anxiety, books, community, kindness, reading

Yes? No!

Inexplicably, on campus, there is a stone with the word YES! carved into it. It was literally on my path towards a destination I’d never visited before. Though I appreciate the positivity, opportunity and encouragement inherent to this three-letter word, sometimes YES just is not the answer!

I recommended a book to my BFF, which she is now listening to (yay for people taking my recommendations ūüôā and the subject matter, though dealt with in a humorous way, is dark. She told me the chapter about suicidality was particularly hard to listen to, and that it made her feel sick. I almost didn’t remember that the chapter existed, because when I got to it, I too started to feel sick at how detailed it was. As I recognized its negative impact, I said “Nope, I don’t need this,” and shut it down. I skipped the rest of the chapter, and considered it a successful exhibit of boundaries.

13167087

This is How: Help for the Self in Overcoming Shyness, Grief, Molestation, Disease, Fatness, Lushery, Spinsterhood, Decrepitude & More by Augusten Burroughs

(This book is magnificent, and a truly helpful ‘self-help’ book. I recommend it wholeheartedly, but also suggest skipping the suicide chapter.)

Saying no is not always my instinct, nor does it come easily. One of my chosen ways of checking out of my problems is checking out online shopping. Because other problems seem bigger and more threatening and it’s not like another $30 (or $50, or $80) will send me directly to the poorhouse, why not embrace the “treat yo self” mentality and buy the beautiful items (read: clothes. It is always clothes) I want. They’re secondhand, so not as expensive as they could¬†be, and besides, I¬†need¬†an infusion of¬†color¬†or¬†newness¬†into my wardrobe. I’m working six days this week; surely the extra hours will cover the cost.

No.

Setting aside that my income is not what it was at the job I hated, (which for New Jersey wasn’t even much) it is high time I started saving rather than living paycheck to paycheck and eating meals out all the time. I have never been late with a payment, nor do I make extravagant purchases, but nevertheless I¬†need¬†to act like my financial now will impact my financial future. Every $30, $50, $80 adds up. Often, my instinct is to say “YES! Why not?” when it needs to be “no. Shut it down.”

Last weekend when I had a bad day, avoided all human contact and was strongly tempted to bail on a friend’s invitation, my instinct was to say no, and shut it down. In that case, the answer was definitely to fight my instinct, honor my RSVP, and go socialize. I did this, and had a great time seeing my friend and meeting new people. YES! for the win.

Choices give me a lot of anxiety, so you’d think it would be best to boil it down to just the big two, but there is no blanket answer. YES! is only constructive some of the time. Universal NO: anxiety edition gets extremely isolating. My working mantra veers away from the dichotomy, and towards an ambiguous question: “what do I¬†need?”¬†This is not always in line with what I want, but I have to at least be honest with myself.

And this is what mindfulness is all about: slowing down to recognize these choices and the mental conversation behind them. My instincts are often wrong, so to indulge them is counterproductive, even self-destructive, and they require checking-in and rewiring. Do I sometimes ignore the rules I set for myself (like “no shopping”)? Yes. Did I miss out on something by skipping that suicide chapter? Yes, it turns out I did–but my BFF filled me in. And I’ll fill you in if you ask!

Teamwork! Boundaries! Progress.

anxiety, joy, let it go, stuff

Just DO It

There is a tingle of spring in the air, and I am celebrating by pre-spring cleaning. This is not, however, the millionth post you’ve read about¬†Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.¬†Though I love that book and the whole concept, I just didn’t get into the show. Watching someone else throw away and organize all their crap just doesn’t do it for me. I want to DO the throwing away and organizing. (Seriously, if you are reading this and you are my friend/acquaintance within a 1-hour radius, I will come over and help you do this. No joke.)

Brief Marie Kondo diversion, now that I mentioned it: I get an immense pleasure out of culling possessions (my closet is frequently the target of this specific neurosis) and donating or throwing out items I truly do not need. It makes a visible difference, and I feel productive bringing bags of things to Goodwill, because someone else will use them more than I did. I also love consigning clothes, because, hooray money. Basically I’m all for keeping items in circulation or recycling. Some things, though, have outlived their usefulness or otherwise belong in the garbage, and I am all too happy to help them on their journey.

