Thursday, January 29, 2015

Do your job.

It's Super Bowl week. And as a Patriots fan, I couldn't be more elated.

Patriots fans have embraced our coach's motto, "Do Your Job." He tells the players not to worry about the hype, just to treat their game like a job. It helps them focus on what's important. Now, the fans have  job too, as outlined in the contract above. Which I gladly signed.

Hear me out, please: Even if you hate the Patriots. 

When I started to heal from my anxiety, my therapist was adamant about finding the positives in life. "Embrace the good stuff," she would say. Having spent so many years focused on negative things, this was completely new to me. One of those good things was football. I found other good things, too. 

When I started looking for good, it was everywhere. Then I started practicing gratitude, and things really turned around.

There was so much good, and so much to be grateful for, that I started to focus more on positive things. I made it my job. It changed everything. It changed me from the inside out, I tell you.

I was able to be happy about the littlest things, and appreciate life more. I found inner happiness. Finally.

I have found so many similarities between myself and football players. Like me, hey face so much adversity (hello, panic disorder and life as a constantly rejected writer) and experience such moments of glory (overcoming a fear) and disappointment (having a bout of panic out of the blue and feeling like you're right back where you began). I just find so much inspiration in the game, the players...all of it. As for my team, I love how they keep their heads up and always try to be the bigger people even when they want to sit in a corner and cry their eyes out (okay, maybe the crying is just me!) 

That's why football is so personal to me. That's why we have to find something good.

You have to find something good. It's kind of our job in life, this whole happiness thing. Otherwise, you'll just be miserable.

Turns out, those good things aren't just a distraction. They sustain us.

I'll never forget having my blood drawn a few years ago, which was a debilitating fear for me for many years. But when I focused on a good thing (talking to the doctor while she drew my blood about how much I adore Tom Brady) it kind of diminished the shaky feelings. Sounds silly, maybe, but those good things can sustain us even when the world seems to be falling apart. That gave me confidence that I could conquer other fears...and I have!

This is so powerful, because honestly, we have enough negativity in our lives. That may never end for us. But we can choose a little "good stuff" injection whenever we need it. Treat it like your job. Make it your way of life.

Find your good stuff, and add it in. Feeling negative? Add more good stuff. Caught up in something upsetting? Time for a "good stuff" break--add more like you're pouring the whole bag into chocolate chip cookie dough.

As for me, I'll be enjoying the big game Sunday But I'm also enjoying just watching my players shine. I like knowing that they overcame so much to get to where they are...just like me! I'm so grateful to be able to watch their journey. In my mind, they've already won regardless of what Sunday's scoreboard looks like. 

On an aside, I am not sure if I shared this, but here's another cool thing about why I am so proud of my team this year. In October, I went to my first Pats game at the home stadium. I was thrilled enough to be there, but even more so when I was asked to be on NFL Network. I met some players and NFL brass, and it was just such an amazing experience. I felt so grateful for the experience, and I don't think I would be so giddy about it had I not learned how to embrace the good. I won't let that go.

That's me on the right in the blue coat and red hat!

Instantly, whenever I recall that memory, I glow. Maybe I'll carry this photo around with me and pull it out the next time I'm feeling glum. Just as a reminder that there is good. And we have to work at it sometimes, even if it feels like a job.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ignore the noise.

Ignore the noise. That's the motto flowing around Patriots Nation lately. (If you didn't know, I am an avid fan of the New England Patriots.)

That's hard, becasue the team I adore is being accused of something when the investigation isn't complete. I won't delve into my feelings on #deflategate here much, but the concept of ignoring noise has been resonating with me lately. I think it does for everyone.

Sometimes, it's hard to ignore the noise. As a writer, I am constantly bombarded by rejection. Told I'm not doing something right. It's a lot of noise, and while I don't want to take it personally, I can't help but do that. Writing is my profession, but it's very personal to me. (As are the Patriots, whom I often empathize with for being good people and constantly being berated even when they don't do anything wrong.)

How does one ignore noise? When you deal with anxiety, the noise is loud...blaring in your face. What if that happens? Run away? I can't do that... the messages we send ourselves are not only negative, they kind of blare in our faces. Especially if you're in the midst of a panic attack, when you feel fear and "hear" the voice so loudly, you believe it's true...even though you know you're not in danger. You still feel like it.

These days, I do not experience as many severe panic attacks, but that doesn't mean the world isn't a noisy place. Whether it is your boss telling you you've done something wrong or a "friend" telling you that you've chosen to root for a group of [alleged] cheaters, there's plenty of noise. The worst of it comes from people who hide behind a smile and are outwardly mean.

Then there are other forms of noise. Our self-critic is quite a noisy one, as is the healthy part of us trying to process things in our lives and make sense of it all. Then there are other things...maybe not messages but just everyday things that create noise: Commuting, checking your phone, helping others, etc. It's all a ton of noise.

That begs the question: Why the heck do we listen to it all?

We don't' have to listen to the noise, and we certainly don't have to take it all in.

