Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: anxiety Page 1 of 3

Anxious Attachment and Self-Love

I finished reading (but am in no way DONE with) The Anxious Hearts Guide by Rikki Cloos and I’m assigning it to my “Required Reading for Everyone” list. If you are alive today, you need to read this book. It’s life changing. You may not be an anxious attachment style person, but you may know and love one, and this book will help you both relate better!

anxious attachment

Can we talk about Kindle books for a moment first? I am NOT a fan. Why? I don’t know.

Everyone I know loves them and they have so many great qualities: portable library, instant books, searchable. The list goes on and on, but I still don’t like them. There are a couple of reasons and the first is that I like to physically flip through pages. It comforts me. Then there is the smell of a book, and the look of it on my shelf like an award. And I love to write in my books, and I love to write on paper. I can’t be alone here. Right? I mean, I have a paper calendar, journals, shopping lists. I love to write with a pen or a pencil. It’s the physical-ness of it. So awesome. Yes, I’m aware that I’m a tad strange.

Speaking of writing things down, I made pages and pages of journal entries about this book. I actually got a comment about it, like, “What the heck are you scribbling? Are you angry?” I don’t always do this. Typically, I make notes in the margins and maybe write a few blog posts about things that I’m learning or what’s coming up while I read and then leave it there. But this book was different. It demanded more attention and action.

I have had a hard time relating to people since high school, and it’s only been getting steadily worse lately. And the crazy part is that if you asked anyone that knows me, ex-coworkers, family, friends from community things, they’d all say I’m outgoing and friendly. Everyone loves me! Except those few miserable people. They hate everything.

But I feel like I just can’t figure people out. I make friends, get close, and then run away. They frustrate me and I throw my hands up and decide maybe I’m just an introverted person that should keep to myself.

I’m not. When I’m alone too much I go crazy. And by “alone too much” I mean alone for more than a day at a time, and by “alone” I mean here at home with my husband while he works. I need the people! But they bug me to the point of tears!

And then, by some crazy coincidence, call it the magic of the universe, I started seeing posts on Instagram about adult attachment theory. Holy…this sounds just like me! Seeing Rikki Cloos’ posts struck a chord and I had to know more…so I bought her book! Of course, I did! I’m a book lover! But I wanted it NOW, so I got the Kindle version.

You know…if you get the Kindle version of a book, you should be able to get a print version for a few bucks more. I think it’s messed up that I have to buy it all over again, but I will, because I love her!

I took it slow through this book, writing in my journal all the things I wanted to remember, adding a few books to my TBR list. The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Neff and Germer is what I’m working on next, because while I was reading, I realized how badly I treat myself. It’s sad. If I heard someone talk to someone else the way I talk to myself…I’d punch them in the nose. No bueno, man!

What will you find in this book? You’ll find out what anxious attachment is and how to take steps to get closer to a secure attachment style, which means you’ll have closer and more satisfying relationships with other humans. And here’s the crazier part: You won’t feel bad about yourself while you read this. You’ll feel seen and heard and think, “Hey! Yeah! I am a pretty cool person. My needs and wants are valid. I’m just trying get them fulfilled in some unhealthy ways.”

There is so much self-work going on over here lately and it feels so good.

One more thing before I go: “self-help” books. Love them or hate them? I hear so many people (or rather see posts or read about) bashing self-help. What’s so terrible about trying to solve your own problems? And why would I not share every bit of help I find in the hopes that maybe one other person out there might find peace as well? I don’t get the criticism. Let’s talk about that in the comments, huh?

Allowing Things to Get Uncomfortable

This is going to be an uncomfortable post, because it’s about me learning to be ok with being uncomfortable for a bit. It’s starts as a gross personal story, so if you’re extremely squeamish, I’d skip to the next post, or maybe just the next few paragraphs.

uncomfortable
Photo by Spencer Backman on Unsplash
I picked this because it’s exactly the look I have when people are making me uncomfortable.

Years ago, I found myself with an extremely painful lump in my arm pit. I’m susceptible to ingrown hairs and I usually can get them cleared up on my own, but no matter what I did, this one just got worse. I will do anything to stay away from a doctor’s office, so you know it was bad because after a week of suffering, I went to Urgent Care in town to see what they could do for me.

