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.

community, family, information, librarians, strangers

For Dads About to Rock.. We Salute You

Sometimes at the library, when you are working at the desk and minding your own business, people let you in on some very private matters. So long as this does not involve diseases or obscenity, I’m generally okay with this. One such day, a man approached the desk and asked me about pregnancy books: he and his wife were looking for them because they just found out they were going to be parents. He paused, squinted and looked around inside his brain, and said, “actually…you’re the first person we’ve told.” My standard instinctive reaction is to immediately provide the requested information, like an eager-to-inform robot. But this time, my social graces couldn’t ignore the relevant personal information. I beamed at him like a non-misanthrope and lover of small, poopy people that I am and said “I’m honored!” before efficiently telling him there are books in the adult health/wellness section, and in the children’s area.

This interaction, all told, took under 120 seconds, but it was such a sweet moment. I watched him process this milestone of parenthood, and all the mini-milestones in preparation for it. He was at the library! To prepare! And he was openly sharing his joy.

I try to imagine what my own dad was doing to prepare for becoming a parent for the first time, and I can’t quite picture him at the library looking for What to Expect When You’re Expecting. He reads Rolling Stone and business magazines, not books. Not a touchy-feely kind of guy, he didn’t really “get” me and my brother until we were old enough to at least tie our shoes and more or less write complete sentences. After all, our senses of humor weren’t tuned to “dad joke” frequency right out of the gate; we had to grow into it. Also, before a certain age, we were the aforementioned poopy little people, and we only got cooler with time (until, I think we can agree, bro, we may have plateaued). If he wasn’t tossing us around a pool on vacation, chances are we were being loud and whiny and annoying, bickering and fighting with each other. On our Tuesday nights and alternating weekends together for the 7 years leading up to college, he rationalized us into an equitable system for deciding where to eat dinner. This was a matter of the utmost childish importance, otherwise worthy of much whining and fighting (“he picked last tiiiiiime!!!” “I don’t feeeeel like iiiiitttt!” etc.). We each wrote down a suggestion on a piece of paper napkin, and one person selected, and as soon as Dad started the car, the radio started too. We could pout but we couldn’t audibly complain, because everyone had the same chances. The best way to cope if your selection lost was to cross your fingers a good song came on.

Once we were old enough to dance, he and Mom introduced us to Bob Marley’s Legend, Eric Clapton’s, Tom Petty’s and Bonnie Raitt’s entire catalogs. From middle through high school, aka before Sirius/XM radio displayed the artist and song title, he quizzed us on the artists playing in the car on WONE and WNCX, Cleveland’s Classic Rock stations. We would have been shamed if we had gotten Tom, Clapton, Janis, Neil or the Stones wrong (but we never did). Dark horses we had to watch out for were the ambiguous synth-y Steely Dan and The Who.

Once we spoke the same musical language and I became a real adult with real-world crap to deal with, I appreciated my dad in a totally new way. The dad jokes became hilariously funny. He became my go-to for career and money advice, which means we talk way more than when I was younger. Now that I have lived a little and accepted him for who he is, I see his lack of touchy-feely-ness as a virtue. He is able to rationally weigh pros and cons of my dilemmas without getting sucked in to the emotional/social dynamics like I do. Sometimes this backfires, as when he tried to herd us out of a Tom Petty concert before the encore to beat the traffic (I protested. It was American Girl.) or when he e-mailed a relative newly diagnosed with colon cancer, expressing concern for his “plumbing issue.”

But that’s my dad! (To my shock and amazement, the plumbing joke did not end their relationship, nor even particularly offend. And, the cancer is now in remission, if you were worried!)

He stocks his refrigerator with barely more than the essentials: milk, eggs, shredded cheese and whatever is going on the grill, and reaching dinner consensus takes no time at all. He taught me to make DIY concert earplugs by rolling strips of paper napkin into balls, always carries a nail clipper that I inevitably need to borrow, and mails me gluten-free pound cake with a note that simply says “Enjoy! Love, Dad.”

