Let it be

Since I’ve moved back home until the semester starts up again I’ve been spending a lot of time in my room. I like my room, it’s cozy and safe. There are books everywhere, my desktop serves as a scrapbook with pictures full of my fondest memories and favorite quotes taped on, I even still have my huge teddy bear from when I was a kid (although to be fair he was a lot bigger from the perspective of a really short four year old..)

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meet Mr. Bear. yes I was a very original four year old..

so sitting in my room yesterday I got the bug to clean it up. I mean really clean. Every year I do a semi sort of cleaning which consists mostly of moving things around the room a little to give myself the illusion of a tidy space. So I set to emptying my desk drawers of old book reports and  empty plastic bags ( I have this obsession with saving shopping bags and then forgetting they are in the drawer when I really need a spare one). It took me hours because obviously every time I came across a pile of old poems I wrote or old birthday letters from friends I sat down to read them. Then I found a memory notebook from a couple years back. It was from a year long program I had been apart of straight out of high school. At the end of the year we each got a beautifully bound notebook and spent the last week writing in each others books. Like a version of a high school yearbook but instead of signing our names with the obligatory “keep in touch” we wrote deep and personal letters to each other full of things we appreciate and learned from one another over the past year. So I sat to re-read mine and five minutes in I had tears pouring down my face and didn’t stop crying until ten minutes after. When I finally did stop I felt as though this massive weight had been lifted off my chest.

You see every single one of the entries talked about how I was a calm and peaceful person, how much inspiration my friends took from watching my “zen”ness all year, that I was a calming presence throughout our time together. Me. calming. The chick with general anxiety disorder. I cried and laughed disbelievingly as I read those words at first. But one after the other they all mentioned it in some shape or form, and I realized something.

I realized that I had let myself get sucked up and defined solely by my disorder. This year was a MESS. It was hard and exhausting. I had to pick myself up again and again and get back on the horse almost every day. I had to fight for air. I still do sometimes. My battle is far from over. Part of what made it easier was giving it a name. Knowing I have an anxiety disorder and I’m not paranoid or insane makes me feel more normal and it allowed me to begin to accept it and myself this way. But I realize now that it also made me dismiss who I was before all of this anxiety blew up  in my face. It made me forget that instead of  being scared of storms not to long ago I used to dance in the rain. I literally bought myself rubber boots when I was 20 so I could jump in puddles. I convinced myself that the me who was calm was the fake one and this is the real me and I have to adapt.

But it’s not true. I have a whole notebook saying how it is not true. The fact is, they are both me. The girl with anxiety is also the girl who’s most prominent quality is peacefulness. And if I used to be her I can be her again. I had two moments this week that in retrospect drove this point home. One was at the beach, the other at a park near my house. Both times I found myself blissfully happy, mindful of the beauty and quiet around me. Both times my instinct was to take a picture as if on some subconscious level I needed proof.

Proof that I was calm and enjoying myself without having to work at it. I viewed these moments as the exception, and disaster and trouble and anxiety as the norm. So much so that any time something went the slightest bit wrong I made a huge deal of it. As if again proving to myself that “here we go, back to normal”. And in a weird twisted way I think I even took comfort in the screw-ups. Because anything else had become so foreign. But that notebook is also proof. Proof that the calming and peaceful presence in my life doesn’t need to be the exception. I just need to let it be the rule.

 

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Sometimes

Sometimes you can spend days and weeks and months feeling all alone in the world.

You hang out with friends and find yourself spacing out and forcing laughs and not really talking about anything real because no one will really understand. You dread simple questions like “how are you doing?” or “what have you been up to lately?” because you know you are lying through your teeth when you answer that everything is great, that you’re really busy, doing just fine. But when you’re alone it’s not much better. You can spend a whole day distracting yourself from the darkness all around inside of you but when you lay awake in bed until the early hours of the morning there is no escaping anything.

Sometimes you can’t fall asleep for days, and every time you wake up in the morning a part of you hopes for a new start and a fresh chance. And  the other part dreads going through it all over again for another day.

Sometimes you feel like you’re living a bad “coming of age movie” where the “I feel crappy and sad and the cute guy left me because of some stupid misunderstanding with sad music playing in the background” never ends, and it’s even worse because there was never any cute guy in the first place and could they just please roll the credits on this whole damn thing already because you would really like to find out who directed this sh*tty film. They should have casted Emma Stone for your part anyway.

