Day 259/365 SERENITY NOW

I had a really wonderful weekend. I’d even say it was perfect.

My girls were home with me for the first weekend in what seemed like forever. Saturday we lounged around all day as the snow fell. I hate to brag, but both days I made breakfast that didn’t pop up out of the toaster.  Seriously.

Saturday night we had friends over for dinner – the kind of friends who are easy and relaxed company.

We puttered around again on Sunday morning, and went to a matinée in the afternoon. We simply enjoyed each other’s company. It was just fun and cozy, simple and relaxed.

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Which is why my anxiety today was a real kick in the pants. There it was, nonetheless, tapping me on the shoulder this morning just as soon as I left the bus stop.

I knew I had a hard conversation ahead of me today, and I knew the other person was going to feel hurt. There’s nothing I hate more…except maybe pretending the conversation isn’t necessary when it is. I worried about it all day. I felt distracted and anxious, my chest ached and my hands shook.

I noticed something really interesting, though. In the past, when anxiety has gripped me, I’ve felt as though I was trapped in my body, experiencing a horrible, inescapable sensation. I have wanted to unzip my own skin and step out of it.

Today, after a while, I was able to recognize the feeling, and in a way….I was able to pull away from it. It was as though I had a bird’s-eye view of myself. I could see myself struggling with it, but it didn’t feel quite as awful, because I knew I just needed to ride it out. Watching from my perch above myself, I could see my anxiety was not me, but rather something passing through me.

As soon as we got home and settled in, I knew enough to say to the girls that I’d had a stressful day and needed to wind down a bit. I started a hot bath and poured myself some herbal tea (if herbal tea were red and made from grapes). I dumped about a half a bottle of lavender oil into the tub. I lit some candles and turned out the lights.

As a lay there in the candlelight, steeping in a warm lavender bath and listening to some clinky, clanky meditation music, wine in hand….I started to let go of the day. Ahhhh…and then the door opened, and in sauntered one of the girls. I opened one eye and looked at her. Perhaps I glowered. “I just need a few minutes of quiet, and then I’m all yours,” I reminded her.

“Right, no problem! I just need to use the bathroom!”

Um…we have three bathrooms, but okay. I wasn’t in the mood to argue. I closed my eyes again and tried to let my mind float, when a huge farting noise ripped through the room.

I turned my head and said in my sternest voice, “I SAID I WANTED QUIET.” She paused for a beat to make sure I was teasing her, and then we both erupted in laughter.

A few minutes later she finished her business and went on her way.

I’m not kidding when I tell you, in came the next one.

Same situation.

Nothing says relaxation like someone pooping, four feet from your head. At least the gallon of lavender I used was coming in handy.

Finally, the door closed behind her.

I was alone at last…

Alone with the warm lavender bath, the wine, the candlelight and the clinky, clanky music….and my incomplete Christmas list, and the appointment I forgot to make, and the list of things I have to accomplish at work this week, and the worry I’d offended a friend, and the really kind text message I’d forgotten to respond to, and a critical replay of the hard conversation I’d had earlier…

In the words of Frank Costanza, “SERENITY NOW!”

I stuck with it, though. I kept bringing my focus back to the desire to relax and let it all go. Finally as the tub began to feel tepid, I felt my blood pressure drop. I felt my muscles relax. I could breathe easier.

I pulled myself from the tub just as it began to grow cold. Feeling restored, I was ready to help with homework, play Parcheesi, and begin making dinner…

Right after unclogging the toilet.

(Seriously.)

Day 223/365 Just Breathe

Over the past 223 days, I think I have missed four here on the blog. Four days that I didn’t write anything for you (or for me?). Two of those days have been in the past week.

My brain feels a bit like it is firing on overload. I have had so much going on that it feels like..well, it feels like complete chaos in my brain. I am often in a state of anxiety about remembering everything I have to do. I write everything down so I will remember, but it doesn’t quiet the constant chatter in my head.

What’s next, what’s next, what’s next…don’t forget, don’t forget…

At night I feel exhausted, and sometimes I feel like I just can’t organize my thoughts into something worthwhile to share with you. So I have given myself permission not to try…or at least, to try again tomorrow. 

I was talking to a friend yesterday who mentioned having gone on a medication for ADD.  I found myself hanging on her every word because when she was describing the calming effect the medications had on her, in sounded like heaven. This same friend has gently suggested to me in the past that I read a certain book…about ADD, and that hmm, ummm…perhaps I might fit the bill. 

I might.

I had always thought of ADD as an inability to sit still, or to focus…as hyperactivity. I never realized that there are people with ADD who do not display outward symptoms in this way at all. They can actually appear outwardly calm. People with ADD are even capable of hyper-focus if something holds their interest. All of the busyness is inside their heads. This can actually look like a calm dreaminess…like somone who is lost in thought (and they often are).

It can manifest as a lack of mental focus, and as distraction, irrtability, disorganization, anxiety, depression and exhaustion.

Do you know what can also manifest as a lack of mental focus, and as distraction, irritability, disorganization, anxiety, depression and exhaustion?

Grief. 

So…I don’t think now is the right time for me to seek an official diagnosis on the ADD front. For now I am going to just try to be gentle with myself.

It feels like I have a bowling ball sitting on my chest….and my mind is spinning…so I am pinned here listening to myself spin. 

Brutal.

I miss my dad. With each day that we step closer to the holidays and the anniversary of his death, I seem to ache more. I don’t want to face it…

That day. The days just before. The days just after. Can we skip them all?

