I Have Anxiety and I’m Sorry? I Have Anxiety and I’m Not Sorry.

I need to stop apologizing for my anxiety.

Anxiety is an invisible illness–one that in some instances is classified as a disability–and that means it often needs explaining. I look fine, I act fine, therefore I must be fine, right?

Mental health is about how you are feeling. We can’t control our feelings, and we shouldn’t apologize for them. They aren’t right or wrong; they don’t define us, but they are part of who we are.

I keep acting like my anxiety is an inconvenience and a burden, and okay, there is some truth to that, but there’s more to it. For starters, I am not a burden, a lesson I’ve had my mind play on repeat until it has (mostly) stuck.

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Over it tbh

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From sad bitch to bad bitch 💅🏻

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I apologize because I am ashamed that this is a real, daily struggle for me. I apologize because this is something that I feel has control over me. So this is me taking control. This is me owning my anxiety: it’s time I stop apologizing.

(If I feel the need to apologize to someone, that person probably shouldn’t be someone I hold dear anyway.)

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Oh, you know, things

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Too often I view my anxiety as a weakness. In the same way that courage is defined not by a lack of fear but the ability to overcome it, I am constantly urging myself to view my battle as a greater strength. Resilience is built not by completing easy tasks but by conquering the challenging ones.

In the past couple years, I noticed I started feeling anxious related to claustrophobia. At first I was like, “This is new, WTF?” But as I’ve continued working on self-awareness and therapy, it started to make total sense: I felt trapped in the hurricane. I felt trapped in that bad relationship. I felt trapped in that crappy job.

I don’t want to feel trapped ever again! My body and mind were just trying to cue me in that hey, here is a new scenario that could get me trapped, so watch out. Hey, thanks anxiety?

It is true that I cannot control my anxiety, but I can control how I handle it. I do this by throwing out the big to-do list and only looking at the step ahead. I then conquer that step by doing everything in my control. After that, I can breathe, because I’ve done my part. I cannot control what others do to me, but I can lay the groundwork to protect myself.

Confusion at work? Email the boss. Frustrated with a friend? Tell them instead of expecting them to be a mind reader. Worried about running late? Plan ahead.

Sometimes mental health disorders are triggered by chemical imbalances in the brain. Sometimes they’re triggered by the past. And sometimes they’re triggered by both. No matter the reason, it’s time to stop apologizing.

PRO TIP: If you find yourself still wanting to apologize, try showing gratitude instead. Thank your friends/family/co-workers/significant other not for “putting up with” you, but rather for their patience and understanding.

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7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Preschoolers with Special Needs

I’ve been working with children at a special ed preschool for the past 4 months, and the students have taught me a thing or two about being an adult and, quite simply, a human being.

 1. Have your own feelings, and let others have theirs.

Instead of describing someone as “overly sensitive,” use the words “more sensitive.” Instead of saying, “You made me sad…,” say, “I felt sad when…” Society has normalized only certain degrees of feelings, boxing us into a limited array of “appropriate” emotions, when, in fact, emotions have been and always will be individualized.

 2. Communication is key.

Facilitating peer-to-peer repair is an important aspect of teaching special ed. In life, you are going to have thoughts and feelings that you cannot control. It is important to communicate them to those around you instead of bottling them up. You can explain what happened to make you feel or think that way and in return, you’ll probably receive some empathy from a listening ear. Most everyone has empathy on some basic level, and so much of our negative thoughts and emotions are the result of accidents or misunderstanding.

3. Behavior tells a story.

Sometimes, our mouths get dammed up and we don’t know how to put into words what we’re feeling. Body language and reactions are communications in their own right. With the special ed children that lack the language to express what they want or what they’re feeling, we teachers strengthen their trust by reading, understanding, and appropriately–compassionately–responding to their non-verbal cues.