Ok, back to regularly scheduled programming. Over the past couple weeks, I have visited Home Depot* multiple times, despite not owning a home. Even so, I live in a home and spend a significant amount of time in it, and wanted to do some home improvement projects. (Indirect inspiration Рmy brother, who has made numerous pieces of furniture by hand! It is cool and brings him pride, which is also cool!) Nothing groundbreaking, or as impressive as constructing furniture, but I did take down the old and install new:

  • window blinds
  • bathroom etagere–the fancy way of saying “shelving over the toilet.”
  • floor vents in kitchen and bathroom

And folks, this was the least expensive of thrills. Spending approximately $50 led to total elation. I was overjoyed at replacing these household items and making the environs look just a smidgen brighter. Instead of looking at and lamenting the old, begging-for-replacement items, I exercised some control over my environment, and DID something. Not only did I DECIDE, a miracle in itself, but I had to physically¬†DO: INSTALL and ASSEMBLE and RECYCLE pieces as I fulfilled my decision. While I was at it, I minimized and removed labels from some bathroom products, to reduce the “visual noise” of packaging.** I am happy to report that the bathroom is now beautiful!

In addition to DOING the home improvement projects, I also had a lovely crafternoon with some friends during which we made stationery. Again, the joy was simple and complete. My friend has a paper cutter, and I brought some fancy paper (joy for the low, low cost of approximately $10). Bing, bang, boom, I have a ton of stationery that I made myself! It was social, both fun and productive, and needs to be repeated, often. Penpals are the best pals.

Doing the things is better than not doing the things! Occupying my hands in a task with visible outcomes is a sure bet to decrease my anxiety and spark some intense joy. All that said, please invite me to your home to organize it.***

 

*This post sponsored by Home Depot.. I wish.

**Okay, so this did turn into a Marie Kondo post.

***IF I know you already.

community, empathy, judgment, kindness, librarians, strangers, talking

Smelly Smells

Forewarning: do not read while eating.

Additional preface: My olfactory powers are strong, and I can’t stand many odors. My sensitive shnoz recoils at old-lady perfumes, and sets off a deathly serious search when I think something has spoiled in the refrigerator. In the kitchen, my nose leads me to seek and destroy, and get rid of the offensive material, which is significantly satisfying.

This smell-aversion is harder to deal with when the sources are people and not products. Now, I am not heartless. I do my duty as I would want someone to do for me: I tell people when there is lipstick on their teeth, or toilet paper on their shoe, or their dresses are tucked into their underpants. However, over the last week, I learned I have a threshold for how much shame I am willing to intercept.

When I see certain customers, I hold my breath.

This is not related to the anxiety holding-my-breath. No. This is due to their foul odors. One older man who hasn’t bathed/washed his clothes/worn deodorant in a while. One woman who wears the same filthy coat with an accumulation of stink from many days’ (years?) wear without deodorant. Another bedecked with a cloud of mothball smell so strong it’s damn near visible. Another with terrible gingivitis.

You get the idea! My question remains, perpetually, how do these people not know?? And once knowing, then adjust??¬†It is my understanding that these folks all have access to a laundry facility, which may be correct or incorrect. Who knows! It’s not my business, so I don’t insert myself.

However, last weekend, an older woman I had never seen before walked past me and I instantly smelled bodily secretions. Definitely urine, but based on what I saw on the back of her dress, probably more. I froze. And then called our security guy on the walkie talkie. And made a mental note of what seat she sat in so I could Lysol wipe it thoroughly later.

He, angel of a man that he is, came right up and was the bearer of dirty news, and directed her to the bathroom. As if pooing one’s pants unknowingly wasn’t sign enough, I determined officially that there was a mental handicap at play when after visiting the loo, she sat down in another chair. As soon as she left, I took a wipe and went to town, lamenting that peoples’ minds and bodies betray them, and also that I was not compassionate enough to address it with her myself.

