Anxiety & Masks

 

holding breath

I’ll be honest — the first time I put a mask on I wanted to claw it off immediately.

It was back in March, before things got really bad here in the States, and a few weeks before Pennsylvania’s governor mandated that masks be worn in all public places.

My husband, who works in a hospital, encouraged me to wear a disposable surgical mask to the grocery store, and I admit that I ripped it off after about ten minutes. It was itchy and awkward, and I experiencing claustrophobia for one of the first times in my life. The only other time I’d felt like I was suffocating or that the walls were closing in on me was when we’d gotten lost in The Underground on our trip to London.

Needless to say, when it became mandatory to wear a mask and I realized that I was going to have to wear one all day in the office, I had a full-on panic attack.

While I 100% support the mask mandate, I realize that there are some people with invisible conditions — like anxiety or claustrophobia — that may have a hard time adhering to this rule, so I wanted to share some ideas that helped me and might help others adjust to this new normal.

  1. Material & Type:
    The first disposal mask I tried was a high-grade surgical one. I didn’t like the way it tied around the back of my head and the thicker material was too much for someone who’d never worn a face covering. I felt the same way when I tried to use a mask that a coworker had made from an old pillow case. It was entirely too thick, which made me hot and it to me it felt like an actual pillow was being held over my face.
    After trying a few different things, I found that a different type of disposable surgical mask worked better for me, as did masks made out of thinner fabric like these ones from Target.
    You can also play around with different features or types of masks — some people like ones that loop over the ears, while others prefer ones that tie behind their heads. Some people are more comfortable wearing a scarf of bandanna. In most cases, as long as you’re not performing surgery or caring for someone with COVID-19, any of these are acceptable options.
  2. Size:
    This is something I didn’t give much thought to when I first started wearing a mask; I assumed they were ‘one size fits all.’ But now that it’s become a staple in life and something that’s probably not going away anytime soon, I’ve realized how important it is to have a mask that fits properly. And for those of us with anxieties, the fit may help alleviate some of those uncomfortable feelings.
    I have a tiny head, and subsequently a tiny face. Sunglasses, headbands, and ball caps are typically too big for me, and the same goes for masks. The fact that the first few I tried were entirely too big for my face probably contributed to the feeling of being suffocated or overwhelmed. The last few I’ve purchased have actually been kid sized, but they work well for my apparently small dome.
    If you’re struggling, try a smaller size or a different brand. As long as it covers your mouth and nose, you’re good!

mask

3. Practice at Home:
Like with almost everything else, practice makes perfect. In order to get used to masks, I wore one around the house for a few minutes at a time before I felt comfortable doing so for extended periods. When it came time to wear one out in public, I first ran out to pick up a prescription, knowing that the trip would be short and I could take it off in probably less than ten minutes. Once I tackled short errands, I was finally able to wear one for a long trip to the grocery store and during work.
Concentrating on taking slow, even breaths also helped, as did using mantras like “I am safe” and “I’m getting plenty of oxygen.”

4. Use Essential Oils:
I’ve become a fan of diffusers and essential oils over the last couple of years, and occasionally use them on my mask. If I’m having a rough day at work or feel a panic attack coming on randomly while wearing one, I sprinkle the fabric with a few drops of lavender or this CBD oil.. Having the calming scents right against my nose helps me breathe better and stay calm.

5. If You Wear Glasses:
One of the chief complaints about masks is that they make your glasses fog up. While I usually wear contacts, there have been a few occasions where I’ve had to suffer through wearing my spectacles in conjunction with a mask, and it is a pain in the ass.
For those of you who wear glasses daily, may I suggest a mask with a nose wire? My husband, who wears his glasses all the time, works on the dock at a hospital, and explained that if the wire is pinched flush against your nose, it will greatly reduce fogging.
If you’re the crafty type, you can even make this a DIY project using materials like pipe cleaners, paperclips, or even twist ties.

glasses

6. Have Fun!
Look, we’re all kind of grasping at straws for ways to maintain sanity at this point. If we have to wear masks, we might as well have fun with it. If you’re the artsy type, have a (small, social distance-enforced) party and make masks with friends and family. Use old t-shirts, pillowcases, socks, and even bras to make yourself a one-of-a-kind face covering.
Flaunt your interests with sports team logos or these fabulous literary masks.  One of the coolest masks I’ve seen is this one,  for Harry Potter fans, which is an impressively authentic version of the Marauder’s Map.
You can also use this opportunity to support a good cause with the purchase of one of these masks that give back.

Well. There’s a post I never anticipated writing.

Hope this helps someone and hope you’re all staying safe and healthy.

 

gloves

The Only Way Out is Through, Part 3

continued from Parts 1 & 2 

2011 – 2014

Towards the end of January 2011, my friend invited me to her house for “a small dinner party” to celebrate my twenty-sixth birthday. In reality, this was a ruse to get me to a surprise party where J got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife, surrounded by family and friends.

We basked in the glow of our engagement for a few months, but before long the two of us grew frustrated – with our situation and with each other. J was once again unhappy at a job that he thought had long-term potential, and I was wrestling with the fact that I’d have to leave my comfortable job for a place that paid more than slightly above minimum wage.

