Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Year in Review




Years always seem to split into two, and by the time December rolls around, looking back on things that happened in January and February seem as far away and foreign than if they had happened the previous year. This was especially true for 2014. The first part of the year feels like it happened in a completely different decade than the last half. The first five months or so were good; I was working a lot, exercising almost daily, really focusing on myself and my relationship with God and I felt like I was in a good place. But then over summer, right around the half-way point in the year, things changed. I got a promotion at work. And while this should have been the pinnacle moment of the year, something I had been waiting for for the last 3 years, it turned out to be quite the opposite.  This made the last part of the year go to the birds. It's like I completely checked out. I spiraled into a hole that I'm still trying to climb my way out of. With the promotion came idleness, confinement, and weird hours, and it knocked me off the steady foundation I had created of busyness and routine. Looking back, this event taught me a lot about myself. 

I always thought that I was a person who didn't like routine and the idea of being a slave to a set schedule, but not until I settled into one did I realize it was actually a perfect fit. I liked having the same hours everyday, not working an early shift one day and then a late shift the next and screwing up my sleep pattern. I liked getting up at the same time every morning, and actually being tired when I went to bed at night. And I liked knowing what to expect. Expectation, in a weird way, gave me freedom.  I know this makes me sound old and boring, like routine automatically equates to a dull and stagnant life, but I really can't think of anything more exciting than being fully prepared and present for the day because you're comfortable and well-rested.

The next thing I learned is how much keeping busy helps me. Albert Einstein's words ring true, "Life is like riding a bike, to keep your balance, you must keep moving." In my prior position I was constantly physically doing something--walking around, doing different tasks, keeping myself busy. Not a busy that was exhausting or unhealthy, but one that kept me occupied enough not to get trapped inside my own thoughts. And one that wore my body out enough that I wasn't physically capable of keeping myself up at night with incessant thoughts and worries. This also spilled over into my everyday life and  I found myself being more productive outside of work. Because I was used to it, it wasn't as hard for me to do. After I stopped being able to be busy at work, and with my hours cut to where I was at home all day until I had to work at night, I found myself slipping back into the idleness. And you know what they say, "idle hands are the devil's workshop."  

The last thing I learned from this particular event is how much I crave being outside. My previous position allowed me to be outside a lot, by myself, walking around, taking in the sky and the trees and the fresh air. Now I'm stuck inside all day. I try to go outside on my breaks as much as possible to keep sane. This isn't just at work either. If I've spent too long inside my house, I make it a point to at least walk into my backyard and watch a sunset or take a couple breaths of fresh air. A couple days ago I was sitting in the car waiting for my mom and sister to get done in a store, having an underlying feeling of anxiety that, while common for me, is still uncomfortable. And as I sat with the feeling of dread, I looked out the window and saw these clouds that were illuminated by the late afternoon sun and trees gently rustling in the breeze and my heart filled up with so much joy I thought it could burst. And I laughed at the simplicity, that even in a moment of uneasiness, how much the beauty of the outside world soothes my nerves. 

These are all things that I write for myself to remember. (I've also learned this year that if I don't write things down, I tend to forget them--this goes from grocery items to things I've been taught to deal with my anxiety that I forget in the moments I need it.) But I also want to acknowledge the moments throughout the year that I look back on fondly, like the day, pictured above, when I went hiking with my dad. We talked about God and birds and I learned that even amidst rocks and weeds poppies still grow. Or something as simple as going shopping with my mom and just being content. I'm thankful for all the people I've met this year-- people who make me laugh and think and challenge me. 

I've learned more than anything that I am a person who loves the process, maybe even more than obtaining the goal itself. Like how sometimes getting ready is more enjoyable than going to the event, or the car ride more fun than the destination. This became clear to me when I got to where I thought I wanted to be, and realized it wasn't what I really wanted at all. It was the working towards something that I wanted, the possibility of something that made everything I did to get it seem worthwhile, even if it was unpleasant. Like Freud said, "In hindsight, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful." It's in the struggle, in the process, where the pockets of calm and peace hold their sweetness. The moments of solace hold deeper meaning and are treasured more than anything else. And those were the best parts of 2014 for me. I'm excited to see, not what goals I can reach, but what process is in store for 2015, and how I will change and grow from it. And how many sweet spots of serenity it holds for me along the way. 

Happy New Year. 