Sometimes you spend the morning meditating and trying to be positive and the night having a screaming match with God because you spent all of your energy trying to be more accepting of everything and it really didn’t work and you are royally fed up.

Sometimes you make lists of all the things you wish and dream of doing and hopefully will  do some day. Sometimes those lists give you a feeling of purpose and drive. Most days they just shove you down a little deeper.

Sometimes you really wish you could be someone else for just one day. anybody. really. and you know the famous adverb about how if we all put our problems in a pile to choose from we’d all grab back our own. And even so sometimes other people’s problems look a lot more attractive.

Sometimes you sit at your computer and a lot of words and feelings and tears just come poring out and you’re not really sure how to go from there.

And sometimes, as you sit and cry and vent and type, your phone rings, and someone you love is on the other side saying just the thing you needed to hear at just that moment. And you thank god for  silly coincidences and remember you don’t believe in coincidences anyways because they are all just small miracles.

Sometimes you can spend days and weeks and months feeling all alone in the world and all it takes is one moment to remind you for just a second that you are not alone, that no one is ever really alone.

That even when it seems really dark, the sun will always come up.

 

 

 

Traveling through anxiety (and Prague)

Since I’ve joined the bloggers hemisphere I have come across a few traveling blogs. My reaction is pretty much consistent. I click, I read a few words, and I close it and move on super quickly. It’s not because I am not interested, it’s because I am jealous.

I have written before about my general anxiety disorder. Anxiety has always sort of been a part of my life, as I like to say, I’m simply wired that way. That being said it only really became a general, all the time thing this year. Until then it was always focused on one or two things, and the rest of the time “I was normal”. The most dominant trigger was hiking. Following a dirt road up mountains and along rivers, trusting the colorful markers on the rocks along the way and a map I will never really trust because who said the path didn’t change since? To me that is just not enough control. I like civilization, being in places I know and feel safe in, traveling on brightly lit roads, access to a hospital in an emergency, the feeling that if something goes wrong I can do something about it and not feel trapped. I am not a control freak (OK maybe a little) it’s just the anxiety.

But as I have come to learn this year anxiety is not who I am, it is a part of me. At times a big (enormous, seemingly never-ending) part, but a just part nonetheless. I have other parts: I am a good friend and daughter and sister, I care about people, I love to sing and dance and read books, I hate hypocrisy, don’t have much patience for small talk, I like good food, I always want to lose just 5 kilo, I can’t stand the feeling of a wasted day and I’ve always wanted to travel.

Yeah I know, weird right? I mean I basically wrote a whole post about how I don’t like to. But when my therapist asked me this year what I would do if I didn’t feel anxious all the time my answer was:

  1. move to NY and study musical theater (and see all the Broadway shows I can afford).
  2. travel the world.

Beside the voice telling me that nature is unpredictable and I will feel safer at home there is another voice inside of me clawing and scratching and desperately trying to get out. A voice that craves the open air, the quiet sunrise atop a lone mountain. A part of me dreams of sailing down rivers and across oceans, climbing mountains and valleys, leaving the comfort of the known and safe for the beauty of the strange and maybe sometimes a little dangerous. A part of me wishes I could throw away the girl with the printed bus schedules and detailed map and just go out and discover. Have the most extraordinary adventures because of a mistake and not because of a good plan.

And so I am jealous of all those traveler’s blogs. The ones that show pictures of the most amazing places, describe the most unique adventures. The ones doing the thing I so wish I could do.

I spent the week in Prague with my family. My parents, three sisters, brother in law, two year old niece (and another one on the way). We had been planing this family vacation for a month and I was really looking forward to it. It didn’t even occur to me that I should prepare, after all I am with six other people and it’s not like we were spending a week in the dessert, it’s just a different city in another country right? or maybe I was in denial. like I said a lot of this anxiety stuff is relatively new and I’m still figuring it all out.

