The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 7, 2011

An Anxious Year in a Life Without Plastic

2010 wasn’t just another plastic-free year. True, I cut my plastic waste to 2.18 pounds (60% of last year’s total and only 2% of the national average.)

Beth's total 2010 plastic waste

But the year was really about facing another kind of challenge, one that is more personally fraught than the decision of whether to buy coffee in a disposable cup or not.  Last year, I had to find a way to live with a broken brain.

For much of 2010, I simply could not think.

Turns out I have ADD (attention deficit disorder.) But I didn’t know it until very recently. Last year, anxiety, fear, worry, and dread were ever present and available when clarity, focus, and creativity were not. I blogged a lot less than in previous years because so often the words would simply not come. Or the ideas I did have would not stay still long enough for me to organize them into coherence. Many times last year I cried, “What’s wrong with me?!” I blamed my doctor for not finding me the right medication and cursed one useless plastic prescription bottle after another.

Beth's 2010 collected plastic prescription bottles

I blamed my ovaries for the crazy-making hormones they produce. I blamed my friends and family and co-workers just because they were there.

Sometimes I stopped blaming and did the things I knew what help me feel more connected to life… to the planet.  I meditated.  I had conversations with some amazing people, like Joanna Macy, for example, who writes about how we can feel the suffering and fear for our planet and still keep working towards what she calls “The Great Turning.”

Joanna Macy speaking in San Francisco April 2010

I met up with inspiring people like reader Tracey TieF, whose story will knock you out. We talked for hours in person and then on the phone. Posting her story has been on my To-Do list since August. But like I said, my brain hasn’t been working. There are a ton of stories on my To-Do list I have yet to get to.

Tracey TieF and Beth Terry in front of Berkeley Bowl, Berkeley CA, 2010

In July I took off on a breathtaking road trip with my dad, helping him to move back to Maryland from Hawaii when my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease became too hard for them to manage far away from the rest of the family. Worried about my parents, worried about my mom, worried about her disease and what it might mean for my own brain prognosis and that of my sisters, I welcomed the chance to escape for a while

The trip was one of the best experiences of my life. My dad and I talked the whole way. About nothing. He couldn’t remember what stories he’d already told me, so he just kept telling them over and over again. It became a joke. Neither of us could remember the names of pretty much anything. And it didn’t matter. Thinking didn’t matter. The content of the conversation didn’t matter. The only thoughts that mattered were the practical ones about how to get where we were going and how to avoid hitting other cars. What truly mattered was love. Me for him. Him for me. And we for the wondrous beauty of the country around us. That sky. (And of course, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.)

Rocky Mountain National Park July 2010

Rocky Mountain National Park July 2010

All year I took breaks to play with my kitties and in September hung out with other non-human beings at the Farm Sanctuary in Orland, CA with my friend Heather Clisby, where I discovered a deep connection to… goats.  Goats don’t care what’s going on in your brain.  They just want to eat your shirt.

Beth and little goat at the Farm Sanctuary Orland, CA

I had already suddenly and without warning, become a vegetarian. It’s probably the greenest change I made all year, and yet it happened almost by accident. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t try to. I listened to the audiobook Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer for the BlogHer book clup in March, subjecting myself day after day to stories of atrocities committed against the animals we eat, and almost immediately the idea of eating a cheeseburger became unthinkable to me. As readily as I gave up plastic, I gave up meat. But while that change made me feel better about one aspect of my life, it did nothing to assuage the terrible anxiety I felt in general.

I went on long bike rides with my friend Elizabeth, which helped get me into my body and out of my head for a few hours.  And I rescued an old beat up piano from another friend, thinking that playing would help relieve my anxiety and calm my brain (despite the fact that I haven’t played in about twenty years and only know a handful of pieces.)

Beth Terry plays Fur Elise on the piano

But when drugs or meditation or talking or furry animals or Für Elise didn’t help, I tried to quell the anxiety and feelings of ineptitude with too much food or sleep or Netflix movies. I confess, I even spent a month drinking my cleaning fluid again. It wasn’t pretty.

See, I had things to do.  Public things.  Things that involved generating words that other people would read and hear. And when your brain is only working intermittently, those things are terrifying.

Speaking Anxiety

In January, An ABC7 news crew came to my house to interview me about living without plastic. Cool. But I worried I’d sound stupid. What if they made me look like a crazy extremist? What if I stumbled over my words? What if? What if? The day came. The interview happened. And then it didn’t run. I waited. And waited. And waited. I convince myself that they’d changed their minds. That the interview went so poorly that they were never going to run the segment. And finally, when I’d forgotten about it, it aired in March. And it was great. All those anxious thoughts? Pointless.