The doctor there was so nice. He gently checked it out and confirmed that’s what it was. He said he’d drain it (it’ll hurt a little) and give me an antibiotic to clear it up. No problem. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for some pain that would subside momentarily, but ultimately be the cure.

Once he went to work on it, he realized it wasn’t an ingrown hair, it was a small cyst near the surface of my skin. “This is going to hurt more than I thought, but since we’re already here we should just remove it.” He was already working on it, no time for pain relievers.

I closed my eyes and leaned into it, focusing on my breath, allowing him to work as quickly as he could.

It hurt, you guys. Badly.  My high pain tolerance is source of pride for me, so when he congratulated me on being so tough, I was beaming. The assisting nurse was also impressed. I laughed (through involuntary tears), “Meditation does work!”

Bandaged up and sent home with antibiotics, the infection cleared, and I’ve never had another problem.

Why am I telling you this god-awful story?

Because this morning, while I was reading The Anxious Hearts Guide, I came to the part on “Becoming Secure” and “Sitting with Discomfort” and the experience popped into my head when I read “…those panic feelings are real, yes, but they are feelings” and “lean into and accept discomfort.”

Some feelings are unacceptable to me. When I feel them, I panic and react instantly, but rarely does this reaction help my situation. Surprise! What can I do? I think this is finally starting to sink in and be useful to me.

When I started to feel pain while the doctor addressed my wound, I could have reacted, pulled away, or punched him in the nose. Why didn’t I? Because I knew that the pain would probably be short, I trusted the doctor was not trying to harm me, and I knew I would be better for it. I am not an animal, communication was used, and I can expect a brighter future, so I let it be. I accepted it and waited.

I realized, over this past weekend, that I can do the same thing with my emotions. When I feel uncomfortable feelings, instead of running from them in panic, I can remember those same things: emotions are short lived, trust that no one is trying to harm me, and know that I will probably be better for it if I take a moment to let the feeling work its way past. Let it be. Accept it.

Emotions are warnings that something is there. They aren’t fool proof. I’ve found them to be quite susceptible to imagination and fancy. They come and go like the weather.

This is the practice I’m focused on right now, allowing uncomfortable feelings to be there.

I Have Nothing To Say?

Me? With nothing to say? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Welcome to my train of thought!

I came online late this morning with every intention of posting that I wouldn’t be posting today, intentionally. It’s not that I forgot or ran out of time. I simply don’t have anything to say.

nothing to say

I’ve been reading, journaling, and thinking all morning. “In my head” as the saying goes. I have a lot to work on in there. I wish I had an excellent therapist that lived nearby, that I could call and say, “Do you have a couple hours to walk with me and hear me out? I need some feedback on this.”

Oh, and the money to pay for such professional “help.”

Yeah, I know. “Get a friend!” But friends need to be kept, relationships maintained. Some of the things I think, consider, and want to get off my chest, would make a “friend” run away. Too much of a chance laying that on a poor friend.

So here I am…not posting because I don’t have ANYTHING to say.

Yep. Welcome to my mind.

Once I opened my laptop and started typing the words, all the others started knocking on my door to come out and play.

Here’s the first. A quote from Andre Gide’s So Be it: or The Chips Are Down (1952)

“Believe those who are seeking the truth;
doubt those who find it;
doubt everything,
but don’t doubt yourself.”

I heard it quoted on the Secular Buddhism podcast yesterday and it rang so hard in my head, I scribbled it down to look up later, and then I DID! That’s how you know it resonated with me, I remembered it.

I don’t think we need to say much about it. Do we? I mean, it sounds like brilliant advice, advice I’ve been following all my life. Except the “don’t’ doubt yourself” part. I’m still trying to uninstall that software.

Here’s another. It’s from Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I read it last month and posted about, extensively. I’m still re-reading it before my morning meditation, digging up the gems and storing them for future use.

“The next time you feel a sense of dissatisfaction, of something being missing or not quite right, turn inward just as an experiment.
…make a place for yourself…
Just sit. Reside at the center of the world. Let things be just the way they are.”

Sounds like torture. And it is. It’s kind of where I am this morning. My MO is to turn to something to “fix” that feeling, quick before it gets worse. It never works. I make it worse by reacting to a feeling that may or may not be indicative of reality. So, I’m trying it.

