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.

anxiety, be a better human, depression, kindness, meditation, strangers, talking

Stress/Anxiety/Depression & Relaxation/Meditation/Vacation

I really needed a vacation.

Everyone in the US probably does, because we generally work too much and relax too little. For months, arguably longer, I have been stuck in a negative feedback loop about work and where I live and generally doing life “wrong,” or at least not in the way I want to. Turning 30 helped this third-life crisis, but anxiety has a brutal way of sinking its hooks in deep.

Vacation, it was! For a friend’s wedding. And this time, I was doing this one differently, even before I left. Responsible for the planning, my friend/co-traveler/co-bridesmaid told me she was too busy to weigh in on everything. She trusted me. I can just send her links and tell her what to pay. It was great! I like trust! And planning! Whereas in the past, I may have been paralyzed with the responsibility, this time around I welcomed the project and chose lodging, still giving my friend the right to veto.

Now, I like planning because I like having things set, determined. Unambiguous. My anxieties are particularly triggered by transportation and the timing/cost thereof. I proposed a suggested itinerary in February, and when I got the go-ahead for the general dates, I almost immediately booked my tickets, out of fear the price would surge. Because it always does when I wait. Normally, I would have just worked myself into a resentful panic about co-travelers 1/2 and them reserving their flights. I did not want to pressure others or myself, so instead, I did not. I just did what I needed to do and let her do the same. Co-traveler 2 didn’t schedule her flights until within a month of the wedding, but she was also busy and the plans were set up, and eventually it all worked out. It was fine!

This may make an underwhelming story, but it represents a TON of growth and improvement. Many vacations, I bring all my mental crap along with me and am unable to escape and enjoy myself. I can be cranky and wish I had just stayed home and saved the money. My goal for this trip, though, was to be truly present, enjoying the people and places around me. And then I made a plan to travel by myself on the first day, because the rest of co-travelers didn’t arrive until the next day and I had never traveled by myself ever, much less in a foreign land.

This would be good for me, I reasoned. I would see the beautiful sights I wanted to see, and I would be jolted out of my comfort zone (but not sooo far–I opted for a bus so that I would not have to book/catch multiple trains). I would arm myself with offline maps, and I would take responsibility for feeding and entertaining myself for a whole day! (Yes, technically, I do this at home, but that gets boring and tedious, and here I was Seizing The Day and such.) The jet lag would only serve to help me, I reasoned. Meeting a tour group at 7am would be fine, because I would fall asleep early!

Then I learned from my awesome Airbnb hostess that I had to catch a 6:09am bus. Even if arrival times are flexible, I tend to run late and stress myself about possibly being tardy. In this case, I also would have missed my whole day’s plan and flushed a bunch of money as well as my independent-lady-traveler-bragging-rights down the toilet.

I did the thing I was not supposed to do… I let myself fall asleep at 6:00pm–only to wake up at midnight, wide awake and counting down until my 5:00am alarm. Meditating didn’t work, because the anxiety of catching the bus was not letting me go. I was out of bed at sunrise after several hours of tossing and turning, and waiting at the (not-so-quickly-determined incorrect) bus stop at 5:45am. My fear had come true, and I walked past the correct bus stop, walking first to the one farther down and across the street. I did not learn this from the nun, the lone pedestrian who passed me and, kindly, attempted to speak to me though we didn’t share a language. Her, probably the person most inclined to help in the town, I was meek to ask for help. To admit I didn’t know what I was doing. Thankfully, anxiety-earliness meant I had budgeted enough time to miss one bus, and miss it, I did. Not for lack of trying–I sprinted, but to no avail. It was now 6:00. Fifteen minutes is a long time to stand in the cool morning air, hoping I wore the right thing for the day’s temperature, but shivering in the meantime. The sprinting woke me up, and I was not letting another bus leave without me. Not without a fight. I had no more time to spare. The next one didn’t display the same destination and it wasn’t slowing down, but I flagged it just in time. I had to actually speak to the driver, confirming my stop. He said yes! I was triumphant.

The morning was gorgeous, sunny and crisp. The past six hours of sleeplessness had been worth it, just to make this slow and uneventful bus at the nearest to sunrise I had seen in a long time. I looked out the windows at Rome as the locals lived it, away from the city center and the tourist lures. Another man got on, a local, and asked the driver for the same stop as I had–I cheered silently for his good fortune too. I wasn’t the only one who had to ask, plus, I now had a marker for whether I would miss my stop! I had made my plan, and now it was in motion. I would make it! It was destined to be a good experience, because I had already done the hardest part.

Before I started meditating, and actively working to be my best self, I would have been a monster that day. I would have whined and complained about how tired I was. I would maybe have succumbed to the anxieties and just emailed the tour company and asked for my money back because I didn’t want to even deal with leaving. In a nutshell, I would have let my thoughts derail me.

That day was not perfect, and I caught myself being unkind to my fellow tour-goers and to myself, but all in all, I didn’t complain because there was no one to complain to. I shushed myself and reminded myself that I had navigated the public transportation in a city where I barely spoke 10 phrases of the language. I thought with gratitude of my Airbnb hostess and how thorough and kind her directions were, despite my spastic communication. I grumbled a bit when lunch (a piece of fish and an espresso) cost $37, but, the views!! Nothing was bringing me down. This was my day.

So, I saw some marvelous sights: Pompeii in all its historical glory, and Positano, one of the most beautiful tourist traps of all time. It was a roller coaster of emotions, but I recommend traveling solo based on how independent it made me feel. And, I did it with the training wheels of a group tour where I just showed up! More adventurous folk plan trains and hike with backpacks and sleep outdoors! There are plenty of options. Either way, it was a great start to my vacation, made me open my eyes and explore.

The whole vacation did knock me out of my routine and funk…once I got over the post-vacation mini-depression of returning to real life. I wanted to leave being present on vacation, because coming back, I saw the same errors and flaws. Other than my motivation. I was the person who traipsed around Italy by herself: I didn’t let the self-pity last long. I went to a yoga class, and I reached out to an awesome friend who made room in her weekend for me. I wrote some postcards and thought about how lucky I am to have the friends and family I do. I returned to daily meditation. I feel recentered.

And my real life is far from all-bad. Yesterday, a customer came into the library looking for audiobooks by Pema Chodron. As I started to read the titles off to her, I commented to her that I hadn’t heard of her, but now wanted to listen to them! She raved about one, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. We had a lovely chat, she told me to read at least that book. When we introduced ourselves, I put out my hand to shake hers, but she said “I’m going to hug you, if that’s okay!” And she did. And it was. Vacation and meditation have mellowed me enough that strangers* hugging me is okay. In a nutshell, I’m feelin the love from the universe this week. The trick will be to manage my stress and keep the contentment/gratitude going as life sneaks back to normal.

Walking to bus station at sunrise, to Positano… Worth all the pennies.

 

*strangers who have two-way conversations with me about meditation and books first.

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 🙂