While J unintentionally bounced from one job to another, I finally secured a new position working in an office for a team of mental health providers. My salary would increase, my commute time would decrease, and I was excited to work in an environment that catered to people who, like me, struggled with anxiety and depression. Or so I thought.

X

My new job gave me absolutely no training, and the office manager who hired me had next to no patience. I was made to feel inept and useless, and to make matters worse I soon realized that both the office manager and another employee passed the time by reading through patient files and making fun of peoples’ symptoms. As if that weren’t enough to chase me away, I also discovered that the head psychiatrist was sleeping with the office manager – and both of them were married to other people. I was so completely disgusted that I quit within a matter of weeks, and was lucky enough to secure a new job the very next day.

My new venture was being a dispatcher at a plumbing and heating company. Again, my salary increased and my commute time decreased, and I finally felt good about my job and planning our wedding. J had also found a job he liked, but I was growing frustrated with the fact that we had been engaged for nearly eight months and still hadn’t set a date. While I knew that our engagement would be long, I had no idea that we’d have such trouble when it came to jobs or finances. After a couple of arguments, J and I finally got back on the same page when it came to our future, and we set a date for September of 2013.

After about a year as dispatcher, I grew weary of trying to handle 30-40 service calls a day with only five techs. I quietly began sending out resumes, promising myself that I’d only change jobs if the pay was significantly higher and the company did work I truly believed in. I was, after all, planning a wedding and buying a house. This was no time to make unnecessary changes.

to do

In the summer of 2012, I applied for a job downtown as a receptionist for a nonprofit organization that was an affiliate of an elite university in Pittsburgh. It was a long shot, so I was shocked when I secured an interview. And I nearly shit myself when I snagged the job.

I was intimidated, but excited. The organization was doing educational work in third world countries and their office was a brand new, gleaming, high-tech environment that made me feel as though I’d finally made it. Even though my commute and parking situation was now horrendous, I was making more money than I ever thought possible doing menial tasks like ordering office supplies and transferring phone calls. I even got the chance to assist some of the departments with research and small write-ups, which I was repeatedly praised for.

Three months later it all went to shit. My immediate supervisor went out suddenly for weeks because of surgery, and her boss, the demanding CEO, dumped all of her work on me. Caught off guard and completely unprepared and overwhelmed, I did everything in my power to keep up with his impossible demands and condescending attitude. I worked ten hour days, begged vendors to cater to his every whim, and spent parts of every day sobbing in the ladies room. I knew I had to keep this job but I didn’t have the experience to be the executive assistant that he was used to. When I found out that the CEO and the director of HR were sleeping together (again, both married to other people), I lost all respect for the entire organization.

Before I could find a new place of employment, the arrogant, womanizing CEO fired me the day after he used me as a gopher during an important event. While I was relieved to be out of such a toxic environment, I was twelve months away from my wedding and J and I had just begun looking at houses. What on earth was I going to do?

exhausted

Losing that job, filing for unemployment and looking for a new position absolutely devastated me. I felt like I had completely and utterly failed and I saw no way that J and I could ever go through with the wedding or home buying process. At one point while talking to a woman at the unemployment office, I became so emotionally overwhelmed that I ended up sobbing into the phone on the floor of my parents’ basement. “I’m supposed to be planning my wedding!” I shouted to this poor stranger. “But instead I’m doing this!”

Slowly, with the help of a therapist and an employment agency, things began to improve. I started feeling slightly better, and was making decent money again when I started a new office position at an appraisal management company. While I was glad to be making a regular salary again, I knew within a matter of weeks that the position simply wasn’t for me. The work itself was confusing and the environment was super flaky. Several of the managers were condescending and disrespectful, and the pressure was incredibly high due to the fact that each employee underwent a scrupulous review every single month.

Still, I knew I couldn’t quit because the wedding was inching closer. J and I were nine months away from being husband and wife, so I figured I’d muddle through as best I could for the time being.

Somehow, amid all the chaos in our professional lives, J and I found and purchased our first home and got married five months later. Despite all the turmoil of the last several years, these important events (mostly) went off without a hitch, and we had an absolute blast the day we said “I do.” Someday I’ll tell you all about it in detail.

wedding pic
photographed by Lavender Leigh Photography, Pittsburgh

 

But our woes with employment weren’t over yet. Right around the time I started looking for a new job to escape the pretentious environment of the mortgage company, I lost that job too. My panic was ironically short-lived, considering we now had a mortgage, but I was able to secure a job six weeks later in March of 2014, and I am still working there to this day.

Seeing all of it laid out like this definitely makes me realize how much shit J and I have been through over the years. It makes me realize how strong we are as a couple and as individuals, and solidifies the knowledge that we can make it through anything together.

But more importantly – and perhaps most relevant right now – is the fact that tough times always come and go. When you’re in the thick of it, it’s absolutely horrible. You can’t see the forest for the trees and some days you just want to give up. I know I’ve definitely had similar thoughts during the shit storm of a year that has been 2020, and I know most other people out there have too.

Even though none of us know when we’ll see sunny skies again, we can’t lose sight of the fact that someday things will get better. Whether you’re struggling with the effects of the pandemic or dealing with a personal crisis, there will come a day when a present problem is a thing of the past.

With any luck, we’ll learn something from it and be stronger in the future.

