Anyone Can Shine Their Light

 

Lights in the darkness

In my day to day life, I aspire to shine my light. You know a person who is shining their light when you see them. They glow. They have an energy, a calm, and a confidence about them. They’re a person who is adding positivity and contributing good to the world, who knows it, but in a humble sort of way. That’s how I want to be. I even hung the below image on my vision board:

Imagine Dragons, March 2014

I took the photo above at an Imagine Dragons concert in 2014. That concert changed my life. (I could write an entire blog post on what the music of Imagine Dragons means to me, and I’m sure I will!) Just right of center, you see a figure standing on the edge of a stage, with what appears to be a beam of light emitting from him. That’s Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of the band. He had gone all the way down the catwalk, yards from the rest of the band, and stood there, alone and vulnerable, bearing his all through his music, and in doing so, shining his light and creating hope in his fans. This image is so powerful to me. I decided that night that that’s how I strive to be.

 

I was down on myself this year, because I felt that I wasn’t shining my light. I was going to be just like Dan! I fell upon my own mental health issues, and I wasn’t able to do the things I had intended to do this year. I was going to save the world. I had so many things I was going to do to combat the political climate and spread joy and love in the world. I was going to be an unstoppable freight train of good.  But, I became focused inward on my own troubles, and I neglected the world around me.

But, I find myself reflecting on a message a friend sent me about a week ago:

hi! you have sent me some very sweet cards recently and they have been making me smile a lot. thank you.

This particular friend has had a rough year, full of difficult medical issues. Although I was going through my own rough time, I was able to make and send them two cards full of encouragement and love. And to this person, those cards made a difference.

So, in 2017 I learned that even when you are at your lowest point, you can still shine your light to someone else.

One night, in the winter of 2014, I was snowed in at a hotel an hour away from home. I had driven the long commute to my drive through increasingly treacherous blizzard conditions, and the drive had left me shaken and anxious. As I tried to relax in my hotel room, I removed the complimentary pen and paper from the nightstand drawer. I tore off several pieces, and on each, I wrote an inspirational quote or message. Then, I proceeded to hide them throughout the room, to be found by either the cleaning staff or future guests.

Anyone can do something small to better the life of someone else. Everyone has light, and everyone can shine it.

How can you shine your light?

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. – Desmond Tutu

What’s Your Word?

 

Which word will you live by this year?

 

Every year, for the past three years, I have not set New Year’s resolutions. They are too hard to keep, and often leave people feeling discouraged instead of empowered. Instead of resolutions, I set intentions. I choose one word to represent how I want to be or feel in the new year. A word to guide my actions throughout the year. I find that it is much more meaningful than declaring that I’m going to “exercise more” or “lose weight.” This approach also makes success much easier, because every time I live in according to my word, I am successful. One word is also much, much easier to remember than a list of resolutions.

My word for 2017 was “love.” I chose it because, after last year’s presidential election, it became clear to me that the world needed more love. Here is an excerpt from a letter that I wrote myself on New Year’s day 2017:

I know that only love is real. I know to be fearless in love. In all forms of love- romantic love, communal love, universal love, family love . . . it’s all important to us right now- we need it ALL – and it’s all available to us at any moment that we choose.

I am choosing love in every opportunity that I can because in doing so, that contributes to the capacity of the whole world to love.

. . .

I will be more open to this love, from wherever it may come from, than ever before. I will practice love daily, and use that to strengthen my heart and power. As I love my new cat, I will learn to love others, and in practice, I will manifest more and more love into my life and into the world.

Looking back on the year, I initially had thought that I had bombed the whole thing. I felt that I had started out great, but I didn’t follow through. Once I became focused on my anxiety, that was the only thing I was operating under. Most of what I did this year, I felt, was motivated by anxiety, not love.

I was describing my New Year’s intention setting tradition to a friend. When I told her my word, she said, “you’ve shown a lot of love this year- self love.” She was referring to how I had quit a stable and profitable job that wasn’t good for me. She was also referring to a small series of self-care gatherings I had held throughout the year.

Sometimes we need our friends to give us perspective.

I still needed to choose my word for 2018, however. I reflected on the year, and thought about what I would have wanted to change. I feel that, as the year progressed, I became more and more fixated on my anxiety, and I stopped doing things that were good for me. I stopped doing things for any reason other than because it was what I felt like doing in that moment. I was lacking purpose, meaning, and clarity. Most of all, I was lacking intention.

