The Age of Aquarius

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PSSSSSSSSST! Guess what??

A few weeks ago, I started a new “thing.”

I was hesitant to tell anyone about it at first because I didn’t want this to be a short-lived fascination, but now I think I can safely say I’m still very much happy with my new hobby/activity — I started swimming again on a regular basis and I’m super geeked!

I’m an Aquarius, so it makes sense that for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the water. I had a tiny blue wading pool growing up in Pittsburgh’s south side, and was thrilled when we moved to the suburbs and our new house had an in-ground pool. Every summer, me and my sister would spend every waking minute swimming, splashing, playing Titanic, and lounging on rafts, our skin growing darker and darker to the point where my Grandma called us teddy bears.

As I got older, I came to love the swimming in the ocean just as much – riding the waves, feeling the sticky salt on my skin, even getting wiped out in the grainy sand. I also have fond memories of swimming in the Allegheny River in the mountains near the cabin belonging to family friends, jumping off old bridge pylons, fighting the current, and shimmying across fallen logs.

Growing up, summer meant one thing – swimming. It was the one thing I could count on, the one thing I was good at, and one thing I loved.

But a few years after I graduated, my parents made the decision to fill in their pool. My sister and I were out of school, working our first jobs, and becoming adults who had little time to spend swimming, and the maintenance was becoming too much.

After my parents closed their pool, swimming became a thing of the past for me. I had to settle for the occasional vacation or trip to a nearby wave pool or water park to get my Aquarian fix. And even though my husband and I started kayaking regularly a few years ago, it wasn’t enough. While I enjoy paddling and exploring the lakes and rivers aboard my sturdy coral-colored Pelican boat, I always get the urge to just slip out of my seat and dive into the water.

I missed the feeling of freedom swimming gave me, and so a few weeks ago I finally decided to do something about it.

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I spent some time researching nearby pools and fitness clubs, but I was hesitant to spend the big bucks on a traditional gym when I knew I would only be using the pool. If you know me at all or have read any of my “curvy” posts, you know that the thought of exercising on a treadmill or elliptical in public is my idea of a nightmare. So putting on a bathing suit and attempting to swim laps in a place full of people who look like they walked off the set of Jersey Shore or American Ninja Warrior wasn’t my cup of tea.

Instead I opted to join the fitness club at my local library, a hundred and twenty year old building commissioned by Andrew Carnegie that houses not only thousands of books, but a theater, gym, and, much to my delight — a pool.

While the pool isn’t anything fancy, it provides the basics I need to get back to doing something I love that used to be a constant part of my life. And even though the first time I ventured into the pool to swim laps, I was quite obviously out of practice, I was still smiling the whole time I struggled from one end of the pool to the other. Instead of feeling intimidated or like I was going to pass out from pushing myself, instead of feeling inadequate and sweaty and disgusting and out of shape, I felt truly comfortable.

I love the feeling of being supported by the water, feeling it cascade around my body. I love striving for lap after lap, keeping focused on the notch in the tile at either end. I love the muffled sounds of fellow swimmers when I’m under water, the rush of bubbles past my ears, and the smell of chlorine on my skin.

I love the seclusion of the little-known about pool, the calm, mostly quiet environment, the non-intimidating  fellow patrons, and the old-fashioned locker room which makes me feel like I’m a boarding school girl in the 40s. I even love the lifeguards who look like they’re no older than thirteen, minding their own business and letting us swimmers do our own thing too.

I love that this is something I’m doing for me – not to lose weight or to impress someone or fit into a smaller size clothing, but to be healthier and have more stamina and muscle and give myself some quiet, calm thinking time alone after a long day at work or a hectic weekend.

I’m looking forward to visiting the pool more often once yet another Pittsburgh winter descends its gloom and doom upon us in a few short months, but most of all I’m looking forward to see what benefits I reap now that I’ve stopped denying the Aquarius I undoubtedly am!

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Balance

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Considering how busy I’ve been this summer, it should come as no surprise that one of the things I’ve had on my mind a lot recently is balance.

