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 🙂 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.

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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 – my 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.

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!

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.

anxiety, career, librarians

Thank you, next

There has been a lot of NO in my life lately. In the past two days, I received two “thank you, nexts” about jobs I had interviewed for. And in the last two weeks, I backed out on two interviews I had set up for myself. One of the rejections was at a place where I was hoping I wouldn’t hear from them at all, because the interview was so uncomfortable (and short! 30 minutes!). The other, I liked and respected the people in the room, and I did my usual uncomfortably chatty babbling in between answering their questions. Overall, I thought we had all gotten along well and that despite botching some questions, I had something of a shot.

Alas, no. But the rejection doesn’t hurt this time. I used to get wildly upset, but now I know that as long as I show up as my authentic self to the interview, if it’s the right place, they will respond. And if it’s not the right place, I don’t want it anyway. This job I held out a little hope for, when I think about it, caused me concern about how small the branch was. The jobs I turned down were for a children’s position that wanted me to prepare a storytime and craft for the interview (storytime, ok, but a craft??? I draw the line. My idea for a craft is literally drawing a line) and a job that asked me to provide links to websites I have designed or maintained (spoiler alert: I don’t have any), and whose interview I was told would last TWO HOURS….. Though I deem these reasonable excuses not to attend interviews, I cringed about the what ifs: what if it turns out I am a secret whiz at maintaining websites? What if I really do need more crafts in my life? What if these are the last people to ever ask me to interview for librarian jobs?!?! A large part of me feels like I am the princess and the pea, but with jobs. Not too big, not too small, not too slow, not too busy, not too many hoops to jump through… etc.

I will be honest when I say: I did not know librarianship is a competitive field before I signed up for classes. This is fairly indicative of who I am as a person: I fling myself into situations, cross my fingers and hope for the best, on average slightly underprepared but hoping to make up for it in charm. And, if I have not confessed this here already, reader: I lack perseverance. Grit. That buzzword that you hear more and more these days in regards to character and growth mindset. Who knows whether I would have still chosen to go through with the program if I knew how hard it would be to find a good professional fit. (I probably would have, because I am stubborn and don’t change my mind for almost anything–which is a huge problem for someone prone to anxiety and overthinking! Mindfulness is literally reprogramming the habits of the mind…)

The lack of grit also means I am not blessed with the patience to wait for an organization’s culture to improve. I cannot simply endure for the sake of having a paying job. It gets too uncomfortable (read: my anxiety surges to drastic levels) and work is 8 freaking hours of my awake life every day. I bolt the instant I find an alternative. Maybe the alternative will be better. Surely, it has to be! The known workplace problems are bulkier and more inhibitive than the unknown workplace problems and I will take my chances with the next one. Thank you, next.

When it’s all said and done, I am so happy that I endured grad school. (The question of how much this endurance increased my student loans… not so happy.) It is what brought some of my favorite people into my orbit. But I always felt a draw to the work I was doing during grad school, in a university department. It was work I felt confident in, and helpful (which is my favorite feeling).

Do I dare to not use the degree that saddled me with all those loans? Dare I turn down interviews for library jobs? Dare I reserve the right to not waste two hours of my life in an interview for a job that I already don’t think I want?

Yes, I think so. Never before have I been comfortable turning down an opportunity. They think I’m an interesting candidate, therefore I must pursue this. Then there’s the subsequent anxiety on anxiety on anxiety about how I don’t really want it, and I wring my hands and wait until the last minute to cancel, or just suck it up and go, and give a lackluster interview, and don’t get hired. This time around, I’m being more selective, and thinking about what I actually want my work life to look like, and if the jobs that I applied to in a blind, desperate fury don’t match, then… thank you, next.

I’ve landed temporarily in another university setting, and because it’s temporary, it feels like less pressure. There is a built-in end date, after which there will be the next thing. Though not as financially secure, this work is giving me the room to feel out my options and the freedom not to jump at jobs that are tempting, but not juuust right. I’m sitting tight, and working on being more intentional about where to go from here. And giving myself permission not to stick with the stuff that seems not to be working. Maybe a princess, maybe a quitter. For now, I’m okay with both, if they’re in the name of finding the right fit. Finding something worth saying yes to.

anxiety, career, community, coworkers, depression, kindness, meditation, writing

Goodbye, library

Subtitle: holy radio silence, Batman!

It has been three months of stress and movement and decision-making, which is my least favorite kind of making. My blog has been silent this whole time because I haven’t wanted to write. Or, I didn’t want to write without knowing the conclusion, but the spark for this post existed a month ago; consider the rest a “here goes!” rather than a definitive resolution/conclusion/tying up of loose ends. There are still so many loose ends. Anyway…

—-

I have heard of family traditions where when they drive away from their house upon moving out, they ceremonially say, “goodbye, house!”

This was not my family’s tradition. We were too busy covering or not covering our emotions, as I don’t think we ever moved out of a house with only positive, looking-forward excitement. There were always reasons to move, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like change.

I still don’t. But as I provided the last SEVEN YEARS’ worth of addresses for a background check for a new position, I couldn’t even remember one of the eight addresses/apartment number from that time period. For funsies, I took an average of how long I lived in each place (min= 3 months, max= 2 years) for a less-than-ideal 10.25 months.