Several more times throughout the year I gave talks and interviews. A talk at the Rethinking Plastics conference in Marin in January was well received despite my feeling rushed and ill-prepared. I felt fine during my talk at the Hooked on Plastics talk event in San Francisco, but afterwards, Michael said I um’d and uh’d a lot. I noticed during radio shows “Your Supernatural Life” with Beth Greer and “Good Green Witch” with Rhonda de Felice (you can listen to both radio interviews here) that my brain would sometimes freeze in the middle of a sentence, and I’d have to switch gears to finish my thought.

So you can imagine how nervous I was to speak at the TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch event in L.A. in November. In fact, I was so tired and anxious upon arrival that I couldn’t get out a complete sentence during my speaker training session the night before the event. That’s not an exaggeration. I literally couldn’t finish a sentence. The morning of the event, sitting and listening to the speakers who went on before me, I alternated between focused listening and sudden flushes of anxiety that would take over my body and heat up my head. I didn’t know if I was going to pee on the floor or pass out.

Once I hit the stage, of course, all the crazy brain stuff went away. I just talked to the audience like I would to a friend, and mostly the words I needed were there for me.

If public speaking weren’t bad enough, perhaps the biggest anxiety instigator this year has been my decision to write a book about my plastic-free life.

Writing Anxiety

Last January I wrote:

I’ve been wanting to write this book and scared witless of it for the past year. I created an introduction that turned out really sucky and scrapped it. Every time I think about it, I want to throw up or pass out. I’m getting nervous even writing these words right now. But maybe, just maybe, by putting it out there publicly like this, I have to do it.

That one thought dogged me throughout the first part of the year. I rewrote the introduction and then got stuck. How would I ever organize all the information? I was fortunate to find a wonderful literary agent in February who took me on after reading my intro and looking at my blog. But still, I couldn’t get the book organized. I agonized and agonized. And I procrastinated. Each time I’d try and come up with an outline, too many competing thoughts would put my brain into free fall. I felt dizzy.

Finally, at a meditation retreat in May, during which my anxiety had reached Mt. Everest heights, I lay in bed one night utterly convinced I had developed inflammatory breast cancer and was going to die before getting my book written. The next morning, I poured out my fears to my meditation teacher, sobbing that this book was like a child that wanted to be born and I was stopping it from coming out. And suddenly that afternoon, the dam burst. We’re not supposed to write during retreat, but I didn’t care. I sat in the courtyard with a pad of paper and multiple pencils and wrote and wrote until my hand was numb. The entire book took shape before my eyes. The structure. The focus. And I could breathe again.

Until I couldn’t. Because after creating the outline and brainstorming all the stories and information that would go in each section, I now had to fill it in. At home, I would sit in front of the computer, and my mind would swim again with thoughts. I couldn’t focus on one chapter at a time. Too many ideas rushed in, and I’d give up and watch a video. And then summer came and with it a ton of activities that needed my attention. The trip with my dad. The BlogHer conference in New York. Various events and projects and commitments that also required brain resources. For several more months, I froze.

Then, in September, I finally finished my book proposal. I knew my agent wanted to send it out in the fall and somehow having that deadline gave me the motivation and focus to sit down and bang it out. I wrote for hours. I wrote until I couldn’t see and was squinting at my computer screen. The project became like a puzzle, as enjoyable as any computer game, and somehow, I got it done. My agent sent it out, and we found a publisher! My book will be published by Skyhorse Publishing. I’ll spend the next few months writing it.

And I’m no longer anxious.

ADD and Relief

After trying drugs all year for this, that, and the other, I’ve finally found a medication that helps me focus and think (and is also not a stimulant like most ADD meds are.) We had been focusing on the wrong symptoms. Instead of treating my anxiety and depression and racing thoughts, we’re targeting the cause of those issues in the first place: my inability to focus on one thing at a time. It seems I’ve always had this problem but have been able to get things done because of another attribute of ADD: hyperfocus. When push comes to shove and the incentives are high enough, I can focus like nobody’s business. It’s why all throughout school I could never write a paper until the night before it was due. And I always got A’s on them. In the hyperfocused state, I won’t hear you talking to me from a few feet away. I wouldn’t notice if someone broke into my house and walked out with my living room. But without the pressure of an immediate deadline, I was all over the place. A mess.

And now I’m not.  Which is a big relief, and not just for the reason you might think. Yes, it’s great to have found a treatment that helps me function in a way I never have before. But it’s also a relief to once again realize (as I have during many meditation sessions) that we don’t control our thoughts. Our thoughts feel like they are us, but they are just products of our particular brain chemistry. Change the chemistry, and the thoughts change. Change the thoughts, and we feel like we have changed. But can we actually take credit for any of it? I know I can’t. Suddenly all my previous self-recrimination seems absurd.