Stay strong. Stay healthy.

black heart

The Only Way Out is Through, Part 2

continued from Part 1

2009

At the height of the recession, J and I were thankful to have jobs. Neither one of us were making great money, but plenty of people were stuck on unemployment and having trouble finding work. As we prepared ourselves for the first holidays since his dad’s passing, we looked forward to 2010 as the year that we’d be able to move in together.

In November of 2009, I was covering for the receptionist at work when J’s cell number lit up the call screen. I answered eagerly, still relishing the fact that I had a boyfriend who called me at work from time to time.

But when he told me that he’d been fired, I went into instant panic mode. I remember crying in my office, feeling angry and confused. We had just gotten back to our new normal; how could this be happening? My anger and frustration only grew when I learned the details of his termination – it was due to a miscommunication that had been blown out of proportion, and he spent the next several months fighting for unemployment benefits. As 2009 came to a close, we had to face the harsh reality that our dreams of moving in together would once again be delayed.

wait

Over the next couple of months, J spent hours every day desperately trying to find a job in a crumbling economy. To make matters worse, he had a health scare in March that sent him to the hospital for several days while he was uninsured. Though we were both grateful that he was eventually okay, he was now several thousand dollars in debt due to medical bills, with no job prospects to soften the blow.

It took J six months to find a job, and another six months to find one that he didn’t hate or didn’t put his well being in danger. By the fall of 2010, he was finally making steady money again. Little did we know that our problems weren’t over yet.

2010

On October 16, 2010, I woke up to find a note on the kitchen table in my mom’s neat handwriting. Dad had taken her to the hospital for antibiotics, it read. See you in a day or two.

Mom had been doing at-home kidney dialysis for years, and occasionally she contracted  peritonitis from it. This was a common problem for dialysis patients, but luckily one that was treated quickly and easily with IV antibiotics. She’d had it a few times in the past, and after spending 24-48 hours in the hospital, she’d return home perfectly fine. This was not one of those times.

IV

The infection Mom had contracted raged out of control for days, which turned into weeks, which turned into months. She was admitted and released to and from the hospital three separate times and underwent several procedures and surgeries. Nothing the doctors were giving her seemed able to fight the infection that had consumed her entire peritoneal cavity. To make matters worse, the strong drugs they were giving her diminished her appetite and made her unable to keep down anything she did eat, so she wasn’t getting enough nutrition. She grew weaker and sicker before our eyes, and was in the ICU by Thanksgiving. As the rest of the world readied itself for Christmas, I was faced with the possibility that I might lose my mom.

The idea wasn’t new to me, considering that she’d been fighting an autoimmune disease and subsequent kidney disease since I was five, but this time things really seemed bleak. I remember spending every spare moment at the hospital, jumping every time the phone rang, and being so sick with worry and fear that I could barely eat. I lost ten pounds in a month, and was desperately trying to keep the house, laundry, and meals together in her absence. All the while, my work suffered, as did my relationship with J. I was so exhausted of having bad things happen to us, and I had no idea how to convey my grief to anyone. The icing on the proverbial cake was the group of friends I lost in those months – people I’d known since middle school who accused me of being a drama queen and a cry baby and were actually angry that I skipped a Halloween party to be with my hospitalized mother.

By some miracle, Mom began to recover just before Christmas. We spent the holiday in a rehabilitation center, and a few weeks into the New Year she was finally home for good.

After living through what ended up being some of the most trying months of my life, I was definitely ready for a bit of a reprieve . . .

hope

The Only Way Out is Through, Part 1

Like most of the world, I’ve spent the last several months of quarantine asking myself a series of scary questions – How long will this last? When will I feel safe or normal again? When will things get better? What if things get worse? How on earth are we going to make it through this?

Though nearly everyone is asking similar questions and wrestling with some major life changes (or standstills), and we keep repeatedly (albeit virtually) reminding one another that we’re in this together, we are, for the most part, still alone. No one has any concrete answers to any of the scary questions we’re all asking, and that’s probably the most frightening part of all.

lost

I’ve had moments where I’ve used the circumstances of the pandemic for good – writing and submitting like crazy, cleaning, taking walks, and having plenty of ‘me’ time. But there are also times that I’ve felt like I was going to absolutely insane if I couldn’t leave my zip code or couldn’t fathom the next time I’d get to travel. I’ve cried over not being able to hug my friend when she offered comfort over the death of my dog, and I’ve cried after leaving my parents’ house and not being able to hug my immune-compromised mom. One day at the grocery store I couldn’t reach an item on the top shelf and I couldn’t get close enough to anyone to ask for help, and on came the waterworks. I’ve stormed away from my desk at work after yelling at a customer for the four hundredth time that day to read the signs on the door regarding masks and the ‘one person in the office at a time’ rule. In those moments of overwhelming emotion, the biggest question on my mind is how on earth am I going to get through this?

During moments of clarity I’ve had to remind myself that although the world population is muddling through uncharted territory, we’ve been through worse – or at least similar — situations. As have I.

