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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

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Bounce Back

A few weeks ago, I was explaining to a frustrated friend about how healing is not linear. She was distraught because she felt as if she was having another breakdown.

I, too, have felt that way this week. I found myself crying after a week plus of not having cried once.

Oh, shit. I’m moving backwards. All that progress is lost.

I had to remind myself of what I told that friend.

“The most important thing,” I said, “Is the bounce back period. How quickly can you pick yourself back up after you break down?” It’s unrealistic to expect that we will stop being upset by something that shook us so deeply. But, what’s more important is, how long after experiencing the strong emotions are we able to return to our normal life.

Almost a month ago, well, it took me about a week to “get back to normal.” I had no routine, because I resisted one.

I’m too distraught. I can’t simply do anything. Not when I’m this upset. 

All I could do was pace, and curl up in my bed, and cry hysterically, and call a friend, and then try to eat. And worry. A lot.

That was three weeks ago. And I got it back together because I tried. I started small in putting the pieces back together.

This morning, I became very upset and sobbed to my friend on the phone. “I’m so overwhelmed!” But then I was able to get off the phone with her and do the things I needed to do. A week or more ago, it would have taken me two or more hours to pull it back together.

I’m bouncing back faster. And that’s how I know I’m healing.

“Geyser”

I have been feeling my emotions so intensely lately.  The anxiety gathers in the area where my body holds the most tension- where my neck meets my shoulders. Once I get up and start to move around, it is slowly able to release. But, when it releases, I feel it in my whole body.  This happens most often first thing in the morning.

My legs begin to tremble, and I doubt my ability to stand. And then an intense tingle rises up through my body, until it finally hits my head. It comes up so strongly and so violently that I feel as if something bad is happening to my body- like I might pass out, or vomit, or have a seizure, or, who even knows.

But then it hits my eyes, and I’m able to cry. Not just a few tears, but a full-on, hysterical sob. The above painting, acrylic on canvas board, is a visualization of what this rush of emotion feels like. I call it “Geyser,” because that’s how violently it happens- like a geyser or a volcano.

I hate feeling this way, but at the same time, it’s nice to know that I can release all of the built up anxiety through my tears. I’m hoping that my art can eventually take that place, however.

If You Only Knew

This is a blog about high functioning mental illness. Some people don’t believe it exists. If you are successful and appear to have everything in your life together, you can’t possibly be “mentally ill.” Right?

Wrong. Some people just hide it really well.

I attended college on a scholarship and went straight to graduate school, where I graduated with a high GPA. I work in a mental health organization, providing therapy and teaching life skills to kids and teenagers. I’ve worked there for three years and have been promoted three times. I live on my own in an apartment. I teach guitar lessons, and I’m involved in community organizations.

And I suffer from anxiety and depression.

When you see me saving the world at my job, you might not know that I cried in my car this morning because I was so anxious about going to work. You might not know that two months ago, I was so anxious that I would come home from work and curl up straight in my bed, because it was the only place I felt safe. You might not know that, when I go on my breaks at work, it’s because I’m feeling particularly anxious, and that I’m about to go take a walk in the parking lot and call a friend to help me calm down.

And every day, I get out there, and I do it again, despite all the unknowns.

I can guarantee you, that you know someone like me. Probably, several people. And you might be one of them, as well.

And it’s okay. I see you and I accept you.

On Not Settling

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Lately, my facebook newsfeed has been blowing up with posts from friends and acquaintances who are experiencing the sorts of big changes in their lives that can only be expected of  adults in their mid-twenties to early thirties.  Proposals, engagements, and marriages. Pregnancies and births. It’s easy to think that everyone is entering a new stage of their lives and that I’m being left behind.

But, the other day, as I logged on to a flurry of these posts, I thought of it a different way.

What if all of this extra time was a gift?

When you’re in a romantic relationship, your focus shifts from yourself to your partner. When you have children, it shifts to them. As you start a family, it seems as if it is very easy to lose connection with yourself.

I have a friend who got married soon after college and who has two beautiful children. She posts images of her happy family, but then writes about how she’s felt like she’s lost touch with herself. When she was in school, her hobbies were to sing and dance- that’s what brought her joy. Since she had gotten married, and definitely since she had children, she has not been able to do these things. She feels like she’s lost touch with herself.

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I can say the opposite is true for me. Over the past 5-10 years, not only have I gotten better at my favorite hobbies, but I’ve found new ones as well. I’ve put a lot of work into myself, and I have become braver, stronger, and more assertive. With every year that passes, I’ve pushed and challenged myself more. I’ve become more and more connected with myself, and as that connection strengthens, it will become harder and harder to break, no matter what life delivers me.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to keep the focus on myself this entire time. I have had so much time to grow and evolve . . . and I can say with confidence that I’ve been making the best of it.

