Monday, August 18, 2014

One more thing

In addition to my last post, I was going to put this as the last tip and trick, but felt like it needed a post of it's own. Here's that post.

These last couple of things have probably been thee most helpful with my anxiety in terms of an all-around mindset and perspective change. There are three different books that help me immensely when I feel like I just can't deal with it anymore.

The first one is Victor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning. Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist that spent three years in four different concentration camps and dealt with the loss of his parents, brother and pregnant wife.  While the book covers some of his experiences in the camps, it is more about his observations of people's behaviors (both prisoners and guards) while in the camps and how people survived the unthinkable. He argues that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how we cope with it. He noticed that the people who typically survived the atrocities of the camps all had something in common: purpose. He went on to practice his own type of therapy: logotherapy, which in Greek means "meaning". Simply put: if people feel they have meaning and a purpose, they tend to be able to bear burdens. He quotes Nietzsche, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how."
This book does not show you how to make your problems go away, but helps you look at it from a different perspective. Suffering is inevitable, it's in the giving it a purpose that makes it worth going through.

The second book, by far, is the most important. The Bible. I was raised a Christian, but if I can be completely honest, I didn't touch a bible until I was 18. I avoided it more out of fear than anything else. But when my anxiety took hold of me right out of high school, I picked it up out of pure desperation. I told myself that there was nothing I could read in it that could possibly make me feel worse than I was already feeling every day. For the first time, I felt like I wasn't alone, that someone (and not just anyone but the creator of the univserse) was looking out for me, cared for me, and wanted to help me. From then on, it became a life source of comfort and assurance (and not at all as scary as my childhood self imagined it). Admittedly, there are times when I slack, but this past year, I held onto it for dear life. I learned the importance of a quiet time with God, with journaling my prayers to look back on and see how He was working in my life and how He answered things, looking for His winks throughout my day and learning scripture and God's promises that I could repeat to myself when I got overwhelmed with life. Here are some of my favorite verses to recite:

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."Isaiah 41:10 
 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 
 "The Lord will continually lead you; he will feed you even in parched regions. He will give you renewed strength, and you will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring that continually produces water." Isaiah 58:11
"I will walk in the strength of the Lord." Psalm 71: 16
"There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" 2 Corinthians 12: 8

There are obviously a plethora of verses to choose from, but these are the ones that I use the most to give me strength. I've used the last verse, Paul's plead with God, and ultimate embrace of his weakness for the purpose of showing God's grace and power, to reconcile and embrace my anxiety in the terms of Frankl's logotherapy. Meaning, I've chosen for that to be the purpose of my anxiety, and that in itself has made a huge difference.

And the third book that I cannot recommend enough is Sarah Young's Jesus Calling. It's a daily devotional written as if Jesus himself is speaking to you. They are about a paragraph long, but they're like personal pep talks from Jesus to get you through the day. These help me just to get out the door. These ones in particular completely changed me:

"Trust me and don't be afraid, for I am your Strength and Song. Do not let fear dissipate your energy. Instead, invest your energy in trusting Me and singing My Song. The battle for control of your mind is fierce, and years of worry have made you vulnerable to the enemy. Therefore, you need to be vigilant in guarding your thoughts. Do no despise this weakness in yourself since I am using it to draw you closer to Me. Your constant need for Me creates an intimacy that is well worth all the effort. You are not alone in this struggle for your mind. My Spirit living within you is ever ready to help in this striving. Ask Him to control your mind; He will bless you with Life and Peace."
How amazing, right? The first time I read it, tears ran down my face, just from sheer relief. You are not alone in this struggle for your mind, I am using this to draw you closer to Me.  And this one:
"Walk by faith, not by sight. As you take steps of faith, depending on Me, I will show you how much I can do for you. If you live your life too safely, you will never know the thrill of seeing Me work through you. When I gave you My Spirit, I empowered you to live beyond your natural ability and strength. That's why it is so wrong to measure your energy level against the challenges ahead of you. The issue is not your strength but Mine, which is limitless. By walking close to Me, you can accomplish My purposes in My strength."
The thing with anxiety is that it just makes you tired all the time. The amount of adrenaline my body produces leaves me completely exhausted when I finally calm down. It makes even little things feel like too much work. I would always think, how am I ever going to do anything? But when I read this, it changed everything. I don't have the strength or energy, but that doesn't matter because God does. After reading this, every time I thought to myself, I can't do this, I would immediately remind myself, you're right, you can't, but God can. And He does. Every time I walk out to my car from a hair appointment or from a shift at work (normal things that most people don't think twice about doing but require enormous effort for me), I think, I don't know how I just did that. And then I remember, I didn't.