Whatever the reason, I got on the plane and everything fell apart. The anxiety took a hold of me and didn’t let go for the entire week. All those pesky, endless voices in my head just didn’t SHUT UP. what if the plane crashes, what if the weather is bad, Prague had a huge flood in 2002 it could happen again, what if hurricane Irma reaches where we are (yes half-way across the world), what if there is a huge fire, what if we miss our flight back. Obviously none of those thoughts are anything close to rational but fear rarely is and it doesn’t matter. My heart still races constantly, I have to meditate every morning so I can get myself out the door, I have to remind myself to breathe. I took it minute by minute, had great moments and victories and a few breakdowns too.

It was only a week but it felt like a year and I counted the days until I was back home in the comfort and safety of my room with a cup of coffee and cast albums on repeat. We arrived in the early hours of the morning. I let out a huge sigh of relief  as the plane’s wheels touched down. The next morning I got up, had my coffee, listened to my music, and out of nowhere I fell apart all over again. Literally fell on the floor of my bedroom and just sobbed uncontrollably for maybe 20 minutes. With so much tension built up all week it had to come out somewhere, but it wasn’t just the tension.

In that moment, after it was all over I looked back and I felt so stupid for the irrational paralyzing fear and so so alone in all of it. This is probably the longest post I have ever written, and possibly the most personal. But I know that if there is another me out there feeling so alone, that me would want to read this. That me would want someone to tell them to love themselves even when it is really hard. They would want to hear that anxiety disorders and mental illness are real. That the anxiety is still just one part of them and that there are so many other beautiful parts to discover.

That one day, the voice that is yearning to travel the world or live out any dream will be stronger then the fear and take you the whole way there.

DON’T GIVE UP

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this was one of the good moments. 

BTW Prague is a  beautiful and awesome city

 

The one where I go on a rant about cellphones, human contact and the inevitable mechanical uprising

I spent the better part of two days getting my phone repaired. I would much rather continue to blissfully ignore the fact that my phone was slowly dying as I have been doing for the past four months or so. But alas, I have to go away on a work thing for a few days and that means that I need a phone that is actually capable of making calls and has a battery life that lasts more then a few minutes.

And so I spent the last few days going to and from phone labs, digging through my drawers for the warranty certificate, transferring sim cards to different phones and basically marveling at the level to which I (and society) have become dependent on this silly little box.

As a general rule, it always kind of bugs me when people go on about how they don’t understand how society is so technological and isolated, how they love the quiet and clean air and  rather spend their days drinking cucumber and parsley shakes while doing tai-chi at the park instead of sitting in front of a television. Me? one of my favorite hobbies is binge watching t.v shows (yes that is a hobby) and I get separation anxiety if I spend to many days apart from my laptop. So when the speeches about “the selfie generation” start I always felt like I’m being judged.

On the flip side, I also tend to be quite old fashioned when it comes to certain things and this current phone experience has made me wonder if maybe the tai-chi doing, vegetable drinking snobs had it right all along.

I suddenly realized how ridiculous it was the amount of time and effort and nerves I was poring in to this situation as opposed to just saying- I won’t be available EVERY SECOND OF THE DAY for the next little while, deal with it. As a teen I was late in getting a smart phone. Instead of automatically opening Google Maps I used to actually talk to people on the street to ask for directions. Instead of counting on all my transportation apps I would print out bus schedules at home or just wait at the bus stop. When I sat with friends I would SIT WITH FRIENDS. But now? in a new place I have to make a conscious effort to look up and around and not just walk around with my nose in the screen. If I wait at the bus stop for more the 3 minutes my hand is already itching to check where the bus is in real time. When I sit with friends or family it never takes more then ten minutes until one of us reaches for our cell.

I read an article about a few mothers who had this start up idea they began and shared with the rest of the online community. The idea was described in a text that circulated a bit and basically encouraged mothers to turn their phones of between six and eight every evening. The article was all about how fast this idea spread and described children’s responses such as “now I can talk to mommy because she is not on the phone”/ My heart broke just reading those words. And I was amazed at the fact that it took a “start-up idea” for simple common sense to kick in. I don’t dare judge though. Because we all do it- every single one of us! without even realizing it we become sucked in to it. and everything I described? that’s all without me being on facebook, twitter or instagram. So just multiply everything by all that and I think I just might explode.

