A Writing/Mental Health Work Shop!

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Back on the 18th, I attended a workshop hosted by the founder of an amazing organization, Listen, Lucy. As someone with anxiety, I was excited at the prospect of an event centered on mental illness. And as a writer who blogs about anxiety and depression, I was absolutely thrilled to be in the company of a young woman who embodies everything I aspire to be. Jordan, the founder of Listen, Lucy, lives with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and has had great success over the last few years writing and speaking about mental illness. Since one of my goals as a writer is to help others with anxiety by telling my story, I had high hopes that the workshop would give me some inspiration and make me feel at home. And I am happy to say that the two hour event definitely surpassed my expectations!

Ironically enough, getting to the workshop spurred a bit of anxiety for me. I’ve talked a bit before about how I get panic attacks while driving, especially if I’m going somewhere unfamiliar. So while I knew the general direction  I was headed in, I was still kinda of shaky as I kept one eye on my GPS and one eye on the unfamiliar roads of the Oakland neighborhood of my hometown. Luckily I arrived with plenty of time to spare and gave myself a pat on the back for not totally freaking out even when I missed one of my turns.

As soon as I entered the quirky old building hosting the workshop, I felt at home. Jordan introduced herself with a bright, welcoming smile, and me and a dozen or so other women gathered around in a circle of mismatched chairs and a big, old faded couch with our workbooks and pens. We spent the next two hours doing simple exercises to work through and write about our insecurities and anxieties, and took turns sharing experiences, hopes, and fears with total strangers.

Although I had never met any of these women before, I instantly felt at ease with them. I knew I could trust them, and it felt incredible to be surrounded by women who didn’t need any explanation of what I go through with my anxiety. Any time someone was speaking, there were at least half a dozen heads bobbing up and down and giving knowing looks in agreement with the speaker’s experience. This empathy would have been enough for me, but the icing on the cake was when I expressed my fears and anxieties over my writing and my upcoming trip to London.

There were at least four other attendants who wasted no time in telling me that I COULD be brave and WOULD be brave when I ride that bus to NYC, navigate the city, board a plane, and travel across the Atlantic Ocean. They shared their experiences of international travel, which made me incredibly grateful to know that I was not alone in my fears.
When I expressed my simultaneous pride and frustration with my writing, three of the girls again told me how BRAVE I was being and how normal it was to feel what I was feeling. They didn’t hesitate to tell me they knew what it was like dealing with rejection and self-doubt, and seconds later they assured me beyond the shadow of a doubt that I WOULD have success.

The workshop ended far too soon (I could have stayed up all night telling these people my deepest hopes and fears), but I had a chance to chat quickly with Jordan before I left. We spoke briefly about the mutual friend who had linked us up, then I asked her for any resources she could offer on writing in Pittsburgh. She immediately told me I was in a good starting place and gave me the name of her editor (and workshop attendee), who I would soon find out was a force of nature in the writing world. I walked away feeling lighter than I had in months and full of new inspiration.

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Good thing, too, because my trusty old GPS decided to take me home via one of the not-so-great Pittsburgh neighborhoods and I was totally lost in the dark ghetto for a bit before I saw the bright shining lights of one of our city’s many familiar hospitals. Once I was on the right track again, I congratulated myself out loud for not totally losing my mind while driving and thanked Baby Jesus for keeping me safe and calm.

When  I got home around 9:15, I was starving. My husband was already asleep (he gets up at 4am for work), but I was so pumped and feeling so confident I felt like singing. Instead, I fixed myself a giant bowl of ice cream and ate it standing up at my kitchen counter giving zero fucks about the unhealthy behavior. While I devoured my cold, sweet snack, I signed up for the Listen, Lucy newsletter and sought out her editor on social media. Eventually I went to bed, making sure to add some choice essential oils to my diffuser and snuggling up with a full belly.

The next morning, my dog woke me up at 4:30am to go outside. After Comet did his business, I couldn’t fall back asleep. My alarm wasn’t set to go off until 5:50, but I was wide awake. The unusual thing, though, was the fact that in that moment, my mind was completely, totally, and blissfully blank for the first time in months. I simply laid there enjoying the rare quiet of my mind, feeling the cool sheets and squishy pillow beneath my body, listening to the occasional car drive down the street and my dog mumbling in his sleep, and smiling as the Sara Bareille’s song Brave played faintly in the far reaches of my brain.

Anybody with anxiety knows just how rare and glorious moments like these are — just to be at peace, even for a few minutes. To not even be silently chanting a calming mantra to myself (“I am safe, I am calm”) is a rare occurrence indeed.

I like to think that my time at the Listen, Lucy workshop helped me unload the baggage of my mind and heart. I quite literally felt like I had deposited several heavy packages in that building in Oakland and could now move forward unrestrained and more empowered.

I’m sure that my anxiety will creep in again over the next few weeks before I leave for London and look for new writing opportunities. But thanks to the friendly support and votes of confidence from the Listen, Lucy workshop, I’m hopeful I can tackle these next big challenges with a little more grace and confidence.

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