There's this peace and relief that comes with surrendering the idea of having to be enough. Or having to do everything on your own. Or having to figure everything out. You don't. It's so nice to be able to rest in the realization that someone out there is bigger than this, and they're with you, they're fighting for you, they're helping you, they're rooting for you. But this realization doesn't come easily. Your human mind and body are constantly trying to drag you back to this place where it tells you you're the only one that can help yourself and you'll never be able to do it. That's why I have to constantly be in the Word, reminding myself of His promises and His plans. I can tell when I've gone too long without it. Anxious thoughts start creeping back in, I go back to my old ways of thinking. I'm restless, cynical and easily unsettled. In order to get a hold of your anxiety, you have to change your thought process, and this is the best way I know how. Read it, repeat it, remind yourself of it.

 I hope this helps, even if just a little. And if it doesn't, know that I love you and am rooting for you. :)





 
 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tips and Tricks on Dealing with Anxiety 2

This is a long time coming, but I thought I would do another post on dealing with anxiety. You can find the first post I did here.

The past year has been such a breeding ground for anxiety with me, and I thought I would share a few things that have been helping me get through it. The best way to combat anxiety is to stop it as soon as you start to feel it come on; do not let it reach the point of panic, if possible. Have an arsenal of techniques you can pull from to fight back with. Here are some of mine.

1. This passage by Daniell Koepke is taped above my bed:
Breathe. You’re going to be okay. Breathe and remember that you’ve been in this place before. You’ve been this uncomfortable and anxious and scared, and you’ve survived. Breathe and know that you can survive this too. These feelings can’t break you. They’re painful and debilitating, but you can sit with them and eventually, they will pass. Maybe not immediately, but sometime soon, they are going to fade and when they do, you’ll look back at this moment and laugh for having doubted your resilience. I know it feels unbearable right now, but keep breathing, again and again. This will pass. I promise it will pass.
Whenever I start to feel anxious, I sit on my bed and just read this over and over. I like it because it sounds like something I would write during a good day when I'm feeling calm and confident to remind my future anxious self that we've been here before, and we have always gotten through it.

2. Get up and go outside. I know this is boring and repetitive, but it helps immensely. Exercising and sunlight are both two things that are known to help improve mood and lower stress. And just keeping busy keeps your mind off things. A couple months ago I started to take my dog on walks first thing when I woke up to fight off any urge to lay in bed for two hours. It usually helped. Once you're up and moving, it starts the momentum to be more productive throughout the day.
My job used to allow me to go outside and walk around a lot. Anytime I started to feel anxious at work I would go outside, get some fresh air and try to walk off any nervous tension that was building up. Unfortunately, I recently got a promotion at work to a more sedentary position and it's definitely a challenge to not feel completely overwhelmed and claustrophobic. I'm still trying to figure out ways to deal with the anxiety without just running out the door. It definitely goes to show how much moving around actually helps.

3. The first thing you hear about calming anxiety is to breathe. Which is simpler said than done when you have the sense of impending doom crushing your chest. Your breathing is the first thing that starts to go haywire. You tend to either speed up your breathing and hyperventilate, or you start to unknowingly hold your breath. This will usually cause you to get lightheaded and dizzy and make you spin even more into a panic. I read recently that when you start to panic, to breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and then exhale for 8 seconds. This causes an autonomic nervous system shift from a sympathetic state (fight or flight) to a parasympathetic state that calms you down. Sometimes I forget how many seconds goes with which action, and I'm not sure if the amount of seconds is crucial, but when I start to feel lightheaded I start doing each for 5 seconds and it tends to work. I really think the difference between doing this type of breathing and just slowly breathing in and out is the holding your breath in between the inhale and exhale. It seems so simple but it really does seem to nip anxiety attacks in the bud. Just try it.