It’s a concept I’m still relatively new to, probably because I’ve spent over thirty years of my life doing “all or nothing” thinking thanks to my anxiety. But as I’m starting to see light at the end of that loooooong, dark, twisted tunnel, I’m realizing that balance is incredibly important not only to overcoming anxiety, but to life in general.

This isn’t a new revelation – I’ve been trying to achieve balance for as long as my overactive imaginative brain has been functioning. I’ve (tried to) read books by that guy with the long, complicated Indian name, I’ve taken a handful of yoga classes, and attempted meditation more times than I can count.

But while the vast majority of people found solace and peace doing these things, I only found more anxiety. This led me to simply stop doing things — all kinds of things — even writing and hanging out with friends. And it prevented me from starting new projects – like volunteering or trying a new activity.

Then about two years ago I had a therapist tell me I needed to “take things off my plate” because of my anxiety, and I realized that I was tired of putting my life on hold because my brain didn’t know how to shut itself up.

Thankfully, through a combination of EMDR, essential oils, a happy light, and my writing, my anxiety is more under control than it ever has been. But there’s a downside to this, believe it or not.

Because now that I don’t feel 100% trapped by anxiety, I find myself with an incredibly full schedule. I have a full time job and a part time job. I volunteer. I’m making new friends and rekindling relationships with old friends. I’m attending writing-related events. I’m traveling. I even joined an athletic club where I can swim — in public!

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So balancing all of these things along with the monotony of cooking dinner, vacuuming, doing laundry, and keeping dentist appointments is something I’m still learning how to tackle. Many times I’m overwhelmed by a quick glance at my schedule. I wonder how in the hell I’m going to have time to make a tasty, relatively healthy meal and walk the dog in between jaunting back and forth between 2 jobs, the pool, coffee with a friend, and a much-needed haircut. I worry that I’ll forget about the appointment to see my allergist or not get enough sleep the night before an early meeting at work. But the good news is that I’m now recognizing these worries as petty, and I’m getting better at living “in the moment” and focusing on what I’m doing at the present time instead of all I have (or want) to do in the next few hours, days, or weeks.

Because I could take some things off my plate like that closed-minded therapist suggested. And sometimes I do have to take a step back and eliminate an extracurricular or reschedule and appointment. (I took a break from volunteering this summer, for example. We all need a break to rejuvenate ourselves in the war against The Orange Lord).
But the fact of the matter is that, for the most part, I want to be doing all of these things. Although I’m not working my dream job, I’m good at what I do and it’s interesting. And even though no one wants to work two jobs, doing so gives me enough financial “wiggle room” to treat myself to things like a nice new pair of shoes or a fun weekend. Swimming is relaxing and good for me, body and soul. Writing is therapeutic. It’s my passion and has connected me with so many amazing people from all over the world. Seeing my friends lightens my world and provides endless laughs. And dates with my husband are a must-have amongst all the other craziness in both of our worlds.

So yes. Life is crazy right now. Sometimes I still get overwhelmed and take a day or two to veg out on the couch and binge watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and eat Fruity Pebbles for dinner. Other days I work both jobs, hit the pool, eat healthy, and get some serious writing done. But I think the key is to not get too wrapped up in any one thing or any one habit. I’m learning it’s okay to skip a night at the pool to have dinner with an old friend, and it’s okay to take a break from writing for a couple of hours to play darts with my husband. It’s all about not getting trapped in the damaging patterns of obsession.

Balance, right?

OOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMMMM

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Goodbye to Sandra Dee

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Last Tuesday, I was sitting at work, minding my own monotonous business when my friend K texted to let me know that yet another member of our graduating class had passed away.

In the sixteen years since commencement,  maybe half a dozen of our class of three hundred plus have died — a car accident, a violent mugging, a brain tumor, an overdose — and while each death was shocking, sad, and untimely, this one hit me a little harder.

Although I hadn’t spoken to JG in over a decade, I quickly thought back to the days when she and I rode the bus together every morning and afternoon from sixth grade through tenth or eleventh. Me, JG, and our mutual friend N would argue back and forth with a younger male student about which music was better – grunge and alternative or pop. In those years, we shared private jokes, had a few sleepovers, and sung songs by the Backstreet Boys and from musicals, like her favorite, Grease. Her obsession with the John Travolta movie led a group of our friends to nickname her Sandy.