As Phoebe Buffet sings, “smelly cat, smelly cat… it’s not your fault.” Maybe someday I will advance from talking to people about toilet paper to talking about accidents, but all I know in the meantime is that I can empathize with nurses and other healthcare workers (who absolutely do not get paid enough).

anxiety, depression, information, let it go

Mistakes and fixing them

In the past couple weeks, here are a sampling of the ways I have messed up:

  • drove to the shopping plaza that has Famous Footwear and Hand and Stone, did an errand, then drove to the shopping plaza that has DSW and Massage Envy only to realize I needed to go to Famous Footwear, and that it wasn’t in that plaza
  • hung up with a customer 5 seconds before I clicked one more time, finding out that¬†yes, contrary to what I¬†thought¬†and told her,¬†Uber does actually offer a driving service to non-smartphone users, aka a regular taxi company
  • did not blog once per week as intended
  • went to the gym and only ran on a treadmill for 1.5 miles, left without doing any weights
  • ducked into Target to waste time and use the restroom, left without buying anything and felt successful, only to remember what I needed from Target on the way home
  • set my alarm for 7:02PM instead of 7:02AM, was 30 min late to work
  • (not in last couple weeks, but) bought a new car when my employment is on a temporary basis AKA not necessarily secure
  • got into bed, got back up and brought a bag of tortilla chips back to bed & ate them immediately prior to sleep
  • ignored red flags and continued to invest emotional energy in men/boys who are uninterested in or unworthy for a relationship
  • replied “adios!” when someone told me to have a good weekend (instead of the obvious socially accepted response “thanks, you too!”)
  • wore the wrong sweater/necklace/dress/boots combination and looked frumpy
  • ate eggs from the dining hall and didn’t notice that the sign said they contained milk
  • asked my BFF about the micro-details of when to text/how to interpret texts/what to say back so many times that she literally purchased me a magic-8 ball

These are the ones that stick out. That last one isn’t a true mistake, since obvs my BFF likes talking to and helping me, buuut it got excessive and probably annoying. The bad part was the overanalyzing/obsessing, BUT, bonus, I got a gift out of it!

So, that’s my brain. One of the joys of anxiety/depression is ruminating. Loops of thought that play over and over and over, generally focused on bad things that have happened or mistakes I have made. I’m getting better at accepting that I can’t control when bad things happen to me, buuuut I’m still moderately stuck on the letting-go-of-things-I-messed-up. The above are a hodgepodge of work, internal, health, and interpersonal. The running themes are things I have done that [I believe] will make people think less of me and times I disappoint myself (I suppose that is just me thinking less of me).

But what if I removed the “think” from thinking less of me?

Because, though some of the items on this list have caused me to lose sleep or increased my stress, none of them are crises. I can deal with them. (That thought in and of itself shows progress!) And progress is good. Slow but good. After all, I’m not going to end my lifelong trend of acting like every next guy will be The Guy all at once. (My–optimistic, if extremely naive–motto is “it could happen!”)

It’s the thinking-the expectations my mind builds based on very limited data-that hurts. I’m working on finding a way to fix mistakes in the real world, so they stop bouncing around my head. Walking around in and reacting to reality rather than staying trapped in my thought-fog. And letting mistakes go if there’s nothing I can do about it! And doing better (probably due to being more mindful) next time.

To be continued!

be a better human, depression, empathy, family, giving, reading, social media, stuff, talking

Lightbulb Moment

I don’t know about you, but the holidays do weird things to me. Maybe it’s the expectations, the build-up to the plans and alllllll the social media posts about gifts received, proposals accepted, pregnancies announced. I’m not alone in that I compare my life to others’ online depictions of theirs. Maybe it’s the fact that when an acquaintances asks how the holidays were, the mutually assumed answer is somewhere along the lines of “great! Relaxing! Quiet! Perfect!” And it is¬†definitely¬†the pressure of the societal narrative for New Year’s Eve. Overall, the holidays can leave me feeling single af, jealous and lame.

This one didn’t.

This season, there was plenty of weird. Plans that fell through, my underemployed status yet going to work for a few hours when family was in town… And then the sympathy cards.

Three people in my circle lost parents this holiday season. I knew none of these people, but I know the loved ones they left behind. I know that no sympathy card ever feels just right. Each one got closer and closer to me and my daily life. And as an empath, I hurt for these people. I hope that I can help share their sadness and pain, and that they come to find peace.

But despite being a little sad, I did not stay in my room during all of my downtime. I did not get angry at myself each time I slept past my alarm (often). I did not beat myself up about not having plans. I did not fixate on my closet (at least, not more than usual) or try to find comfort in retail therapy (JK JK I did both those last two, but in the interest of getting rid of things I don’t wear). So, some of my old habits sneaked in, in the form of spending money I don’t have and some social anxiety stuff, but overall I was more present.