So why am I telling you the story of my broken brain? It’s just to point out that we all have fears and guilt and dread at times. None of us is perfect, but somehow we have to keep trying and doing the best we can. This year, I learned that I can do things in spite of my worries and fears. I learned this fact because every time a challenge would come up, I’d get freaked out, convince myself I was going to fail miserably, spend several days or weeks in denial and depression, and finally rise triumphantly from the ashes, only to start the cycle again when the next challenge arose. I’ve gotten so used to watching this process that I can laugh at it now. But at the time, each situation seemed utterly dire.

And right here I have to segue into a plastic-free message: If you’re worried about participating in the Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge because you think you won’t be able to handle the guilt, just freakin’ do it anyway. You might feel guilty. Or you might not. You might get depressed. Or you might not. You might feel anxious about it. Or not. You might even think there’s no point in even trying to change your habits or lifestyle because it won’t make any difference. Or you might not think that at all. All these thoughts? Are just thoughts. You can’t make them go away, so just let them be. The real thing is not what you think but what you do.

Plans for 2011

It’s a new year and a new blog name. This brings me, finally, to my 2011 resolutions.

1) Obviously, the first one is to finish my book. And thankfully, I know I can do it. Treating my ADD makes writing the book easier than writing the proposal was.

2) Resume running. We all say we should get more exercise, right? Well, a few days ago, I signed up for the 2011 Disneyland Half Marathon in September. I ran it in 2007 and haven’t really run since. I said last year that the one plastic item I wanted to collect more of are Tyvek race numbers. I plan to make that happen in 2011.

3) Consume more fruits and vegetables. I read somewhere that many vegetarians should more accurately call themselves “grainarians” because they live mainly on pasta, bread, rice, etc. and less on fruits and vegetables. It’s certainly true for me. Four years ago, I was someone who lived on frozen dinners and energy bars because I couldn’t bring myself to cook. Giving up plastic means that I have to actually use the stove, but I still find myself doing as little work as possible in the kitchen. This year, I’m going to up my intake of veggies, even if it kills me. (Insert chuckle here.)

That’s it. Those are the only resolutions I’m going to make. I want to leave room for spontaneity and surprise.

How about you? What were the themes that shaped your 2010 and what plans do you have for 2011?

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Catherine Sutton
12 years ago

Beth, I agree with everyone about the inspiration you bring. Thank you for being a thought leader! Here’s something on toothpaste – I use plain old baking soda in a cardboard box. Unfortunately I haven’t found a way to stop my toothbrush from smelling that doesn’t involve H2O2 from in a plastic bottle. though. BUT those natural licorice sticks you can get actually work a treat – you chew on them and your mouth starts to feel really clean.
I also have ADD, late discovered. I take Super Blue Green Algae and related products (all of them in plastic bottles – aargh!) and they make it possible for me to think – especially the Omega Sun. Google it if you’re interested. And say you heard about it from me if you’re inspired to try some.

12 years ago

Beth – You are a superhero!
I loved your Ted talk (esp the part about getting Brita to recycle!)
Truly an inspiration – keep going with the book and speaking engagements! Your story is simple and compelling.
Thank you for what you are doing – now, off to find reusable sandwich containers for my kids’ lunches…

Murad Khan
12 years ago

Heard you on KGO today (I think) talking to Pat Thurston

and you were amazing. If will isn’t your husband, call me.

Thanks for sharing, and inspiring me to do more.

I’m already pretty conscientious, but I’ll try to do better.

Mike Khan
San Ramon

12 years ago

This post came at just the right time! Thank you for sharing your experience with ADD symptoms. I read this and your experience sounds so like my husband who just finished a speech class. He got through the class with an A, but it was a dark and harrowing experience. Recognizing him in your post, I forwarded it to him. This opened the door to us considering ADD as a potential reason for his intensely painful struggles over the last 20+ years of his life. Oddly, our therapist asked him about ADD in the following session (without our having mentioned it yet). This is a major turning point and your blog post was a key catalyst! Thank you.

Lara S.
12 years ago

Great post! I like that you share all this with your readers! Congratulations on the book, you’re a great writer and I’m sure it’ll be successful. And now that you’re more able to focus you’ll also be able to enjoy writing it, which is very important.
I know what you mean about anxiety, I have it too. But we’re capable of getting over it, and you’re doing it!
Congratulations again. I’m completely certain this will be a good year for you, and I’m sincerely happy for you.

12 years ago

Beth… you’re amazing you know that, right?!? Your book is going to inspire so many people… can’t wait!!!