My parent’s 19th anniversary is coming up and my siblings decided we are old enough to chip in for a proper present  so off I went to the I ROBOT store to check it out.

irobot

According to irobot.com  “vacuuming robots are powered by a full suite of smart sensors that automatically guide the robot around your home. The robot makes 60 decisions every second, navigating under furniture and around clutter to thoroughly clean your floors”

According to the nice lady in the store the robot knows how to avoid stairs, it returns on its own to the charging area when the floor is clean, and you can activate it from your phone even when you are not at home.

A super cool gift to get my parents so they don’t have to be constantly sweeping up Cookie’s fur that is in every single corner in the house. But every time the sales lady added a feature I freaked out a little more. She basically described a machine that can think and act on it’s own! am I the only one who sees the uncanny resemblance?!?

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this photo came up without me even trying when I googled the first one. (Will Smith in the 2004 film I,ROBOT that depicts a robot uprising)

I mean come on! thinking vacuum cleaners? driver-less cars?! and there will be no Will Smith to save us here! how am I the only one who freaks out a every time I see a new invention?!

So, obviously technology is not all bad. There are countless stories of lives saved and improved through endless new developments and always on going progress. Every single one of us is better for it. But maybe also just a little bit worse as well? The more I grow up the more I realize how gray life is. Thing are so rarely black and white, it hardly exists. And that makes our job here all the more difficult. Because we need to learn how to mix those colors without going to much to one side.

 

 

 

 

LIFE

I haven’t really written in a little while and it’s not because I had nothing on my mind. It’s actually because I had too much.

 Although not the technical end of year according to most calendars august has always been my end of year and this august is no different. with exams over, decisions for next semester finally made, new leases signed, summer job started, I finally feel like I can stop playing catch up and start to process what just happened. And so my mind and body kind of went in to overdrive. This year was like a marathon. Just non-stop (yeah that’s a Hamilton reference, musical theater geek over here) full throttle, from the get go. I pushed my self probably more then I ever have before, for better or worse and it finally caught up to me. I had so many thoughts and emotions tumbling out these last two weeks I couldn’t get a logical sentence out. Everything I shoved away in those little compartments in my mind so that I could do what I needed to do came rushing out like a football team running on to the field before a big game, cheerleaders with pom-poms and all. I was scared for a minute I was going crazy. I spent a solid week bursting in to tears at random moments and I am currently writing through a haze of prescription medication and countless cups of tea because apparently my body had enough as well and I woke up in the middle of the night with a exceptionally nasty throat infection.

First lesson I took away from this? when your body says STOP – listen to it.

Second lesson- don’t let it get that far. You need time to process and experience during life and not just when everything is over. It’s unhealthy and more then that you miss out on so much. Because while my coping strategy this year may have been packing away all the anxiety and negative experiences  so that I could deal with the day to day, in the process I put away all the good stuff as well. All of my little wins and big successes were neatly tucked away instead of celebrated. I worked and fought so hard I forgot to leave myself time to appreciate all of the effort I put in to it. I skipped over any accomplishment and just zeroed in on the next one. Never congratulating myself for the work, always beating myself up for the things I didn’t get right.

This process may have gotten me through the year but looking back, let me tell you- IT SUCKS and it is not worth it. That is not living life that’s surviving it. And while I may have needed to be on survival mode for a little while I can happily say that I am not doing that anymore. And if that means I need to make changes, ignore outside expectations and focus on myself more well then that is what I am going to do.

If this past year was a marathon, next year is going to be a super zen yoga retreat.

 

Swallowing The World

Today I spent a glorious day at the beach with friends. ahhhhhh..the waves, the sun, the shirtless guys. What could be better?

I went over to the water fountain to refill my water bottle and waited in line behind an elderly lady. She noticed me, took her only slightly filled bottle out and offered me the fountain. I told her to finish first, I was in no rush. she waved away my objections, smiled at me and said “don’t you worry, I will drink a little while you fill yours up. we don’t need to swallow the entire world in one instant”.

I thanked her, filled my bottle and went back to my friends. Only later on my way home I was struck by what a powerful statement that was and how it was exactly what I needed to hear today.