Though things are absolute and total shit right now, personally I am in a better place in my life in a lot of ways than, say, a decade ago. During the first four years of mine and J’s relationship, we experienced one devastating blow after another. It seemed like as soon as we cleared one hurdle, another one would be waiting around the corner to knock us down once again. There was a long stretch where we couldn’t see how the two of us would ever be able to get better jobs, a house of our own, go on vacation, or get married.

trapped

Today, with the world going to hell in a hand basket in more ways than one, I look back on those times and think about how strong we must have been as a couple and as individuals to keep going until we reached our goals. I’ve been wanting to write about those tumultuous years for a while now, and figured that now is as good a time as any. I’ve got extra time on my hands to write, readers have more time to read, and we could all use a little inspiration and reflection about getting through tough times.

So without further ado, let me get into part 1 . . .

2008

J and I met on a blind date coordinated by mutual friends. The four of us had dinner, then headed to a bar for drinks, where aforementioned friends finagled a plan to have J take me home that night. There, in the front seat of his Chevy Equinox, I kissed him for the first time. When I went to bed less than an hour later, I realized that I’d just met the person I was going to marry.

About a month into our budding relationship, J and I began to discuss moving in together. I was still living with my parents after plans to get an apartment with a friend fell apart, and he was back at home as well after leaving a toxic relationship. I’d always promised myself that I’d never live with anyone until we’d dated for a year, but I already knew J was the one, so I went along with it full force. We discussed budgets, desired neighborhoods, and furniture before realizing we were talking crazy. Though we were both serious about our relationship, we figured it was a good idea to wait awhile before jumping into that water head first. It was April 2008, so we decided that if we were still together come January 2009, we’d continue with plans to move in together. Unfortunately, fate had other ideas.

Our relationship blossomed quickly over the next six months. We said mutual ‘I love yous,’ went on weekend adventures, and I introduced him to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which he promptly fell in love with. I told him about my anxiety, he shared his less-than-perfect past, and we celebrated his birthday and our first Christmas together as the year drew to a close. But it was Christmas night that our lives and our relationship were changed.

broken

After the holiday festivities died down, J’s dad went to bed early so he could be up for his 4am shift the next day. Shortly after, the two of us retreated to J’s room to snuggle up and watch a movie. As the credits rolled, we heard a God-awful thump from across the hall. The next several hours were some of the scariest of my life. I remember J dialing 911, shouting that his dad was turning blue. I remember his mom racing up the stairs to see what was wrong. I remember dashing next door, hoping that J’s cop neighbor was home to help. I remember sitting in the brightly-lit ER in the middle of the night listening to a doctor say the words “his condition is very serious.”

J’s dad suffered a massive heart attack, the kind they call ‘the widow maker.’ His brain had gone so long without oxygen that he was placed on a ventilator and we had to wait several days to see if the swelling would go down so the doctors could determine if he’d ever regain consciousness again. Less than two weeks later came the devastating news that he was brain dead, and the family made the painful decision to take him off life support. Three days into 2009, J lost his father.

Looking back, I have no idea how I made it through those weeks. J and I had only been dating for a little over eight months. His parents hadn’t even met mine yet. I’d never been close to anyone who had lost a parent at our young age, and didn’t have the first clue about navigating the situation. Whenever I was with J and his mom, I felt like I was intruding on their grief, but as soon as I left I’d feel guilty. I never knew what to say or do to make either one of them feel better, and I worried about whether or not our relationship could survive this. I remember crying in my car out of fear and anxiety anytime I headed over to their house, then forcing myself to stop and act as normal as possible during my visit. As soon as I left, I’d drive down the street to park and cry some more as the family’s pain and the feeling of helplessness washed over me.

stone

It took a long time for us to adapt to our new normal. J and I celebrated our one year anniversary that spring and we spent some time at our friend’s trailer that summer. Eventually we ended up taking a vacation that October. J’s parents had planned a cruise well before his dad’s heart attack, and instead of his mom cancelling or going alone, the three of us went together. It was my first experience on a cruise ship, and touring the islands of St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk gave us the break we all needed.

When we got home, J and I started talking about moving in together again, and set our new goal for January of 2010. We finally felt like we were getting back on our feet again after a long, hard 10 months.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t have been more wrong . . .

lock

A Dog Named Kitty

Bloggers I have big news — back on May 29th, after weeks of emails and waiting, J and I finally met our new fur baby!

Introducing . . .

Our 2 year old bulldog/lab mix — Miss Kitty from Texas!

Kitty 1

Now I know what you’re thinking — who would name a DOG KITTY?!?!?!

J and I thought the same thing at first. But then we discovered that this fur baby was found emaciated and lactating on Kitty Hawk Road near San Antonio, Texas. The name felt more suitable after we heard her story, and we decided to take it as a sign that this pup was meant to be ours since we’ve frequently vacationed in Kitty Hawk, NC.

I’ll spare you the heartbreaking photos of what Kitty looked like the day her foster mom found her darting in and out of traffic. But every bone of her spine was clearly visible and several of her boobies were the size of water balloons. While Kitty was safe after her foster mom scooped her up, her puppies or an owner were never found (although an owner who would dump a pregnant/nursing dog doesn’t deserve to have her back).

Fast forward several months when J and I decided to start the search for a new fur baby after Comet’s passing. Since neither one of us had adopted a pet in over thirteen years, we didn’t realize that searching even local pet shelters cross-referenced you with the massive online database across the entire country. Thanks to some error in search parameters, Miss Kitty kept popping up on our screen, and neither one of us could resist her adorable face or her story that tugged at our heartstrings.