I’m sitting here. I’ve read, journaled, thought, read again, jotted down a note, taken a few breaths. I think it’s almost time to set it down and get on with my day. I have things to do. I’ll come back to these feelings later, now that I have them down on paper, and see if they mean anything. I’ll keep you posted!

Last one. This is from The Anxious Hearts Guide by Rikki Cloos, which I’m (unfortunately) reading my Kindle. I really have to stop falling for that. I want the book NOW and see it’s on Kindle, when I know I’m not the best at reading on my phone. I can’t make notes the way I want. I need to see and feel paper, all spread out in front of me!

“A deep-seated feeling that you’re not worthy of love is the culprit here. Insecure attachers tend to have the unfortunate trait of holding a deep, unsettling belief that they are inherently unlovable.

Contrary to what your brain is telling you, you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. You are actually lovable right now, as is, without any improvement at all. But without the self-awareness, self-work, and efforts to curb your problematic and toxic relationship behaviors, we’re going to end up pushing away anyone who is trying to love us in spite of our flaws.”

Before you rush to comment that I am loved, and YOU do like me, the problem here isn’t between you and me. It’s between me and me. I’m not my biggest fan and I’m slowly starting to see that that really needs to change. I’m working on it. This blog is part of that.

I wish I had found books like these thirty years ago. Where would I be right now?

How’s that for having nothing to say?

My post about deliberately not posting today so that I can continue my train of thought has now concluded. Thanks for being here. Comments are (as always) highly appreciated.

Social Anxiety Win and A Podcast Roundup!

I conquered a battle with social anxiety yesterday and I want to share that win with you!

It was Drive Day yesterday and you know what that means!

Podcast roundup!

I was meeting a friend at a new place, and since I wasn’t completely sure how long it would take to get there, I was a half hour early. No worries. I brought my journal. That’s when I got a text.

“Traffic here, sorry, going to be about a half hour late.”

Well, shit.

That’s when I realized after all that driving, I really had to use the restroom.

Now you’re wondering, “So? You’re at a coffee shop, Michelle. What’s the problem?”

Anxiety. I’m in a strange place, alone. I’ll have to walk in there, use the bathroom, and order a cup of coffee…ALONE. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s a lot for someone like me.

I texted my husband the situation, “laughing” emojis galore. He knows the struggle. He’s been with me for 24 years. “Just do it baby. What’s the worst that can happen?”

“I’ll look like a fool somehow” is what I was thinking, but texted back, “I’m doing it! I’m going in!”

Some things are great stirrers of courage. Having to use the bathroom is a big one.

I grabbed my wallet, the key out of the ignition, and took a deep breath. “I can do this. Normal people do this.” Opened the door, locked the car, walked toward the coffee shop door, and opened it. So far so good.

I see the restrooms sign, my eyes move to the door handle and… combo locks on the door. Damn. A glitch. I’m going to have to go up to the counter and ASK to use the restroom. What kind of a world are we living in?! I’m already inside, there are only a couple others having coffee at the small tables along the wall. I steel myself again, “This is just what people do.”

“What can I get for you?” the cheerful young girl at the register chirps.

“Your restroom code first!” I laugh.

“Of course!”

She tells me the four-digit number. Oh, lord, I’m going to have to remember that all the way back to the front of the store, at least thirty feet away. Yes, that is really what ran through my head before I repeated the numbers back to her and turned away.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget them!

With that out of the way, I ordered an Americano, black, and headed out to the patio with it, to sit and write in my journal while I waited. Finding it far too sunny there for this fair-skinned red headed girl, I went back to my car.

Safe back in my own space, I breathed a huge sigh. Yes, literally. Then I texted my husband again.

“I’m a bad ass!”

“Yes, you are hun! You can do anything!”

Then I proceeded to tell him that we should have a flask of whiskey for emergencies because that’s exactly what this was AND what this cup of coffee needed to be perfection in a paper cup.

That stressful ten minutes down, I settled in to do some scribbling while I waited for my friend to escape Los Angeles and join me.

On the drive there, I had the chance to listen to three podcasts, one of which made me (yes, MADE me) buy a book while I sat waiting. Here they are, in order of appearance, one quick thought for each. These thoughts are from memory because I had to borrow my mother-in-law’s car and there’s no center console to hold my notebook while I drive.

Quillette Podcast #178: Michael Shermer on Watching ‘Scientific American’ Go Woke

Science should not be politically correct. It’s science. The point is to throw things out there and prove or disprove them.

