Change the Chant

Anyone who has anxiety will tell you that it’s very real and very dumb. Your brain decides everything is terrible and despite your logical assertions that everything is in fact fine, your brain disagrees. Endlessly.

I have several ways to cope with my anxiety because some days it’s worse than others. With the new day job in retail, learning the specifics of this job (a lot of retail is the same, but every store has their own style), and the drastically increased face-to-face interactions with humans, my anxiety has definitely been worse.

One of the consequences of my anxiety going on a rage is that I don’t sleep and/or don’t sleep well. Sleep is sort of important to my well-being, as it is for most people. Due to my recent health issues, it’s been very important.

One of the ways that I cope with my anxiety is through chanting mantras. It’s a quick and easy way to calm my mind and the anxiety in the moment. It’s also very helpful at slowing down the mental chatter before sleep. The rhythm of the words soothes me and the words themselves plant pleasantness in my brain.

The mantras have been getting a workout due to the new day job and the chaos therein. The Wal-Mart in town is closing, our business has dramatically increased, and it’s been slow going getting more help and more hours to compensate for it. My anxiety has been zinging.

So, it’s no wonder that the mantras I’ve always used have been recently overused and have stopped working.

It’s not ideal, for sure. There is no rest when I come home from a long, hectic shift, go to sleep, and my dreams put me right back at work. I don’t enjoy working the same shift twice.

After a few rough nights, I realized that maybe the solution wasn’t too far from my old tricks.

The old mantras didn’t seem to work anymore. Maybe a new one would? A mantra specifically geared towards releasing the anxiety associated with work. I tried it for a few nights and it…helped? I still dreamed about work, but instead of reliving my shift or fighting not to dream about work, I just let it roll. The dreams weren’t as intense and didn’t last very long before I moved on to my usual dream weirdness (I was involved in a heist that used plastic wrap and wasn’t nearly as clever as everyone thought it was; we all should have been caught). In short, the new mantra has helped me reclaim at least a somewhat more restful night.

Once things with the day job smooth out, it’ll go into the coping toolbox with the rest of the mantras.

But until then, I’ll chant away.

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I Have to Admit That My Struggle Is Real

I’ve been trying to do at least one blog post a week this year and I almost went without doing one this week. I’ve been working on a Rerun Junkie post that’s just not coming together. I have the idea. I know what I want to say. But the words will not make it from my brain to the laptop.

This is the latest symptom of something that I’ve been trying to ignore for the last several weeks.

I’m struggling. And maybe I’m a little burnt out.

I don’t like to admit that. I don’t feel like I’ve earned the right to admit that. I don’t feel like I’ve worked hard enough to earn that struggle or that burnt out feeling.

What it boils down to is that between a minor health issue, a new day job, juggling three writing projects, and the every day requirements of living, I’m wiped out. I don’t have the energy or the focus to do everything I need to do and do it all at the level that I want to do it at.

I’m already in the process of accepting that I’m not going to meet my deadlines for the month. What I thought I’d get done, I won’t. I just can’t. And that’s disappointing as hell.

I operate under the delusion that I should be able to do anything. If I say I’m going to do something, then I will find a way to do it. If I set myself a deadline, then I meet it. As a result of this, I have a tendency to believe that there’s no excuse for me to not achieve what I’ve set out to do. Which is fine in theory. In reality, it ends up with me being gruesomely hard on myself when I don’t hit my mark, even if I’m operating in circumstances that would have required some kind of miracle to make it happen.

Right now, I’m in a period of adjustment.

Part of that adjustment is my new schedule and what I can realistically accomplish within it while recovering from a health setback.

The other adjustment, the much more difficult adjustment, is my expectations.

Experiment #1–100 Days of Exercise Done

Experiment #1 of my three experiments for 2018 was to exercise at least twenty minutes a day, every day, for 100 days.

I updated at the half-way point.

Yesterday (April 10th) was day number 100.

100 days of exercise in a row. Some days were better than others, but I didn’t miss a day. I slowly increased the difficulty of the workouts to help urge on the progress.

And the progress?

In many ways I’m feeling better physically. Though there are still mornings I have no urge to workout, it’s now so embedded in my routine that I do it anyway and I usually feel pretty good afterwards, even if I felt crappy at the start. I think my energy levels have improved some. I’m feeling a little stronger and I think my endurance is trending in the right direction.

