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.

audiobooks, be a better human, books, bookstores, kindness, librarians, reading, stuff, writing

Personal Libraries

My lovely, kickass friend has a bookshelf to drool over. It is, more aptly, a book wall. A wall of books, y’all. Technically, I think it is three separate taller-than-me-ceiling-height bookshelves, nestled tightly together. The shelves of titles are arranged in that oh-so-visually-pleasing color-coded way, with some books horizontally stacked and others standing up, perpendicularizing their names.

In addition to being kind and sweet, she happens to write books for children and teens too, and is a celebrity not only in my eyes but also on social media and in the book world. Her desk is positioned directly in front of the bookwall, and is the backdrop to her promotional, author-y videos.

Naturally, when I saw this bookwall, I stared at it for a long time, like you do when you’re a book person in any new book environment. In awe, I asked her if she bought all of these books. Some were gifts, she said, but she bought the majority. It is, after all, her lifelong collection of books.

I revere this bookwall. But I do not have my own bookwall.

I now have mixed feelings about this.

There was a time, directly after undergrad, when I moved to a city where I knew one person whom I never saw, that I spent much time and money I wasn’t earning in used bookstores because I was sad and didn’t even go to the library. I missed my library at home, knew that the one near me would not be as great, and I avoided it–solid life strategy–and wanted to OWN the books I would never read. I grabbed at any title I had heard of, books by any author I had read and liked, and I amassed an unreasonable personal library of unread titles, which I dutifully lugged around any time I moved. Hoarding because maybe-someday-I’ll-get-to-this. Because I-love-books-and-more-books-are-better. Because I-wanted-my-guests-to know-what-I-read-and-liked. Because I-can-lend-my-books-to-friends-and-maybe-get-them-back-or-excommunicate-the-friend-forever.

But.. Books are heavy. They are heavy, and not free to own.

Quickly after I moved away from that used-bookstore life, I learned to divest, not to carry extra weight I didn’t need. I chose to leave my two matching bookshelves in two different states: my trusty Civic, a moving vehicle with limited space, could move only one bookshelf at at time. One now lives in my dad’s tutoring center and stores test-prep books waiting for their pupils. The other lives at my mom’s and holds my own lifelong book collection.

Even though I’ve seen it (and arranged it–in no order, alphabetical nor color), I still love coming home to my personal library. I visit my mom, of course, but I also visit my bookshelf. I spot what new additions Mom has gotten from her best friend and placed on the shelf instead of reading. Other than her few, these books are the ones that made the cut. I have actually read and cherished them. They ARE personal.

(And before you go and get into pesky questions like “why, if all of your books fit on one bookshelf, did you need two?” or “did you buy enough used books you didn’t really care about to fill up an entire bookshelf?” which I will neither confirm nor deny, I’ll point out there are several items other than books I like to place on bookshelves, such as framed photos and tchotchkes.)

I have of late prided myself on managing my expenses, and this is tied directly to not buying myself books, which is tied directly to the library. With three library cards, I am elatedly spoiled, because I have access to almost any book and audiobook that I could want under the sun. When I check audio/books out, now it is because I will read or listen to them. It is a way of being more intentional with my time, my choices, and money. I, too, have been trying to declutter and have overall fewer possessions in my living space.

But, I feel guilty. Brick-and-mortar bookstores, independent and chain alike, are suffering. People lose their jobs when bookstores don’t make money. I felt sick, checking on my Barnes & Noble family as soon as I heard about recent massive country-wide layoffs. I make any excuse I can to buy books (AS GIFTS —  you’re welcome, people) from physical retailers. I feel compelled to support authors who write such wonderful books, and the bookstores who (yes, “who,” not “that”) sell them so they can continue to employ human readers who can recommend wonderful books to human readers.

Since I met her bookwall around tax time, my lovely friend mentioned that she as a self-employed writer can expense her book purchases. Buying and reading books is RESEARCH.

My mind was blown, and then it was made up. Many people close (and even some not close! Such support!) to me have flat-out told me to write a book. Mom’s been saying it for years, and I’ve blown it off. But, like, guys.. There is a career where I could support local bookstores, earn credit card points, support creative endeavors, AND gives me a tax writeoff for buying books?!?!?!?!

The question is no longer to buy or not to buy.

Nor is to write or not to write!

The question now is: where and when can I set down roots for my future bookwall? And, how will I choose to organize my personal library?

anxiety, giving, judgment, kindness, stuff

Mission: simplify.

I consistently stare into my closet. For what I deem unhealthy amounts of time. Every day, if the door is open, I peer into it and try to acquire a new target for my not-new, but not-often-practiced skill of culling my personal possessions.

This will not sound remarkable to anyone who has lived through the four-month lease cycles of New York City, but in the 7.5 years since graduating college, I have lived in 3 different states and 8 apartments/houses. In March, I will move for the 5th time in 2 years. (Heads up, penpals.)

Moving is the absolute worst. (Melodramatically, of course.) It forces me to touch all the crap I have dragged around with me to all of these places. (I or other awesome humans who help me move the crap, that is.)

So perhaps it is a mere response to my rambling woman status, but: I need to get rid of clutter.

The symbolism isn’t lost on me, a person who suffers from anxiety. At my worst, every sentence that leaves my mouth, text or email I send, as well as statements said to/about/near me can rattle around my head for days/months/years. My mind at its worst is a pinball machine, with tiny thoughts hurling around at warp speed and maximum volume, carrying self-chastising/self-doubt/FOMO/self-analysis/self-judgment. (See a pattern?) A pinball machine where I cannot let ANY OF THE THOUGHTS go down the little chute, defending its exit.