Like always, there is more I want to add but this is getting to be long-winded so I will save it for another post. I just want to leave you with one more thing:

If you've never had a panic attack before, here is a pretty good reenactment of what one feels like. She even explains what you can do if you're with someone having one (not much really) and what not to do (repeatedly ask questions, tell them to calm down, etc.). My personal advice: just be there for them, if they want that. If they want to be alone, let them. Don't ask a bunch of questions or make them try to explain anything. Just sit with them quietly and let them tell you what they need. Distraction sometimes helps, but when you're in the middle of a panic attack, you are so inside your own head, all you want to do is concentrate on riding it out, not listen to someone talk, or at least that's how it is in my experience. If you feel completely helpless, you can reassure them once or twice in a calm (not dominant or patronizing) voice that this will pass and they will get through it. But very little needs to be said. A quiet presence does more than you think.

Hopefully this helps somewhat. If you have any tips of your own, I would love to hear them. I am always open to try anything that may ease the plight of anxiety.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Albums of the Summer




I know it's only August, and all except for one of these albums didn't even come out this year, but Night Beats' Sonic Bloom, Tame Impala's Lonerism, Portugal. The Man's Evil Friends, and Temples' Sun Structures are on my short list of most-played records this summer. If you haven't heard them, do yourself a favor and go do that right now.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Sounds of Silence




I’m an introvert through-and-through. I don’t say it as if I’m proud, just more of as a matter-of-fact. People familiar with introvert/extrovert traits know how it goes: being around people or stimulating situations for too long is exhausting. I need a tremendous amount of downtime. I like being alone. I thrive in quiet and peaceful places. Though I love intimate gatherings of close people, I often make up excuses as to why I can’t go out and avoid being in social situations. I’ll regularly retreat back to my room to be by myself even if I’m just at home with family. It’s never really bothered me much. But then a weird thing started to happen. I started to become increasingly anxious when I was by myself.

I think this all started last year after my grandpa died. Except for a short two-month period after his stroke when he lived with us and a year spent living with my uncle and then in assisted-living when his dementia got bad, he lived the majority of the seven years after my grandma’s death by himself. I was always aware that he was by himself. I knew that he preferred to live in his own house and would talk about going “back home” while living with us and even during his stay in assisted-living. He liked his independence which I understood and respected. But not until after his funeral, when I really stopped and thought about it, did I realize how lonely it must be to be by yourself. He was always very social. He lived in a senior community and had many friends and was also involved in his church and had a close church family, so he wasn't completely alone. But at the age of 93, his funeral was small. It wasn't because his friends didn't care; it was because they were all gone.  And that’s when I started to dwell on the idea of what it must be like to outlive everyone you know. He had lived such a rich life. He knew so many people and went so many places and did so many things, and in the end, there were only a handful of people outside of his family that were there to see him off.

The more I thought about it, the more uneasy it made me. Maybe it's because I am the complete opposite of my grandpa. I am not very outgoing, I'm not very social, it takes a tremendous amount of effort for me to establish relationships with people. By my age, my grandpa had already fought a war overseas, praying in foxholes he wouldn't be killed. I was praying to God I didn't have a panic attack on my way to a massage appointment. When I realized that we not only had two different personalities, we had two different life experiences, it eased my mind to know that he had preferred to live by himself because he could handle it. It didn't ease my mind to think that one day I may be in the same situation, but not be able to handle it at all. 

I like being alone, but I don't like being physically alone. I like the choice of being alone. I like being by myself in my room knowing my family is down the hall if I needed them. I don't necessarily need the interaction (though I really do; I thrive on deep, meaningful conversation) I just need to know that they're there in case I ever do.  

One day last year I was home by myself in the middle of the afternoon laying on the floor in the family room, trying to fight off the crushing weight of solitude, and explain away every foreign noise that was coming from every corner of the house, when I started to hear some loud noises outside. I got up and looked out the window and saw some workers in my neighbor's backyard. I suddenly felt this relief come over me. I wasn't entirely alone, there were other people out there. Now I wasn't going to pop my head over the fence and start up a conversation-- I didn't need that, at least not then. I just needed to hear the noise of another person's presence. 


So I laid back down on the family room floor and started to think of Sarah Winchester. And I started to think that maybe she made up the story about the psychic and the ghosts. Maybe there were never any ghosts after her, she was just a widow who didn't want to be alone. Maybe the ghosts she was so afraid of were the ones inside her own head. So she hired builders to work on her house, around the clock, for years, so she never had to live in silence. There were always people around, making noise, keeping busy so she never had to be alone with her loneliness. She was smart enough to know that ghosts only ever seem to appear in quiet, dormant houses. They're not as threatening in houses alive with people and noise. So she did what she could-- she paid people to be around her, making an unrelenting amount of sound. If I was a lonely rich old lady, I would probably do the same thing. But then again, this is just a theory I came up with while in my own solitude. She was probably just a delusional woman made crazy by loneliness.