 4. Be an active listener.

Though many of my kiddos struggle with making eye contact, they still know whether or not they are being heard based on eye contact and general interest in their words. Because the children are building their language skills, we routinely model sentence structures for them, but only after giving them a chance to tell us the story in their own words. We give them our full attention, concentrating and then responding directly to what they just said. This not only improves upon their communication skills, but also gives them a sense of value.

 5. Goals are best accomplished one step at a time.

Scaffolding is an important aspect of special ed teaching which involves breaking down lessons into smaller, more manageable steps. Goals should be set high but they should also be attainable. Learning–whether in school or in life–is best achieved when we slow down, take a step back, and look things over an extra time or two.

 6. You have more patience than you realize.

Special education requires an incredible amount of patience, especially in a room full of energetic preschoolers. I honestly did not know I had this much of an inner calm inside me. My patience is tried literally every thirty seconds throughout the six-hour school day, but I very rarely ever find it stretching too thin. (Though I do want to fall asleep by 8 PM. 🙂 ) This is hugely based on the effort I have put into building relationships with these mini humans, the time I have taken to understand them, with or without their words. Moments that seem trying are usually just a misunderstood child trying to be understood.

 7. Everyone deserves to be loved.

When I worked in the animal world, I fell in love with patients that struggled the most–a three-legged sheep, turtles missing flippers–and clients that perhaps carried a lot of baggage–crotchety old men, socially awkward folks. I’ve always been drawn to those who are misunderstood (#pitbullsarethegreatest), and children with special needs too often are. It’s such a privilege to be working at a school where cochlear implants and hearing aids are the norm, where listening and equipment checks are part of our morning routine. Even when a student is screaming in my face or punching my arm, I still have an overwhelming desire to help them learn how to process their feelings–and I remind them that it’s okay to have these feelings, because that’s what makes them who they are. They’re not different; they’re all just tiny humans finding their way in the world, and needing a little extra help along the path.

What are some life lessons you’ve learned from children? Share in the comments below!

2018: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Time. A measurable dimension that simultaneously has the ability to seem immeasurable.

Time. A comprehensive ordering of past, present, and future.

Time. A record of our lives, a storybook both written and not yet penned.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”

–Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

It’s a funny thing how one moment in time can move by at a pace so vastly different from one person to another. It’s why I stopped putting a timeline on hope, healing, love, change, and growth.

When I look back at the year and realize my friends in grad school only have one more year left–my, how quickly time flies.

When I reflect on the year incrementally–my, how fast time passes by.

When I think of the year as a whole–my oh my, how the clock ticked slowly by.

It wasn’t until a short but sweet Christmas card to me that I realized all that was January through December had only spanned 12 months. The card simply read: “I am so proud of all you have done this year.”

I had to double-check the dates on some of my blog posts from 2018, referencing electronic stamps that suspended my thoughts and experiences at one moment… in time. I feel so different from the way I felt a year ago. I’ve evolved so much from the woman I was ten, five, three years ago. In 2015, life gave me experiences. In 2018, I experienced life.

2018 was not monumental in the places I went or the people I met. It was monumental in the way I chose to direct my own path. It was made up of the feelings I felt, the decisions I made, and the strength I persevered. It was a year that started out moving slower than one day at a time, and ended with the exciting promise of tomorrow.

The big changes in my life last year hold less significance than the endurance and risk-taking it took to get there, the willpower and patience it took to listen to myself, and the wisdom it took to learn from my past to shape my present and invest in my future.

I don’t want to find myself saying at the end of next year, “There wasn’t enough time.” I’d like to think that instead I might say, “I made time.”

Nostalgic ’90s Toys & Games

Calling all 20 and 30-year-olds–and parents of! Do you remember any of these ’90s toys from our childhood? These were big in my family. No Furbies or Tamagatchis for us! While some of these games were definitely present in the ’80s and even still today, these are the ’90s versions. Be still my nostalgic heart!

1. Cootie

cooties game
Source: Pinterest

The alternative to Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head for pre-schoolers.

