The Light

All images courtesy of Lavender Leigh Photography

Many moons ago, I mentioned in one of my previous blogs that someday I’d tell you about mine and J’s wedding day.
Since the primary focus of this blog is mental health, it took me awhile to figure out how to fit a wedding into that theme. But in a random conversation today with a coworker, I realized that back in 2013, when much of my life was in turmoil (my job(s), where we’d live, our finances, my self care), our wedding was one of the only things that I remained excited about. Now, looking back eight years later, September 28, 2013 stands out as a bright light in an otherwise very chaotic time.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a very fancy girl. I didn’t want a ballgown with a corset, I didn’t want sky-high heels, and I wasn’t going to force my bridesmaids to spend $400 on accessories or wear a god awful dress. J pretty much felt the same, so we decided that our wedding day would truly be about celebrating the two of us with 300 of our closest friends and family, and we set to work creating a day that we’d love.

Despite trends, despite naysayers, and despite “proper etiquette,” we spent nearly two years building the wedding we wanted. Our ceremony took place in an old theater, I wore sparkly sandals under my dress, J & the groomsmen had boutonnieres featuring Nintendo characters, and our reception was at a fire hall. While I wasn’t initially a fan of “theme” weddings, we did add some Penguin hockey touches, considering our friends set us up on a blind date back in 2008 because we both loved Pittsburgh’s NHL team.

Even though the months and weeks leading up to the wedding had been a roller coaster ride of emotions, I somehow managed to sleep beautifully the night before. Getting my hair and makeup done went smoothly, as did arriving at the theater to get dressed with my bridesmaids and mom. The photographers showed up on time, my dress fit perfectly, and I wasn’t even nervous while I was waiting to walk down the aisle.
Then, right before my dad and I made our entrance, a fire alarm went off in the lobby. I burst out laughing as an employee raced to silence it, and by some miracle our guests didn’t hear a thing over the music. The quick ceremony went off without a hitch, and we drove to a nearby park to have our photos taken.

There, one of my bridesmaids was really upset that she’d left her bouquet back at the theater. She was nearly in tears, apologizing for “ruining” my pictures. I shrugged it off and we carried on without flowers. No big deal at all.
We had a lot of fun with our photographers, posing formally and funnily, and I have a ton of images to remind me of that day.
Afterwards we headed to the reception hall where we entered to thunderous cheers and applause, and immediately shared our first dance. As Peter Gabriel’s Book of Love flowed from the speakers, tears of happiness leaked from my eyes. I simply could not believe that we were finally married!

The rest of the evening sped by –J’s best man gave a tear-jerker of a speech, I danced with my dad, J & I (lightly) smashed cake in each other’s faces, my sister & maid of honor caught my bouquet. We participated in the dreaded “bridal dance,” an (apparently controversial) tradition very near and dear to my Slavish roots. My dad swung my mom around the dance floor to Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, & nearly everyone was bumping and grinding to Macklemore. Our guests signed our custom Penguins jersey/guest book and munched on cookies from the famous Pittsburgh cookie table tradition. I remember that there were multiple points during the night where I was so overwhelmed at the amount of people who had traveled from out of state that I burst into tears just seeing their faces. I was so touched that family and friends had traveled so far just for J & I that I couldn’t contain my emotions.

Far too soon, the last song of the night was playing. Our last remaining guests joined us one final time on the dance floor as we cherished the final few minutes of our wedding day.

Afterwards, J & I piled into his Chevy Equinox with our gifts and cards and headed to a nearby Hampton Inn. We were exhausted and sweaty and our feet were killing us, but we were so completely happy. Our wedding was truly one of the best days of both of our lives, and I am so thankful we have such happy memories of that day.