When I started healing from my anxiety issues, I found that I became super-selective about what I listened to and what I was telling myself. I focused on what was good for me. I focused on only accepting the truth. I learned to filter out self-criticism, perceived criticisms and blatantly negative messages that otherwise used to consume me.

It took a lot of freaking time. And a whole bunch of practice. A lot.

It did not come overnight.

Or with one choice to "ignore the noise."

Over time, though, it got easier.

This week, I have been bombarded with noise, not only from the media hounding "my boys," but from agents rejecting my book idea, picky editors and a packed-full schedule. I've had to discern what I will let affect me. Knowing that you can choose to ignore certain things is the first step to learning how to filter out what doesn't matter in life, I think.

And when all else fails, laugh. Because you can.

There will always be positive noise, and that's what you need to focus on. As for my football dilemma, I chose to focus on my favorite Pats player who always keeps things light. He's the type of person I want to be--someone who inspires others to embrace positivity. Thanks, Jules.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Big magic.

I wanted to share something I was led to online. It was written by Elizabeth Gilbert, the mastermind writer behind the famous book Eat Pray Love.
She wrote about fearlessness, and did so in such a wonderful way...


Dear Ones -

Can I speak out for a moment against the word "fearless"?

Cool! Let's go.

Over the years on this Facebook page, I've been hearing from a lot of you, about how you want to become fearless.

Some of you had it for your New Year's Resolution for 2015.

I've also heard many of you say that you want to live more creative or adventurous lives — but that you need to "get past" your fears first. You say that you need to put your fears behind you, or to fight against your fear, or to conquer it, or to silence it.

Yesterday, when I put a posting up here about having fire in your belly, many of you wrote back saying that your fear has killed the fire in your bellies, and that you now want to kill the fear, in return...

But I don't think that's how it works.

I'm an enormously fearful person, by nature. I was born terrified, and I was an incredibly freaked-out and panicky child — and I still am full of fears. Just last night, I was awoken in a cold sweat by a full-on terror dream about public speaking. (I lost my notes, had no idea what to say, couldn't find a nice dress to wear, couldn't find my way to the stage...etc.)

I gave up fighting against my fear a long time ago. I found that the harder I fought against my fear, the harder it fought back. (Generally speaking, life has taught me that the harder you fight ANYTHING, the harder it fights back.)

These days, I try instead to make room for fear — with a sense of respect and appreciation.

Lots of room.

People want to leave their fears behind — but you can't. You just have to make friends with your fear, and make space for your fear, and make peace with your fear.

I recognize that my fear has a role in my life — to protect me against unknown outcomes. (You fear assumes that all unknown outcomes end in your bloody death.) All my fear is trying to do is save my life. You have to give it credit and appreciation for that. So whenever my fear arises, I thank it. I say to it, "I understand that you are part of me, and that you are necessary for my existence, and that you are the reason I am still alive. So thank you."

But then I politely explain to my fear that I will be going forward with the project or the activity, anyhow.

It's not a fight; it's a conversation.

I do this all the time with creative endeavors. I tell my fear that me and creativity are going on a road trip — and I INVITE my fear to come along with us. I explain to my fear that I won't try to kill it, or to exclude it. I explain to fear that it is very welcome to join us, and even to have a voice. But I also explain to my fear that it won't be allowed to make any decisions along the way. Only creativity and I will be making deciisons. As I always say to fear, "Get in the minivan with us! You are part of this family, and you are coming along for the ride!" I say, "Thank you for your input, but with all due respect, you don't get to choose the route!"

I have come to understand that creativity and fear will forever be linked — because creativity always asks us to move in directions of unknown outcome, and fear HATES unknonwn outcome.

I have made peace with that reality.

All of which is to say: I really don't believe in fearlessness.

I don't think it's a wise or sane goal.

I believe in integrating all the parts of yourself into one functioning family. And that means never leaving your fear behind — just as you would never leave any family member behind — but just bringing it along for the ride.

Because the truth is, we can all live together without fighting — all the different parts of ourselves. That's how you integrate all your parts into one healthy whole.

That's what's called A FULL LIFE.

So don't leave your fears behind, Dear Ones. Instead, leave behind your fantasy of "fearlessness", and replace it with a goal of living gracefully within your complete and whole humanity.

Then onward you shall go (even into the realm of public speaking!)


She's so right. Why are we striving to be fearless? Why has that word always stood over me like everything I want? When I think of life without my fears, sometimes it sounds so appealing. It also sounds like I would be hollow without them, in a way.

My fears are helpful. My fears are part of my journey. They are a reflection of my wounds--and my healing. I am not them, but they are a part of me.

If I love myself, I have to love all if it. Even the parts that may be embarrassing. 

Gotta embrace the full you for a full life. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

When to push, and when to soar

This week kind of kicked my butt.

One of the things that has been a hang-up for me since my anxiety started is flying. Through therapy, I was able to conquer most of the things that caused me a lot of anxiety. Except flying. It's hard to do that--there are not a lot of baby steps you can kind of just have to get on the plane and pray that you won't melt down and bang on the door to get out, all the while worrying what TSA will do to you.