I still have a lot of progress to make and I’m keen on making it. Though the experiment is over, I’m going to keep up the work. My routine will go from seven days a week to six, but there’s plenty of room in those days to increase the intensity of my workouts as I go along. Two days of yoga, two days of belly dance, and two days of cardio. Not only is it movement, but it’s movement that makes me feel good and movement that I enjoy. The workouts go quickly and I don’t loathe doing them. That’s been key to me making 100 days and it’ll be the key for me to continue successfully.

But, what about the other progress, you ask?

Ah, yes, you’re asking about the weight loss again.

Well, I’ll tell you. I didn’t obsess over the scale (I only weighed myself a few times during the 100 days) and to be honest, I forgot to weigh myself yesterday at the end of all things. But, what I can tell you is that there was no dramatic weight loss. I might have lost a few pounds, but nothing monumental. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m still fat.

But, I’m moving my fat much easier and with more grace and control and with less pain than I have been. And that’s pretty much a win for me.

Upon analysis of the data, I declare this experiment a success.

Halfway Through 100

As you may recall, I decided to do a few experiments this year. One of those experiments involved exercising at least 20 minutes a day, every day, for 100 days.

I’m now halfway through that goal.

The good news is that I’m not dead. I honestly thought by this point I’d be ready to quit, totally over the grind, constantly sore and tired. Well, I am constantly sore and tired, but I was before I started this little endeavor, so not much has changed there.

What has changed is how much easier it is for me to do my workouts in the morning. With this challenge in place, my stubborness wins out on the days that I’m not feeling like doing yoga or belly dance or cardio. I do it anyway. I feel like this stretch of consistency has set a good precedent for what happens after the 100 days is up.

I admit that I’m being careful with myself. The last thing I want to do is derail this experiment by doing myself an injury. And I acknowledge that my fitness level isn’t even close to where it used to be and where I’d like it to be.

But, it’s been fifty days, so I’m sure you’re wondering if I’ve noticed any progress.

Honestly, just a smidge. I was slow in introducing cardio into the routine because I knew how bad mine had gotten. So far, I’ve not died and I’ve noticed that the very basic, beginner routine I’m doing is slowly getting easier. I’m getting better at the yoga routines that I’ve been doing, though I haven’t mastered the half moon pose without falling over yet. And my belly dancing is getting stronger.

At least, this is what I’ve noticed on the good days. On the bad days, the days in which I’m tired and sore and cranky, it takes every bit of my energy to make it through half-way decently. I am noticing more good days than bad days, though.

Oh, when you ask about progress, you mean weight loss.

Well, I dunno. Maybe. The scale we have isn’t the most reliable thing. When I did my weigh-in (after four weeks), I either stayed the same, lost three pounds, or gained five. So, you know. Whatever.

Of course, weight loss isn’t my measure. I’m going by how I’m feeling. Am I feeling better?

Yeah, a little.

No, it’s not happening as fast as I’d like, definitely not as dramatically as I’d like, but it is trending in the right direction.

I’ll take it.

Turning 38: Pretty Neat

I have successfully completed yet another trip around the sun. And it was pretty okay.

Last month, one of my cousins had a birthday and the upside down smiley face she used when she announced that she was twenty-four made me think that perhaps she didn’t dig the idea of being twenty-four. I don’t know. I’m barely literate in emoji.

Whatever her intended meaning, my interpretation of it got me thinking about how people tend to have those dreaded ages. For my roommate it was 40. For a lot of women, for some reason, it’s 40. For some, it’s 30. Mine was 13. I didn’t want to be 13 because that meant I wasn’t a kid anymore, I was a TEENAGER, and that just sounded like a fate worse than death to me. Because after teenager is adult, and who the hell wants to be that?

Not me and I’ve avoided it spectacularly.

I think I lucked out getting my dreaded age out of the way early. Now when other people are bemoaning their impending 50th or 25th or whatever, I’m turning 38 like, “Holy shit, how am I still alive? Someone should be fired for this.”

One thing I’ve noticed in my slide down the hill to 40 is that I’m loosening up some. Maybe it’s the meditations and affirmations I’ve been doing. Maybe it’s the realization that I’m getting beyond the age of expectations. It’s harder and harder for society to place expectations of certain achievements, attainments, and behaviors because I’m too old now. It’s too late. There’s no hope for me.