Regardless of why she did it, I came to the conclusion that I can't let myself be that lady. I don't want to wake up one day when I'm 75 and realize that I'm breaking things in my house just so I can call a repair guy to hang out with for 45 minutes because I spent my twenties isolating myself in my room, being more concerned with coping with my anxiety than I was about forming proper relationships with people. And the thing is, is you can't just form some relationships once and then you're good-- you have to continuously form meaningful relationships throughout your entire life so you're never not without people. Kurt Vonnegut said, "What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured." I know he's right, and I hate it. 


It's terrifying because this is the thing I'm the worst at, and I'm the worst at so many things. I'm always going to be that introvert who likes downtime, who prefers quiet gatherings over big parties, who relishes in a quiet life. And while I really enjoy being by myself now, I can't be that person who fails to form connections and relationships just because it might be uncomfortable and scary and even a bit exhausting. Because when I no longer have the novelty of always having my family down the hall, I at least want someone in the next room. And I'd prefer it not to be a hired worker building a doorway that goes into a wall.




photo via tumblr

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I've Been Published!


The thing that I thought would never happen has happened. I am a published writer! I was contacted last April to see if my blog post "Where Did Our Clothes Come From?" could be included into a college textbook called Sustainability: a Reader for Writers. Obviously I jumped at the opportunity. I was a couple months away from graduating with a degree in English with intentions of pursuing writing when they emailed me, and it could not have come at a more perfect time. It seemed the closer I got to getting out of college, the more self-doubt crept into my head telling me that I wasn't a good enough writer to pursue it seriously. So to have a college professor (of English, no less) find something I wrote and want to include it into his book, was such validation that I wasn't as bad as the voice in my head was telling me I was. The downside, though, is that I never wrote the post with the intentions of it being published anywhere other than my own blog and therefore wrote it very casually like I do most of my posts. After I gave permission for them to use the article I quickly went back and read it over trying to find and fix all the grammatical mistakes that were sprinkled throughout the article, in vain I'm sure, since they probably had the post already included 'as is' in the book before emailing me. Even since getting a copy of the book, I've never been able to actually read the article myself for fear that I'm going to be overly critical about something I wrote 4 years ago and then obsess about how differently I would have written it now, or how there is a comma where there should have been a semi-colon.

This is where I wish I had known about Grammarly, a website that's like spell check for grammar, sooner. I'm now going to use Grammarly to correct grammar in all my blog posts from here on out since having grammatical errors in your writing is like having food stuck in your teeth: everyone sees it, but nobody wants to be the one to point it out to you. Grammarly is like that friend who not only tells you it's there, but helps you get rid of it so people won't laugh at you behind your back.

The point is, is that I'm over-the-moon that something I wrote was deemed good enough to be in print, even if I am still a bit self-conscious about my writing abilities. The best part about being published in a textbook though, has to be the questions at the end where students have to discuss what I wrote (and even having to do an exercise of going to the mall!).


Sure, I've been self-publishing stuff I've written on this blog for years, but there really is an unexplainable feeling of seeing your name in print and the words you've written in ink on paper. I hope it's a feeling I'll have many more times.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Diluted Experiences



The other night on my way home from work I hit a dog. I was driving through my neighborhood like every other night when out of nowhere I see a ball of fur dart out in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and felt a thud under my right front tire followed by a blood-curdling cry. Oh my gosh, I killed it I thought to myself, frozen in shock. Immediately I looked out my passenger side window realizing the crying was moving away from my car, and I see the poor thing running back up its owner's driveway holding up its left front paw. Holy crap, it's still alive! I couldn't believe it. I thought for sure I had just killed it. I fumbled to get my car in park and get the keys out of the ignition before I was walking up the driveway to where the owner was now holding the dog in the garage. "I am so sorry, is she okay? Is it her paw? I didn't even see her; I am so sorry. I feel so bad." I kept saying over and over. The owner was extremely nice, telling me not to feel bad, that it wasn't my fault, that she ran out in front of me. Still, my heart felt heavy in my chest. Losing two of my own dogs last year, and knowing how awful it is, I did not want to be the reason for someone else losing theirs. The dog was no longer crying, but the owner was saying how he was going to take her in just in case. I kept apologizing until I felt like I may be annoying him, and when I felt like there was nothing more I could do, I got back in my car and went home.