What shaped my year? Change of thought. Going from saying, “I want to make a difference” to “I can make a difference” to “I am making a difference.” In fact, my new mindset is “I am the difference.” The other theme that will continue through 2011: Community :)

(By the way, I’m all over the place too… UNLESS… of course, I’m under pressure to get something done…. been this way my whole life… I tend to like it ;) )

12 years ago

Wow, that was an amazing post. Thank you so much for that. I can relate a little too well to everything you said.

Good luck with the book and your resolutions. I know you can do it! We’re cheering you on.

12 years ago

Glad you were able to figure out something that helps you function better!

Now that you’re going to be running, maybe you can do a post sometime about running and plastic. Running clothes, shoes, sports bras are made of plastic, right? I think you said you have a ton of clothes already, but shoes and sports bras have to be replaced regularly. And what about the gels or beans or other fuel? Their packaging is plastic. But when you are running for an extended period (as when training for a half) you need to consume calories during your run. And for most of us regular food would upset our stomach. What’s the solution that’s good for our bodies and for the planet? And is there a way to carry water with you on long runs that doesn’t involve plastic?

Ms. Adventuress
12 years ago

LOVE the name change! And you were fantastic on TED. Well done, this last year.

12 years ago

Beth – you are inspiring and brave and courageous, always be proud of this!

Thank you for sharing your story. Not only have you taught me about the effects of plastic in our lives, but you have put a name to the issues I have been struggling with and pointed me in the right direction to deal with it. While I’ve never been officially diagnosed with anything in the ADD spectrum, I’ve often thought that I’m having an ADD day, or I have ADD tendencies (in no way do I mean to diminish the issues that many people do live with). Learning about hyperfocus and how I can help myself is making a great difference. Thank you for sharing your story.

Leslie Quigley
12 years ago

Fabulous post, Beth. Thanks for being so up front, honest and refreshing. You’re definitely at the top of my list for aspiring women. Go girlie, GO! Looking forward to your book announcement. Happy New Year! Cheers to letting go of racing thoughts & life with less plastic!! ;=)

12 years ago

Wow, Beth, to hear about your year condensed into one post gives me anxiety, too! I’m thrilled to hear about your book and that life is becoming more manageable and under control. 2011 should be very interesting in living a life with less plastic. We are all rooting for you!

Mike Lieberman
12 years ago

Getting rid of fear and anxiety are two goals of mine as well. They aren’t worth the time and energy and also suck your time and energy.

Thank you for sharing your story and continually inspiring others.

All the best with your continued success.

Sarah S
12 years ago

Wonderful post Beth, thanks for sharing. As always you are an inspiration and I’m glad you are looking forward to this year.

12 years ago

Hi Beth,
As someone who checks in now and then, let me say that for someone stuggling you still managed to knock my socks off! I sometimes get the same way, the more that I need to do the more I hesitate. I tend to be flakey, call it adhd, whatever, focus is not my strong point. Anyway, I’ve cut down on coffee, waaaay down on sugar, and am eating more eggs & dairy (local, raw, sustainable). Have you ever checked out Weston A. Price? After adjusting my diet, I’m feeling really good about 2011. I’m glad you’re doing better, please take care, what you do is sooo important!

12 years ago

Dear Beth, and dear readers,

Thank you for you openness and unreservedly straightforward post. I am in the final stages of writing my MA thesis and this post and accompanying comments gave me the boost to start writing again this morning. God, the anxiety that comes with writing… deep sigh.

A good 2011 for you all, with much pleasure and without much plastics!

Marleen from The Netherlands

12 years ago

Thanks Beth! Keep on doing your amazing work. You are such an inspiration. I am proselytizing for you over here in Paris!!

12 years ago

Wow, you sound just like me. I recently finished my Ph.D. dissertation and it was the most painful, anxiety-inducing project of my whole life. But also the most rewarding. Now, I’m planning my next book project, which I’m so excited about but having trouble outlining and narrowing down, an effect of the whole hyperfocusing phenomenon you describe. (one example of hyperfocus for me, btw, is the story of how I became an avid follower of this blog, which I only discovered about 2 months ago. Since then I’ve been a voracious reader of anything in English or French (because I live in France) related to plastics and their effect on human health & the environment). Anyway, I can totally relate to the whole waiting until the last minute to get anything else done, thing. That’s the story of my entire professional life!

If you don’t mind my asking, what meds are you taking now? I’ve long suspected I have some mild form of ADHD, but since it’s never severely affected my performance (just made me super anxious & procrastinatory), I never sought any treatment or diagnosis. Others in my immediate family have more pronounced symptoms of ADD, which does affect their work, but we’ve all been rather stoic about it, wanting to avoid the usual Ritalin-type drugs to treat the problem. So we’ve just relied on willpower to overcome the challenges. I’m sure my liver will thank me for that down the road, but I must say, it has been exhausting!