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Ocean and You




I've always liked the sentiment of this quote until I realized it doesn't make sense because it isn't true. For as vast and powerful as the ocean is, the thing it does not have is power over itself. It is completely at the mercy of outside forces. It's temperament is dependent on the weather and the winds and the pull of the moon. So here is a truer statement: like the ocean, you can give yourself up to the storm you are in and let it toss you around relentlessly, knowing that it will eventually pass and the waters will be calm again. Or, truer still, look at the immensity of the ocean and know, despite its size and strength, you can do something it can't: choose how your circumstances will affect you. The ocean can only be calm after the storm's end, but you have the ability to be calm amid the storm simply by knowing there is an end. Isn't it nice to know that you possess more power than the ocean? 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Prescription of Prayer

I sat on the table in the doctor's office, cold, shaky, looking down at my wrist where I could see the faint scarring of the words "I Am" etched in my flesh. The permanent reminder of God's permanent presence. Where are you now though? I thought to myself, feeling defeated and hopeless. I was on my third straight day of pure anxiety-- it felt like something had set off a bomb inside me that made it impossible to function. I had already called in sick to work two days straight, embarrassingly telling my manager, "I think I might be having a nervous breakdown." I was exhausted from waking up at 3 am like clockwork every morning only to not be able to calm myself down enough to go back to sleep. I couldn't think straight. I couldn't turn my brain off. I couldn't eat. I couldn't even brush my teeth without dry heaving over a trash can for five minutes afterwards. And the whole time my poor heart had been running a non-stop race. I kept telling myself it had to stop eventually, but it didn't. I didn't know what else to do, so I went to urgent care, knowing that they probably couldn't do anything, but half hoping they would look at me and immediately send me to the hospital, admit me, give me a feeding tube and pump me full of sedatives just so my body could fix itself without me getting in the way with my stupid anxiety that sabotages everything. I kept thinking of that Hemingway quote, "I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?" Yeah, I did know.

The doctor, an attractive male in his 30s, walked into the room. Great I thought sarcastically, this isn't embarrassing at all. But I was desperate, and all I wanted was for someone to help me. So when he asked me what was going on,  my eyes watered as I told him everything. I told him I couldn't calm myself down, that I was scared my body was becoming malnourished and probably shutting down from not being able to eat, that my heart was probably going to stop from the constant surges of adrenaline. He sat there listening to me, handing me tissues and nodding sympathetically. He assured me that my heart wasn't going to stop, that I could live the rest of my life in a heightened state of anxiety and it wouldn't kill me. I asked if it was possible there was something wrong with my adrenal glands. He looked at me very seriously and said, "it is possible to have an adrenal disorder, but people who have it are usually walking around with very high blood pressure and bleeding from the eyes, so I think we can rule it out." It was the first time I'd laughed in days.

"Nothing's going on where you're scared for your physical safety? Nobody's trying to hurt you?" He asked.
"No."
"Okay, good. And you have a good support system in your life?"
"Yeah."
"Where do you get your support from?"
I thought for a second before answering. "My family, my friends... my faith."
"Yeah I noticed your earrings," he said, referring to my ichthys fish earrings, "are you a Christian?"
"I am."
"That's good. Faith is just as powerful as anything I've ever read in any book."
I sat there kind of stunned, is this really coming from a doctor?
"If you'd like, I'll pray for you," he went on."Please, I would really appreciate that," I said, genuinely touched that he would offer to remember me in his prayers. But before I even realized what was going on, he clasped his hands, closed his eyes and bowed his head and started praying out loud. Right there in the doctor's office. A long, thoughtful, personalized prayer, asking God to help me find my strength in Him, to give me the assurance that everything happens for a reason and to trust He will give me His peace, which transcends all understanding. I listened to him with tears going down my face, my head bowed, but my eyes going back to the tattoo on my wrist that 15 minutes earlier made me question where God was in all of this, and how now he was using a medical doctor praying for me to answer me, I'm right here. 

When the doctor was done, I didn't know how to properly thank him or express how much it meant to me that he would do that, but I think he understood. I felt this kind of relief and calmness on the drive home, this hopeful feeling that I hadn't quite been able to grasp on my own in the days prior. I knew that I was not, nor would I probably ever be, miraculously set free from my anxiety completely. I am still very much in my broken flesh, and the weeks following the doctor's visit proved that. My anxiety still came and went, yet not as strong or with the same feelings of hopelessness. And never again with the question of God's presence.