Nothing drastically different than what I usually do, but this time I was nicer to myself about it. Just let myself do what I was going to do, without wishing I were somewhere else doing something fancier with more people, more fun, more photos or more gifts. In the interest of doing/getting more of what I need, I called people. I wrote and mailed letters, gave myself permission to watch Netflix, snuggled with my cats, and read some books. I enjoyed spending time with my mom and brother during their visit (and picked fewer fights than usual). I made my New Year’s Eve plan on New Year’s Eve and though I only knew one person there, it turned out to be great because that one person is a great friend. When I’m feeling like I don’t want to/need not to be alone, I only need to reach out to my people and be honest with them (hard for people who want to be self-reliant/independent).

My holidays may have been at times great or quiet, but they certainly were not perfect. ¬†They were indicative of real life and the pleasures and pains that arise from it. While the rest of the world is feeling like “back to work, aka real life,” I:

  • a) don’t have to go back to work yet–don’t be jealous, as I would LOVE TO. Seriously, if you have something you will pay me to do, I am ALL EARS. Especially if it is cleaning out your closet, because that is one of my passions in life. I would also do this for free lol
  • b) never left real life.

The holidays were the affirmation and reboot I needed, proof that I am making baby steps towards being a better family member and less anxious, more fulfilled human (though still obviously have plenty of work to do).

As I mentioned, I frequently judge myself for not having plans/staying in. During these times, my room felt more like a cave. Yesterday, I happened to look up, and I saw that one of the bulbs in the light fixture had burned out. It undoubtedly has been out for months¬†but I was too depressed/didn’t pay enough attention to investigate/find a solution.

There may not be a better symbol for 2018. The room (and year) is already looking a little brighter.

Uncategorized

A DAY

My day started amazingly. Minimal traffic, and I timed it so that I had Barbara as my bus driver. This is an excellent thing. There are two who drive the route in the morning. One is friendly and one is not. Not that she is¬†unfriendly, after all, she has been up since 3am, but her colleague is¬†effusively, consistently,¬†and¬†aggressively¬†warm and sunny. She looks each person in the eye, smiles and greets them with a “good morning!” Often, she uses their names because she has been at the university a long time and has built relationships with some riders. Basically, everyone loves her; she glows with kindness and spreads it to passengers (or at least to me). The closest thing I can compare her to is this awesome teacher who greets each kindergartener pleasantly and positively at the beginning of the day. Just. So. Pleasant. Who doesn’t need a shot of this joy first thing in the morning?? I know I sure wasn’t that friendly of a teacher.

But Emily, you say, your day did not start with your commute… And you are correct. I awoke at 4:00am, for no reason, and could not fall back asleep. This happens from time to time, and it makes me livid, because sleep is the best part of being a human. Lack of adequate sleep has ruined many a mood/day for me. Thus, I was a bit cranky/half dead on the drive in, but seeing Barbara reset my brain to look for the positive.

The positive continued, as it was a gorgeous blue-skied day, and I had the joy of walking a candidate interviewing at our office from one building to another. He was pleasant, and being outdoors during the workday was grand.

When I got back into the office, the hem of my dress caught on the desk drawer handle and ripped. Because of course it did.

Where on some days, this would be enough to make me sad, a combo of blue-sky mirth and sleepiness led me to shrug it off immediately.

Things were going swimmingly, and I was about to walk to the post office (one of my favorite activities) over my lunch break, when out of nowhere (technically out of the ceiling) FELL A COCKROACH. Into my lap. Because of course it did. Every woman I encountered asked me, “did you scream/shriek?”

I flailed a bit, but knew that my whole side of the office was out to lunch and there was no Pam to my Jim to witness and acknowledge what had just happened. As soon as the thing crawled off of me I ran to share the news and a few coworkers returned to my desk with me because it was somewhere nestled inside. Long story short, we used flashlights, a tape measure and a hammer to unsuccessfully peer behind the drawers and kill it.