12 years ago

First of all – *hugs*

I know all about broken brains. One day, we’ll sit down over a cup of tea, and we’ll talk all about the nasty things our brains do to us sometimes. You can tell me all about everything you’ve been through, and how sometimes the pressure just makes you want to scream.

And as a mother of two children with autism and the the proud owner of a brain damaged by viral encephalitis and left with epilepsy as a result, I’ll talk about the shit of dealing everyday with being a mum of *two* “special” needs kids.

Life just hurts sometimes.

But I also believe that our challenges make us stronger. When I look at all the people who don’t have to face what you do, and how they’re just cruising through their lives, yet *you* have chosen to make a difference, and stand up and be counted, well, that just makes me proud to call you a friend, and in awe of the strength a person can hold within herself.

It will all work out right. You’ll continue to be an inspiration to people with half your difficulties. Maybe that’s what teaches the rest of us that maybe we can make a difference too.

Be strong. And if you ever need a rest from everything, and a place to get away, come to Aotearoa, where we have beaches with no plastic on them, and places where you can heal, and be peaceful.

Debi Kirkpatrick
12 years ago

Thank you for your honest sharing! I also have an anxiety/panic disorder that has taken me down in a big way twice in my life. I could not function, but medication “taught” my brain not to respond in a panic mode and has allowed me to live a normal life. Stress is my trigger and huge family crises, particularly with my teen and adult daughters, can put me over the edge. I have also learned that “multi-tasking”, a completely inefficient way of trying to do everything in your life, CAUSES a form of ADD for me. I have taught myself not to focus deeply on any one thing, because I was constantly switching from task to task. No more of that!

Along the way I have completed a masters degree and remained successful in my demanding job (which, btw, causes a lot of my stress…..another topic!) Exercise has always been the way I balance myself, both mentally and physically so I think you will get huge benefit from running.

I was an athlete in my younger years, but at the age of 51, I hadn’t done any exercise in 12 years aside from walking the dogs. Last summer someone challenged me to participate in the Danskin sprint triathlon. I felt I COULD NOT DO I and it totally intimidated me, so I signed up! Since then I have completed 3 triathlons and plan to do about 5 this year. Training for these keep me in the gym, giving me mental and physical strengh and balance.

Triathlon is how I found you. I completed a race in Key West, FL in December, then we went on to Puerto Rico for two weeks. The beaches are loaded with plastic! I resolved TO BY NO PLASTIC in 2011 so went searching the web to learn more. I found your website and here I am, telling this story to any family and friends who will listen.

The NO PLASTIC life is challenging and practically impossible in some areas, but I am learning. Medication comes in plastic bottles. Toothbrushes, millions of which end up in our oceans and on our beaches, are plastic-not many alternatives. Feminine hygiene? Hmmm, challenging to go no-plastic.
I am keeping all my plastic so we’ll see how it goes. I am committed to this!!

Keep on going! Email me if you would like to talk more about exercise! Perhaps you could be doing a triathlon next!

12 years ago

Beth, another heartfelt personal post. About twelve years ago I was a backseat passenger in a minor car accident that left me with a mild traumatic brain injury. I had to — with the help of some talented professionals — retrain my brain to many things that I had previously taken for granted, so I empathize with your journey.
One thing I had to learn to do without was hyperfocus last minute getting things done as a standard practice – in fact, I couldn’t focus on anything for a while.
But one good side effect was a deeper understanding of how the brain works and an understanding of obstacles others might be facing.
Good luck on your journey.

12 years ago

you are so wonderfully courageous in sharing yourself this way…hopefully, self-revelations coming from beautiful, extremely talented and accomplished people such as yourself will lead others to diagnosis and healing. Thanks for sharing. And despite my 2011 focus on spending less, saving more, I have no doubt that your upcoming book will be one thing worth spending money on!

12 years ago

Wow. What a heartfelt and deeply personal post. I feel so touched by your story.

I really don’t know what to think about the whole ADD/ADHD concept. When I hear people describe the symptoms, I think that it pretty much sounds like me and most people I know. Maybe I just hang out with an ADD crowd, maybe the human brain was not meant to live such a mechanized existence, I don’t know. But I do know that, at least for me, anxiety, lack of focus, depression etc. are all symptoms of a much more deep seeded and insidious issue, my avoidance of my own emotions. It’s taken me many years to realize that the whirlwinds in my stomach and brain are really just my body’s way of distracting me from things that I really (I mean REALLY) don’t want to feel.