Mind clutter is real, it is deafening and it is not healthy.

Depression is a filter, but anxiety is a magnifying mirror I hold up and see all my faults, failures and ways I don’t measure up, and I need to step away from the mirror.

So, I prune the closet. Normally, I prune the closet AND STILL feel anxious.

One of my biggest stressors is money. It would make sense, then, that since I began an almost-every-day meditation practice and committed to the decision to spend money on experiences rather than items, I have been less anxious. (And this is even BEFORE I read The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, motivational text about not spending money on non-essentials.)

Two things needed to happen: 1, I need to divest my non-essentials. 2, I need to stop stress-shopping, which is my entirely nonhelpful habit of buying clothing for the joy it will bring. Though the joy is real, it is temporary and does not mask or replace the anxiety about x, y, nor z.

Ultimately, what I need to address is a simple question. What do I actually need?

For the physical clutter: I have fewer books than any other librarian I know; I know how heavy they are to move, and I donate them. I either unsubscribe or immediately delete marketing emails. I donate clothing (using Marie Kondo as a suggestion, not a religious text), recycle papers I wrote in high school/college (and yet I still retain some, because I am a pack rat). If I can’t or don’t use it, I’m at the point where I am content with losing it. Someone else needs it more than I do.

For the mind clutter: it is cleansing getting rid of stuff, and worrying less about what to buy is freeing for both my head and my financials.

All this said, one of my 2018 resolutions was not to spend money on ‘stuff.’ January did not see any progress in that regard. February has seen a rock solid commitment thus far, though, and I feel great about paring down. I feel great about planning a trip to Italy for a friend’s wedding because I know it will be memorable and rejuvenating, delicious and beautiful, and it means quality time with people important to me.

Simplifying my life will hopefully turn this pinball machine brain into a gumball machine… Instead of all the mental noise, I’ll be able to focus on one thought-gumball at a time with mindfulness and calm and intention.

Get me out of my head/closet/apartment and into the world.
Librarian Moment/Suggested Reading:

anxiety, books, career

This One’s for My Girls

I had planned to write some furious paragraphs about Drumpf’s derogatory comments about brown countries, but I waited more than 24 hours and watched tons of personal stories (Anderson Cooper’s was particularly moving, as was Don Lemon’s) and reflections and jokes about how rude, racist and smugly rich he is. I’ve worked through my rage. He is an embarrassment to our country, and I am actually grateful that he is taking the GOP down in flames with him/drawing a line in the sand for elected officials to actually choose to be decent to and on behalf of their constituents. I have to believe that decency will win, in 2018 and in the long run.

But this political outrage/irritant is only one of many sources of anxiety. The outside world is nothing compared to the echo chamber of an anxiety-riddled brain. My friends and I constantly discuss the myriad ways that we question ourselves, our decisions and our progress in the adult world.

Last night, I went to dinner with three of my dearest friends, one of whom is moving out of state this week. She’s taking a risk, acknowledging that her part-time position won’t be enough to live on & knowing she will within the next few months need to find another part-time job, possibly a full-time job, as well as an apartment that is affordable and safe and not miserable for commuting in January. This is not the worst idea ever. She and her boyfriend will be living in the same city again. This is not the riskiest idea ever. She taught English in Japan for two years, venturing there without speaking more than a few sentences of Japanese. She is highly qualified, professional, thoughtful, organized, responsible and bilingual. (Yes, I know, show-don’t-tell, but I don’t want to violate her privacy.)

And yet, she is terrified at the weight of this decision.

As are all of my friends. About who they’re dating or the lack thereof, about how often they cry or don’t, about whether to buy a house, whether they bought the wrong one, about their rent, their income, their careers, their kids or lack thereof..

And yet. As with many other instances of my sweeping generalizations, upon further reflection, I know that is not true. I have many girlfriends (and more acquaintances, so maybe this also has something to do with how much more vulnerability you share with your closest friends) who are sure of themselves. They are not calm 100% of the time, but they are stable enough not to fly off the handles upon an unplanned event, a depressing news story. They are not entirely derailed or roadblocked by doubt every time they need to make an adult decision.

This is my goal. Closer to unflappable. Bold. Confident in my purpose. Kind to myself and less critical of others.

Here are some books that have empowered me to me move towards this:

 

 

 

About finances and how they generally work out if you take control of spending: You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero

About relationships and what to accept/expect/let go: What French Women Know by Debra Ollivier

About caring less about what other people think: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

About how to clear my head/raise future children: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

About social anxiety and how I am definitely not the only one who suffers from it, and also just a pleasant reminder that comics are great: Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

About how to be a person: The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith

  • Everyone should read this book. This is my favorite excerpt, talking about a study that asked people to answer the question “Who are you?” after either staring up from the base of a tree or at a nondescript building.

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The world is huge, and awe-inspiring! (Just ask Neil DeGrasse Tyson.) Perspective is important, as is getting out of my head enough to realize my problems are often not as catastrophic as they appear between my ears. In fact, thinking that they are just might inhibit me from behaving well towards others, and letting fear drive me absolutely blocks me from growing or changing, taking any risks at all.

My friend will be fine. She and this move may even be great. She will carry her support network with her and find a community of coworkers and explore a new city. Like me, she has to quiet the peanut gallery of doubts and welcome opportunity. Read before bed instead of scrolling through articles on her phone. It’s not okay.. yet. But who says it won’t be soon?