To live with intention means that my days are filled with purpose. For this to work, I need to be clear on what I want. I need to know why I do the things that I do, and why I don’t do the things that I don’t do, and I need to be aware of these motivations at any given moment.

My word for 2018 is “intention.”  I think that living by this word will help me to put the remaining pieces back together in my life. To get myself started on the right foot, I’ve begun to listen to the audiobook version of Living with Intent, by Mallika Chopra.

What’s your word?

The Magic of Christmas

 

“Peace Sign” watercolor on paper, by me

 

Old movies and TV commericals often speak of the “magic of Christmas.” (The commercials, of course, want you to think that the magic can be found underneath the tree, covered in wrapping paper, purchased during a Black Friday sale.) But, many people can tell you, things do not create happiness or fulfillment. What is the real magic of Christmas?

As often, I believe that music holds the key. Many traditional Christmas carols talk about peace:

“Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

We have the Bing Crosby and David Bowie classic:

“Peace on earth. Can it be? Years from now, perhaps we’ll see.”

Little Drummer Boy/ Peace on Earth

And one more classic:

“Peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

And a song that, although it does not directly mention Christmas, is often associated with the holiday:

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

Let There Be Peace on Earth

Then, of course, there are many secular holiday songs, including John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas” “My Grown Up Christmas List,” and many, many more.

The real magic of Christmas is peace and love. Things that you don’t need money for. Things that anybody can give, in any circumstance.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas day in 1914, thousands of soldiers who were fighting in World War I crossed the front lines. German soldiers sang Christmas carols with British soldiers. The two sides exchanged small gifts. The French, Germans, Belgians, and Brits played cards and soccer games. Although this was not universal, it is said that a hundred thousand troops participated. These were enemies, people who, the day before, had seen the others shoot and kill their comrades. They were able to forgive each other and treat each other as humans, not enemies, if even just for a day.

That is the magic of Christmas. The peace and love that it inspires.

I got choked up last night at church, during of the portion where we light candles and sing “Silent Night.” As I lit my candle, I vowed to be a light in the darkness. As we all lifted our candles during the last verse of the song, I imagined what would happen if each other person in the congregation did the same thing. There would be no more darkness.

This Christmas, I challenge you to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Not just today, but every day. Treat every day like Christmas. As another song goes, “don’t save it all for Christmas day.” Spread the peace and love every day.

Happy Holidays!

Why I Won’t Be Attending My Class Reunion

Although I graduated from high school in 2006, we never had a class reunion. I will admit that I was disappointed. I wanted so badly to be able to blow everybody away with how much I’ve changed.

As John Mayer sang:

“I just can’t wait ’til my ten year reunion-
I’m going to bust down the double doors.
And when I stand on these tables before you,
You will know what all this time was for.”

No Such Thing, John Mayer

See, when I was in high school, I felt that I was misunderstood. I had such bad social anxiety that I spoke little to anyone who I didn’t consider a friend. Raising my hand in class to read or give an answer gave me tremendous anxiety. I had stains on the armpits of all my shirts, I would sweat so much. But, I’m sure I confused an awful lot of people, because I was very active in the music program. I was on stage several times a year in the choir, orchestra, musicals, and string quartet. Many people thought I was stuck up. I wasn’t- I was just scared. And, music was the only language I was comfortable with. Music was the only thing I was willing to push through my anxiety to accomplish.

I was in all honors and Advanced Placement classes. I studied and worked hard, and would be upset with myself if I would get anything less than an A. There was enormous pressure on us to be perfect back then. Until my senior year, I thought I was going to attend a conservatory to study music performance. I was so programmed to strive to be the best. We were truly taught that nothing else was acceptable. I thought that I needed to earn certain grades so that the other “smart” kids would like me. Each “A” and each advanced placement class was a status symbol. I would even walk down the hallway, proud to be carrying my viola, and I would be sure to leave sticking out of the case the most sophisticated piece of sheet music I could find, so that everyone could see what I was working on.

Looking back, I know that being in orchestra definitely didn’t make me “cool,” (probably the opposite, actually,) and I doubt anyone cared that I could play Bach on my viola . . . if they even know who he was. I’m so glad I don’t base my self-worth on my grades or accomplishments anymore.

I have come so far over the past ten years. Finding music therapy was a blessing. There is no way that studying music performance at a school solely dedicated to music could have been any good for my mental health. Students at music conservatories are often so competitive that they will try to “outplay” the person in the practice room next to them in order to psych them out.