All in all, my dad rocks.

dad_rocks

be a better human, books, bookstores, kindness, librarians, reading, strangers, talking

Prying book eyes

On a recent library book binge, I brought home a hefty stack of books. My lovely housemate saw the stack, and asked me about one title: Being Peace by Thich Naht Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. She collects quotations and happened to have a few from his writings. She shared this one with me:

“Though we all have the fear and the seeds of anger within us, we must learn not to water those seeds and instead nourish our positive qualities – those of compassion, understanding, and loving kindness.”

Since I’m the Angry Librarian, this interested me, and we had a thoughtful conversation about how life and the workplace may bring out some of these very seeds and how we need to smile and shake it off.

In yet another library, last week I needed to print something before I went to the printer-haven of work, and popped into a public library I’d never visited. In order to use one of the computers, I was asked to provide a photo ID. I watched as the librarian wrote my name and guest pass number on a piece of paper, and brainstormed the many reasons they might wish to monitor who is visiting what sites within their walls. (I could only come up with potential issues arising from illegal activity.)

In my experience through library school and in the public library where I work, though, there is a current, obsessive trend with library privacy. My own library just switched to a different hold pick-up system, where customers can retrieve their items from a shelf and use self-check machines (grab-and-go style). Before this new process could begin, there were evidently many lengthy meetings about where on the book to put a sticker containing what identifying information. Should the sticker display the customer’s full name? Should the title of the book show?

As for myself, I fail to see how this conversation could last more than 15 minutes. And yet, it lasted. (The end result that was decided is the sticker will be arranged alphabetically by full last name and cover the title of the book. I know you were dying to know.)

Let me address, I did not like being asked for my identification in order to use a public computer. The implications did not jive with my knowledge of privacy. I fully recognize the importance of protecting online privacy–our and all libraries use some form of a program called Deep Freeze, which wipes all data from each customer login after they sign out. (Even still, sometimes that doesn’t work, so if anyone out there is worried about their digital footprint and who is looking at it, always manually sign out of your accounts, and under no circumstances store passwords on a public computer, as a principle.)

However, I just don’t think that people in public spaces can expect (nor can those public spaces guarantee) complete and total privacy. This is absurd and paranoid to me, as it seems counterintuitive to expect that no one will see (or that anyone would care) what books people are holding in their hands. And, not to mention, this extreme privacy doesn’t allow for every romance or friendship that started because someone was curious enough to look at what book the other was holding, and then take the bold and vulnerable (and sometimes well-received) gesture to start a conversation about it.

The frenzied desire to block all others out irritates me. I can’t help but feel that anyone in a public library is freely forfeiting at least a tiny bit of their privacy just by stepping into  a public space. How is carrying a book around any building not placing someone “at risk” of revealing its title? And, if someone is truly ashamed of their reading material, why would they request it to be held for them instead of venturing in and selecting it, by hand, by themselves?

I think back to a woman I had in my line at the bookstore when I was 19. This glamorous 30-something placed a small pile of books on the counter, barely raising her lips in greeting when I smiled and said hello. I, observing her gorgeous diamond ring, turned my eyes to the books. All three were about surviving the death of a spouse. I was shocked that such a horrible event could happen to someone so young and pretty, and I hoped I didn’t offend her or make her sadder during this, the symbolic purchase. Unsure how she would want me to act in this minor exchange, I tried not to widen my eyes and tried harder to eliminate any pity from my voice. More than anything, I was proud of her. Here was this young woman, whose own eyes (once I looked up from the ring) I could see were red and puffy. She was obviously not shopping for a gift. She was in mourning.

And she bought these books to help herself heal.

She did not buy them online, preserving her privacy as she sobbed in her pajamas. She very easily could have, and would have, if she were embarrassed of her emotionally vulnerable state, or concerned with how the young, desperate for adult life and love cashier or other browsing strangers would treat her.