Kitty 4

When we realized she was over 1500 miles away, my anxiety definitely perked up. How would she get to us? What if we didn’t “click?” Would she be traumatized after a journey that far? What if something happened to her on the way to Pittsburgh?

The first time we talked to Kitty’s foster mom calmed most of my fears. I learned that transporting adoptable dogs is a fairly common practice these days, and that the rescue organization that Kitty was being adopted through transported pets all over the country on a regular basis. Once Kitty’s foster mom gave us the thumbs up for adoption, we signed some electronic forms, paid her adoption fee, and the wait began!

The process took several weeks, which was delayed for two additional weeks thanks to the travel restrictions due to COVID. When the day finally came, I was experiencing all sorts of emotions — I was still worried about something happening to her convoy as they sped towards Pittsburgh; I was afraid she’d be scared of us or hate us; I worried they’d bring us the wrong dog or not show up at all. At one point I became convinced that the entire thing was a scam and that we were going to get kidnapped and sold as sex slaves.
And as dumb as it sounds, when we piled into our SUV to go pick her up, the realization that Comet was really, truly gone forever crashed down around me.

When the transporters with God’s Dogs Rescue finally arrived, Kitty had to be carried out of the van. She was trembling uncontrollably and absolutely terrified. J and I immediately gathered her in our arms, whispering calming words of love, and I promptly burst into tears. I was so happy she was finally ours but I was heartbroken that she was so terrified.

Kitty 3

As soon as we got her home, though, Kitty was immediately affectionate and incredibly gentle. She even found the courage to play and had a healthy appetite right off the bat. Her separation anxiety was apparent from the get go, as she trembled anytime someone left a room for the first 24-48 hours. She was also scared of our steep staircase and our dishwasher, but all things considered, our first weekend together went pretty well.

While J had taken a couple of days off of work to help get Kitty acclimated, I had to go back to work the following Monday, and I was a bundle of nerves. Those nerves became raging anxiety when J returned to work, and I was absolutely beside myself those days that she was completely alone for hours at a time. Since I work 15 minutes from home, I came back for lunch,  but my mind was constantly going a million miles a minute. Even though we had puppy-proofed our home, I was afraid she’d find something to eat or destroy. I kept picturing puddles of pee and piles of poop scattered throughout the house. My worst fear was that she was going to be so traumatized from the separation that it was going to negatively effect her health.

At the end of her first week, we had a rough couple of days. Kitty accidentally head-butted me in my cheek when I bent over to grab her ball, causing me to stumble backwards and hurting me badly enough that I was sore for a couple of days. I can’t believe she didn’t leave a bruise. She had three accidents three days in a row — all while we were home with her! And then on Friday, my neighbor texted me around 11am telling me that Kitty had been barking nonstop for hours.

I think the rescue people call this the “testing the boundaries” phase.

Now I’m well-aware that most of these things are to be expected when adopting a new dog and they’re learning your routine and adjusting to a new place. I expected the accidents, some chewing, and even the anxiety. But I hadn’t dealt with these things in decades, and certainly never in the middle of a global pandemic, when my anxiety was the highest it’s been in ages. Add job-related BS and drama to the mix and you have yourself the perfect recipe for an all-out meltdown panic attack.

When I got the text from my neighbor, I had the worst panic attack I’d experienced in months. I started shaking uncontrollably, my thoughts were spiraling at a million miles a minute, and I couldn’t concentrate on the simplest task. I started crying and hyperventilating and had to lock myself in the bathroom. All I could think was that I was a horrible dog mom and didn’t deserve this sweet pup. I kept thinking of all the possible mistakes I’d made and to make matters worse, I conjured up dozens of worst-case scenarios, from Kitty getting hurt to our neighbors forcing us to get rid of her.

Thankfully, that weekend was much, much better. Kitty continued showing an overflowing amount of affection, took several walks, and even confronted the vacuum cleaner and the lawn mower. And even though I’m still ridiculously nervous whenever we leave for work, we’ve laid out a few plans to help her deal with her anxieties (and mine!) and potential problems, and I’m hopeful that with time, the three of us will develop a plan that works.

Kitty 5

Part of me still can’t quite believe she’s here and that she’s all ours. It’s almost like I’m dog sitting. There’s this little stranger in our house and I’m not quite sure what her next surprise is going to be — good or bad.
I feel even more pressure to care for her now, in the beginning, than I did once Comet became a staple in our lives. I want her foster mom to know that she made the right choice in letting us adopt her. I want Kitty to know that she’s safe and that she can trust us and that she won’t ever be abandoned again. I want her to know that we’ll always come home to her.

Most of all, I hope the three of us have many happy years together, just like we did with our sweet Comet.

Kitty 2

 

some (publishing) news!

Good evening, bloggers!

Just wanted to take a few minutes to let you know that I recently had two poems published by Capsule Stories, a print literary journal that publishes once every season.

I’m proud to be featured among dozens of other talented writers, especially in an issue that’s all about “Moving Forward.”

Check out the Summer 2020 edition and their website at https://capsulestories.com/summer-2020-edition/

My poems that are featured in this issue were posted several years ago on my blog Outer Banks Poems.