In high school, felt anxious and misunderstood. I get the impression from “No Such Thing” that John Mayer felt a similar way. Perhaps he was nerdy or awkward or unpopular. It’s hard to be an artsy kid in high school. Surely, he would find it satisfying to return and brag about all of his Grammy awards and multi-platinum albums.

Why is all of this on my mind now? About a week ago, my high school classmates on Facebook suddenly realized that we never had our ten year reunion, and began to make a push to add the members of our class to a Facebook group and begin planning. Initially, I was interested. It would be my redemption! My chance to finally shine! I’d sure show all of them! (Especially the boy I had a crush on who had so unceremoniously rejected me! He would finally see what he’s been missing!) But, then I realized, I could probably count on two hands the number of people I’d genuinely be excited to see again. And what if they didn’t come? So then the only reason I wanted to go was to prove myself to everyone who I felt had doubted me. What would happen if I didn’t get the reception that I was hoping for? I would have a terrible time.

But, here’s what I’ve come to realize: it doesn’t matter what anybody thought of me then, and it doesn’t matter what they think of me now. High school isn’t everything. It isn’t even close to everything. I don’t need any of them to be impressed by me. What’s most important is that I’m proud of myself.  If going to such an event is going to inspire comparison and competition, instead of the camaraderie that it is meant to, then it isn’t worth my time.

I’ve determined that my “haters” don’t deserve to hear my story. If they didn’t care to hear it then, than they probably don’t care to hear it now. The people who deserve to hear my story are the people that cared about it in the first place. The people who I’ve remained connected with over the years.

What was all that time- all 10 years- for? Growth. I took that time to become the person I am today- to learn how to express myself and to become comfortable in my own skin. I learned what my skills and talents are, and I’ve found ways to use them. I’m wondering if some of my classmates have even grown at all. Some of the things that they have posted in the facebook group are links to a song called “High School Never Ends” and a picture of someone’s keys, still with the class of 2006 key ring on it. 11 years later. If your mind is still in high school years later, then you’re missing out on life, and all the gifts that it can bring.

I think it’s time that I let my high school experience go. I need to be me regardless of what I was or wasn’t over 10 years ago. I need to love myself regardless of who or who did not like me then. Some of my classmates might benefit from the same attitude.

Keeping Christmas in the Heart

In previous years, I have rolled my eyes at people who have tried to start Christmas early. Anytime I would see a Christmas commercial or hear Christmas music before Thanksgiving, I would groan. This year, I didn’t. In fact, I purposely chose to start Christmas early. I broke out my decorations and began playing holiday CDs in my car almost a week before Thanksgiving. This year, I needed to start Christmas. All of the symbols of the holiday season were soothing to my troubled mind and heart. Why? I think there are two reasons:

1. To sum it up succinctly, I think the Danish word hygge effectively describes the feeling I associate with the holiday season. (Hygge is the Danish term that essentially means cozy.) Candles, string lights, mugs of hot cocoa by the fireplace, all while surrounded by friends and family, full of warmth and love . . . I can’t think of anything more hygge.

Most of all, though, I think it’s the time spent with family that I find to be the most meaningful and the most soothing. However, just being around Christmas lights and decorations is enough to evoke all of that for me.

2. One day, a couple of weeks ago, I was driving in my car, when I noticed. . . I was completely calm. My mind was quiet. And Christmas music was playing on the stereo. And it wasn’t just any Christmas music- it was the soundtrack to a Charlie Brown Christmas. That jazz piano holiday music was pacifying to my mind. As soon as I would put it on, it’s like the wheels in my head of all the worries and fears would stop turning. Something about the tension and release of the notes in the chords and the use of the jazz and blues scales were incredibly relaxing. (The brain finds musical tension and release to be very satisfying.)

A week or so later, I noticed that the Vince Guaraldi album wasn’t the only music that was soothing to me. I realized, many Christmas songs are like lullabies, as if meant to soothe the infant baby Jesus. (“Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” “the First Noel” . . . ) Lullabies are often in triple meter. (Think like a waltz, where you can feel the 1-2-3, 1-2-3.) That time signature is meant to evoke rocking, like a baby being rocked in her mother’s arms.

On the Pentatonix album, I found “Hallelujah,” which isn’t innately a Christmas song, to be the most soothing. (Along with “Silent Night.”) Hallelujah employs the same kind of beautiful tension and release that some of the jazz piano music did. But, perhaps most soothing of all, were Avi’s deep bass tones. (Avi used to sing bass for Pentatonix, but unfortunately, he left the group earlier this year.) This also rang true for Pentatonix’s other songs. This is not a coincidence. In music therapy, low tones are recognized to be grounding, and therapists are trained to incorporate them whenever a client is upset or scattered.