It’s the release of that pressure to live up to these arbitrary benchmarks that’s got me feeling loose. It’s not that I’m now going to abandon everything and become a useless lump. Some might argue that I already am one because I’ve always been one. No, it’s not giving up. It’s the shifting of focus from what society wants to me to be and achieve and the stress caused by the cognitive dissonance of that to what I actually want to be and achieve and the lack of stress from striving for that without any inner conflict.

Makes me feel pretty optimistic about 38.

I think it’s going to be some kind of chill.

2018: The Experimental Year

When I was younger, my two preferred career choices were either shark biologist or meteorologist with a specialty in tornadoes. Because I only like science when it wants to kill me. Okay, that’s not entirely true, but my interest in science could be the reason why I’m doing a few experiments this year.

Or calling them experiments, anyway.

I suppose it might be more accurate to call them challenges or resolutions, but I already make half-assed resolutions, so I don’t need any more. And I don’t like calling them challenges. I do challenging things and they’re tiring. I don’t want to be exhausted just thinking about these things.

So, instead, I approach them scientifically. Because I love the scientific method. Somehow, that doesn’t sound exhausting to me.

I hadn’t intended to do any experiments this year, but in the last few days of 2017 and the first day of 2018, three ideas came to me and I decided to act on them.

Experiment #1: 100 Days of Exercise

December was a disaster for me fitness-wise. I was only a few days in and I was like, “Yeah, I’m tired. Can we be done?”, which fed into the struggles I’d already been having with my exercise routine. During my reset week (the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve), I watched a lot of videos of people doing things every day for 100 days: going to the gym, doing push-ups, making origami birds. It inspired me to do my own thing.

At least twenty minutes of exercise every day for 100 days. I’m hoping that this will jerk me out of my exercise slump and help me feel better so I won’t descend into another slump later in the year.

Experiment #2: Write a page a day

Yes, I already write a lot. Just about every day in fact. I write whole novels in November. But as it’s commonly said among writers (or maybe I’ve just read it a few times and now I think it’s common), if you write one page a day, by the end of the year, you’ll have a book. And I want to try that.

I picked one of the story ideas that I got towards the end of 2017, one that I really like, but have no idea when I’d write. This experiment solves that. Now, I don’t know if I’ll actually write 365 pages of this story; I don’t think I’ve ever written any story that was that long, even double-spaced. But I will write one page a day, every day, until it’s done. That works for me.

I can also use this as a warm-up page to help me get into my writing work on the days I’m feeling sluggish and a bit procrastinate-y.

Experiment #3: Write four sentences in four different languages

By virtue of Duolingo, I’ve been studying different languages. I started with Spanish, which I took two years of in high school, because I needed to brush up in order to teach it to my nieces for their home school curriculum. When I finished all of the lessons in the Spanish section, I started with French. I hated French, so I didn’t get very far before stopping for a while.

When I picked it back up, I added Russian to my languages because I’ve always been fascinated with their alphabet and wanted to learn to read it. When Duolingo offered Czech in beta, I quickly added it, too, since it has some similarities to Russian.

Yes. I’m insane.

To help my understanding and memory retention, I thought it’d be a good idea to actually write a sentence in each language every day. Just one sentence per language and it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. It doesn’t even have to be the same one. With Spanish, I can pretty much write whatever comes to my head, but with the others, I’ll probably be copying sentences from the lessons until I get more comfortable.

I have no idea if this will actually help me with learning my languages, but I figure it can’t hurt. It’ll also be a good use for one of my many, many notebooks.

I’m looking forward to doing these three little experiments. If anything, they’ll make my year a little more interesting.

Science must be served!

2018 Half-Assed Resolutions

My 2017 half-assed resolutions were executed better than half-assed even though I forgot about them for most of the year. Go team me!

Obviously, I did not get dead. I also had a better time than anticipated, at least in certain areas of my life. I’m glad that I’m continuing to do well on those two resolutions.

I went through my books and even managed to get rid of a few. I can’t say that I did more belly dance for the joy of it. I did at least do more actual dancing rather than just drills, working dance routines into my exercise regime, so I’m counting that. And even though I didn’t do one big good thing this past year, I did do several small things and you know what? They add up.