We don’t need to swallow the entire world in one instant. More then that, we can’t. I’ll let you in on a secret-it’s kind of impossible. And yet how many of us spend our days expecting the impossible of ourselves? I know I do. As a young adult I find myself trying to fulfill so many expectations and feeling pressure from so many different voices in my life. My parents, my friends, my co-workers and bosses, professors, society. And my own obviously. All those little pesky and relentless voices in my head. Many days I find myself nearly crumbling from the sheer weight and noise of it all. Feeling even more pressure when things don’t turn out how or when I wanted. (And they almost never do. Life is fun that way). Countless nights spent tossing and turning in worry because I am not moving at the pace I “should” be (and who set that pace anyways can someone please tell me?)

So then this wonderful lady at the beach just came along and reminded me. We don’t need to swallow the entire world in one instant. w\We can’t get it all at once. We need to be patient and grateful for what we have in the moment. Drink the little bit of water in our water bottles and then refill. Minute by minute, just one foot after the other. That is, I think, essentially what life is. Just step by step. Sometimes you take baby steps, other times you jog, and once in a while you give it your fastest sprint. But no matter how fast or slow you’re going it’s always one step after the other.

When I feel my energy bottoming out on the last kilometer of a run I focus on my feet and my mind just chants “left right left right left right”.

Maybe that’s not a bad strategy. What do you think?

 

 

CITY GIRL

I’m a city girl.

Don’t get me wrong, I love nature. I love the space and clean air and just enormous beauty that exists when I go on hikes, the beach is probably one of my favorite places to be and camping trips with my family are some of the fondest memories I have.

But- I am a city girl. sitting in front of a beautiful sunset is inspiring but it does not compare to the enjoyment I get from people watching. If the beach is in my top ten a close second is the train station. I love to sit on a bench and  make up names and stories for the faces rushing by. There goes Lisa the lawyer who hates her job and wishes she could move to Africa and tour the safari’s (you can tell by the tiny African monkey key chain she keeps on her fancy purse). And there’s Jacob who’s sitting across from me looking so miserable because he was just dumped and he doesn’t want to go home to an empty apartment. And there is Dave who looks exhausted but obviously overjoyed- he’s on his way home to his newborn daughter.

Nothing really compares to that thrill I get when I walk down a busy street in a city and see all of the coffee shops, book stores, pubs and movie theaters I could stop at if I just wanted to. The fact that I don’t is irrelevant. Just the knowledge that I could if I wished and if I did I would have so many options, makes me undeniably happy. I can’t really explain it.

On days when I feel ugly I window shop to my hearts content, trying on all the dresses I would never buy even if I could afford them. I can spend hours lost in bookstores without ever buying a book. I love walking through house ware stores looking at all the pretty dishes and coffee cups. Office supplies shops to – those are so underrated! All of the colorful notebooks, pens and boxes of paperclips!? it doesn’t matter that I’ve been using a computer almost exclusively for about 3-4  years now. The smell of clean cut paper and a good new pen always get my creative juices flowing and I want to pull one out then and there and start writing.

Sometimes those window shopping sprees are dangerous because some days I end up buying something in nearly each store I go through and then stand staring at home with everything spread out on my bed wondering how on earth I got there. I vow never to do it again but it doesn’t take long for the streets to call me out once more.

I got in to running for the exercise but I continued because I love running through all of the little alleyways and parks I never see in the daytime when I’m too busy to stop and look around. I love the silent companionship that sort of develops between runners. we run past each other silently and I may not know their names but I know where I will meet each one every evening just like clockwork.

I met up with a friend over the weekend and we spent around half an hour just fantasizing about the vacation we will take now that our exams are finally over (YAY!!!! I spent two whole days in my P.J’s to celebrate and it was fantastic) While my dream is somewhere in Europe (New York is like my favorite city in the world but I’ve already been so many times) where I can people watch  in a whole new country and learn about different cultures (and also just spend a few days by the hotel pool) she went on and on about this huge backpacking trip she had planned. Just listening to her made it a little harder to breath and with every mountain she described climbing I just got more and more claustrophobic.

Sure, city’s have pollution and traffic and noise. But as the poet Charles Baudelaire says in one of my favorite quotes: “What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open.”

 

What about you? are you a city or country person? what about each makes you tick? 

and p.s- have any recommendations on cities I should visit during my (very) “long time coming” summer vacation?