Eight years later, if I had to give any advice to an anxious bride (or groom!) I would say this — stay true to yourselves. Your wedding day is truly the only day that is 100% about the two of you, so take advantage of it! If you like an off the wall idea, use it! If you loathe a particular tradition, scrap it!
If you can’t afford something, get creative with alternatives.
Don’t ask for too many other peoples’ opinions — you’ll get confused and overwhelmed.
Don’t worry about stuff you can’t control. I promise it is NOT the end of the world if your bridesmaids’ shoes don’t match or if someone wears camo pants to the reception.
Go with the flow. Things are going to go “wrong.” But take a breath. Re-center. Go with it. Enjoy yourself!
Pause multiple times throughout the day. It really does go soooooo fast. Take a moment as often as you can to imprint memories in your mind.
Bring (non-messy) snacks! It’s usually several hours between breakfast and dinner.
Make it a priority to eat dinner at your own reception!
Wear comfortable shoes (or bring a back up pair).
HAVE FUN!!

Hope you enjoyed hearing about our wedding day, and hope the pictures made you smile. If you or someone you know is planning a wedding, tell them to check out my other earlier posts with more wedding advice —

Five Details of Your Wedding Day You Don’t Need to Stress Over

6 More Things Not to Worry About on Your Wedding Day



Let’s Talk About Guilt

When I started EMDR therapy several years ago, I was shocked to find out just how much guilt I’ve carried around with me for years over things that were completely out of my control. For the most part, I didn’t even realize that those guilty feelings were part of why I had so many anxious thoughts or negative beliefs.

As I worked through those beliefs with my therapist, I slowly began to understand how I associated certain memories with guilt and finally learned how to stop beating myself up for not only things that weren’t my fault, but for my emotional reaction to events and circumstances. One of the other benefits of confronting those beliefs was that I discovered how to finally pursue aspects of life that were priorities to me and not other people.

It took a lot of practice, and standing up for myself, my time, and my mental and physical health certainly raised a few eyebrows for people who were used to treating me like a doormat. But for the most part I’ve been able to adapt to a life where I prioritize my self above anything or anyone else — and since our society has conditioned us to believe that putting yourself first is selfish, I’ve also learned that doing so allows me to be a better wife, daughter, sister, friend, and employee.

So where do those negative beliefs come from? Past experiences and how we grow up definitely plays into it, but it’s only been over the last few years that society as a whole has begun to recognize how harshly we judge those who put themselves first and don’t always cater to others or even to their jobs or side hustles.

This first became evident in the early days of COVID-19. So many social media outlets were touting memes and videos of how to be productive, stay in shape, and tackle projects during quarantine that those people who may have been using the time for a long-needed rest were accused of being unmotivated, undedicated, or even lazy.

It wasn’t until quarantine bled from weeks to months to years that we started to realize how much we truly need to take care of our mental health and our own priorities before worrying about other peoples’ opinions or all the projects on our “to do” lists.

COVID has certainly made peoples thoughts and opinions on such things complicated — there are those who believe we should just get back to living life with no precautions, those who who feel like we should go back on lockdown, and everything in between. I wrestle with finding a happy medium between these two views almost every time I do something outside of work or home. And yes, guilt, on multiple levels, plays into those decisions too.

Though guilt does not burden me as heavily as it once did, I still find it interesting how much it is an accepted or even normal part of our daily lives.

For example, last weekend my husband and I were working in the backyard. We had a few small landscaping projects we wanted to tackle before autumn in our ongoing efforts to ready our house for sale . . . at some point in the future.
After we’d spread some mulch around our air conditioner and filled in the narrow trench left by the workers who’d installed our new solar panels and underground lines, my husband went into the garage to grab a bag of grass seed. I took the opportunity to go grab a sip of water from my bottle on the porch.
But before I could get there, I rolled my ankle on the uneven ground where grass meets sidewalk and I tumbled in an ungraceful heap to the ground. My ankle and foot began throbbing before I even rolled over to assess the damage, and I managed to scrape my knee on the concrete in the process.
Once my husband emerged from the garage to help me up, I limped into the house to clean myself up and apply some ice to my ankle. Even after concluding that I hadn’t broken anything, I still didn’t feel up to helping J finish the outdoor projects. Instead I sat on the couch with a frozen bag of peas on my foot, wallowing in guilt that my husband was out there in the heat finishing the work we should have been doing together.