2. Creepy Crawlers

creepy crawlers
Source: Throwbacks.com

Forget Easy Bake Ovens. How about making wiggly insects that sometimes glow in the dark!

3. Ker Plunk

Vintage-Tyco-Ker-Plunk-Game-1991-Kerplunk
Source: Picclick.com

A mix of Jenga and Pick-up Stix!

4. Mouse Trap

mouse trap 1990s game
Source: Pinterest

In my house, this game always had missing or broken pieces and was quite a maze to put together but so much fun!

5. Hi Ho Cherry-O!

hi ho cherry-o game
Source: Layton Music

Not gonna lie… my sisters and I played this game well into our teens.

6. Pizza Party

pizza party game
Source: Waheeda Harris

We used to play this on the beach during our summers on Lake Erie… also in our teens.

7. Picnic Panic

picnic-panic-game-milton-bradley-1992_1_2cbf884a720e21533263e2d8639b863e
Source: Worthpoint

This was definitely one of my favorite games growing up, probably because I like food and picnics and you never knew when the picnic basket would pop open and ants would explode everywhere.

8. Ready! Set! Spaghetti!

ready! set! spaghetti!
Source: Pinterest

We always got a little carried away twisting the yarn “spaghetti” noodles around the toppings.

9. Rugrats

 

 

I was a huge Rugrats fan. Rugrats and Scooby-Doo! were my jam. This game was super complicated to set up and I would play it by myself in the corner of my room with my stuffed animals.

10. Mall Madness

mall madness
Source: Children of the Nineties.com

Definitely made my parents play this with me two Christmasses ago. And I had a mini heart attack because I thought the electronic credit card and bank machine was broken. It was just extremely corroded but we fixed it! My dad gets a kick out of my impersonation of the recorded voices: “Your item costs 5 dollars more.” “Attention all shoppers, there is a sale at the ‘Chitchen store… and at… the Fashion Boutique.”

Do you remember any of these? What’s your favorite ’90s toys and games? Share in the comments below!

Some Days, Somehow, for Some Reason, I Think of You

Some days, for brief moments, I embody the literal definition of weak in the knees because for some reason, you have popped into my head. Visions of our estranged kiss, equally patient and hurried, obscure my footsteps and I find myself slowly smiling, slowly sinking, sinking toward the earth which somehow makes me closer to you. Because crouched on the ground, the distance between my feet and my heart is nearer, and by juxtaposition, nearer to you.

Sometimes, I hear you tell me I’m beautiful, and capable, and deserving–adjectives that have dropped like crumbs out of your mouth somewhere, some place, some time, leading a trail to the boom boom boom in my chest. And like crumbs, each time they spilled I swept them up and locked them away. And like crumbs, morsels always got left behind, those that had escaped the coarse, forgiving bristles of my mind’s sweeping, appearing here and there under couch cushions and doormats.

Somehow, I still remember your smell, and I wonder if you even know what I smell like. You smell stale and sweet, like a damp passenger seat spritzed with rose water that’s baked too much with the windows closed in the sun. And I like it. I really like it. Because it reminds me of you.

Sometimes, I see your smile when I close my eyes. I’ve never met anyone whose smile I like more than yours. When you smile–really smile–it reaches to your temples, crinkling the skin right below your ears. Somehow, your eyes are smiling, too.

Some days, somehow, for some reason, I think of you. Somewhere is where you are, so close and so far, grinning from here to there, dropping more crumbs, obscuring more footsteps, and leaving behind sun-dripped rose petals.

 

It Gets Better

Ten months ago, I thought life as I knew it would never be the same. In a way, I was right. I am a stronger person than I was 10 months ago and a better version of myself. But the difference is that I thought my world had been zapped of sunshine and butterflies, that I would forever be spluttering, drowning, splashing but never surfacing for a breath of air. I hated my new normal but it didn’t feel like anything would ever change.