This conversation was eye-opening, some things I didn’t realize people really considered were discussed, and I had this thought about sports teams separated by gender. What if instead of male and female teams, we just had teams by ability? I’m thinking about baseball and football kinds of sports. But then…there would probably be very few female players on the team. There’s no way, no matter how hard I work, to lift and kick and hit as hard as these dudes. The same goes for some smaller males, true.

There was a term he used…damn… See? This is why I take notes while I’m driving.

Freakanomics – No Stupid Questions EPISODE 83 Can You Change Your Mind Without Losing Face?

Have you ever had to change your opinions about something after learning new information? I hope so. Why do we think our politicians, leaders, and educators should never “switch sides” of a debate?

The other thing that rang so clear to me during this podcast was hearing about how one politician changed his stance on gay marriage years after finding out his son was gay. Empathy is what brings us together.

Freakanomics – People I (Mostly) Admire EPISODE 28 Why Aren’t All Drugs Legal? (Replay)

This is the episode that held a gun to my head and made me order another book on Amazon. I wouldn’t have otherwise. I have “shelf” control. Ha ha ha! I thought it was a new interview, but I found out just now it was a replay episode. No wonder it was so familiar.

My stance on legalizing all recreational drugs has been long-standing, but the reasons have changed over the years. This interview confirmed some older reasons and gave me a few new ones. I can’t wait to read this book, and since it’s the second time the interview has come up, I felt compelled to have it shipped to me ASAP…and that looks like a month from now according to Amazon. Weird.

I didn’t listen to any more podcasts on the drive home. I was too high on the three-hour conversation my friend and I had over coffee…and then drinks…then sweet potato fries!

Interested in reading another Podcast Roundup? Check out Legacy, Science, and Coincidence

Stress: Considering Ways to Stay Sane

My Dad got me thinking yesterday about ways to stay sane in this climate of stress and anxiety. This starts negative but stay with me a moment.

stress
My Dad, My Brother, and Me (1975ish)

There are days (more and more of them lately) that I want to cry for humanity. It’s usually the day that (for some reason unfathomable to myself) I decide to open a news channel and read a few articles. Between the inflammatory headlines, that I swear are written by a catchy headline generator, and the piss-poor journalism…ugg…I just can’t.

And then there are the social media posts and comments that lead me to believe that there are few people online that are trying to make sense of the world and create a better life for themselves. It seems we are all more interested in creating and fighting a war between factions than understand each other. We’re all flying colors instead of asking questions.

What’s wrong with us? Have we all lost our minds? Is this how civilization gets thrown back into the dark ages again? Maybe.

Then I read more history and see the bigger picture. It’s always the end of the world according to the news media. The government is always reaching for more power. And the people, in general, don’t have a firm grip on reality. The only difference between now and the past is that the information moves much quicker and the whole world can be reported on at once. And that may very well spell disaster, but no more than it ever has before.

The reality is that everything changes, everything ends. Wars start and end. Atrocities are committed. Tyranny looms up. A rebellion begins. All sides believe they are doing what needs to be done to make the world better. Have you seen Star Wars?

And among all of that, here we are, the individual, trying to live our lives as best we can.

I’ve turned off the news completely. No, I don’t know who killed who, what country might invade another, what disease is spreading now, or how much of California is burning. There is absolutely nothing I can do about those things on any given day. And it seems that knowing all that information is putting everyone around me at such a heightened sense of risk awareness that they live constantly in fight or flight mode.

I don’t have time to finish this thought today, but I’m posting this anyway to hold the thought. Today is my “calling day.” It’s my stress reliever, that day that I visit friends and catch up. Yes, in person. While I’m out, I’ll be thinking about how I’d like to move forward. How do I respond to this world? How do I live without causing more stress to those around me? How do I protect myself now and leave a better world for my children’s children at the same time?

Life Choices: Is there a clearly good or bad decision?

The Noticer cover on a desert background, a book filled with help with our life choices.

Not only do our life choices have an effect on the rest of our existence, they ripple out to the lives around us and down their timelines as well. But that doesn’t mean there are always clear “right” and “wrong” choices at the moment we’re making them. We can’t possibly know what all the results will be for all our options and which ones will lead us the “right” way, so we do the best we can with what we have and keep on living and loving.