Even though I was able to put some weight on my ankle and foot, it swelled up rather badly the next two days. I bought an ice pack, elevated my leg at work, and did my best to stay off of it as much as possible. This meant making quick dinners, not taking any walks, and not going to the pool.

At first I didn’t feel guilty about this. My doctor had said to rest my ankle, so rest I did. And for awhile it worked out that I was essentially chair-bound because mandatory overtime at work came into play, and I spent lots of extra hours at a desk that week.

The following weekend I planned on getting more done around the house. Before 11am on Saturday I’d done the dishes, started laundry, vacuumed, worked on a magazine pitch, and prepped the back porch for painting the following day.
But by noon my allergies were raging. My nose wouldn’t stop running, my chest was tight, I had a headache, and felt foggy-headed. I took some pills and laid down for a nap, hoping that an hour’s rest would rectify the situation. I had so much to do!
Unfortunately when I woke up I didn’t feel any better. I literally could not go more than five minutes without blowing my nose, and it didn’t take long for it to get all red and irritated. Suddenly I was forced to slow down and confine myself to the couch and my bed again — and immediately the guilt started rolling in.

I’d wanted to go to a community day even that my cousin and realtor was holding. I wanted to support her business and contribute to the local animal shelter fundraiser they were having. I needed to go to the library to return a book that was due. I wanted to head back to the pool. I wanted to paint the back porch and finish laundry and polish that magazine pitch.

Instead it was back to wallowing. In between blowing my nose and rubbing my red, itchy eyes, I wondered if I had somehow I had contracted COVID again. I thought about how I was letting my husband down by delaying our house projects for another weekend in a row. And even though my last post was about how it’s okay for writers to not write everyday, I started beating myself up for not finishing my magazine pitch. Like an anxiety attack spiraling out of control, so did my guilt.
I felt guilty for not taking my heartworm-positive dog to the park recently, about wanting to sell our starter home. I felt guilty for not helping my sister enough with her upcoming art show, for not taking advantage of the beautiful day.

Although these guilty feelings do not carry the same weight as traumas do, it made me realize just how prevalent guilt still is in our daily lives.

By Sunday I was feeling better — not 100%, but better. I pushed myself to finish laundry and write a bit, and even did an hour of overtime for work. But for the most part I laid low and took it easy. Another weekend would eventually arrive, and with it, hopefully the time and opportunity to make up for the last crappy two.

And as I sat on the couch, folding socks and sipping ginger ale, watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model on Hulu, I reminded myself again that exactly what I was doing at that moment was perfectly okay.

On Bad Advice

“I want to be a writer,” I’d say — to my friends, my family, guidance counselors, coworkers. Between the ages of eleven and twenty or so, this is what I’d tell people when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, what my favorite classes were in high school, and what I wanted to go to college for.

And after the muddled confusion and disappointment cleared from their face, they would give me a small smile and reply, “Oh. So you’re probably going to be an Englisher teacher? Or maybe a reporter?”

“No,” I insisted. “A writer.”

At eighteen, I was absolutely terrified over the prospect of graduating high school and facing the intimidating monster that was college. To make matters worse, no one seemed to be able to tell me what to do with my desire to pursue writing. Somehow, even though I’d wanted to be a writer since sixth grade, even though I excelled at English, Literature, and Writing classes, even though people told me, adamantly, admiringly, you should be a writer, no one could tell me how to make this happen.

And the summer that I graduated was such a time of emotional trauma that I didn’t have the drive or confidence to find out for myself.