So, here’s what I’ve decided. To anyone, if Christmas is what you need to be okay, then keep Christmas in your heart all year round. That holiday magic that is referred to in the classic Christmas movies might not be all made up.

Have a wonderful Christmas, and happy holidays!

Ten Things That Have Helped Me Heal

Several days this week, I have awakened in the morning and been keenly aware: I’m okay. I’m just about . . . almost . . . back to my baseline.

It’s about damn time. For months, I anxiously awaited this day, when I would wake up and not feel anything. When I wouldn’t be afraid to be alone. When I could go more than a day without crying.

Here are the ten things that have helped me get to this point:

  1. Walking: The number one thing I started doing months ago was taking a walk every day. It was something that I didn’t want to do, but it was one of the easiest things I could do to start healing from my trauma. Trauma is energy trapped in the body. Walking provided that energy an outlet.
  2.  Listening to my Body: This one was huge, and yet it was something I had to do in moderation. Initially, I almost had to not listen to my body, which was trying to tell me that I was in danger and that something could happen to me at any moment. I had to push on despite it telling me that. The only time it was useful to pay attention to my bodily sensations was first thing in the morning, so that I got out of bed before my anxiety began to peak. Eventually, as my level of stress began to decrease, I started to feel hunger, and I needed to start listening to my body again. As I had not had an appetite when I was ultra stressed out, I needed to regain ordinary eating patterns. I didn’t know how much to eat, or when to eat . . . my body told me that.
  3. Safe Places: One of the major components of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (or acute stress disorder) is the loss of feelings of safety. You don’t feel safe in the world . . . at all.  My apartment wasn’t safe. My work wasn’t safe. The store wasn’t safe. So, I needed to find places where I could begin to feel safe again. My friend began inviting me over to work at her house. My parents moved, and needed me to help out around the house. I began to find places that felt safe again.
  4. Safe People: These included the people from my safe places, but was not limited to them. I had a list of friends that I would call when I was upset. Having safe people to talk to helped me learn to trust again.
  5. Pushing Myself: This part was hard. Sometimes, I didn’t have the wherewithal to push myself, and I needed others to do it for me. But, every time I got myself out to take a walk, or I got myself out the door to an interview, or to a client, or an event, I was helping my healing process. I needed to build up a bank of experiences where I was safe. The only way to do this was to go out and learn that I would be safe when I did these things.
  6. Self Compassion: Self compassion meant treating myself kindly. It meant allowing myself to be upset when I was upset, and not trying to fight it. It meant allowing myself to cry, and instead of saying to myself, “damn it, why are you crying again?”, saying, “it’s okay, this will pass. It’s okay that you’re upset.” It meant identifying with the small, scared child inside, and embracing and comforting her, talking to her the way that a scared child needs to be spoken to.
  7. Letting Myself Cry: This goes along with #6, and also with #1. The emotions needed to be expressed, or else they would linger and fester. It would not have been good to hold them in.
  8. Therapy: My therapist helped me keep things in perspective. She kept me thinking, and when I was able to ask myself the right questions, I was able to find the right answers, which gave me some piece of mind. She also showed me options I didn’t even know I had, and that kept me from losing hope.
  9. Lists: When I started making lists, it was a game changer. I went from pacing around, complaining about how I had nothing to do, and how I was too distraught to possibly do anything anyway, to focusing on productive tasks. First thing in the morning I would start on my list, as soon as, or before, I started to get too anxious. As long as I was accomplishing something I was able to keep the anxiety at a manageable level.
  10. Time: All healing takes time. Two months ago, I yearned for this day. I’ll be fine once I get to December, I thought. I had just wanted to fast forward through all of the hard and messy parts. But I got through those parts by taking it one day at a time.

Healing isn’t easy, but it’s possible, with the right plan.

Just Keep Singing

I now know that I first started having panic attacks in high school. I would often be in my car, completely safe, driving to my music lessons, which were a half an hour away. That’s a long distance for a new driver! And then I would feel the now familiar symptoms set in: pounding heart, sweaty palms, dizziness, tingling in my hands and feet.

I was alone. I had no idea what was happening to my body, or why- but I was able to determine one thing: the other symptoms were accompanied by irregular breathing. The best way I knew to regulate my breathing was to sing. So, I would turn up the radio and sing to every single song that came on. And then, when the commercials came on, I would just sing to whatever song I could think of. I just kept singing. It kept me calm. It kept me focused.