Enjoy! And let me know what you think!

journal

 

Do All Writers Write Everyday?

writer

Whether you’re a novice writer or a bestselling author, you’ve heard the seemingly number one piece of advice — that “WRITERS WRITE EVERY DAY — NO EXCUSES.”

Well. I beg to differ.

Maybe some do. I’m sure plenty of writers who grace the New York Times best seller lists or journalists whose bylines appear beneath headlines of the world’s most renowned newspapers or magazines do, but after being back in this game for the last four years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply not true for everybody.

I see plenty of writers on Twitter, Facebook, and message boards lamenting about how they don’t write everyday or simply can’t. They’re raking themselves over the coals for not being perfectionists, and I’m of the opinion that most of us shouldn’t do that. Now the writers who make millions with their words might be an exception — and understandably so. But for most of us, we’re juggling a million other things in our lives, and feeling guilty about not writing 5 hours or 5,000 words a day is not going to help us obtain our goals. I’m not saying that it’s cool to shove your manuscript aside for six months while you binge watch Friends and Fuller House and memorize every episode, but it’s also not a good idea to force yourself to write, especially if you need to take time for some other important things. Taking care of your physical and mental health, catching up with family and friends, or dealing with a personal crisis are some examples of things that may take you away from your writing for a few days — or even a few months. And that’s okay!

okay

As is evident by my lack of consistency with my blog over the last few months, I, like most of the world, have been riding a roller coaster of emotions that have undoubtedly effected my writing. Aside from the whole global pandemic crap, I lost my dog Comet in April, and just adopted a new one a week ago. A million and one other things have happened in my life between February and now, several of them quite stressful, and there have been days at a time where I simply could not write. And I don’t feel guilty about it.

The week that my dog got sick was awful, as was the day we had to put him to sleep, and several days that followed. I was absolutely heartbroken and completely out of sorts. Because the state of Pennsylvania was pretty much closed due to COVID, I had nowhere to go or nothing to do to distract myself from the grief. Sitting down to craft a story or a coherent blog post was just not going to happen. Instead, I took a few weeks to “self care” and spent my time taking walks, coloring, planting flowers, and yes, watching TV. Once I began to feel a bit better, I sat down at my laptop one night and wrote several thousands words in my manuscript. And it felt amazing to get back in the habit.

Fast forward nearly two months to the days leading up to the adoption of our new pup. I was nervous, excited, happy, scared — you name it. I could barely sit still at work or to eat let alone concentrate on writing. And when our new fur baby finally arrived, she needed a few days of extra care to help her transition. During that time I didn’t write at all. But now that she’s starting to settle in, I’m getting back to my routine of clattering away at the keyboard anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes a night.

routine

So what am I getting at?

I’ve been wanting to write about “acceptable writer behaviors” for awhile, mainly because I think that “writer advice” should be taken the same as most other advice — that it differs from person to person and situation to situation. I’m sure Stephen King is going to have different writing habits than the mother of three who works a full-time job and volunteers for Meals on Wheels and writes a once-monthly article for her local magazine. And the freelance travel writer who just lost their father to cancer is going to have different habits than the self-published novelist with a trust fund.

There’s so much advice out there about everything — diet, exercise, child rearing, side hustles, home repair, skin care — you name it, there’s someone on the Internet or on the glossy pages of a magazine telling you how to do it. While everybody needs advice at some point in their lives, I’ve learned that what works for some does not work for everyone. It’s important to keep an open mind and find what works for you — whether it’s helping your dog tackle her fear of stairs or finally getting that manuscript ready to submit to an agent.

So the next time you’re feeling guilty for allowing yourself time to be more than a writer, try to cut yourself some slack. None of us are perfect, and sometimes life demands our full attention for a period of time. Personally, I’ve found that whenever I take breaks, whether they last a day or a week, I usually return to my writing routine feeling more refreshed and inspired than before.

Just like most other things in life, it’s all about finding what works for you, and constantly tweaking that balance.

balance

 

Five Things

One thing I’m kinda bad at when it comes to blogging, social media, and self-promotion is the whole “trending” thing. And while I typically don’t like to do these kinds of posts, I’ve been off my blogging game a bit with the whole stupid virus going on and the death of my fur baby Comet.

But I saw a post by Millennial Life Crisis that apparently “FIVE THINGS” is trending in all the important places right now so I figured it’d be cool to play along. And maybe it would get me back in the groove of writing regular posts.

So without further ado ….

FIVE THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN GETTING ME THROUGH QUARANTINE:

  1. Reading – I’m a bibliophile even when I’m busy as all hell, and having these extra hours to curl up with a good book has been pretty nice.
  2. Taking walks — Even though I lost my walking buddy when Comet crossed the Rainbow Bridge, I’ve been getting out as much as I can when the weather cooperates. J and I even took his mom’s dog for a couple of laps at the local park a few times.
  3. Writing — Remember that manuscript I lost in January thanks to a USB crash? Well, I rewrote it in about 112 days. Working on the first round of edits as we speak.
  4. Family & friends — Obviously I haven’t seen them much, but we’ve been chatting frequently via phone and text, and plenty of people are checking in on me and supporting me while I experience the ups and downs of having anxiety and depressive episodes in the middle of a pandemic. J has also been super supportive, keeping me motivated and laughing and comforting me when I have a particularly rough day or end up bawling over Comet.
  5. Adult coloring books – I am basically the least artistic person on the planet, but I busted out some of the “stress relief” coloring books that were popular a few years ago and found it relaxing and refreshing to concentrate on creating a pretty picture.