Anyway, I am planning my 10-year anniversary trip with my husband. We don't take a lot of vacations. We've never taken one where we just check in to a place and enjoy. We're always driving around from place to place. Now, I lucked out in the husband department because he's not interested in travel like I am. It's not just because of my fear--I just don't think I need to see every crevice of the globe to feel complete. I do like me a getaway, though, and that's what we have planned in a few months.

And I've worked in therapy on my fear of flying. And I thought I was ready until I started planning this trip. I expected to have some push-back...after all, did I think I was going to calmly book and plan a trip and walk on a plane and ride off safely into the sunset?

It was like a switch went off, I tell you. Full-on fear mode. Not the way I want to live. Not the person I am inside. My mind was over the "fear" but my body didn't get the message. I had no idea my body would revolt on me like that.

The thing is, I'm not really scared of the actual flying anymore. Or being "trapped." I didn't know that my real fear is dealing with anticipatory anxiety. That black sludge-like feeling completely clouds your view of what's rational. It's completely crippling, and that  is what I need to learn to handle.

I didn't think it would overtake me, and it did. I began to be anxious all day and feel dreadful--and that's so far from my usually positive attitude. Faced with the fact that this is an area that clearly needs more work, I decided not to fly. And I felt horrible about it, because a woman whose favorite Bible verse is "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me" should just be able to get on the dang plane, right?

In my mind, in my Type-A-push-myself-to-the-breaking-point, yes. When I started to feel the agony I was going through, and realizing that my mind may be okay but my body is still trapped in a pattern of panic, I put the brakes on. For years, I have been conquering things left and right by giving myself permission to take it easy on myself. Why did I think I had to push myself full-force into this? Because I had waited so long for it?

Truth is, I only started dealing with the flying fear a few months back. And while I quickly got over the actual "in the sky" part, I am not over anticipatory anxiety. I didn't book a flight because I was afraid to get on a plane--I held off booking a flight because I don't want to go through two more months of pure panic. I don't want to go down that road again. I want to take care of myself.Once the anxiety switch went off and I was panicky all day, I remembered that my mind is invincible, but my body still needs help. I have to respect it in all of its impaired glory.

That alone was a struggle, because my inner critic screams, "You're just taking the easy way out! You're always going to have anxiety before you fly because that's how it is!"

I don't know how to "fix" anticipatory anxiety yet. It is the most crippling part of a fear. Even when you're over the fear itself (I actually recall loving to fly) you still have to deal with old habits. My body has always been in the habit of anticipatory anxiety before doing something big. I could calm it with other "big" things but flying presents other pressures...a set time, don't want to ruin a trip, etc.

So now I'm back to the drawing board. Oh, but I did book the trip--I am taking a train! I took a train once in college and loved it. And my husband is okay with this. I am still going. I am still moving forward. (Something tells me that after 13 hours on a train, I will soon welcome a one-hour flight!)

This is still a positive step. It will help me deal with less-severe anticipatory anxiety. It will put me in a situation where I am not in control. It will help me with my traveling anxiety. Years ago after my anxiety emerged, I couldn't even think about getting in a car let alone a train. This is a baby step. As much as my critic wants to discount it, it's a positive thing.

I want to tell you that we can "just do it" when it comes to conquering fear, but I also believe in what my therapist taught me: "Set yourself up for success."

I want to be this glowing example of "have faith, just go for it." What I learned this week was that I do have faith, and it's not just in being able to do anything. It's in timing.

I can get myself sick over this, or I can plan a trip I enjoy that still challenges me. in the meantime, I must go back and work on this newly discovered problem: The thing I fear can be conquered, but dealing with the anxiety leading up to it also needs attention.

I booked my tickets yesterday on the train. While part of me felt let down, part of me felt happy because I was excited and not terrified.

While I don't want to run away from my fear of flying, I want to work on it some more so I can be more comfortable if and when I do decide to fly. This is the method that has gotten me through all of my fears, and I need to have patience and faith that it will carry me through again.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Dreaming and doing.

The truth is, I dream more than I do. And I hate that.

Maybe it's a good thing--I used to be a do-do-do, go-go-go kind of person. Then I started to relax more, and I love that. It's been great for my mental health.

My mind is an endless running narrative of books to be written and ideas to be implemented. Instead, I work. I sleep. I don't get to do a lot of the things I dream of. I'm the only one standing in my own way.

But the truth is that if I followed all those dreams, I'd be run ragged. Exhausted. Anxious. Mentally unhealthy.

I guess it's about finding balance. Today I am freaking exhausted and I'm working but I wish I was working on a book. Instead, I'm busy meeting a deadline. When I'm done working, I'll rest. Because my body needs it, even though I wish it didn't.

I'm trying to embrace the Type A me with the healthy me that requires rest and reflection. I don't have to act on all of my great ideas, as long as I try to work on some of them I think I can still be content.