Towards the end of high school, JG and I drifted apart, but there were never any hard feelings. When Facebook exploded in the mid-2000s, we quickly friended each other and I watched as she got married, had two children, and worked her way through school to become a special education teacher.

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A group of us at a middle school dance, maybe 1997ish (7th or 8th grade). I’m on the top left, JG on the bottom left, and K on the bottom right. Good times. ❤

Then last week I got the text that she had passed away. While driving her car one seemingly normal morning, she suffered some sort of cardiac event that the ER could not bring her back from. For five days, I exchanged frantic, emotional texts with friends who had been closer to her and cried over Facebook posts from her heartbroken sister.

Although I hadn’t been close to JG for a long time, reading these messages broke my heart. I cried for the pain her family was suffering – her two young children, husband, sister, and parents; and I cried for everything that suddenly seemed lost – youth, innocence, and the past. I cried for my own mortality, and for the fear and knowledge that at any time, fate could tap someone on the shoulder and inform them that it’s time to go, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

I’m certainly not traditionally religious, but at one point in my life I did believe that everything happens for a reason. Other occasions besides this one have made me question this belief over the years, and this is a perfect example of why. What reason is there for a young woman to be ripped away from her young children and the rest of her family? What reason is there to inflict such pain on so many people? What reason is there to cut short the life of someone who was just minding her own business, living a normal life? I toiled over these questions for most of the week, crying randomly, then feeling foolish for doing so over someone I hadn’t seen in sixteen years, then feeling selfish for thinking about my own mortality and the fear it instills in me on a regular basis.

After a few days, as the shock lessened and I had the opportunity to think about all the good times, I also came to realize that maybe things like this happen to simply provide a wake up call and put things into perspective. Because after JG passed, her Facebook wall was filled with messages about how funny she was, how bright, how kind, and what a good mother, sister, and daughter she was.  No one commended her for her recent weight loss, no one congratulated her on whatever her salary may have been, and no one rejoiced in what a clean house she may have had. When someone dies, we all pause for a moment and think about what really matters in life.

So while I normally would have spent the week obsessing over the dust bunnies in my house, the toothpaste in my bathroom sink, and the size of my jeans, instead I took time to read, to write, to hug my husband extra tight, and take a long, slow swim.

I also took time to reflect on how thankful I am for the recent changes I’ve made to my life over the last year and a half, not only with my anxiety, but with my writing and general productivity. Two blog posts ago, I complained about feeling like an inadequate writer. And while frustration is certainly very real, I should still be grateful that I’m doing what I love again at all. Sadly, it takes a tragedy like this to make us realize what truly matters.

My good friend K and I went to the funeral home visitation, and it was horribly surreal and bizarre seeing a woman our age – a few weeks short of her 33rd birthday — lying in a coffin. But as we hugged her family and friends and mingled tears with laughter, we spent more time talking about the funny and crazy moments in JG’s life as opposed to the last few that stole her from this world.

So thanks for the memories, JG. Thanks for a few moments of nostalgia, and for the wake up call that brought us back to realizing what’s really important in this life.

And as my friend K  said in a memoriam posted on Facebook in honor of her good friend, goodbye (for now) to Sandra Dee.

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Traveling with Anxiety

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve had visions of me traveling the world — Hawaii, Alaska, California, The Grand Canyon, Paris, Italy, Aruba, Ireland…

So far I’ve been pretty lucky to have traveled to several places along the east coast here in the US and to a few beautiful Caribbean Islands. I’ve enjoyed almost everywhere I’ve visited, and fell downright in love with the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

But the thing about traveling with anxiety is that no matter how much I may want to go somewhere, no matter how hard I work to save the money to make it happen, I’m still, when it comes down to it … terrified.

Whether it’s roaming the rocky beaches of Old Orchard Beach, Maine or being in the presence of Queen Elizabeth I’s tomb in Wesminster Abbey, in order to cross these things off my so-called “bucket list,” I have to, well … travel.