I still sometimes wonder about the why, though. Even though He might be here, why does he allow it to happen? And the only real explanation that I can come up with that makes sense to me is to reiterate Proverb 3:5, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" and Isaiah 55:9, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." If a doctor were to take an x-ray of me, and then report that something inside myself was broken or not working properly, and the only possible way to fix it was surgery, I would trust that the doctor knew what he was talking about. I wouldn't try to convince him that taking some aspirin would be just as effective nor would I look at the surgeon in the middle of the procedure and say, "Are you sure you know what you're doing? I don't think it should hurt this much." Because I would trust that the doctor knew what he was doing, and that his knowledge and qualifications far exceeded mine. It isn't that the doctor isn't aware that surgery is painful, and the recovery unpleasant, but he knows that it is necessary in order to get things working right. He knows that the end result far outweighs the temporary pain you feel in the process. And if I can trust that a doctor, despite inflicting pain and discomfort, has my best interest in mind, how could I not trust that God is doing the same? Of course it hurts, he probably wants to say to me, you're undergoing an operation! But God isn't heartless, He offers the pain killers of trust and prayer, because He knows it hurts, but He also knows that the pain is inevitable. Because the only way to get inside of you is to cut you open.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On Sharing Too Much

"Are you sure you want to be telling me all this? 
All What?...What am I giving you? I am giving you nothing. I am giving you things that God knows, everyone knows. ...It seems like you know something, but you still know nothing. I tell you and it evaporates. I don't care--How could I care? I tell you how many people I have slept with (thirty-two), or how my parents left this world, and what have I really given you? Nothing. I can tell you the names of my friends, their phone numbers but what do you have? You have nothing. They all granted permission. Why is that? Because you have nothing, you have some phone numbers. It seems precious for one, two seconds. You have what I can afford to give. you are a panhandler, begging for anything, and I am the man walking briskly by, tossing a quarter or so into your paper cup. I can afford to give you this. This does not break me. I give you virtually everything I have. I give you all of the best things I have, and while these things are things that I like, memories that I treasure, good or bad, like the pictures of my family on my walls I can show them to you without diminishing them. I can afford to give you everything. ...We will die and will have protected...what? Protected from all the world that, what, we do this or that, that our arms have made these movements and our mouths these sounds? Please. ...These things, details, stories, whatever, are like the skin shed by snakes, who leave theirs for anyone to see. What does he care where it is, who sees it, this snake, and his skin? He leaves it where he molts. Hours, days or months later, we come across a snake's long-shed skin and we know something of the snake, we know that it's of this approximate girth and that approximate length, but we know very little else. Do we know where the snake is now? What the snake is thinking now? No. By now the snake could be wearing fur; the snake could be selling pencils in Hanoi. The skin is no longer his, he wore it because it grew from him, but then it dried and slipped off and he and everyone could look at it."
--Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Sometimes I feel like maybe I share too much. On my blog, on social media, in my writing. That I get too personal, divulge too much information. But then I think of this Eggers quote and I'm reminded, what am I really giving away? The other night, I was thinking about how long I've had this need to write and I realized that I've had some sort of online journal since I was 13. I've been writing about my life, my experiences, thoughts, feelings, opinions for the last 14 years. But what have I really given away? A look into different parts of my life that at best someone can relate and identify with, and at worst, won't even be remembered?
I think a lot of people are hesitant to reveal anything at all, which I understand, but like Eggers says, you will die and have protected what?  Tell your stories. They're all in the past anyway, they aren't who you are now. They're just a relic of what you used to be, of where you were at one point, even if they happened yesterday or an hour ago. And more often than not, there will be someone out there who will read it and think I thought I was the only one.

Dress Normal



I must have watched this Gap commercial at least 15 times already. I'm usually not a sucker for advertisements, but there's something about this one. The song, the car, that guy, that girl, the slogan... everything about it. And to top it off, it was directed by David Fincher. And the message: let your actions speak louder than your clothes. What a concept, eh?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mondays




It seems that everyone's favorite day of the week is Friday. But I love Mondays. I haven't always liked them, but in this season of my life, I do. I didn't like them when I was in school because it meant the weekend was over. Now that I work retail, it means that the weekend is over, and everyone else has to go back to work and school. Everything goes back to normal. Everything is a little less crowded, a little more quiet. After the morning rush, the streets are a little more bare. It goes back to the regular TV schedule. We go back to the routine of life. Or at least, everyone else goes back to the routine of life, and I don't have to worry about beating the crowds during my middle-of-the-week day off. It's a shame Monday gets such a bad rap. There's so much beauty in beginnings, in starting again, in making the world a little more quiet for a few hours for the rest of us.


photo via seventeendoors

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Leading Ladies of My Life


I remember one morning when I was around nine, sitting on the lid of a hamper in my mom's bathroom watching her get ready for work. "Do you ever, sometimes watch a movie," I asked her, "and want to be like the person in the movie?" She thought about it. "No, not really," she answered. That's the moment I knew I was weird and was probably the only one that did this. Maybe not, but at nine, what do you know?