“There are generations yet unborn, whose very lives will be shifted and shaped by the moves you make and the actions you take…tonight. And tomorrow. And tomorrow night. And the next day. And the next.”

The Noticer by Andy Andrews

Maybe we should limit ourselves to what will do us, and those around us, the most good in the moment we are in when we are considering our life choices.

I made a note at this line, “The Butterfly Effect.” Remember that movie? I think I’d like to watch it again. I remember the concept but not the details, the plot eludes me other than tiny ripples make large differences in the distant future.

I remember thinking about it when my kids were very little and becoming overwhelmed with the idea that what I do now, while they are so young, every day, can have lasting effects on their lives and their own families lives in the future. At the time I was feeling so not ready for the family situation I thought I had wanted. I remember walking home from the park pushing a stroller, my husband walking with his daughter a few paces behind, wanting out.

What have I done? My choices are going to destroy more lives, ruin more people’s futures. My family will be disappointed. My husband will lose what he thought was the love of his life. And my sons…another couple of children brought into this world and then abandoned. I literally wanted to run away, not divorce and reorganize, just run away from all of it. It was a rough time.

Luckily, I got some help and decided to stick around and see what happened. Today, I’m glad I did, but in all honesty, it wasn’t always so. It was touch and go for a while. Some days and weeks were better than others. And I still have bad days from time to time. But that’s all beside the point.

My decision to stay in the relationship, to raise my children with my husband, led me right where I am right now. It was one decision that led to another and one that will affect everyone around me forever. If I had decided to do the opposite, or chose and entirely different option, I can’t know what would have happened, unless we invent some way of seeing alternate timelines.

And that doesn’t necessarily mean I made a correct or best choice either. Life is good right now, but it could always be better. It’s good for me, but maybe it would have been better for my stepdaughter if I had left. My husband could have met someone else that would have made a better parent to her than I did. Who knows? All I’m saying is that every decision you make, everything that accidentally happens, every stroke of fate, leads you to another that gets you where you are now.

I became overwhelmed back then because I was trying to make “the right” choices to create “the right” future. But there is no “right.” There is only the moment we are in, with the information we have, and the people that are there now.

At some point in my life, I decided to stop worrying about making the “right” decision and started thinking about how I could make life nicer for the people around me in that moment, including myself. I stopped nagging about things I wanted done and did them myself. I stopped complaining about other people’s choices and focused on my own. It was only the beginning and I don’t even remember where that idea came from, what book, website, movie, or conversation led me to stop and think.

Inspiration to change comes from everywhere at every moment. As I walk through the store, drive down the freeway, or post on the internet, I try to remember that I’m influencing the world around me. I want to send positives out into the world, but sometimes the negatives influence others to do good things too. I’m not going to worry about any other timeline but the one I’m in and that branches out from what I’m doing right now, the best I have isn’t always that great, but it is what is and I can’t change that.

I posted about this book when I read it back in January. Go check out “The Noticer” by Andy Andrews, to see where my journey with it began.

Andy Andrews has a lot of inspirational books out and a podcast too! His website links to all his work.


“Four Reasons a Newsletter is Better Than a Social Media Feed”
Bypass the social media algorithms and sign up for my weekly newsletter. Each week will give you a rundown of my favorites posts, podcasts, and few funnies. Read what you want, when you want, without getting sucked into the endless scroll mode!

Anxiety: The Lies My Brain Tells Me

Anxiety lies quote from the book on a desert background.

“You’re right. Brains are fuckin’ liars. But you got this.”

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

Anxiety sneaks up on you.
Your brain lies like a rug!

The character was having an anxiety attack. His friend walked him through the panic in the sweetest way I’ve ever heard. She didn’t deny his feelings or tell him to get over it. She simply agreed with him and gave him time, helped him breathe to calm his heart rate and think more clearly.

Bravery is personal. No one can do it for you, no one can spur you to take the leap. It has to come from inside.

Our brain…well…
it can lie like a bitch sometimes.

I have a paper bracelet on my shelf that reads across the band, “Depression Lies.” I should make a new one that says “Anxiety Lies.” I printed it from a website over ten years ago and used to have it taped around my wrist as a reminder. It sounds silly but that little piece of paper may have saved my life. It got me through a rough time, and it sits there reminding me to this day that my brain could be lying to me. If I’m feeling badly, I need to double check my thinking and possibly adjust.