And…the Elephant has me really scared. He seems to be taking up more and more of the room. He won’t be ignored.

I know I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To keep using strategies to calm myself – writing things down to ease my anxiety about forgetting, taking space for myself when I can (hot baths are amazing in this capacity), trying to get in as many hugs and laughs as I can squeeze into a day (without forcing myself to be social when I don’t feel like it…and I often don’t feel like it, to be honest).

It will all be okay.

I can do this.

Just breathe.

Day 164/365 Silencing the Static

Today I had a day in which I felt overwhelmed. I was cramming a whole lot into the work day because I am determined to take the next three days off to be with my kids. I have to work Friday, for sure, then the girls will go to their dad’s house for the long weekend, and then, that’s it…goodbye summer.

Running my to do list through my head, I realized that I finished, or managed, everything I could for today.

I really find it useful to stop and think…is there anything I can do about the things that are making me feel overwhelmed?

No?

Then there is no reason to be anxious.

Sometimes this simple practice literally feels like turning down the noise in my brain – Silencing the static. 

(Other times it doesn’t work for shit, but it’s always worth a try!)

Perspective helps tonight.

With the devastation happening in Texas, caused by a hurricane bearing my very name – Harvey – I am keenly aware of how little I have about which to truly complain, or about which to be anxious.

How much we take for granted.

Safe loved ones, a warm dinner, a dry bed, a roof over our heads…

Tonight, I’m choosing to count my blessings instead of my worries.

Day 116/365 It’s Not About Nutella

“So, you cut away the stems that are dying off,” I explained to my girls this morning in the garden. “That way, the plant can put it’s energy toward the beautiful, new growth. See these new buds growing? Now the plant can put its energy toward those and it won’t waste it’s energy on parts that aren’t so good anymore…Come here. You have some Nutella on your chin.  Hmm…maybe that’s what I’ll write about today.”

Nutella?!

“Ha! Ummm, no. Not Nutella. New growth…making way for it.”

So, here’s the thing I have learned the hard way in the six months since the unexpected loss of my dad….like it or not, we only have a certain amount of energy – physical energy, heart energy, and brain power – with which to process our lives. This is true under the best of circumstances. Add grief, anxiety and/or depression – and we have even less to give.  That makes perfect sense. When we feel good we have more energy, and when we don’t feel good…well, we have less.

Many of us struggle to manage that trio – Grief, Anxiety and Depression. They are a tight knit group of visitors, and they always overstay their welcome.  They are the uninvited and entirely messy guests who can wreck havoc on our lives.

While struggling to evict those three thankless bastards I have learned some valuable lessons.

I have learned to really sit with what feels good to me. I more easily recognize what works for me and what doesn’t. I have learned the power of NO and the power of YES.  I have begun to say more of both, actually. I’ve stopped doing things I don’t have to do, just because I feel like I should. I’ve ordered up more of what feels good. For me I’ve noticed that means doing less. Creating more space, more peacefulness, more quiet, more down time.

What I’ve noticed as I’ve begun to help these uninvited guests pack their bags (as my dad would say, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?”) is a heightened awareness of the moments in which I feel completely contented and happy. Truthfully, I’ve always been good at taking snapshots in my mind of beautiful moments…but now, I notice more of them, and I swear I feel them more deeply.

Even the really little things, like the feel of my daughter’s small hand in mine as we walk down the street together. I notice them more – the beautiful bits.


So, back to the plant…

The plant doesn’t recognize its dying parts  from its new and beautiful ones. It spreads its energy everywhere, equally. It can’t help itself. Just as those of us with that awful trio visiting cannot help but give our attention to them, pulling away valuable resources from noticing and developing the good stuff.

Eventually, we will be able to be more discerning about where we send our energy. This process may look different for everyone, and sometimes (like the plant) we might benefit from a little help.

In time, blessedly, we will be begin to send our energy where we truly want it to go…and we will notice the most beautiful blossoms.

Day 80/365 Worrier Princess

“I’m a Worrier Princess!” she proclaimed triumphantly.


“Do you mean, Warrior Princess?”

She laughed, “Oh yeah, warrior, not worrier!

It was good to clarify, because she does come from a long line of worriers.  My cousin, Lynette, and I will sometimes joke about the fact that if we can’t readily think of something to worry about – it worries us. 

“There must be something I’m forgetting to worry about! Oh God. Whatever it is, I bet it’s awful.”

When I get up there on my Queen Worrier throne, I try very hard to remember the best advice I ever heard about worrying:

Ask yourself one question – Is there something you can do about it whatever it is that is worrying you?

If the answer is yes, then do that thing that will help – do the project, fix the mistake, make the apology….whatever. If there’s something you can do about it – do it.

If the answer is no, then let it go. If there is literally nothing you can do about it, what’s the point of worrying?

Sometimes this exercise works really well.

Other times we are presented with such a constant stream of worries that worrying becomes our default setting.  This manifests itself in anxiousness (racing heart, racing head…); we become stuck in the heightened state of “fight or flight” and then, we become exhausted.

A young poet by the name of Sabrina Benaim said about her depression,

“Sometimes my depression is a firefly in the palm of a bear.

Sometimes it is the bear.”

That’s how I feel about my anxiety. So I get it. I know that sometimes it isn’t as simple as asking yourself whether or not there is something you can do about it.

In fact, sometimes that advice feels really patronizing and trite. (Sorry about that).

Sometimes what you need to do is go to bed. Let the head and the heart rest, and hope that when you wake up in the morning you will find a firefly beside you on your pillow, and not a big hairy bear hogging the bed.