If I had to think who were the most influential people in my childhood, they would all be fictional people. And the top three would be Roberta from Now and Then, Cher Horowitz from Clueless and Rose DeWitt Bukater from Titanic. All three of these movies came out between '95 and '97 when I was 8 and 10, respectively, and at my most impressionable. Not surprisingly, I was an extremely shy child. But I found it easier to come out of my shell when I was able to pretend I was someone else. Being myself was too awkward and vulnerable, I would rather be someone that already came with a well-shaped personality. I was in 3rd grade when I first saw Clueless. Cher was like that older sister who was really popular and wore cute clothes and that's what I wanted to be. I remember buying feather-topped pencils from Claire's and searching every Mervyn's for knee-high socks (to no avail, but probably for the best) and always wearing a tiny backpack. I never tried setting any of my teachers up, but pretending to have Cher's confidence and sense of style helped me get through that year.

I was in 4th grade when I first rented Now and Then from the local grocery store. It was everything. I made my mom rent it for me every single time we went to the store. It was about a group of girls who were close to my age, did exciting, adventurous things, and lived in 1970. Not only was I obsessed with the 60s as a child (The Beach Boys was my first cassette tape), I was also quite the tomboy, always playing with the neighborhood boys growing up. I gravitated to Roberta immediately. She was strong and tough and didn't take crap from anyone. I started wearing knee-length jean shorts and Keds without socks and carried a picture of my very-alive mother in my back pocket. I rode my bike everywhere and sass-mouthed boys. It was refreshing and empowering and I basked in the persona Roberta helped me create.

Then when I was 10, Titanic came out. I was obsessed. Rose isn't that different than Roberta. She's a strong, resilient woman who didn't take crap from guys. She just did it in pretty dresses. I wanted to be as elegant and self-assured as Rose was. So I pulled out my fanciest dress from my closet, it was floor-length with daisies on it and I wore it with my white patent leather one-inch Payless heels. I would just wear it around my house, imagining myself to be Rose in her luxurious cabin aboard the Titanic, but it gave my life an air of elegance and prestige that it didn't have otherwise.

I stopped trying to be other people when I was around 13. Which is probably around the time my life started to fall apart. Joking, of course (my life didn't start falling apart until I was 18), but it did become increasingly harder to cope with things as myself than it was to hide behind the persona of another person. I always liked who I was in my teens, but I have to acknowledge that the people I tried being like in my childhood probably had a part in shaping my personality later on. Just like you start to become like the people you hang around the most, these characters were who I spent a lot of my time with. And they helped me get from where I was to where I wanted to be.

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said be yourself, everyone else is already taken. Which is good advice because it's true. But it doesn't hurt to try to take a piece of something you admire about someone and emulate it in your own life as long as you don't lose yourself in the process. After all, aren't we all just beings made up of small pieces of everyone we've ever met? Til this day I still find myself looking at others that I admire and asking myself what they would do in particular situations, except now instead of it being Rose or Roberta, it's people like Irene Opdyke and Corrie Ten Boom. People who were not only real but strong, caring and humble. People I want to be like, to take a small piece of, not because of the clothes they wear but because of the characteristics they possess. Because we're never really done evolving or adding new pieces to ourselves, at least I'm not, nor do I want to be. And while I have no desire in being anyone other than myself, it's inevitable that the people you surround yourself with will rub off on you, good or bad, so it's vital to be around people that will help you become the person you want to be, and will lead by example. The most important thing I've learned from all of this, and can pass on to you, is to be sure to choose your friends and movies wisely, for that is what you will become.


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 universe) 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 moved 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.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Things From Around The Web



 Here are a few links to start off the week:


How to pass time on the train.

What your dog's really thinking.

For all of you who work in retail.

Zoo lets you have a tug-a-war with tigers.

Made me laugh.

What security cameras also catch (try not to tear up).

Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron was a topic of discussion among my co-workers and I this weekend. The story takes about 15 minutes to read, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

                                                       Have a wonderful week!


Photo via alkeemi
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