How we think about our objective reality (the weather, the situation, the sensation) is completely subjective. Our reactions to it depend on our personality, our past, our culture, and our imagination. Unlike animals, and the demons and angels in this book, we have the power to direct and control what we think, how we perceive, how we judge, the world around us. We have imagination. We make up stories. It’s what gives us our edge. It’s that “god” in us, the likeness we are created in. But it isn’t easy to control and we aren’t born knowing how to use it well. It takes effort and practice.

What’s the difference between lying and telling a story?

Nothing really. It’s just what we think about it. My Grandmother telling us that elves were looking in the window and would tell Santa that we were bad? Lie or story? She wasn’t trying to entertain us with fables. She was trying to get us to settle down and behave ourselves. She knew there were no elves, but when she told us that and we’d all go running to the window to see. Some of us would burst into tears at the thought of Santa finding out that we weren’t “good.” Others thought Grandma was clever, some thought she was probably crazy because she really seemed to believe her own story. Her intentions were good. She wanted us to settle down and she found a clever way to do it.

Our brains do the same thing. Our intention is to stay safe and get what we need out of the current situation we find ourselves in. And we invent stories to make sense of the input and act appropriately. Life experience, instinct, and imagination play a big role in the decision making. Sometimes we make a big deal out of nothing. Sometimes we make too little a deal, too.

I have a tendency to let my imagination run wild and react without thinking things through. Maybe that helped me survive in a past life. Maybe there is some sort of cultural or evolutionary memory in our genes. Here and now, though, it has caused me some pain and heartache. I’ve learned, like the character in the story, to get my body calm first and then re-think.

I ask myself, “What’s the story here? Can I confirm any of it? Can I re-frame the input in a way that serves me? Can this be something I don’t fight or run away from?” And I ask for help from people I trust to give me honest feedback. I have two main people I go to right now, my husband and my best friend. I talk…a lot. And they listen while I work things out for myself.

I picked this quote to write about because I saw myself there and it made me smile. Sometimes my brain likes to tell me I’m all alone in the world, one of a kind, unlike any other human on the planet. It’s a lonely place, and I’m not sure why it thinks I need to feel that, but then I read books like this. We all feel this way from time to time. We all make up stories about the world and they aren’t all helpful. We all need a friend that can make space around us so we can sort things out.

““Want to walk around? No? Good choice – this grass is kind of scratchy, don’t you think? And that air – smells like butterfly farts, yeah? Look at those squishy, weird flowers. Wonder if you can eat ‘em…” Brevity kept up the words, grounding him, creating a steady soft patter that, over a handful of minutes, slowly eased Leto’s shoulders away from his ears. Brevity produced a small blue bottle from her bag and pressed it into his hands before shooing the rest of them away to give Leto a chance to recover.”

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

We all should have a partner like that.


Want to read this book? You can find it at Amazon HERE.

Want to read more quotes from this book?

Would You Want to Come Back for a Day?

Do We Have the Ability to Change the Meaning of Our Life Story?

Unintentional Lessons From Childhood

“She raised her hand when she felt like talking and didn’t think that was notable until Mr. Behan told her parents in the parent-teacher conference that he was glad to see a girl raising her hand.”

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

As I read any book, I make notes. I underline perfect sentences, things that start me thinking, and sweet “ah-ha” moments. After I finish reading the book, I go back through and look at my notes, pulling out things that trigger a reaction in me. Sometimes, just days after I’ve finished reading, I can’t remember why I marked a certain passage. Maybe it struck me but didn’t stick? It must not have been that important, a passing idea.

Sometimes a sentence jumps out at me, I’m brought to some revelation about my current situation, or it reminds me of my childhood, and I write about that. This passage did both!

I’m not sure if you know this, but I live in the desert. The rural part, not the city part. I’m not totally in the middle of nowhere. I can drive into town any day of the week. I can drive into the city, and I often do. It’s not that I’m physically that isolated, but the town is small, and it is the desert. People tend to move here because they like being alone. We come together as a community for special occasions, like the 4th of July or a music festival. We complain about “traffic” and crowded parking lots when there are more than a few cars nearby. Unless you are part of some sub-group, it’s not the hub of social activity.

So…what’s your point, Michelle?

I know, I’m getting to that!

Let’s see…summed up… I’ve found myself a bit hungry for social interaction lately.