So, here’s the 2018 half-ass resolutions that are going to carry me through the year.

1. Don’t get dead.

2. Have a good time.

3. Art once a month. I have art stuff. Hell, I have an art drawer (which I just cleaned out because holy disorganized pack rat, Batman). I should use these things. I like to art. I think it’s good for my creativity. But I don’t do it with any regularity. Setting aside a little time once a month to do art would be good, I think.

4. Make progress on my blanket. The reason this isn’t “finish my blanket” is because these are half-assed resolutions and finishing the blanket would take my whole ass. But the truth is that I started it more than a few years ago and it could stand some significant progress being made. Like finishing the front of it.

5. More rerun junkie posts. If I’m on a podcast (Eventually Supertrain! Everyone go listen!) talking about Green Hornet, then I need to maintain my rerun junkie street cred. Especially if I’m actually going to go through with the idea of writing a book about ’70s cop shows.

Let’s get wild, 2018.

It’ll Be Fine When I Get There

I have anxiety. It’s great fun. I’ve learned to cope with it for the most part. Little tricks that make living with it more bearable. Because anxiety lies just as much as depression, let me tell ya.

I think of my anxiety in two ways: anticipatory and aftermath. The holidays are a great illustration of how this works.

First we have the anticipatory. I literally start having the anticipation anxiety as soon as November starts. I’m thinking of the gifts that I have to make and the places I have to be and the trinkets that I have to buy and the money I have to spend. All of that is pretty understandable. The holidays are overwhelming for lots of people. It’s a stressful time.

But the anxiety means that there’s no release valve. There’s no relief when I get something on the Grinchmas To Do List finished. Is it good enough? Will they like it? Could I have done better? Do they think I’m cheap? These thoughts continually pop up in my head no matter how many times I answer these questions.

And then there’s the actual going of places. I imagine most people who have decent-to-good relationships with their families don’t have much in the way of anxiety when it comes to seeing them for the holidays (except for maybe traffic). Well, I do. In fact, I have anxiety any time I’m supposed to see anyone because what if I’m wrong? What if this isn’t the right day? The right time? Am I dressed appropriately? Do they really want me there? Now because I tend to have low level anxiety whenever I go anywhere, this is easier to deal with. I just remind myself that it’ll be fine when I get there. Because it will be. It always is. But I need that mantra.

Then there’s the aftermath anxiety.

No matter how well things went, I am inevitably smacked with this sort of anxiety (it happens a lot after I record a podcast or submit a story). When it comes to the holidays, it means I get home from my merry-making (where I usually have a good time) and the questions start again. Did I say the wrong thing? Did I do this wrong? Did I sound/look like a moron? Was I wrong about something? Did I sound sincere enough when I thanked them for the present? Was I appreciative enough? I have come to depend on meditating to help me purge my anxiety, as I think of it. Otherwise, I can’t sleep and when I do, I dream about it, the distorted barrage of questions invading my slumber.

Between my amped up anxiety and my usual holiday blues, the holidays are a great time. So much of my exhaustion actually comes from trying to maintain some sort of mental health so I can function. A couple of years ago, the blues went into a full blown depressive episode. This year, my anxiety is pummeling everything. At this point, I’m willing to sign a petition to have December cancelled.

But like every other day when my anxiety acts up, like every other year at this time, I remind myself…

It’ll be fine when I get there.

The Seattle Break

The Seattle trip was a good one. We did the touristy things like going to the Space Needle, MoPop, the zoo, the aquarium, and Pike Place Market. We also ate really well as I’m now convinced that you cannot get a bad meal in Seattle. We drank at the hotel bar while watching playoff baseball and ordered room service so we wouldn’t miss any of the final Cubs/Nats game. The weather was cool, but pretty every day but one, when it was rainy and chilly, and we spent that day at the aquarium, so we didn’t notice. We fed penguins and touched sea cucumbers and petted Muppet fur and I ate a donut at the top of the Space Needle. Our hotel had a magnificent view of the water and the mountains, a gorgeous sight to wake up to. I ate breakfast at a little table looking out at that view every morning and watched the sunset from the balcony every evening.

Most importantly, I refrained from obsessive social media checking during the trip. Oh, I posted pictures to Facebook and Instagram and posted a few tweets during those six days (several during the last stretch of the trip home since our flight was delayed and it was starting to look dubious that we would ever leave Gate G5), but the obsessive checking and scrolling that I had vowed to refrain from before leaving was indeed refrained from.