I had forgotten that it was possible to wake up in the morning with a peaceful rhythm in my chest. I had forgotten it was possible to start my day without a tightness that made each breath calculated, or to sleep more than three hours in a night. I had forgotten what it felt like to really, truly live.

People promised me it would get better, but at the time, these seemed like false, rose-colored, unproven words of hope. Because I couldn’t see past the fog, so how could they?

But it did get better.

I have made some big changes since January that have shaped my days to be filled with light instead of darkness.

I went back to therapy.

I started seeing my therapist again and found myself looking forward to our weekly appointments. While I’ve been able to cut back to monthly or even every other month appointments, I still recognize and appreciate the value in having a licensed professional with whom to talk through the ups and downs of life.

I prioritized certain people over others.

Some people in my life have been catalysts to my pain. I cut ties whether directly or indirectly with people who discouraged me, judged me, disrespected me, or were straight up rude or mean to me.

This was extremely difficult for me to do because I really do love humanity, and I really do love the people I surround myself with. But it turned out I only loved some parts of some of these people because there were other parts of them that weren’t good to me or for me. When I realized this, I had a clear idea of who I needed to let go.

I moved.

I still live in Seattle, but I moved in with a new roommate in a new apartment. I feel comfortable in this home environment, something I hadn’t felt for the two years prior. That meant for two years I would go from an uncomfortable work environment (see below) to an uncomfortable living environment every day, which made me unable to unwind and just relax.

My new living situation (which isn’t so new anymore) is working out great. I don’t know what will happen when my lease is up, but I’m surprisingly not worried about it, which shows me how much progress I’ve made.

I got a guinea pig.

Cilantro Clementine aka Clemmy aka the best guinea pig in the world has made my days immensely brighter. She relies on me and I rely on her. When I start to feel anxious, I pick her up (if she isn’t already by my side or in my lap). Just by petting her, or getting kisses from her, or hearing her little noises, my heart is instantly happier. She helps me to remain in the present. It’s truly amazing how a teensy furball can make such a big impact.

I quit my job.

The final straw toward gaining back clarity, peace, and happiness turned out to be quitting my job. For two-and-a-half years, I had stayed afloat in a hostile work environment, thriving professionally but sinking personally. I was often cornered aggressively, literally blocked from escaping a barrage of negative commentary, blamed for things that weren’t my fault, and discredited for pivotal business accomplishments for which I’d gone above and beyond. Without my consent, I was forced to shift from a 32 to 46-hour work week and cover the work of two employees without additional compensation, all the while jeopardizing my creative careers and, most importantly, my mental health.

I had made leaps and bounds in nurturing my health since reaching my lowest low, and I realized this job was the only thing keeping me from progressing.

So I quit. After two years of striving weekly to make changes within the workplace, and a year of casually yet non-directionally looking for other job opportunities, I was exhausted. I had no energy or time to commit to job searching, and so finding a job before quitting simply wasn’t an option. A lot of people are scared to quit without anything lined up, and it certainly can be scary. But I wasn’t rash in this decision. I saved all the money I made from six months of overtime work and set it aside to help me transition.

After my co-worker and I were unjustly yelled at on the end of our shift one evening, I had this “Aha!” moment where I recognized I didn’t deserve to be treated like that. I handed in my resignation the next day. Immediately, I felt that I really was going to be okay after all, that it really does get better. (Coincidentally, on my last day there, I found out I was cast in a theatre show.)

I changed careers.

I also made the decision to leave the veterinary field. Did you know the veterinary profession ranks number one in the national suicide rate? Did you know that veterinary professionals are two to four times more susceptible to mental illness than the general population? In speaking with half a dozen of my friends in the animal field who were also struggling with mental health and the same problems I had with this field of work–such as ethics and compassion fatigue–I thought about what jobs have made me the happiest. I made a list of my skills and objectives, and I set aside time every day (even today) to apply to jobs.