I found myself returning to that truth a few months ago. I had been out of work on FMLA for a day. It was early morning, and I was getting ready for a job interview. I was so extremely anxious that I was having panic attacks that made me feel like I could pass out. But I had to go. This was my only opportunity to escape the job that had traumatized me. I had to sum up every ounce of courage and strength inside of me.

So I opened my mouth and began to sing:

“Regrets collect like old friends

here to relive your darkest moments.

I can see no way, I can see no way.

All of the ghouls come out to play.

. . . .

Shake it out, shake it out

Shake it out, shake it out, oh

It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back,

so shake him off. ”

Shake it Out, Florence and the Machine

I got myself to that interview and I got the job.

Instinctively I knew that singing was healing. Is it any wonder that I became a music therapist?

I Am Mighty

Just a quick blog post to share some good news! I am now a contributor to
The Mighty! The Mighty is an awesome website dedicated to giving a voice to those who deal with mental health and chronic illness.

My first article is a republish of one of my recent posts:

How My Weighted Blanket and Memory Foam Pillow Help with my Anxiety

Taking part in communities around these issues helps those of us who deal with mental illness to know that we’re not alone, and gives us an opportunity to access hope.

Be mighty!

Thanksgiving Gratitude


It’s been a hard year. Not just for me, but for many people I know. When things seem hard or negative, it is especially important to practice gratitude. That’s the only way to stay centered and grounded.

A regular gratitude practice has been known to reduce anxiety and depression, increase resilience, improve relationships, and improve overall health.

This year, I am thankful for:

    • This little angel, the sweetest cat I have ever known, my Felicity. I’ve had her for almost a full year.
    • Friends who didn’t even hesitate to step it up for me during a breakup
    • Family who have welcomed me back home to spend as much time as I need while I am healing
    • That I was able to leave a stressful job . . .
    • and almost immediately get back on my feet with TWO new jobs!
    • That I have been able to sustain myself without regular work for a month and a half, with no major issues. I have everything I need.
    • The aspects of my anxiety that have gotten better. Although I often feel like I haven’t made much progress, I have.
    • Although it’s over, the relationship I had with my boyfriend, as it enriched my 2017 and provided me with some light in the darkness. I still think he is a beautiful person, and I’ll cherish his friendship.
    • Everyone who is out there fighting to make sure that the current president doesn’t roll back American progress

What are you grateful for?

Home

My parents’ new home.

Three weeks ago, my parents moved out of my childhood home, where we lived as a family for the most part of twenty years. Although I recently turned 30 and live on my own, this was tremendously difficult for me to cope with. I visited my parents a few times as they were packing, and each time, I would break down sobbing. The last time I had gone to help, I narrowly avoided a massive panic attack, and excused myself to leave after barely two hours. I began to break down almost immediately after going through my old things, when I threw away a framed painting that I had made as a young child.

Why was that such a trigger?

Because it meant that the safety of my childhood was over. Not only that, but I was losing my safe place.

That house was my safe place. We moved in during the summer of 1996, and I lived there continuously until I started college in 2006. Then, I returned during summers and breaks for the four years between 2006 and 2010, and during breaks from grad school through 2014. I moved back in for a year and a half after graduation, until I found a job that could sustain me.

I returned there many, many times, for many, many reasons. I would come home to be consoled from breakups, to be cared for when I was sick, for comfort when I was first dealing with my anxiety, and as a refuge when I was unable to make it on my own as a professional.

I spent a lot of time there. It was my safe place.

Home is where the heart is.

I was very upset about my parents’ move. But then something happened. The week that they moved, my boyfriend broke up with me in a very shocking and eventful day.

I was so upset, I didn’t want to be alone. Our relationship had been stable! Or so I had thought. I could not stop crying and I needed comfort. So, I called my parents and asked if they needed help with unpacking. I came over that weekend to assist. And then, a few days later, I returned to help with something else. And then a few days later, I asked if I could come over again. They weren’t sure if they had anything else I could help with, but that was ok- I said I’d bring over my laptop and work on things, and as my mom came up with tasks, I could take a break and help out.

I’ve been visiting them a few times a week since. I pack a bag of work, and I work quietly while my mom writes in the other room. I don’t even have to be in the same room with her- it just helps to know that she’s around. I’ve spent so much time there that the new house just about feels like home.

My safe place wasn’t a place after all. It was, instead, wherever my safe people were.

“Home- I’m coming home. Home is wherever I’m with you.”

Home, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros