggle and you can finish up your bracelet end with a knot or a slanted cut to look cool.

So be on the lookout for cool center drilled crystals!  The leather can be cord (like the blue and the white) but I also used a larger piece of leather and just cut strips from it (the red and the green).  I recommend a 20 gauge half hard wire if you are knotting.  If all this is too complicated, I of course have some for sale on My store.

Learning About Your Community Through Geocaching

I’m always shocked to find out that almost nobody knows what geocaching is.  I love it – when I’m not being too lazy to do it.  I learn so much about where I live and the places I travel when I geocache.  Not to mention I’ve lost weight from all the walking.

What is it: Geocaching is a free, real-world, outdoor treasure hunt. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS and can then share their experiences online.  Most people use their phones these days with an app; much easier than downloading coordinates into a handheld GPS.  I use a handheld because it’s what we have.

A beautiful example of a travelling geocoin.

A beautiful example of a travelling geocoin.

Why do it: It’s fun! It’s exercise. You learn a lot about your surroundings. This is great for people new to an area feeling disconnected. It’s great for history and science folks. It’s great to learn about “secret” places that others pass by.  It can be an all-day challenge or a quick “park and grab”.

Main caching website: https://www.geocaching.com

At its simplest level, geocaching requires these easy steps:
• Register for a free Basic Membership on geocaching.com
• Enter your postal code and click “search.”
• Enter the coordinates of the geocache into your GPS Device.
• Use your GPS device to assist you in finding the hidden geocache.
• Sign the logbook and return the geocache to its original location.
• Share your geocaching stories and photos online.

Things to Remember:
• Leave the area better than you found it (practice CITO or “cache in trash out”)
• Be careful! Watch out for hazards like poison ivy, thorns, hornet’s nests, cliffs!
• If you take something from a cache, leave something of equal or greater value
• Be stealthy! Don’t let caches get “muggled” (when a non-cacher finds it and ruins it)
• Respect the property you are on; stick to trails whenever possible.

Types of Geocaches (I mostly do “traditional caches”):
1. Traditional Caches: contains at minimum a container and log sheet, but can be any size
2. Multi-Cache: involves two or more locations
3. Puzzle or Mystery Cache: you’ll need to solve puzzles to get the coordinates
4. Event Cache: gathering of local geocachers for discussions or social activities
5. Cache In Trash Out event: social activity with many cachers where the area is cleaned up while finding caches
6. Earth Cache: a location rather than a container, where you learn about the geoscience of our planet
AND MANY MORE!

Trackables: Travel Bugs, Pathtags, Geocoins, other Items
Trackable items are like game pieces that move around the globe as cachers find them in one spot and deposit them in another. Each trackable has a unique code so they can be logged (usually to geocaching.com but there are other sites).
• Travel Bug: is attached to an item like a luggage tag. Each travel bug has a goal set by its owner. When you find it, log it and see what the goal is. Sometimes it is to travel to a specific place, or a type of place. Or it could be for it to see as much of the world as possible.
• Geocoins and Pathtags: are customizable coins created by cachers to celebrate or commemorate something. Geocoins are usually larger; Pathtags are smaller and have a hole in the top. You log both in different ways BUT the big difference is that you get to keep Pathtags! Geocoins should be moved on like Travel Bugs, not kept.
• Other trackables: as long as an item has an official tracking code, it can be a trackable. This includes patches, key rings, vehicles, etc…My Mighty Geo has a travel bug sticker on the window, people log it in as “found” from time to time.

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Finding a waterproof container dangling in a tree.

I taught my parents how to cache on a vacation in the West Virginia mountains, I’ve cached on the way to Gatlinburg and in the Smoky Mountain National Park.  Caches are EVERYWHERE!  Look up caches by your zip code and you’ll be amazed.  I’m sad when I think of all the places I’ve travelled and haven’t cached, because I would have learned so much more about where I was.  Eventually I’ll get a smartphone and the app (I’m thrifty) and I’ll get more hardcore about it.  Unless you count hiking on a mountain top in lightning, I’ve never had a bad geocache experience.  Actually, that was kind of fun too, so never mind.

Mom reading a cache log found in an ammo box, Dolly Sods WV.

Mom reading a cache log found in an ammo box, Dolly Sods WV.

RA Training Outline: Confronting Threats of Self Harm in Residential Students

Preface: I’m going to start sharing Residence Life training resources here from time to time, especially in the summer when Student Affairs people are getting ready for August workshops. Why? Because we all have something to offer each other and unlike SOME web sites and programs that I will not name, I believe none of this information is so groundbreaking and secret that you have to pay $500-$1000 to train people to talk about it. Take this outline and refine it to your needs. If nothing else, it’s a starting point in the endless training sessions we prepare each year. If your boss doesn’t believe this information has any credibility because you didn’t pay $300 to hear it read to you in a boring webinar PowerPoint, feel free to hit up my etsy store and buy $300 worth of jewelry :)

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This information focuses on the role of the Resident Assistant in working with students who present mental health issues to them. It does NOT deal with how to detect students in crisis, since most of our students of concern (or their friends or roommates) are coming directly to staff or we are being notified by someone like the Dean of Students or a faculty member.

Start with the types of RESOURCES on campus and how their role is not as a long term therapist or problem solver, but one of a NOTIFIER and REFERRER. Write out these resources on the board before the session begins so they are visible when brainstorming responses. Helps them to see they are not alone in dealing with the student issues.
• Their supervisor
• Their Assistant Director/Area Coordinator
• Health & counseling services
• Office of Victims Assistance (if you have a Victim Advocate)
• Disability Services
• Wellness services
• Campus Police
• Dean of Students
• Community Counseling (if available in your area)
• OTHERS? The RL staff person on call?

MYTHS: Ask RAs to offer some first, talk about each one. Use the correct procedures and terminology for your campus. THIS is the stuff that scares them about these mental health situations and they should want to talk about this.
• Asking a student if they are thinking of harming or killing themselves will put the idea in their head. (False – Direct questioning is important.)
• You need to watch a student of concern 24 hours a day. (False – You are a First Responder and crisis manager.)
• You can help by holding their medication. (False – Not even professional RL staff should be doing that. We are not doctors or pharmacists.)
• It’s better to handle the situation yourself rather than get the police/duty staff involved. (False – Persuading someone not to hurt themselves is important but a short-term solution and RAs should not handle this burden on their own.)
• If they hurt themselves after they told you about their issues, it’s your fault. (False – NEVER)
• If they hurt themselves because you weren’t around when they wanted to talk, it’s your fault. (False – NEVER)
• Telling the RD or calling Campus Police will violate the students’ trust and confidentiality. (False – reporting up is required but doesn’t mean everyone will know the residents’ business. Confidentiality should never be promised.)
• You can’t turn away a student who needs you* (see below – that’s a whole other issue)
• OTHERS?

*Talk about the RARE people who drain resources or refuse help from anyone but the RA
• How to refer them
• How to not get sucked in to the drama
• How important it is to document interactions in clear and detailed reports
• How important it is to let your supervisor know
• How important it is to remember than you can utilize Health and Counseling Services as well!

Walk through some conversational “what ifs”:
What if a resident pulls you aside after a meeting/in the hall office/in your room and says:
• “I just wanted to let you know that I was hospitalized in high school for depression and cutting.”
• “I can’t be on the floor with the male RA because I was assaulted as a child by my uncle.”
• “Don’t worry; I cut so that I don’t do something worse.”
• “I’m pretty sure my suite-mate has an eating disorder.”
• OTHERS?