I’ve finally come to the realization that trying to make the anxiety, worry and racing thoughts go away is (at least for me) not the answer. The real answer is to have the courage to allow myself to truly feel the anxiety… I mean physically feel it instead of running away. When I am able to allow myself to feel it, somehow it all loses its grip on me. The whirlwinds start to melt away and I’m left with the raw uncomfortable feelings underneath. But raw and uncomfortable as they may be, I know that they’re real… and while I still can’t say that I “want” to feel them, it’s vastly preferable to life in the whirlwind.

So… all that being said, I wonder if you’ve heard about the research linking phthalates in plastics to ADD/ADHD. Very interesting…

And finally… not to trivialize any of the rest of this topic, I’ve been a “most of the time vegetarian” for 15 years (I still eat meat a few times per year… usually when I’m visiting my parents and it just isn’t worth the battle). It’s very easy to fall into the trap of eating too many grains. My strategy is to try to build each meal around the vegetables, rather than seeing them as a “side dish”. My goal is to have at least 50% of each meal (by volume that is) be vegetables. It can be a challenge, but it is SO worth it!

Hands down the easiest way to get more veggies into your diet is to join a CSA farm… and make a rule for yourself that you have to eat all of the veggies in the box each week! It’s sort of like baptism by fire if cooking from scratch isn’t your thing, but it’s great fun too!

I wish you the very best for the new book and the new year!

Helen Strydom
12 years ago

Thank you so much for speaking about your anxiety. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time and it is such a relief to me to realise that even someone as awesome as you are, can also be silently fighting an internal struggle. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Heather Clisby
12 years ago

I’m with Wanda here. Your strength of spirit and commitment is amazing all on its own but throw in a brain-related obstacle well, … it makes your mission even more admirable.

I’m so pleased that our Farm Sanctuary visit was mentioned among your 2010 highlights! It certainly was for me. In fact, I was just analyzing this morning how a day without animal interaction is a colorless day for me. This feeling has grown more intense for me over the years but my visits to these sanctuaries haven intensified this feeling and certainly made me more aware of the environment and my own spirituality.

My goals for 2011 include getting outside more (I live in Colorado fer chrissakes), more writing and music/less TV and Internet and yes, using less plastic. I plan to take your challenge soon, thanks to your inspiring leadership.

Also, I was accepted to become a Master Composter, a 10-week course put on by Denver Urban Gardens. It includes several field trips to recycling plants – should be interesting. Will let you know what I find out.

Wanda Ballentine
12 years ago

Considering that millions of us who don’t have to contend with ADD aren’t accomplishing near what you have….. we might think of getting off our duffs.

12 years ago

Beth – I’m glad that you discovered and found relief for ADD. It never ceases to amaze me how what people percieve is so different from how someone feels inside. For example – any time I have seen your public speaking (Oprah message, news story, Tedx) I have just been in awe of the way you can deliver such a tough message with such a soft voice. Your voice and demeanor really add a strong credibility to what you are communicating.

tiffany Sanborn
12 years ago

reading your articles are inspirational!
You also brought up a topic I recently thought about.. the medicine bottles. I brought mine back one time for my refill thinking it was stupid to use another bottle and they said it is “against the law” to reuse the bottles… how absurd is that??? same bottle for same medication for the same person who is willing to do that????
Have any ideas how to make a change here? After I left there I thought about all the MILLIONS of perscriptions that are filled DAILY and all those bottle being tossed at the end because of a ridiculous law???

Eco-Vegan Gal
12 years ago

I love your openness, despite writing about a tough, personal experience. You are such an inspiration and I’m sure I’m just one of many people who will support you no matter what you’re going through. It was great to hear your voice in the TED talk – you’re a wonderful speaker and I regret not attending that event despite living in LA. If you need any vegetarian tips let me know! (BTW, I didn’t know that animal fats were used to make plastic bags!) Happy new year and looking forward to following your journey in 2011.

Nubby Tongue
12 years ago

Great post, Beth. I’m glad you found treatment for your anxiety! My husband struggled with anxiety for a long time and it’s so good to see him getting better and learning to believe in himself and his abilities. Excited to see more posts and information this year!

12 years ago

Beth, like you, I discovered later rather than sooner that I had ADD. I’ve never taken medication for it, and always managed to skate by.

But I have learned some things over the years which have helped me to cope. First is understanding what the root of ADD is.

Doctors talk about brain chemistry, but that’s an overly simplistic view of how the human mind works, especially given the quantum mechanical factors involved in thinking, etc. But science has given us some useful tools for understanding the cause of ADD.

What I’ve come to believe is that the pre-frontal cortex needs a proper and regular workout. This is the area of the brain responsible for willpower. Executive function is a very similar (and overlapping) conception to willpower, and is controlled by the pre-frontal cortex as well.