FIVE BLOGS THAT ARE WORTH CHECKING OUT:

  1. Millennial Life Crisis  
  2. Love Travelling
  3. Our Crossings
  4. Rust Belt Girl
  5. Streaming Thru America

FIVE YOUTUBE CHANNELS THAT I ENJOY WATCHING (I don’t watch much TV or YouTube so I only have two of these):

  1. Good Mythical Morning
    Rhett and Link are absolutely hilarious. Just two real-life best friends talking about everything and anything and making us laugh — usually by accident.
  2. The Dodo
    An uplifting channel dedicated to adorable, sweet, and inspirational animal stories.

FIVE FOODS THAT I LOVE:

  1. Pop-Tarts
  2. Cereal
  3. Chocolate
  4. Macaroni & Cheese
  5. Pasta

 

FIVE TV SHOWS THAT I WATCH (this is going to be tough too because I don’t really watch TV. Some stuff on this list I enjoyed before quarantine):

  1. Teen Mom
  2. Sex Education
  3. Glee
  4. Ink Master
  5. Friends

FIVE SONGS I COULD LISTEN TO ON REPEAT
FIVE PANDORA STATIONS I LOVE:

  1. Mozart
  2. Elton John
  3. Jason Mraz
  4. Alanis Morisette
  5. Happiest Tunes on Earth

headphones

FIVE PLACES I’M DREAMING OF GOING WHEN IT’S SAFE TO TRAVEL AGAIN:

  1. Holland
  2. The Outer Banks
  3. Ireland
  4. Maine
  5. Oregon

There are a couple of other “FIVE” lists you can do, like 5 people you’d love to meet, 5 things you struggle with, 5 things you wish for, etc, but I’m going to wrap up my list here.

Feel free to play if you have the time! (and who doesn’t right now???)

typing

post-quarantine list

waiting
I’ve been thinking a lot about all the things I want to do once the quarantine is lifted, and I’ve actually been keeping a list on my phone whenever something pops into my head. Figured I’d share it —
* Have a party/bonfire with lots of good food and good people and good beer
* Go out to dinner with my parents and sister
* Grab my two best friends and go on an eating/drinking binge that includes Mexican food, margaritas, ice cream, and overpriced coffee
* Donate the 3 garbage bags (and counting) of clothes, shoes, and purses I’ve cleaned out of my closet
* Go back to my local library & head into the city to take a tour of the main branch of the Carnegie library
* Go “cheap shopping” and see what I can find at TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and the like
SUPPORT SOME SMALL BUSINESSES:
* Get a massage
* Get my eyebrows waxed
* Take my coat & sun dress to the local seamstress for some minor repairs
* Get a memorial tattoo for my 2 puppers (and get my Pittsburgh skyline tattoo fixed/covered up)
* Visit a local bookstore and cafe that I’ve always been “too busy” to investigate
* Go buy plants & succulents and spruce up my house & backyard
* Go to a local high-end shoe store and buy a good pair of walking shoes & sandals
What about you? What are you most looking forward to doing once the lock down is over?
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Let’s Talk About “Negative” Emotions

negative

If you’ve read my last two blogs, you know that things have been rough on my side of town recently. Aside from the global pandemic that everyone else is struggling with, J & I lost our sweet fur baby Comet on April 10. Losing a dog or any member of the family is never easy, but doing so amid the chaos of a worldwide crisis makes it all the more heartbreaking.

We also still don’t know what’s going on with our vacation in May, and we’re having some struggles with other obnoxious crap, like horrible neighbors and job stress.

Going through all of this reminds me of other times in my life when literally everything seemed to be working against me, and I’ve had a lot of time to think about how I handled things then and how I’m doing so now.
I’m okay, as in I haven’t needed to increase my medication or the frequency of my therapist appointments, and I’ve really been making an effort to concentrate on small positives like springtime and funny YouTube videos. I’m trying to keep myself busy by reading, cleaning, and doing organizational tasks, but I’m not going to lie — I’ve definitely been on edge.
My fuse is incredibly short and I feel like there’s a mountain of things I want to fix or accomplish and the tasks seem insurmountable. There’s a lot of frustration and grief coursing through my body and my mind, and I’ve been crying a lot more often and spending more time on the couch than usual.

But the main difference about how I’m dealing with grief and other negative feelings this time around compared to several years ago is that I’m doing everything I can to not get stuck there.

stuck

So what does that mean? In the three years that I’ve been doing EMDR therapy,  one of the most important things I’ve learned is how to deal with negative emotions in a healthy way and to not let them take over your life.
When I say “negative emotions,” I’m talking about things like grief, sadness, anger, frustration, disappointment, or jealousy — those ugly feelings that literally everyone on the planet experiences at one time or another in varying degrees, but for some reason we frown upon people who express those feelings.

