anxiety, be a better human, judgment, kindness, lists, meditation, writing

Activities formerly known as eye-rolled at

Just can’t stay away from ending sentences/fragments with prepositions.. Sorry, not sorry!

Moving right on, I thought I would address Mental Health Awareness Month, aka May, our current month. I will be using comics from Sarah Scribbles’ new book Herding Cats in what is hopefully not problematic in terms of copyright, but instead inspirational to have you go buy the book or check it out from the library because all of her books are fantastic.

As with many people who experience depression/anxiety/other mental health issues, periods of my life are up and relatively worry-free, and periods are fraught with self-doubt, negative self talk.. aka times when I annoy myself, yet also antithetically isolate so I’m not seeing anyone other than myself, and many aspects of my life look lame, uninteresting, boring and shitty.

Right now, thoughts-wise, I’m pretty good! Springtime is warm and sunny and helpful to my mood. I am loving not drinking coffee (as much as I can despite missing the taste, but Larry David points out, the ritual of drinking tea from a mug in the morning is the same as drinking coffee from a mug in the morning) because I am far less jumpy/tense. There has been a sharp uptick in my weekly exercise.. in that I have started routinely exercising each week, sometimes even more than once. Lately I have been reading many good books, and have tons of summer family events and friends’ weddings/general fun to look forward to.

 

Seriously, go purchase/borrow this book. It looks like this:

ss2

As you can see from my pirated photos of her awesome work, she too suffers from periods of anxiety and depression, often (not pictured) due to current events and from social situations. I’m coming to her same conclusion, that making ‘stuff,’ in her case art and in my case writing, is a solid way to avoid or process the crap going on around me, or at least to clear my head/escape my thoughts for a little while.

Another way to do that is meditation. I have gotten a little lazy on that front, and often only use a meditation app to fall asleep rather than doing my standalone exercises. I also have found the perfect teacher/meditation class. It has been great. Yesterday, though, I learned that she will be moving the class from Saturday afternoon (yay weekend availability!) to Thursday evenings (nooo, my job is at night!). Under typical mental health circumstances, I would never have gone back. However, this is the longest yoga studio relationship I have ever had, and I’m flipping COMMITTED at this point. I even stopped lying to them to get that sweet, sweet student discount. Instead, throughout the summer at least, I intend to ask my boss if I can work different hours so that I can make it there in time, because it is that important in centering and rejuvenating me. Where once I disdained the soft, gentle yoga-teacher speak, now I see it as worthy of aspiration.

In addition to yogic calm, I once eye-rolled and avoided the following items HARD and have now come to love, advocate, or at bare minimum tolerate them:

  • Clogs (love, for their comfort and versatility, despite my BFF thinking they say “I’ve given up!”)
  • Tucked-in shirts (tolerate)
  • Meditation (love AND advocate)
  • Alternative medicine of any kind 
  • Visible panty lines (Then, the SHAME! The SHAME! Now, tolerate)
  • Emoting of any kind –other than laughter– in public (the SHAME! The SHAME!!!)
  • Nonfiction books: during my young and naive school years, I didn’t realize that after you’re done with school, there are no homework assignments. My version of self-directed learning involves a lot of nonfiction.
  • Therapy: when my parents divorced, my mom insisted that I see a shrink. She undoubtedly read somewhere in her hippie newsletters that children going through these traumatic life events needed to talk. I resented the fact that she was throwing money ($125 per HOUR) down the drain, and who the hell was this “doctor” lady? I didn’t need to talk, and so I didn’t. I sat in her office and stared at everything on the walls and thought occupying thoughts until I was too bored to maintain my moody silent protest.

That last youthful judgment brings me to my next point. Even though I’m feeling good right now, I am making an appointment with a therapist. For real this time (though I have said I should probably go for proooobably four years). Because for the first time, I actually want to do the work necessary to keep myself operating NOT on a keep-to-myself-because-I-don’t-want-to-expose-my-lameness-to-my-friends-all-sad-sack-like kind of wavelength. It’s poopy digging into the dark recesses of past heartbreaks and traumas, but at least for me it’s looking pretty necessary to prevent future lows. “The work” here is an emotional extension of the zen principle of non-resistance. Feeling the feels & releasing them to drain their power. Lightening the load by talking–to friends who have been there, getting to know the kindness of new friends, or to the olde standbys of supportive family, or to a therapist–generally makes it better.