Since my boys have flown the nest, I’ve been at a loss about how to find a new social circle. How do I meet new people now? BC (before children) I met people at work. With kids, it was playgroups and then homeschool events. I started to get involved in our local community center but with the shutdowns all of that is on hiatus until further notice.

So, what do I do? I looked to the internet, Facebook groups be precise. I found a few that looked promising and joined. That was the easy part. Then, when I started scrolling through the posts, I noticed that people were posting an introduction, a picture and some description of themselves and why they were there. I read them, found them interesting…but could not bring to post one myself, even though I longed to do so. I literally broke into a cold sweat just thinking about what I would write. Why?

Then I saw this underlined in my book and it dawned on me. It’s like raising my hand in class. I never could do it. Even as an adult, in any kind of classroom like situation, an office meeting, anything, I couldn’t raise my hand to say something no matter how much I wanted to. I’d sit there, heart racing, mind trying to put together just the right words to express my thoughts…and do nothing. I have the answer! I have something important to add! I can help with that! But nothing could get me to raise my hand.

Why? Because raising your hand draws attention to yourself, drawing attention to yourself if not lady-like or attractive. And that is the worst crime of all. Where in the world did I get that idea? I assume I got that message from my mother’s family growing up. I can hear their words like family mantras, “don’t make a scene,” “don’t be ugly,” “keep your voice down,” etc. There was no evil scheme to keep a child down, it was just the way they were raised, so they passed those social and cultural rules on to me.

The women in my father’s family were different. They were loud, brash, and wild. Since my parents divorced when I was very young, and back then fathers didn’t get 50/50 custody of their kids, I didn’t see them often. I mostly saw them on holidays when they were at their most boisterous. Recently, I’ve dreamt about being more like what I perceived them to be: confident, proud, intelligent, unrestrained.

So here I am, 47 and looking for new friends on the internet. I joined a group of like-minded people in an attempt to socialize…and I’m paralyzed with fear at the idea of introducing myself, even from behind a screen. What the hell?! I need to get over this right quick. There’s a huge difference between running into a room, doing crazy things, screaming “Look at me!” and contributing to a group social dynamic.

Our children learn some strange lessons, ones we didn’t mean to teach them at all. I wonder what unintentional lessons my children learned from me.

Probing Anxiety Wounds

“Her peripheral vision sparked and distorted the edges of everything so that when she turned quickly to look at something, it moved just out of sight. And even while everything inside her body seemed to speed up, everything outside of her body – the movements of other shoppers, the reaching and lowering of boxes and packages into carts – slowed.”

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

What a rush! I read this description of anxiety and was instantly transported back to when my children were preschool age.

In the past I could work all night at Disneyland surrounded by thousands of tourists and then go to university all day. I could design the sets and lights for live shows, direct a crew of twelve people, and schedule an entire department of technicians, but two toddlers in a grocery store had overwhelmed me and I could not for the life of me understand why.

Looking back, nearly twenty years later, the reason stands clearly before me. Before children, I was responsible for only myself. I slept when I was tired, ate when I was hungry, and went wherever I wanted, when I wanted to. There was no one to consider but myself. Having children changed that completely.

I had already spent my young life playing as much as possible. Now was the time in life to take responsibility for others seriously and I was ready to do it, I just wasn’t sure exactly how to go about it without losing myself completely.

Lack of sleep didn’t help matters. I wasn’t ready to give up my job. I’d worked so long and hard to get to that place and I’d only been there a year when I met my husband. Besides, I didn’t think I’d need to, lots of people work and have kids. The situation seemed perfect to my young mind. My husband worked during the day and I worked after he got home. The shift was only a few hours in the evening anyway, so I was home at a reasonable hour, and I figured a few hours of sleep and I’d be fine to take care of my kids.

I was wrong, but it took me a few years to realize what was happening. I had no idea how much energy little people can consume! I had an amazing support system; my husband was understanding, my family helped me out, and having my Mother-in-law living with us was a blessing beyond belief. Even with all the help, I still found myself getting angrier and angrier every week. Anxiety attacks became more frequent, emotional outburst became more destructive because I could not find a way to escape from confrontation. My family needed me, and I was so afraid of letting them down that I refused to walk away even for a moment.