Instead, she braved the world. She drove to us, got out of her car, located the section she needed, and from the shelf, handpicked not just one, but three books, in what I interpreted as her sadness and desperation morphing into resolve: a series of clear actions she took towards helping herself. I hope those books and all this time gave her what she needed.

And I am grateful for the spontaneous human connection that books, bookstores and libraries can provide. The fleeting moments with strangers where we mutually reveal something of ourselves.

We deserve to relinquish privacy on occasion. We need to leave room for vulnerability.

anxiety, be a better human

Cranky Post

I adore coffee. The smell, the taste, the way it jolts my brain into the day… Mainly that last one. My mom watches me drink my morning cup of coffee (with dairy-free vanilla creamer and one ice cube) and declares “it’s clear you drink it for the caffeine.” True. I chug it.

Last month, I stopped drinking coffee. Just because. I substitute tea instead, and it has made a difference. I do not feel jittery at any point. I feel calmer (which may concern some people, since I am often low-energy anyways) and I have noticed that I am less likely to lash out at others or disappointing situations.

When I got into my car after work to find that a student hit my car in the parking lot and then fled ‘the scene,’ I did not freak out. Instead, I was pleased that another two students saw the whole thing and tried (though unsuccessfully) to catch the perpetrator’s license plate number, leaving me a not successful but charming note. It wasn’t even a choice not to be angry. They wrote “the man ran away” driving a Toyota Corolla.. and the damage isn’t that bad.

This is not to say I am numb to events occurring around me, but instead that I feel less amped up and on edge. A (separate, more final) car problem during move out day that left me without a partner for five hours? Gasp! We stayed another night, into the following month. A few months ago, the thought of the apartment management discovering and getting mad at us would have driven me up a wall with anxiety. I slept soundly in my bonus last-night-in-the-apartment. (It helped that I knew they wouldn’t be conducting an inspection that day.) What else could I do? Though a strong(ish) and independent(ish) woman in mind, in body, I am incapable of moving a bed by myself.

Coffee, though my superpower, wasn’t awful to let go. With its exit, I got another step closer to the giving-fewer-f*cks (about the small stuff) and closer to letting the small stuff go.

Here is a brief list of times I wish I had had a zenlike mentality:

  • at a lunch meeting, when a (sick) colleague I just met ten minutes prior handed me a lemon wedge with his bare hands instead of handing me the plate of them like a civilized human being
    • note: I decided to forego any and all future lunch meetings
  • on the phone with my mom, whose concern I snapped at even though she is probably right and I might be slightly depressed at the moment
    • note: she loves me but I know I need to start exercising and cooking more for myself without her telling me
      • I had two salads this week, FYI.
      • And “played” racquetball (I don’t know that what I do can be considered actual sport)
  • every single time I shrink a line-dry article of clothing in the dryer
    • note: practicing non-attachment so this is less of a negative occurrence
  • every single day I snooze my alarm approximately 7 times, resulting in an hour more of dozing that wastes my time and leaves me groggy
    • note: practicing more discipline to get up on the first alarm, and positive self-talk so that I don’t start my day by saying “get up, you jackass.”
  • when my boss sent me two documents and asked me to copy and paste “it” into “the other one” and send “it” back
    • note: I copied the wrong one somehow

Maybe/probably, I am sleeping too much. Maybe/probably, I’ve been eating too many cookies and chocolates. And I hope spring weather means more than allergies & I will get outside more for exercise (or indoors for racquetball 🙂 and social activities.

Maybe/probably the anxiety gave way to depression. Frankly, now that I have experienced plus or minus a year of anxiety, I would much rather be mildly depressed. At least depression lets you relax your muscles!

Probably/definitely, though, I’m sad about this breakup. And I think I am allowed to be. Sometimes, coffee or no coffee, people have bad days. Or bad weeks. Maybe months. Maybe more.

I’ll try to cap mine off here soon.

Does anyone want to do some yoga and/or cook? Or know a good massage therapist? Or maybe a regular therapist? I’ll be okay.. Just have to get used to coming home to this empty bed.

Onwards.

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?