People have a limited amount of willpower. This isn’t just about not eating the entire batch of cookies you bake for your neighbor. It’s about willing yourself to do something that doesn’t feel appealing OR willing yourself not to do something that does. You have put so much on your plate that you are overwhelmed and running out of willpower to keep those wheels in motion. The good news is that you can learn to extend your willpower, but you’ve given yours a heckuva workout!

Think about it: giving up plastic products forces you to do things in a more challenging or roundabout way quite often; giving up meat provides new challenges (and possibly frequent temptations) as well; writing a book in addition to the blog and working another job while simultaneously maintaining the other two willpower hogs? Well, that’s clearly sufficient to put your willpower skills in hyperdrive!

And that’s okay! Except that if you haven’t developed sufficient executive function to help you build up your willpower, you can end up feeling burnt out.

I speak from experience. :p Some of us frequently set ourselves up to do so many projects at once and then get overwhelmed at the enormity of it all. But in the end, you have to find what works if you really want to get “it” done. Break the work up into chunks. Set mini-goals and reward yourself for achieving them. Practice planning things, e.g. if you are traveling often, keep a standing Excel file or Google spreadsheet doc with all your typical travel items in a checklist so you don’t have to stress over the notion of forgetting socks. And try your darnedest to avoid watching TV shows and other flashy things that will keep you in constant entertainment mode. It will only hurt. My attention span has increased significantly since giving up television (still watch movies on occasion).

I still haven’t found all the answers, but I hope some of this helps. Links:

12 years ago


Congratulations on finally diagnosing and moving on to the treatment for your ADD. Having lived with ADD most of my life I’ve experienced those same feelings – the unending anxiety (often for things that really shouldn’t cause it), feeling like a failure despite not starting, and the constant barrage of thoughts – though I was lucky and managed to escape the worst of it with only behavior modification therapy and unending support from my parents. I haven’t had those feelings in such high concentrations (its now closer to more normal expectations) since those first years when I didn’t know (my smart psychology trained mother suspected pretty quickly though) what was wrong with me. But now you too have escaped from those nearly paralyzing feelings, welcome back to a more normal existence.

I think it’s awesome that you and your doctor have moved from treating the symptoms to treating the root – sometimes its really tough to see the underlying connections between the symptoms and most doctors stick to the symptoms. I am utterly supportive of holistic medicine and a holistic approach to diagnosing. (And animals are WONDERFUL for reducing anxiety – even when they’re sometimes the cause.)

I wish you the best of luck on your New Year’s resolutions and look forward to your posts and the challenges of reducing my plastic waste one small step at a time.

Thank you for all of your encouragement to all of us even when you were struggling with more major difficulties of your own.

Best wishes,

12 years ago

I have serious writing anxiety (which I blame for my poor performance in school), so even the plastic trash challenge, which I was really excited about writing, I ended up being unhappy with and didn’t want to post it. I want you to know that I actually did it, and I feel like I learned what I needed to from it, despite the fact that I wimped out in posting it.

I just hope that for 2011 I can accomplish the goals I set out for 2010. less plastic, more healthy food and activities (which means less treating my body as a “human garbage disposal”), and financial independence so I can buy plastic-free without it affecting someone else’s wallet, and vice versa– that someone else’s buying habits won’t affect my plastic usage (which pretty much sums up my entire plastic trash challenge).

good to hear that you found something that works for you, and glad to hear the book is coming along, I look forward to the finished product.

12 years ago

I like the idea of free-range chickens. Here’s some free-range cogitating for ya…

Our brain is everything. My brain is me and somewhere in that amazing blob of cells is a cause for all that I am and do and know and feel.

Do we have free will? A very good question, because it depends upon a “me” that is distinct from my body, a “causer” without causation. I’ve seen nothing to indicate such a thing. The experiments that probe the brain physically produce all kinds of memories and emotions and sensations that are perfectly real, but just from some pressure applied here or there in the cranium.

We can be terribly hard on ourselves and suffer from anxiety because we think we are inadequate, not normal, etc. There is that terrible feeling of helplessness – that one knows one shouldn’t be afraid, for example, but can’t help it. This argues against an all controlling “me” above the chemical fray, of mind over matter.

There are some who insist that it is good for a person to live with some difficulty or another because overcoming it is beneficial. If only things could be overcome through simple will power, though it can happen.

If there is a drug that hits the target of whatever problem a person has, why not go for it? It can take a while to find the magic bullet (and there isn’t necessarily one out there for every problem) but if it can be found life is soooooo much better. I spent decades unable to get a good night’s sleep for the lack of a 25mg pill I now take nightly. There are no side-effects and I sleep like a baby. My life is transformed. If only I had known about it earlier!