Mary

10 Things To Know When Things Go Wrong

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photo credit: Lenny Flank via photopin cc

No matter how hard we try in life, we will all find ourselves in this place- many, many times. The bottom will drop out from under us. We will fail. The sh*t will hit the fan. Things will get real. And we will be left in a daze with nothing to do but pick up the pieces.

It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve found ourselves in this pit before. We will find ourselves here again. Therefore, each of us needs to cultivate a routine for coping and adapting with challenges. Here are the 10 things I believe everyone should keep in mind during tough times.

1. Let yourself feel your feelings. This one is the hardest, yet it is also the most important. If you let yourself feel your negative feelings, they will eventually pass. If you suppress them, they will linger in your body, where they may fester and cause you more physical and mental woes later.

2. Let yourself take a break. There are times where it might not be plausible to allow yourself to work through your negativity as soon as it arises. That’s okay. When you have time to be alone, give yourself some space to relax and express your feelings to a journal. Or process it with a friend, if that’s more your style.

Along the same vein- don’t make any decisions right away. Wait a few more days until you are more clear-headed, or else you might do something you regret. It might not seem like it now, but the feelings will pass.

3. Remember that you aren’t the only one! When we screw up, we are so quick to assume that no one else could have possibly made the same mistake we did, and as a result, we beat ourselves up over it. That is an incredibly unrealistic assumption! Because of the omnipresence of social media, we are often comparing ourselves to other people . . . or rather, the photoshopped images that we have of other people in our minds. But, we must remember, that most often, people only use social media to display their good news. They aren’t going to go public about their screw ups, unless they’re looking for advice.

Talk to other people that you trust. It is very likely you’ll find someone who has been in a comparable situation.

4. Don’t take it personally. It didn’t happen because God and the universe are out to get you. It didn’t happen to you because you are a bad person, and it didn’t happen because you are cursed.Whatever it is happened because hard times are a fact of life for everyone.

5. Seek perspective. Is it really as big of a deal as you are making it out to be? Again, I find it really helpful to talk to a friend. Many times I have thought I was a total loser who ruined her future, and they have been able to show me where maybe I or someone else was overreacting.

6.  Speak kindly to yourself. Talk to yourself the way you would to a friend who is experiencing the same circumstances. Being harsh with yourself will only make you feel worse.

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Good advice from http://www.mindful.org

7.  Participate in your self care activities. To gain your energy back and to lift your spirits up, you will have to rest. Participate in whatever activities rejuvenate you. For me, this includes yoga, meditation, journaling, singing, spending time in nature, and drawing mandalas. For you, it may be one of these things, or something else.

8. Can you learn from it? Now that you’ve let yourself feel and process your feelings, it is time to move on. What’s done is done. You can’t change it, but perhaps you can grow from it. Is there anything you could have done differently? Something you’ve learned so that you won’t repeat the situation again? Take note of all these things.

9.  Determine your action steps. Where would you like to be in a few days? In a month? What will it take to get there? Make a list of these (bite-size) steps, and then start doing them!

10. Seek positivity. Moving on is going to be challenging. Surround yourself with supportive people. Watch shows that make you laugh. I like to print out inspirational slogans and hang them in places where I will see them often. (This includes in my car, on the mirror, by my desk, by the front door, as my laptop and iPhone wallpapers . . .)

The important thing to remember is that although suffering is inevitable, it is also temporary. If you play your cards right, you can find the rainbow on the other side.

Suggested watching: MarieTV: How to stay positive

Love and light,

Mary

My Rules for Living Fully

photo credit: Gabi Sakamoto (Gah'Be) via photopin cc
photo credit: Gabi Sakamoto (Gah’Be) via photopin cc

 

In The Way of the Happy Woman, which I have just started reading, Sara Avant Stover recommends writing a YES and NO list as a reminder to keep yourself on track. The YES list contains all the things you should remember to do to keep yourself happy and healthy, and the NO list contains all the things you should remember not to do. It turns out, I had written mine a couple of months ago, only I called it my “Rules to Live By.” I share mine below:

DO:

  • Celebrate every good thing
  • Stop to look at the stars
  • Keep a song in your heart
  • Speak up for yourself
  • Be in awe of life
  • Be present in your mind and body
  • Know that the answer is always simple
  • Create your own peace
  • Honor yourself
  • Take time for yourself
  • Give yourself permission to screw up
  • Freely give to others

DON’T:

  • Do something if it doesn’t feel right
  • Say “can’t”
  • Block yourself from feeling difficult feelings
  • Expose yourself to an excess of negative media

May these inspire you to write your own list!

Suggested reading: The Way of the Happy Woman, by Sara Avant Stover

Mary