Nibbling at Your Joy

You know that feeling when you’ve discovered you put down a burden you’ve been carrying for a long time?

The relief.

The discovery at feeling that relief.

When did it arrive? What did it replace?

Like one of those tortoises that lives to be over 100 years old, it lumbers up your back. So slowly, so determined. It gets comfortable up there perched on your shoulders. Not comfortable for you, of course, but you get used to it. After a bit, the scaly creature becomes a part of you, stretching its neck and nibbling at your joy before you can have a taste, not aware of what you’re missing.

One day, as slowly and as surely as it arrived, it decides enough is enough. The tortoise turns around and crawls back down. You’re so consumed with doing all the things that you don’t notice. You reach up and absentmindedly scratch where the creature clawed at your skin. You keep going, staring straight ahead. Gotta get to the other side.

Until, for no reason you can tell, the wind shifts. Your face gets slammed with this new warm, sweet breeze. You stop in the middle of the road, close your eyes and inhale.

Your exhale escapes with frantic peals of laughter. Sudden. Uncontrollable.

Through the laughter you find that your feet have carried you the rest of the way across the road. You stop, turn around, and look back, a stupid grin still slunk across your face.

What is that, there just climbing up the curb on the side from where you came?

You squint to see through the dusty warm air.

What an odd thing. You think. What is that doing way out here?

As you shrug your shoulders, you dimly realize that they are now light enough to be shrugged.

With one last glance over your shoulder, you continue on, now with a spring in your step.


Day 27

A Full Day

There are some random things that tend to stick in one’s mind for whatever reason. Yesterday, I shared one of those things with my husband and it was the first time he’d heard this story even though we’ve been together for 17 years.

My family of origin is heavily into sports – mainly basketball and football. I don’t remember the context in which this came up, but my brother introduced me, directly or indirectly, to a clip from the ESPY Awards from 1993. It was an acceptance speech from the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, given to people whose contributions to society transcend sports. That year’s recipient was someone whom I’d never heard of – he was a basketball coach named Jim Valvano, or more affectionately called Jimmy V, and he was dying of cancer. I had no idea what he had done to deserve the award, but the words he said in the first part of his speech really moved me and stuck with me all these years.

He said, and I’ll paraphrase here, that if you do three things each day, you’ll have a full life. If you laugh, if you spend some time in thought, and if you find yourself being moved to tears – that’s a full day. That’s a great day. Do that everyday, he said, and it’ll equal a full life.

If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re gonna have something special.

Jimmy V, 1993

For me, it’s not everyday that I do those three things, but when I do, I take note. I mark it in my mind as a full day, a great day.

Last night, my husband and I were getting ready for bed, brushing our teeth in our bathroom. I looked at him in the mirror, my eyes still a little puffy from crying all the way through Kamala’s speech and even during part of Biden’s. “Today was a full day.” I said. He looked at my quizzically, probably because we hadn’t even left the house that day. I told him how much it meant to me to see a woman up there on that stage, especially four years after a devastating loss. I can barely put it into words. I also told him the story of the Jimmy V speech, and how it had stuck with me through all these years.

“…so today I laughed, and I spent some time in thought, and I was just moved to tears.” My eyes welled up as I said the words.

“And so today was a full day.”


Day 8

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Quick anxiety update: it’s flare-up time. (Relapse time? Outbreak time? Really unsure what terms to use here, and I’m the mental health expert. Better get on that.)

I’m on my second week of dealing with early morning anxiety…..again. It goes like this: something will wake me up early in the morning. Take your pick – husband, cat, bladder. Neighbors. Traffic. Kids, but very rarely. Go figure. And then something sparks this burning fire in my chest that I can’t extinguish in order to get back to sleep. So I toss and turn in anguish and waste 1-2 hours when I desperately need sleep, but can’t get it. Lastly, my kids wake up, and then it’s all over. The anxiety slowly fades and is replaced by exhaustion as the day goes on. Makes me fantasize about going full Walden.

I’m hopeful to report that I think I’m getting better at squashing this more quickly. The past few mornings I’ve actually been able to get back to sleep and wake up for the day not feeling like such a zombie. It’s this magical combination of self-talk, physical relaxation techniques, and distracting myself by thinking about something – anything – not about me, my body, sleep, or the present moment.

(Update: I started this post yesterday, and this morning I actually slept all the way through the morning and woke up naturally and feeling rested. So there’s hope!)

Now I’m going to outline things that help me – specifically, things whose helpfulness I tend to forget – to fight this anxiety monster that creeps into my bed (or tries to) each morning. This is not meant to be preachy or self-helpy, but it’s rather to help…me. Because, just like depression, anxiety lies. It lies to me and it makes me forget what normal and healthy feels like. It makes me forget what coping skills actually work and it lies to me about there being joy in the world, and that it’s within my reach.

  1. Sleep

The biggest one by far. If I don’t get enough sleep I have very little motivation to face the day. The sleep that anxiety steals from me in the mornings sets up my entire day to be complete rubbish and it’s really hard to get back on track. That makes naps vital on some days (when I can get them), and I’ve been working very hard to get to bed at a time that ensures I’ve allowed for at least 8 hours of sleep. Even though I don’t always get it, I have to carve out room for it. Have to.

2. Exercise

I’m not a person who really enjoys exercising, per se, but this week I’ve been feeling the urge to move my body. I tend to get that feeling when I’m super angry, or when I’m jumping-out-of-my-skin-anxious. I’ve realized that when I exercise, I don’t have room for the jitters. I actually get real-time relief. That’s why I made sure I got out there and ran from zombies, even in this smokey heat wave we’re having. It felt so. good.

3. Music

I’ve written about this before, but the act of singing, like really singing, is so stress relieving and this is one that I forget about all the time. So if you see me running (from zombies) and I suddenly stop to belt out a well-timed lyric and bust a move, then you know what’s going on.

4. Laughter

This usually means social contact, but sometimes a really, really good show or standup routine will fit the bill here. I recently watched Iliza Schlesinger: Elder Millennial on Netflix, and man it was exactly what I needed. I might just watch it again. Also, The Bloggess is the reason I started blogging in the first place, and I realized that I was no longer getting her updates for some reason. That has been remedied.

5. Taking time to get out of my head and space out

Having kids all day everyday, this often takes the form of me being on my phone. This usually comes with a lot of guilt, but I’m trying to tell it to fuck off. As long as the kids are safe and cared for, I am taking lots and lots of tiny micro breaks throughout the day just so I can slip the phone back into my pocket and be present for 20 more minutes when I previously thought I couldn’t. I kinda felt like I needed permission to do this, and only realized that after my therapist had given it to me unsolicited.

6. Having something to look forward to

It has been a godsend to join my local chapter of MOMS Club and automatically have events lined up for me on my calendar each month. It sounds so mundane, but it keeps me going. I’m constantly looking forward to the next thing, and being able to feel excited anticipation is a powerful enemy of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

There you have it. These are the main coping skills that I often forget are available to me.

Side note: while writing this over the course of two days, I have been interrupted a total of eleventy billion times. Another antidote to anxiety is being able to get into a flow state, and in order to do that you need to cultivate calm and stillness. Yeeeeeah. This is one reason why it’s SO HARD for me to put myself to bed at a reasonable time, because stillness only happens WHEN PEOPLE ARE UNCONSCIOUS. My point: I reeeeeally miss flow states. Please tell them to come back and visit.