The hard question to answer is – doesn’t this sound like an invitation to take the soma of Huxley’s Brave New World? Alcohol, nicotine, all kinds of drugs legal and otherwise are sought out for the relief they give – yet they cause problems of their own. Suppose we had a perfect drug for any condition that works like my sleeping pill? Would we trade our anxieties for the bliss of relief?

I’d argue that mankind has always tried – look at the trade of rational thought for the psychic comforts of religions since the dawn of time. Ignorance was a kind of bliss because there was no science to deny it was truth. Now we can almost tailor the treatment to the individual. We can see what’s coming – a way to lose specific parts of one’s mind willingly, enthusiastically!

Just some food for thought. By the way, you were great on TED. I would have though you’d been public-speaking for your whole life.

2010 is gone...
12 years ago

Great post, thanks for sharing your rough year, glad I wasn’t the only one. Also glad to hear things are getting better for you! Thanks for sharing your plastic-free life!

12 years ago

You are such an inspiration!! The difference you are making by simply inspiring others to hop on board with you.

Many of the “alternatives” are not always “convenient”, but learning to take a step backwards is sometimes necessary to realize what is truly important.

Thank you.

Beth Terry (The Other One)
12 years ago

Beth – first, you are not alone. I have long suspected have it too. Perhaps not as acute, but I get it. Actually, to a certain degree, many creative types do. So embrace it! It is part and parcel of who you are and why you get as much done as you do.

Second, I’m so bursting at the buttons proud of you, if you were just a tich younger, I’d adopt you as my daughter. I think you are amazing and I’m so happy to share our name with someone of your commitment and passion. Which brings me to

Third: call me. I’d be happy to coach you on speaking, talk you out of a writers block, or urge you on with your book. I’m not convinced that ADD is a disease. I sometimes think it’s just the state of being where one has so much they are excited and passionate about that their brain is full — and goes on a little holiday from time to time to sort it out.

A recommendation: Set aside 15 or 20 minutes a day to just stare at a blank wall or the sky. Don’t meditate. Don’t try to do or be anything. Don’t beat up on yourself. Just stare. You have so much going on that the ol’ brain needs to integrate once in awhile.

And then, when you are done. Go back to one thing. Just one.

Also – think about looking into “The Work” by Byron Katie. She’s another speaker/ trainer who is just magical in helping people get back their balance. Do a search on her and spend an hour on her site. You’ll feel better right away.

And I’m serious about the call. You have my cell. Call me, text me, let me know. I believe your work is so important, I’d be happy to be there when you need me.

Congratulations on getting to this place.
Happy and wondrous 2011!

12 years ago

Interesting I did not know anxiety was a symptom of ADD. I have extreme tendancies of inattention, anxiety, easily bored, disorganization as does my daughter. My brother was diagnosed with ADD in school, but I did well so no one noticed anything wrong. I dont want to diagnose myself but this is very interesting.

OMG Kids
12 years ago

Too cool. You are an inspiration. OMG founders just launched their Plastic Bag Ban and we will be reporting on our progress. Here is their latest post: ( In the mean-time, thanks for all you do and don’t loose faith in what your doing ;-)

Sandra Lee
12 years ago


You’ve taken my breath away with your heartfelt sojourn through this year of challenge. Bravo on finding the right healing modality for you, being so genuine, being so perfectly you.

You’ve shared such an important nugget of truth ~ we are not our brains! Our brains our not our true essence. Whatever happens in our ordinary mind, our true essence is far beyond that. Thank you for underlining this.

Thank you for your bravery and courage! Just totally loving and appreciating you in this moment.

BTW, you might like my friend Tess at ~ She is magnificent too and deals with ADD too.

12 years ago

I for one give you props for sending out your book proposal, and am SO excited for it! If there’s one person whose book I would totally endorse the heck out of… it would be yours.

Running!!! Half-marathon!!! YESSS YOU CAN DO IT! I’m running the Nike Women’s Half this year… because I hear it’s awesome (free Tiffany’s necklace, etc.) ♥

I’ve also heard the term “pastatarian”. I do believe the best kind of vegetarianism is one that adds (more vegetables, fruits, different varieties of plants that you may not have tried before) rather than subtracts (animals). :)

By the way, I would love to meet you this year. I was in Berkeley a couple of times over the holidays… next time!!

12 years ago

Good for you for getting to the root of your issue. I am a recovered ADD person (so I think.) I took dexies until I was in 6th grade. Then I was pronounced cured. If it wasn’t for those pills, I would never had learned to read. But since 2nd grade, I have always excelled at school and went on to law school. Recently, and maybe it is age, I have found that I too can’t seem to get anything done except when I have to. I have a million projects. A million to dos. Like you, a million I want to interview.

I am wondering if the more we have on our plates, the harder it is to keep it together?