Fast forward nearly twenty (GASP) years, and part of me wishes that I could tell that eighteen-year-old girl to pursue creative writing. Grant writing. Professional writing. Literature. Communication. I wish I would have told her that the choice of a major didn’t mean she’d be destined for one particular path, but rather that investigating any of these subjects would have opened the doors to several paths — editing, copy writing, technical writing, business writing, journalism. And that yes, even these more “logical” paths might have even helped her craft novels.

You see, up until the last several years, I thought that if you weren’t making money with your writing, or if you didn’t do it eight hours a day, that you weren’t a writer.

When I decided to get back into writing back in 2015/2016, I still called myself an “aspiring” writer instead of just a writer. And it took some time before I felt confident enough to acknowledge that I was truly a writer, despite the fact that it wasn’t my profession and I hadn’t made a single dime spinning these tales.

While this is probably the single most important realization I’ve had over the years, and I’ve inevitably stumbled upon heaps and heaps of advice about writing, the next most important thing I’ve learned is to find what works for you.

If you’re a new writer, or getting back into writing after a hiatus (like me), one of the first things you’ll realize when you start perusing writer websites, newsletters, and Facebook groups is that everyone is full of advice. From Stephen King to Internet trolls whose only purpose is to bash others for having different opinions or priorities, everyone seems to think they know what’s best for everyone else.

And though I’m about to dish out my own amateur, naïve advice, I’d like to think that mine has some merit, if only for the fact that I believe in finding out what works for you.

Naturally, and to the horror of diehard academics, pompous literary geniuses, old-fashioned professors, and ubiquitous Internet demons who lurk on message boards, what works for some people does not work for others.

This is true when it comes to exercise, learning a new skill, dating, paying bills, traveling, raising kids. A routine or method that someone else swears by may not work for their neighbor or best friend or sister. So why would it work for writing?

There are writers who insist that in order to be a “real” writer, one must write every day. Ideally, that would be great, especially if you’re already getting paid for your craft and your livelihood depends on your production.
But what about the young man working two jobs in attempt to pay off his school loans? What about the new mom struggling to put 200 words a day together while catering to a newborn? What about the middle-aged hopeful taking care of their dad with Alzheimer’s? What about the twenty-something coping with PTSD?
Even if you aren’t a writer whose life is currently effected by extreme circumstances, no one’s life or schedule is cookie-cutter perfect.
Even when my mental health is pretty well in check, I still have days that do not allow me to write — when I go to the pool right after work and want to spend a few precious hours with my husband before bed. When family is in from out of town and they want to have dinner. When a friend is having a crisis and they just need to spend a few hours with me venting and eating ice cream. When I bring my dog home from a day-long procedure at the vet and I cuddle up around her in bed, holding her as she trembles through the pain of heartworm treatment.
As far as I’m concerned, attending to other parts of my life does not make me any less of a writer or a “bad” writer by any means.

I am far more disciplined that I was several years ago. I’ve learned to recognize when I need a break from writing, when an emergency or special event takes precedence, and when I’m just being lazy and really need to buckle down and sit at the keyboard.
I still have things to learn and goals I want to pursue. I’m still working on landing that first paid writing job and hopefully an agent or full manuscript request. I’d love to take a class on effective blogging, marketing, and social media presence. I can’t wait until in person conferences are permissible again.
But at the same time I am damn proud of each and every one of my published works. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve managed to write two entire novels in as many years.
Yes, I get frustrated, and yes I wish I hadn’t wasted all those years putting my writing on the back burner. But I no longer beat myself up for having a life outside of writing — and I definitely don’t put too much stock in not adhering to advice that simply doesn’t work for me.

Any time I peruse Facebook or Twitter, I see plenty of people, young, old, and middle aged, begging others for help with their writing. Most of them have full-time jobs outside of the craft or personal obligations like kids or aging parents that make it difficult to stick to a routine or to “WRITE EVERYDAY.” Because of this, they feel like failures — and there is no shortage of people who comment insisting that if these people don’t do things exactly the way that they do them that they are destined to fail.