I sat at the kitchen table in a daze, thinking about it, replaying it over and over in my head. I thought about it in the shower, while brushing my teeth, while laying in bed. I kept thinking of the dog's face in my headlights and the sound of the thud. And even though I knew I hadn't killed the dog, that I hadn't been speeding, that I didn't do anything wrong, and even the owner himself told me not, I still felt bad. I felt awful.

Suddenly, my thoughts turned to one of my old co-workers. A woman in her forties who was so nice and so pleasant and whom I liked so much; and how a few years ago she had struck and killed a twenty-year-old guy after he drunkenly ran into the street in front of her car.  Like me, she hadn't been speeding or drinking or doing anything wrong, but unlike me, it wasn't just an animal, it was a person. I had a whole new level of sympathy for her. Here I was beside myself because I accidentally ran over a dog's paw, and the level of guilt I felt must have been a mere fraction of what she went through.

I'm a strong believer in things happening for a reason. Sometimes that reason may just be that you were at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I believe that God will use these misfortunes for good. Whether they teach us lessons or better our character, I do not think he ever wastes our pain or experiences. I could drive myself crazy thinking how maybe if something were different I would have missed hitting that dog. If I had driven faster or slower, if I had lingered at a stop sign longer. But what if lingering at the stop sign meant that the dog would have been further out into the street and instead of just its paw, I ran over its whole body? The what-ifs are not only endless; they're worthless. It happened how it happened. And that's when I had the thought that maybe God gives me these serious, yet diluted experiences to teach me empathy towards others. That he wants to grow my ability to feel others' pain, even if only in little pieces. He knows that if that had been a person instead of a dog, it would have sent me to a mental hospital. So He handled me with kid gloves because I am a fragile person, but he also knows my ability to feel things deeply is also a gift. So he lets me feel the pain and guilt of hurting a dog so, not only am I more cautious, now I have a memory that I can draw from and tap into when I come across someone dealing with something similar. Because sometimes hearing someone else's story of how they went through what you're going through makes you feel a little less alone. And even more importantly, it makes you look at them differently, now understanding the pain they, too, hold inside.


photo via lomography

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Are Terms of Endearment Actually Endearing?




I asked some of my male co-workers the other day whether or not they use terms of endearment to people they don't know. You know, words like: sweetie, babe, hon, sweetheart. They seem nice enough, they mean nice things, so why do they bug me so much? They answered, "yeah, sometimes." Like it was no big deal and perfectly normal. Really? I asked in disbelief. Why?!

I have never in my life called someone "sweetheart" or "hon" that wasn't meant to be blatantly ridiculous. It feels weird and unnatural coming out of my mouth. Sure, I'll send my best friend an occasional "Hey, sugartits" text but that's besides the point. One of my biggest pet peeves is when anyone under 70, from either gender, refers to me as "sweetie" or "babe". I take it as extremely condescending, even though I know that they probably aren't trying to be. I see these words as something you call a child; so in my book, if you're not an elderly person, knock it off.

My hangup about this may have started when I was 14, and I was an office TA at my school. During my 3rd period, I would answer phones, deliver call slips and do other tasks for the school staff. There was one lady in particular that worked in the front office who I always hated being around because she was mean and acted very entitled. In the adult world, I would describe her as a customer who always complains about something and is never happy with anything. Every time she needed me to do something for her she would address me, "Hey, mija..." which I knew was a term of endearment but it always seemed so fake and condescending coming from her. From then on I always saw these types of words as something people used to sweet-talk you into doing something for them.

My co-workers, all males in their 20s, admitted that they usually say it in a flirtatious, yet harmless, way and are more likely to use it to a person they know they will never see again. Then what's the point? You're never going to see her again, therefore, butter her up nice and douchey? Do you wink at her after you say it, too? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the majority of people who use these words to perfect strangers do it to be nice, but I can't help but get the willies every time they're said to me. I can't be alone in this. Right, babe?


Here is an entertaining list of terms of endearment that people should start using. My favorites are big-daddy-yum-yum, honey-toast, and shabookadook.

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