And my sanity feels so much better.

In a way, the trip to Seattle was almost like taking a trip to a different reality. There, the agenda was different. My focus was on the immediate, the tangible. I was there to do some exploring and a little research. I was there to experience. And so I did. I forgot about the rest of the world for six days and I just experienced my immediate surroundings.

It was glorious.

I came back from Seattle feeling better than I have in months. My anxiety isn’t quite as close to critical. I feel calmer, more clear-minded, more relaxed. Refreshed. Hell, even while I was there I felt the shift in my sanity’s equilibrium. I was able to solve the outlining problems I was having on The Stories of Us After Them while I was there. I felt inspired, which helped with the bit of research I had planned. Seattle ended up being a salve on the open wound that was my mental health.

I am restored.

Now, I acknowledge a few things about this whole break. First of all, I know it’s a privilege for me to get to take this break. I’m lucky enough to have a roommate who was willing to drag me along on her trip and provide me the opportunity to get away for a bit and explore and research a new city. Not everyone has that sort of opportunity and I am forever grateful to her for providing this one for me.

I also acknowledge that not everyone has the privilege or the opportunity to disengage, especially for that long. Not with the way this government is operating. I think it is important for everyone’s mental health to take a break now and then, but I understand why it’s not possible for some people.

The final thing I realize is that I think it’s vital for me, at least, to disengage more often, more regularly, to take breaks from the obsessive checking and scrolling, to forget the world for a day. I think that I’m going to start doing this at least once a month, if not more often, just to try to maintain a little of that equilibrium I found out in Seattle.

I like that feeling of peace. I’m in no mood to lose it now.

A Minor Detox

My lovely friend Chris Clayton, one half of the dynamic podcasting duo (with Tom Elliot) behind the new and awesome Lost in the Omniverse (Seriously, go listen! Enrich your lives!), recently returned from a social media detox. He spent a few weeks away and has returned refreshed and while I am very happy to see him back in my timeline, I can totally understand why he decided to unplug for a bit.

In fact, I’ve been thinking of doing it, too.

Honestly, I’m probably overdue. The constant stream of endless information has become overwhelming, especially in light of the shit slide the current US government has us careening down. It’s sensory overload of a sort and I’m doing myself a disservice by allowing myself to be exposed in such a continuous fashion. I’m supposed to be doing better at self-care, dammit.

Now, I have my excuses for not disconnecting. First of all, if I take a break, remove myself from the loop, then I will be oblivious to the horrors unfolding around me because I don’t do TV news. CNN and MSNBC are on the other TVs in the house, but mine stays on my rerun channels, CBS (for my NCIS: New Orleans needs), and whatever station is showing postseason baseball games and/or horror movies. I will also be disconnected from the lives of so many of my lovelies. Interspersed between the various dumpster fires set by this arsonist administration are the real-time existences of so many people I’ve come to care quite a bit about. I’d hate to miss out on that.

Twitter is also my primary means of promotion. I have a Facebook page, of course, but I have more followers on Twitter. That’s my homeland. That’s where people get the most up-to-date info about what I’m working on and how to find it. If I haven’t been muted, of course. It’s also where I conveniently retweet all of the neat stuff my Twitter buddies are doing as well.

And now there’s the added need for Twitter as the Cubs are in the playoffs and I need to watch these games with my people. Emotional support is at its most crucial during this time of the year.

But.

There is no doubt in my overstimulated mind that I need a break. My concentration is suffering. My productivity is suffering. My sleep is suffering. My anxiety is tweaking. The holiday blues are looming and if I don’t go into that season in the right mindset, the blues become a depression rather easily. I need a small respite.

So.

I’ve decided that my Seattle trip will be a minor detox of sorts. I plan on posting to Twitter and Instagram a bit, since I will hopefully be having a good time and interesting experiences that deserve to be shared. And I’ll check in on some of my Twitter favorites. But for the most part, I will not be obsessively timeline scrolling while I’m out and about or relaxing in the hotel room. I only check Facebook once or twice a day as it is, so not checking it for a few days won’t be a problem.

I may experience some withdrawal with Twitter, though.

But in the long run, my sanity will thank me.