All this to say: of course, I’m moving again. And this time, I’m moving away from the most consistent “home” and family I have had in my adult life. I have to say “goodbye, library.” More reliable and consistent than any living quarters has been my part-time public library. Though not always perfect (what workplace is?), I have found community and learned so much from this place. I love it there, and no matter how bad a series of days I was having, coming to work there or just stopping in and seeing my colleagues was a source of light and pride. Not only do I love knowing and working with coworkers and customers, I, no joke, am such a nerd that my first thought at the start of the ‘should-I-leave?’ thought process was, “I can’t possibly move; I have so many books on my for-later shelf!” But as we all know, libraries are much more than books. Especially my library.

—-

And, as the case goes when I force myself into plans I’m not ready for, I recognized what I had done super quickly. The move was something I thought I “should” do, not what I wanted to do at that exact moment in time. It had been The Plan, and who am I to amend The Plan? And not surprisingly, the job did not feel like a place I would want to call home. The living situation, absolutely. I am grateful to have such wonderful people who consistently open their homes to me and make me feel welcome and cozy. I love my family, and don’t like disappointing them.

But I don’t love movement for movement’s sake. I needed to move away from my toxic job. I needed to shake myself out of the funk that the job allowed/harbored/caused (depending on how much responsibility I want to claim). But what I’ve learned through meditating is that often when I want to run, it is a means of avoidance. Resistance. And resistance is futile. It is futile to resist negativity, because ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ Unless I address and correct the problems that made me unhappy in the first place, I will carry that negativity and unhappiness wherever I move. As a wise person told me, sometimes I need to stay still and work through “it” rather than trying to leave “it” behind.

So, I did end up saying goodbye to one library. I probably should (should-ing all over myself) have made that move much sooner, in order to support healthy boundaries and surround myself with people who inspire me and help me grow instead of the opposite. But I have spent almost every day this week at my happy place library, or in the company of the wonderful people who work there. They have invited me to book and writing events, and urged me to keep writing. They, as well as my tribe at home, have encouraged me about the job search and stated that above all, they want me to be happy and do what’s best for me. And that community, support and love from both places is more than I can ask for, especially when I lose trust in my decision-making and ability to know what is best for me.

My priority is to rebuild my career confidence (and confidence in general?), and to find a place where I will like what I do on a daily basis. This also means doing more things I like and that are good for me like meditating, writing, exercising, engaging with new people and experiences… all those things that bolster my strength to face and work through anxiety. Somewhere in the stress of decision-making and planning a move, many of those intentions fell by the wayside. Having anxiety requires constant vigilance! Being mindful means making a habit of noticing what my emotions are doing, and reconnecting to my body and the world outside myself. Like in one of my favorite Curious George quotations, for me, it is so easy to forget.

Unlike Curious George, this story doesn’t have a pleasing ending yet. But I do promise to be more present for all the people close to my heart, whether geographically or figuratively.

anxiety, be a better human, books, coworkers, librarians, meditation, talking

Balance.. and quitting

I just finished a book I checked out in June. (I know, I know, I rag on others for their excessive renewals. But I wasn’t done! And I have the hookup for renewals!)

I remember fondly the day I checked this book out. It was a weekday afternoon, and I had just gotten sushi for lunch with my friend and coworker. She returned to work, and I told another coworker I was there to pick up the book waiting for me on the hold shelf. Because we are book people, she was interested: what book was it!? Her unasked questions, I know well: was it new? Was it a novel or nonfiction? Should she know about it?

The gleam in her eye turned to laughter when I showed her: a random, nondescript, nonexciting book published in 1992 about Kundalini yoga practice. I was the only one excited about this book. And I wasn’t even that excited. After all, it took me a while to start, and a whiiiile to complete.

This is partly an effect of reading multiple books at a time: sometimes it takes me ages to finish a physical book. Audiobooks zip by. But turning the actual pages takes time (especially since I check out too many at once). Staring at my giant pile of library books, topped by books people have loaned me, it becomes harder to get through books that don’t hook me right away.. or lag in the middle.. or ones that I set aside in order to read something else.. It’s summer, so I’m giving myself a break on how much time it takes to complete my ever-replenishing piles! I’m out doing summery activities and not reading as much! I gave myself permission a couple weeks to not post a blog (mini-quitting).

And when I am reading, I want to enjoy it. As good as Just Mercy is, it is also about people wrongfully convicted and their prison stories. As far as I’m concerned, we are on a break. I’ll return to it eventually, but it wasn’t what I needed right now. As interested as I was in Infectious Madness, there is only so much research I can plod through before I say I GET IT I GET OK OK OK. It is interesting–in some cases, various psychiatric disorders can be brought about by bacteria, but there were just. so. many. pages. I gave myself permission to quit after dutifully reading half of it.

But the 1992 Kundalini book, I would not allow myself to give up. I needed to read it. No matter how farfetched and ridiculous it sounded. Even if it meant I stopped and started and stopped and started. This form of yoga/meditation, based entirely on chakras (energies) and the vibrational effects of various sounds, is woo-woo and far out and yet, all I know is that I leave classes in a better, more balanced mood. (That is why I like it so much.) Actual words I spoke to other drivers after class today: “you’re so silly!” and “hello, traffic! I am prepared for you!” It’s weird. Weirdly positive. Especially compared to the expletives that usually make up my communication with fellow roadmates.

Since I can’t always get to class, I read this book and can do more of the breathing exercises and movements at home (once I get over how weird it feels to do them by myself; somehow it is more natural in a group). Kundalini (movement/meditation), combined with exercise, nature and connection to others are what keep me from falling back into the everyday rut of anxiety and negativity. Even so, I can still slip into those habits within hours of working out, or another positive experience of some kind. I need to build and use my anti-anxiety toolkit, using whichever methods give me success, as weird as they may be. There is no quitting in anxiety–on either end.