Well, I vehemently disagree. As I mentioned earlier, just because yoga works to keep your best friend in shape doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Just because some people I went to high school with had kids at twenty-one and twenty-four doesn’t mean I should have. Just because my husband and I own a house doesn’t mean that someone living in an apartment is wrong, or irresponsible or poor.

If writing every day works for you — great. If you can’t start your day without writing 2000 words at the ass crack of dawn — great. If instead you string together 10,000 words every Sunday and don’t write any other day of the week — great. If you stay awake til 1am every Friday evening crafting the perfect opening chapter — great. If you hole yourself up inside the library or local coffee shop, ignoring your cell phone and hunching over a laptop for hours on end — great.

If you, like me, write by the advice of one of my favorite groups, 10 Minute Novelists, and write as much as you can whenever you get a chance — great.

Everyone is fundamentally different — in how they think, how they feel, how they write, how they work. To assume that someone’s lack of success is because they aren’t doing things exactly how you do it is, at the very least, pure ignorance.

As someone who spent an entire decade thinking I couldn’t be a writer because I didn’t pursue a specific major, hold a certain job, or have endless hours of writing time everyday, I would never, ever want anyone else to feel like I did — that I wasn’t worthy of this craft.

Because I am. And so are you.

Please Continue to Hold


I know, I know — I’ve been a bad writer.

I’ve been inconsistent. Undisciplined. Unfocused. Lazy even. Instead of tearing myself away from Netflix or reading to focus on writing for even half an hour a day, I’ve allowed myself to be lax. Or maybe relax?

I can’t believe it’s been four months since I’ve posted a blog. Sometimes it feels like it’s been a year. And while I haven’t been doing nearly as much writing as I did during the height of COVID (round 1?) in 2020, I’ve still been puttering about here and there.

Short projects have kind of been at a stand still, but I did work up the nerve to send my latest manuscript, Ocracoke’s Daughter, to its first beta reader, and the feedback was both helpful and incredibly positive. I’m up to four rejections from agents on The Month of May, but two of them included personal messages which were quite encouraging.

I have a few ideas floating around in my mind, but I’m finding it hard to form complete storylines and my attention span has recently become similar to that of a 12 week old puppy. At first I was beating myself up, thinking about all those writer message boards and Facebook groups where it talked about what a terrible person/writer you are if you go twelve hours without writing 5000 words — namely, that you’re clearly not devoted enough to your craft.

But enough with that bull shit. While I completely understand the mindset behind discipline and dedication, I also understand that those of us who are not full time writers yet — and even those of us who are — need to make concessions for ourselves. We are only recently learning the effects of “burn out culture,” and in addition to acknowledging the need to rest and reset, we also need to be cognizant of the fact that the world is (still) experiencing unprecedented circumstances right now. It’s no wonder so many of us are struggling on different levels.

A year and a half into the pandemic, everything is still uncertain. How much longer will this last? Are we wearing masks or not? Do we send our children to school or maintain virtual learning? Is it okay to require vaccines or ask if one is vaccinated? What are my chances of contracting the Delta variant if I’ve been vaccinated? Is it okay to hug people? Shake hands? Is it okay that I traveled out of state in June? Will I ever get to visit my friends in Holland? Is COVID going to haunt me for the rest of my life?

Among all of these internal struggles, we can’t escape the very real controversies that each of these questions evoke online, on social media, in person, and on the news. It is exhausting to say the least, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to be absolutely, 100% OVER IT on every level.

I was talking to my therapist about this a few weeks ago — I’m so completely tired of waiting for things to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I’m so tired of waiting for it to be okay to travel, to have a party, to not panic every time I have a scratchy throat. I’m tired of the judgement, the arguments, the insults, the uncertainty. I’m tired of how this is effecting people, our hospitals, our economy, employment, our government. I’m tired of not going anywhere further than work and my own backyard. I’m tired of dreaming about “some day.”