I’m not sure how it happened, but at some point I had said something my doctor about feeling so angry all the time, that everything seemed to be moving at breakneck speed and couldn’t keep up. I remember telling her about an incident that had worried me. I was standing at the kitchen sink, doing the dishes, when I heard the front door open. I instantly cringed and prayed that my husband would not talk to me, that a child would not call me, that somehow, I would be invisible, and they would just pass me by. I had been flushed with the heat of anger over something as simple as a hand on my back and a kiss hello while I was doing the dishes alone. She immediately prescribed an anti-depressant and told me that I needed to talk to a therapist. I cried and she hugged me. And that’s when the healing began.

Nearly twenty years later, I’m still working on my depression and anxiety, but I’m definitely better than I was back then. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful that I spoke up when I did, before things could get worse. I still have bad day, weeks, but in general I’m good. I’ve learned new ways to cope with anxiety, new outlets. Most of all, I have better understanding of who I am and what my needs are, that they change from time to time, and that everyone is a work in progress.

I stopped medicating ten years ago, the year I moved out of the city. Something about the slower pace of rural living (and the fact that children do grow and don’t need constant attention) helped me immensely. Recently, I feel like I’m self-medicating with alcohol more than I probably should, and I’m working on that. Sign of the times, I guess. The upside is that I’m aware of it earlier and I’m not letting it get me down.

Fascinating the things that a piece of fiction can bring up from your memory. I hadn’t thought of that feeling specifically in years. Writing about it helped me clarify it and clean it up, like gently probing a wound to make sure there’s no debris in it so it can heal properly.

Get A Hold of Yourself, Man!

 I paused on these lines and thought, “That happens to me all the time,” underlining it so I could find it again later.

It’s the reason I post quotes like this on Instagram these days, a text has jogged a thought. I used to underline it and maybe make a note in the margin and leave it at that. Sometimes, if the passage struck me in a significant way, I’d write about it on my blog. Usually though, the thought came and went, and I rarely went back to it. I’ve always been jealous of people that can pull quotes from memory while they write or speak years after they read the book.

This quote got even more interesting when, at the end of my reading hour, I flipped back through the pages to create something for my daily post. I had highlighted several passages, but my eye went to this one again. Copying it down into the graphic, I was pulled in another direction.

“The condition, known as hysterical blindness, may be partial or complete, including one, several, or all objects.”

Have you ever been “blind with rage” or so upset you can’t see straight? That’s a form of hysterical blindness, anxiety so strong that your vision clouds and you feel blind. What causes that kind of anxiety? Huge transitions, deep grief, loss…global pandemics.

When we are living in a constant state of anxiety, we can’t think straight. Our minds, flooded with adrenaline, are blind to even obvious solutions to our problems, and we make terrible decisions.

I’ve been given a pretty healthy ration of shit lately for turning off the news channels, unfollowing/unfriending people that consistently share negative and nasty news articles on social media, and generally staying out of the loop when it comes to politics. How can I possibly make informed decisions if I don’t have all the “facts”? I’m hiding my head in the sand!

Stand by for imminent cliché…

We live in the information age, where we can be bombarded and inundated with “news” from all over the world 24/7 and I don’t think it’s healthy for any human being to live under that kind of stress.

I look around at my friends and family online and I see them under constant stress about things completely outside their control causing anxiety to the point of hysteria. I saw in it building up in myself, becoming blind to my immediate surroundings, so I put a stop to it. It hasn’t stopped me from completely freaking out from time to time. These are stressful times and, honestly, I’m tired of pretending they aren’t.

By opting out of the 24/7 news cycle, I’ve been able to focus on what is in my immediate realm of responsibility, my family, my home, and my neighborhood. My anxiety has lessened tremendously, and I’ve been able to think more clearly and make better decisions that benefit my life and those around me.

Reading the paper, watching TV news, or popping over to social media for a moment, reminds me of those old movies where someone is screaming hysterically and someone grabs them by the shoulders, slaps them hard across the face and says, “Get a hold of yourself!” We’ve all whipped each other into such a frenzy, we can’t possibly make logical decisions.

What else can I do but take a big step back, protect myself, and wait for the storm to clear? Humans have survived on this planet for a long time without knowing what everyone is doing, everywhere, at every moment. I don’t need anyone to make a law, start a movement, or create a boycott to make a decision that keeps my mind and body healthy and neither do you.

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