It’s not really the destination I’m afraid of. I can do plenty of research on the hotels, the lifestyle, the restaurants, the people, the culture, and the transportation systems. And usually once I’ve reached the destination, I’m cool.

But in my anxiety-riddled mind, getting there is not half the fun. It’s half the problem.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I almost never drive on the highway. I’ve driven short stretches a handful of times, but hardly anything gives me more anxiety than speeding down the road with hundreds of other vehicles when I have no control over any of those other drivers. There are even times when I have to close my eyes on the highway as a passenger, especially when passing large tractor trailers. (it doesn’t help that I work at a salvage auto auction and see what happens when a Chevy Cobalt meets a big rig).
So needless to say any road trip can be stressful and overwhelming to me. A few months ago I had an epic meltdown a mere hour before leaving for a short road trip from Pittsburgh to Columbus, OH for work. Sometimes I’m honestly not sure how I endure the 530 mile drive to the Outer Banks every other year.

Flying is a whole other story. When I was younger, I don’t remember being afraid to fly. The first time I rode a plane after 9/11 was for my 11th grade trip to Disney World, and we were on a chartered flight with no one but band geeks and chaperones, so I didn’t have to deal with the hyped up security and new, scarier way of air travel.
I didn’t board another plane until 2009, when I went on a cruise with my now husband. Maybe it was because it had been almost a decade since I’d flown, but I remember being extremely nervous for that trip. Things only got worse on our return flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Atlanta – we hit some pretty decent turbulence, and during our layover in Georgia, I was so terrified at the thought of getting on another plane I spent close to an hour in the bathroom sobbing uncontrollably. Luckily, some nice wife-of-a-pilot offered me a Benadryl. While it didn’t knock me out completely, it took the edge off enough that I could get back home. (Obviously I don’t recommend taking pills off of strangers in bathrooms. But I was so hysterical and desperate it seemed like a good idea at the time. And hey, the pill was labeled).
Our upcoming trip to London is barreling towards us like a freight train, and although I am getting extremely excited, I am also trying desperately not to think about spending 8 hours on a plane. Over the Atlantic Ocean. Shudder.
I’m planning on taking plenty of Xanax, which helped immensely when we flew for our honeymoon. But honestly I kind of wish I could be in a temporary coma for the whole thing.

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What got me thinking about all of this travel-related anxiety is an announcement at work – my company is opening a new location in Germany, and they’re looking for volunteers to help set up. I immediately said “YES,” thinking this was an amazing opportunity to travel (for free!), and while I still want to go, the more I think about it, the more terrified I become.

I don’t know if I’ll get picked to go to Germany for work. Part of me really hopes I do, and part of me really hopes I don’t. The thought of being in another country so far away and seeing so many amazing and beautiful things (on someone else’s dime) is a dream come true. But the thought of getting to the airport, boarding a plane, and navigating an entire other country BY MYSELF is a complete nightmare.

Because of my anxiety, inevitable travel hiccups set me over the edge. Getting lost on the road means we’ll end up in some secluded forest and get chopped to pieces by a crazy ax murderer. Thin walls at a hotel means I won’t be able to get any sleep and will be a miserable zombie for the entire trip. Lost luggage means we’ll spend our entire vacation budget on new clothes. Taking the wrong bus to get to the Tower of London means we’ll get kidnapped by terrorists. Not speaking the language means (insert epic, improbable disaster here).

I wish I was the kind of person or employee who could travel at the drop of a hat. To hop on a plane with no qualms or head onto the open road and let the wind blow through my hair without worrying about getting lost or maimed or otherwise traumatized would be a welcome change. I’m slowly working on tackling these issues in EMDR therapy , but I don’t know if I’ll get there before we leave for London. Or before I potentially go to Germany.

Until then, I guess I’ve always got Xanax. And hey, they always say the best way to conquer a fear is to face it.

Right?

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Well. Shit.

Sigh. You guys.

I’ve been having a really shitty week as far as writing goes. I didn’t even want to blog about this because, really, how many blogs are out there about the struggles of a writer?