So I made the decision to transition out of the animal world, at least in my previous capacities, at least for now. Around this time, I was also given the opportunity to have my own animal web series, combining my love of animals with my love of writing and acting. It could not have been more serendipitous.

What’s the moral here?

It really can get better, and it will get better if you work at it. That’s the kicker though. It takes so much effort, so much strength and belief in yourself. It takes relying on others, being vulnerable and asking for help, but at the end of the day, it is only you who can pull yourself through to the other side.

It’s easy to doubt yourself and to doubt the words of hope when you feel so helpless and hopeless. But I promise you, it gets better.

Dear Joaquin

It’s been three years but I still think of you.

I remember you before, I remember you during, and I remember you after.

You don’t invade my dreams like you used to, robbing me of sleep each time I tried to close my eyes. You don’t make me nauseous like you did when I first met you. You don’t make me sob, but you can still make me cry.

I will never forget you, and I don’t want to forget you. But for far too long, you ran my life. You defined my fears and insecurities, my paranoia and my heartache. You were the catalyst to so many other terrible experiences, but in you I’ve also found a beacon of strength.

You destroyed everything in your path, and you threatened to destroy me. I am not impenetrable. But I am resilient, don’t you see?

As the homes were rebuilt, so did I rebuild the very bones that you had rattled for 36 hours straight and countless days and nights after.

As I sat drying and tossing and searching for the things you tried to take from me, I remembered that you took so much more from so many who had less.

As I listened to others share their stories, I realized I wasn’t alone, and together we rose from your ruins.

It’s been three years and I still think of you, but it’s different now. Good different.

RIP Hurricane Joaquin. You helped shape the woman I am today, and for that, I’m forever grateful.

 

Oct 14, 2015 (2 weeks later):

Hurricane Joaquin was terrifying in its before, during, and after. I am safe but my emotions are raw; the island is devastated. I have choked back vomit and tears more times than I can tally. You never expect when you take off on a dream to travel the world that the place you start to call your home can be ravaged so severely, so unforgivingly by Mother Nature. You never expect that you will get caught up 20 miles from the eye of a disaster that will live in history and meteorology as one of the most unexpected, unpredictable, perfect storms to date. You never expect to face so much fear and sadness, to flee your house, to hear survival stories of neighbors breaking through rooftops, clinging to trees, Duct taping identification to their bodies, crouching in a closet with two large dogs for 36 hours straight. Two days of 130, 145 mph winds–gusts clocked at 200. Two days of relentless storm surges. And an apocalyptic aftermath that leaves you empty.

I am writing this at a temporary communication tower with a crawling internet speed as the main tower was taken out by the storm, along with over 600 telephone poles in a 40-mile stretch. It took 1 hr to drive to it. Electricity is just being restored to parts of the island.

In my transient 6 months on Long Island, Bahamas, I’ve learned that what makes this place paradise more than its beautiful landscapes is its beautiful people. This is a resilient community. I don’t know how and I don’t know when but somehow, sometime, life will go back to normal.

If you would like to help, please, please do so. People have lost everything, including their source of income to rebuild. Contact SEACOR in Ft. Lauderdale to send food, water, building supplies, clothing, bedding, feminine hygiene products, and infant needs. Contact NEMA in Nassau, Bahamas for monetary donations. Private planes can transport supplies to the Stella Maris airport which has opened up here on Long Island.

Whether you pray, meditate, or simply ponder, please keep this island at the forefront of your mind now and in the indefinite future.

Oct 21, 2015 (3 weeks later): 

In the wake of Hurricane Joaquin, the support I’ve received from family and friends in every pocket of the globe has been humbling. I am a firm believer that no friendship is ever too small. In times like these, we lean on each other. I’m doing a lot of leaning. Please, people, if you ever need help, consider it a moment of strength, not weakness, when you choose to lean on someone. We are all we’ve got.