I wrote about Toxic Positivity a few months ago, and I truly believe that this bizarre phenomenon is one of the major contributors to people getting “stuck” in negative feelings. When it seems like the entire world is pushing you to be happy, grateful, bright, and “blessed” 24/7/365, we tend to forget how to properly handle ugly feelings when they inevitably pop up, and they end up getting buried and suppressed. Let me give you some examples —

In 2010, my mom was hospitalized for three months battling a life-threatening infection due to complications from kidney dialysis and an autoimmune disease. During this time I literally zombie-walked through life. I was barely eating, I couldn’t sleep or concentrate at work, and probably spent three quarters of every day crying. Everyone around me knew what was going on and acknowledged how terrible and frightening it was. Yet once I provided them with the latest round of bad news, they’d say things like “you gotta stay strong,” “you have to hold it together,” or my personal favorite, “you’re too young to be going through this.”

Why thank you person three decades older. This is ever so helpful advice.

Similar words and phrases were used in 2003 when my grandfather died only a few days after my graduation from high school. I was already struggling with leaving my friends and first love, and losing my Pap was one more devastating blow. I was also experiencing serious trepidation about starting my first job and was entering community college kicking and screaming. Add it all together and you have the perfect recipe for an almost total breakdown.

But yet again, everyone around me kept repeating senseless phrases — “Enjoy this time; you only graduate once,” “Pap wouldn’t want you to be sad,” and “this is supposed to be the best time of your life!”

Again, my sarcastic thanks. I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal to be hiding in the bathroom at a graduation party, dabbing uselessly at uncontrollable tears while my friends laugh and pose for pictures a mere 20 feet away. I didn’t realize it wasn’t healthy to clench my teeth so hard to stop those tears from flowing, even at the funeral, because everybody else is crying and someone has to be strong, right? And what kind of horrible person thinks longingly of their sorta boyfriend and the last summer with their classmates while her grandfather’s casket is being lowered into the ground?

doll

On both of these occasions, I spent so much time focusing on “being strong” and trying to “look for positives” that I literally ended up numbing myself just to get through the days. I didn’t know how to process my grief, so numbness became the default. I got so used to this that it became habit for me to not confront any negative emotions I experienced. Anything from traumatic losses to slight disappointments or annoyances became negative beliefs that stuck in my subconscious and eventually led to near-paralyzing anxiety and depression. Sure, I cried and raged and ranted and maybe even threw some things, but then I shoved it away.
It wasn’t until I confronted and processed these “negative” feelings in EMDR that I was able to free myself of those negative beliefs and move forward.

So what am I getting at?

My main point is to not let anyone tell you it isn’t normal or okay to experience negative emotions. When you suffer a loss or experience disappointment or trauma, of course you’re going to be sad, frustrated, or angry. It’s healthy for you to cry, scream, and even spend a day or two lying on the couch and eating your weight in Cherry Garcia. But please don’t stay there.

Coping with losing or Comet is a good example. I know it’s okay to cry and mourn, and it seems like first thing in the morning and right before bed are the most difficult times. I allow myself to kiss his picture, shed a few tears while fingering his collar or paw print impression, but then I have to force myself to turn my attention to something else. Sometimes that’s a TV show or a book, sometimes it’s writing or cleaning. Sometimes when I’m crying over his loss, I catch that pesky inner voice being hyper-critical. He was just a dog, the voice says. It’s been a few days, get over it. 
But he was my fur baby for 12 years. I’m allowing myself to mourn him and remember him in a healthy way.

Because despite what Facebook memes say, you cannot actually  drift through life in a constant state of happy positivity, whistling Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah out of your ass even when the world seems to be crashing down around you. In my opinion, a sense of fake happiness is even less healthy than negative emotions.

eggs

This is true for nearly every circumstance involving loss — in the times of COVID-19, so many people are hell bent on making others feel guilty for having cabin fever or being frustrated with disrupted plans. But this is normal!

Yes, we’re grateful that we’re safe and healthy. Yes, it’s nice to relax at home and not be running a million places all the time. And yes, we know we can still enjoy the sunshine and springtime from our front porches.

But it’s also okay to be bored out of your mind. It’s also okay to be pissed off and devastated that your graduation or wedding or vacation got cancelled or postponed. It’s okay to miss your friends and your Zumba class and reading group. The key to coping with all this is learning how to do it in a healthy way.

Now obviously I’m not a therapist or licensed professional of any kind, but I’m sure that anyone who has been through something difficult in life will tell you that the key to recovering or simply surviving is allowing yourself to feel everything — the good, bad, and ugly — and not getting stuck there.

If you need help doing this, and you’re having a hard time finding support through friends or family, please don’t take it personally if they don’t “get it.” I learned the hard way that a lot of times people tend to say nothing at all or accuse others of being dramatic or “too emotional” when they themselves don’t know how to handle certain situations. If someone has never lost a parent, of course they’re not going to know how to act towards their friend who has just buried their mom or dad. Try to keep in mind that their ignorance is not necessarily a marker of their loyalty and their lack of empathy doesn’t mean you don’t deserve comfort.

Remember, if the people around you aren’t giving you the support you need, seek out someone who’s been there. In person or online support groups can be really helpful, and if this isn’t an option, a professional therapist is never a bad idea.

Stay safe, blogger friends.

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