Emote-avoidance, begone! Let us celebrate mental health progress with clogs and St. John’s Wort!

anxiety, audiobooks, books, meditation, reading

Audiobooks: A Cure for (my) Road Rage

I’m a Lake Woebegone driver: better than average, and I know it for absolutely certain. Some of you who may have doubts as to how much anger this librarian actually holds in reserve, sitting in my passenger seat as I drive from red light to red light past the strip malls of  Route 1 would give you all the proof you needed that I have given myself an apt name. The fury I dredge up on the road heats itself from only two sources: lack of safety and lack of consideration. Of course, when driving a 2,000 pound vehicle in New Jersey, there are plenty of combinations of them both.

During grad school in particular, my road rage escalated. I was taking a full-time course load, working two on-campus jobs, and driving down Route 1 to a third. Among New Jersey drivers… The anger that I felt (and still feel) when the driver in the car ahead of me goes under the speed limit is the emotional equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, because I am no-passing trapped and likely going to be late. Like, come on man/lady/fellow human, why do you need to make me hate you? I don’t know you! I would like to like you, but I DO know that I need to get where I’m going and I didn’t allot sufficient additional time in my day to do so!

Note: this impatience is doubled during what some states call “extreme weather events,” or what THIS Midwesterner calls “rain” and “snow.” I understand that when it is raining, you do not want to tailgate someone, but it does not mean to drive 10mph slower. Barring a typhoon or broken wiper blades, these conditions occur OFTEN and SHOULD BE familiar to you.

Is this starting to feel like I am a compassionless know-it-all who lacks empathy for my fellow earthlings? Are you saying to yourself, “maybe the person is a new driver! Or maybe they are elderly!” Yes? I actually don’t know that those two exceptions make any difference to my opinion, because I generally think that if you cannot handle driving under safe and considerate conditions, you shouldn’t be on the road.

Well, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that this level judgment and anger, not to mention the muscle clenching, increased blood pressure and faster heart rate that occur simultaneously, just aren’t good for me.

Enter: audiobooks.

I cannot emphasize enough the magical soothing effects of listening to a story or learning about an interesting topic, often read by the person who actually wrote the book. Focusing on the book’s content occupies the portion of my brain responsible for being cranky and annoyed. Listening to books as I drive also makes me feel uber-productive, because I’m making progress in consuming ALL THE BOOKS while doing something repetitive and boring I had to do. #winning #nerdalert

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and mentioned many favorites in My Best Books of 2017 but let me take this moment to shine a little light on another one I read before last year.

DH

10% Happier by Dan Harris made me think about meditation for the first time without rolling my eyes. I knew a thing or two about pushing my own limits, and about racing thoughts and often uncontrollable anxiety and anger. Listening to Dan’s newscaster voice was great, and his dedication to sticking with meditation impressed me. It impressed me because at no point during my time with his story did I attempt to meditate at all. I just thought, “huh. Meditation makes him 10% happier; that would be cool” and after I downloaded one app (Stop. Breathe. Think.) that had a meditation to help me fall asleep, I carried on my merry (or fuming) path of least resistance.

Enter 2017, a year I have most frequently seen referred to as a “dumpster fire.” Personal stuff and the news made me unhappy, and when I reached my 30th birthday, I knew I had to change something. There are plenty successful, well-adjusted people out there, some in my circle, who are not overcome by the news. They consume the same information as I do, feel just as strongly about it, but do not immediately spray obscenities into their surroundings, nor spike their blood pressure. I needed to be more measured.

I read another book: The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe.

AP

This time…. I also didn’t do any of the suggested “practice” meditations as I read. But, I did put language to what I wanted: I want to control my emotions so that they don’t rule me.

It took pushing myself to attend a Kundalini yoga/meditation workshop at a local studio before I actually did meditate. And dang, people. It is not as hard as I thought. I don’t have to clear my mind or check in with every part of my body like I had always thought (and read). I just sit there and breathe (okay, okay, it is slightly more complicated than that). But it IS all in my head, all the roadblocks and the solutions. And the few minutes I set aside give me something to be proud of every day: I took the time to check in, to refocus, to decompress and lower my blood pressure. I took steps toward being one of those calm, cool people who don’t fly off the handle at the sound of 45’s voice.

I won’t start preaching, but I do think that we the (stressed) people need to take care of ourselves, and that meditation can help. It’s January and I’m still on the New Year/New Me train, but from here on out, I don’t want to rant, nor do I want to portray myself as a Pollyanna full of sunshine and rainbows. I just want to be 10% happier and re-gain my “edge.” Nerd/active citizen power!

And, if audiobooks and/or meditation and/or reading books about it still sound too hard, there are always tweets from the Dalai Lama.

Breathe easy, y’all. And leave 10 minutes earlier 🙂