But there’s not much else on my mind. (Okay, there’s a ton of stuff on my mind — the constant highs and lows of my 8-5, my sister’s birthday, a day trip to Lake Erie, an upcoming bridal shower and wedding, the Ed Sheeran concert, our 5th wedding anniversary, and uhhhh A FREAKING TRIP TO LONDON).

But I digress. As far as writing goes, I sent my novel, The Month of May, to three beta readers a few weeks back, and waiting to hear back is a form of slow torture. In the meantime, I’ve been beta reading for a friend of mine, and although so far she’s been ridiculously thankful and complimentary of my editing abilities, I’m finding it hard to concentrate on her manuscript for some reason, probably because I’m, like, critiquing my critique.

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I’m also working on two submissions that have to be finished before the end of the month. One is mostly finished, but I had to pitch the idea to the magazine before actually submitting, and once again, waiting to hear back is yet another form of torture. It’s like dear god, universe, everything that is holy in the heavens above, PLEASE let this come through for me!!!!

The second piece is even more of a struggle. Last fall, I wrote a “short story” for an anthology that never happened. Although I’m not much of a short story writer, this idea took form in my head and ended up being a 9000 word story that I’m absolutely in love with and am desperate to find a home for. Of course, in the writing world, 9000 words is a VEEEEEEEERRRRRRY long short story… but somehow still kind of short to be a novella. So finding a home for it is basically impossible.
Anyway. I stumbled upon an opportunity for short story submissions (1200 words) fitting the theme “at the beach.” Since my 9000 word masterpiece/homeless disaster fits the category, I figured I’d take one of my favorite scenes and try to cut it down. So far I’ve reduced nearly 4000 words to 1450, but of course I’m still over the word count limit and I’m having a HELL of a time figuring out what else to cut without sacrificing setting, dialogue, characters, descriptions…

Seriously. I’ve never understood how people can write “short.” I’ve always been long winded, both speaking and writing. And apparently there is no place for that in the writing contest/call for submissions world.

Since stepping into the whirlwind that is the (online) writing world a year and a half ago, I’ve learned a ton of stuff, but I’m also still puzzled about many things which plague me on a regular basis…..
* When you “cold pitch” – do you really just email a publication and say “here’s who I am and this is what I want to write about”?
I picked up a copy of my local City Paper yesterday, and there was a short article by a new contributor whose focus of the article was basically why she’s weird. It was entertaining and well done, but kind of random. How do writers pitch this stuff and what makes publications say yes????
* If you see a company’s website (or brochure or sign) that has a ton of spelling and grammatical errors, is it cool to shoot them an email and say, “Hey your ad is heinously incorrect and unprofessional. $50 to fix it for you.”
* I’ve heard that you can start freelancing by soliciting your editing and proofreading services to students. But how are you supposed to get twenty year olds who can’t afford Ramen and will be drowning in debt for the next thirty years to pay for said services?
* Why are the subjects assigned to sample writes so obscure? (ie: the paleo diet and the mating habits of the common housefly). Really? Could you ask me to write about something that makes me feel more dead inside?
* Content writing intimidates me. I recently had a friend ask me to write some product descriptions of some wigs for a company he works for, and after about four of them, I was exhausted trying to find more than ten words to describe hair.
* I’m also very intimidated by all of the unfamiliar programs and forms of technology freelancing jobs seem to require. I’ve dubbed myself the most technologically inept millennial on the planet, so this is a big one. I’ve never even used Skype, which is apparently a requirement for every single freelancing gig.
* If I do sign up for a freelancing gig, what happens if it becomes too much? I already have 2 jobs, am working on a novel, maintain this blog, and have a life outside work and writing. Can I just resign? Do I give a 2 week notice? Run away with my tail between my legs?
* And is it possible that freelancing or content writing just isn’t for me? If this is the case, does that make me a shitty writer?

Sigh.

Throw me a bone, literary gods. Please?

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Just Checking In!

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Hey, all!

I’m just checking in to let yinz know I’m not dead.  As per my last post, my schedule is quite full, my anxiety has made a bit of a comeback, and I’m also nursing some sunburn and a little cold, all while planning a surprise 60th birthday party for my dad. So — all kinds of fun!