Maybe it was the fatigue that prevented me from screaming/shrieking. Maybe it was the meditation working its magic and making me not react immediately and embarrassingly. Maybe it was the fatigue that shielded me from the potential day-ruination that is a filthy insect falling into my lap. At the end of the figurative day, it is just a bug and I am not one to freak out over bugs. The falling aspect and the creepy-crawly feeling knowing that it could be on my person again at any moment, though, were enough to gross me out. I thought often of the Dumb and Dumber scene where Lloyd is freaking out about the one-thing-after-another laundry list of problems he and Harry are facing.

dumb

I used my walk to the post office to cool down/reset. At the other end of that walk, I was met with a wave of nauseating heat and peeled off my wintry layers to have any hope at not pouring sweat during my wait in the post-office-in-December-length¬†line. Also unsuccessful. I’m not one to complain about lines at the post office (because I really, honestly, truly love it and understand why so many people wanna be there), but the sweating. Eventually I got wise to the fact that I could skip the line because the other cashier’s register was cash only and I had cash! After a brief and pleasant interaction, I got to return to the outdoors and normalize my body temperature.

What I’m saying here is that there were many highs and lows. In my comatose state, I may not have possessed the energy to be angry, but I did try to drag myself back up to optimism.

At the end of the literal day, back at the cockroach-harboring desk, I heard a slight rustle. The dude was in my recycle bin, which made the catch and kill remarkably easy and mess-less. WE WON! We vanquished our foe.. and I no longer had to worry about (this) cockroach’s proximity to me. I refuse to think about any associates it may have living nearby.

It could have been a bad day, it could have been “one of those days,” but all in all, it was kind of a great day. Full and weird and unexpected and surprisingly fun (it’s not every day I get to swing a hammer at a cockroach). Not all the day’s events were positive, but I rolled with them and used them as opportunities to connect with the people I work with. There’s hope for me finding a fulfilling workplace yet. Next project: personal life… which is just a whole ceiling full of cucarachas.

anxiety, coworkers, judgment, meditation, strangers

Doing it myself

One of the perks of working on a university campus, or at least the campus where I work, is a movement to support the wellbeing of employees via meditation! I felt like I had landed in the right place when not one but two (!!) colleagues mentioned that they liked to meditate / the university regularly offers not one but two (!!!!) meditation sessions open to students and employees. I was IN. And then I learned there was a free lunch provided.

Dreams come true.

For the first session, I went with a colleague who showed me the ropes (pointed out where the bathroom and free food were, in that order). Then, the leader asked us to go around the room introducing ourselves and commenting on what abundance means to us. This was prior to Thanksgiving, and that theme was popping up many places, in association with overeating, in association with gratitude for whom and what surrounds us.

I was unaware I would have to speak in front of a group of strangers… There truly is no free lunch. There was a range of tones reflected in people’s comments, from sincere and thoughtful to “lol cookies!” I wondered if anyone else was as nervous putting a short string of words together to say (in this completely nonthreatening and welcoming space). Ultimately, I did what I often do: turned bright crimson and crossed my fingers that I made sense as all the words I had planned to say vanished into the ether as soon as it was my turn and I felt all the eyes in the room shift onto me. I then repeated that process after the meditation, as the leader again had us go around the room and share further comments. Everyone else had such simple, clear and respectable responses, and I felt inadequate based on whatever verbal hodgepodge I spat out, and I assumed that everyone in the room knew I was new and didn’t belong.

I slunk away and hoped they would forget how inarticulate I was by next time. People who meditate are likely not the judgiest of humans, but my anxiety nagged at me even in my happy place.

The actual guided meditation was great. As was the salad. A free meditation class and free food? I knew I had to go back.

The problem was, when the next one rolled around, my colleague couldn’t join. I prefer to enter unknown/uncomfortable situations with a bodyguard/companion. Preferably one with more experience doing what I’m headed into, but a fellow novice will do in a pinch. A warm body is a passable security blanket.

Would I go without her?

I waffled, but thought of that sweet, sweet salad. I hadn’t packed a lunch and didn’t want to spend money… I was going!

And it was great. I walked over on my own under a blue sky, the crisp winter air on my face. The second time around, I was an old hat. I knew the drill. I loaded up on salad and started chatting with the woman sitting next to me. The opening question was easier (what is your favorite part of December?) and again spanned the range of sincere to “lol cookies!” I could answer this one without bumbling.

The second time around, I focused on the meditation (calming) and not the vocal contributions or potential judgment thereof. And I walked back solo through the cold, bringing some zen back to my colleagues.