As far as writing goes, I have two pieces I’m working on that need submitted by the end of the month, AND I’ve been beta reading for a friend, so these projects have been eating up a lot of my time.  I’m also biting my nails daily as I wait to hear back from the three beta readers I found for my work in progress, The Month of May.

But I hope to be back to regular blogging in another week or so. And don’t worry — I’m still reading all your lovely blogs as often as I can!

peace

 

Anxiety Relapse

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I have a confession to make – I’ve had a bit of a relapse with my anxiety.

After more than six months of standing up for myself, taking control by making decisions, and telling everyone from my mom to Ellen Degeneres about EMDR therapy, I’ve had a rough couple of months.

When my therapist asked me what was going on to trigger all this anxiety, I wasn’t sure what to say at first because here aren’t any “huge” changes going on in my life. But then I realized it was a bunch of small things – which is exactly what usually causes anxiety.

For one, things have been shaken up, stirred, and shaken up again at my 9-5. While my office job isn’t my dream job, I do, in general, like it, and know I’m good at it. But some sudden staff changes have left us in a bit of a state, and I had to take over for another position until we found someone to replace the prior person. We also recently had some pretty serious flooding in the area, so the hundreds of cars that got totaled in that disaster are finding their ways to us faster than we can keep up.

Things at home are different too – after spending five years on second shift, my husband got a transfer to a daylight position – something we’ve been dreaming about for a long time. While we’ve been waiting our entire marriage to be on the same schedule, the adjustment has been more complicated than I thought it would be. It’s great to be able to see and talk to J every day, but after spending nearly five years by myself every evening, it’s difficult having another person’s energy around. Concentrating on writing is nearly impossible while he’s playing XBox or watching Formula One Racing, and while I can certainly migrate to the spare bedroom/office, there is almost inevitably a pile of (his) clothing on the desk that I have to put away before I can set my laptop down to work.  Even cooking, cleaning, and walking the dog has been impacted by his own agenda and ways of relaxing, and it’s been quite complicated navigating the daily emotions that range from affection to blatant and total irritation.

Our trip to London is also barreling towards us faster than a freight train. I’m still very excited, but now that it’s roughly 90 days away, the terror is started to set in. I keep conjuring up images of planes crashing into the Atlantic Ocean, getting lost in the haunted Tower of London, and arriving at our our hotel in the middle of the night only to find that they mixed up our reservations, forcing us to live on the streets for a week.

There was also my first writers’ conference, which left me feeling simultaneously inspired/intimidated and incredibly proud/self-conscious of my works in progress.

Oh and summer is here in all of its party/wedding/bridal shower/cook out/parade/picnic glory, causing my calendar to be cluttered with event reminders and my wallet to be hemorrhaging like a stuck pig.

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So the tightness in my chest has returned (although that could be from the oppressive heat and humidity that I swore I wouldn’t complain about back when seven inches of snow fell on April freaking seventh), and I’ve had to go back to basic coping mechanisms like deep breathing and positive self-talk. Needless to say, I feel like I’ve taken a few steps back in handling my anxiety.

But the good news is that now that I know there actually is another side to my anxiety and depression, I’m able to tell myself that the feeling will pass when I’m laying in bed feeling mentally and physically like garbage. I’m able to remind myself  how good it will feel to be productive and happy again when the episode passes.

Coming back from an anxious or depressive episode is like having a cold and waking up that one glorious morning to discover you can breathe through your nose again. When you regain consciousness and breathe in that sweet stream of air through your nose, it’s the most glorious feeling in the world. The key to getting yourself through the sickness is to think about that glorious moment when you’re dealing with the worse of the cold.

I still have lots to get through this summer – most of them are fun events, but they are also those that require lots of planning and a certain amount of money, which is where the stress comes in. So I’m trying to take things day by day, one event at a time, hoping I can ease into fall and our trip to London without being a total anxiety case.

Until then, I’ve got my bi-weekly EMDR appointment, my lavender essential oils, and the fabulous music of Herr Mozart to get me through.

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