Yet I cannot summon the energy to do much of anything. I get short bursts of inspiration to write, and that burst may last a few days, but it putters out as quickly as it came on. J and I have started half a dozen projects in an effort to ready our house for sale . . . at some point . . . but most of them are half finished. We can’t even take our dogs to the park or on day trips right now because Kitty was diagnosed with heart worm back in May and excessive exercise is absolutely no bueno. (She’s doing well so far, and I’m grateful that Heart Guard is paying for her treatment considering she’s been on their preventative the entire time we’ve had her, but I’m nervous about her wellbeing all the time and I am not looking forward to the second round of injections she has to endure at the end of August. Positive vibes for us and our sweet girl are greatly appreciated).

J and I talk about moving all the time. We desperately need a change and more space. We are beyond annoyed with our irresponsible, inconsiderate neighbors and we’re on the same page when it comes to wanting to sell. But the market is so unstable and unpredictable right now. Some days we want to take advantage of the seller’s market and get as much as we possibly can for our current house while there’s this much equity in it. But on the other hand, we don’t want to pay too much for any new house, regardless of how perfect it may be. And I can’t help but worry that the housing market bubble is going to burst at some point like it did back in 2009.

So here we are. Still waiting. Still holding. Still unsure. Itching to make a move, to feel safe, to feel confident, to feel normal . . . and still waiting.

I’m going to try to be more disciplined about my writing, including blogging. There are a few things on my mind that I’ve got to get out, even if it’s just to the handful of readers on Word Press. And since it doesn’t seem like in person conferences or writing events are going to return any time soon, it might be the best option for connecting with other writers. At the very least, I suppose it’s a place where I can unload my thoughts and worries.

When I started this post, I was hoping to have some sort of revelation about my mindset and the state of things in our world, but instead I’m just pausing every few sentences, picking at my cuticles and stare out the window at the hazy, humid day. Out of the corner of my eye I spot my empty curio cabinet, the one now void of Wizard of Oz treasures that I sold in an effort to clear out clutter in preparation for moving. Across the room is a cluster of plants I just watered this morning — an aloe plant sprawling from its yellow pot, situated peacefully behind an unidentified vine that has succeeded in crawling all the way across the floor to the other side of the dining room. There are two tiny succulent plants next to a tall, spindly tree whose leaves shadow a mason jar decorated in colorful letters. The thick glass shelters a dozen or so multi-colored notecards, each one folded to hide the word scrawled across it — Alaska, Chicago, Toronto, Ireland, San Francisco, Maine, — places J & and I want to see someday.

Someday.

What Dogs Can Teach Us About Resilience

As you may know, J & I are proud fur parents of Miss Kitty & Ghost, as well as the dearly departed Comet.

All of our dogs have been rescues, and while I’m no stranger to the love and comfort they offer, or the lessons they can teach, I continue to be amazed at how these four-legged creatures have repeatedly, unknowingly, offered me insights on life.

The other day, I took Ghost to a vet appointment for some redness that suddenly appeared around his left eye. When it didn’t go away with Benadryl, I took him to get checked out. I also asked if the vet could take a look at his other eye because J & I had noticed that something about his vision wasn’t quite right. During obedience classes, when using hand signals, we had to move rather close to his right eye before he’d react. And sometimes when the light caught the eye in a certain way, we’d see an unusual fogginess.

The vet prescribed us some ointment for the redness around his left eye, and then addressed our concerns with the right one. He wasn’t blind, and all of his neurological functions were intact, but he did have a scar on both his cornea and his lens. These were almost certainly caused by some type of penetrating injury from when he was quite young. By the time we adopted him, the injury was healed, but he does still have limited vision in that eye. Still, the vet isn’t concerned. He doesn’t squint or compensate for the lack of vision, and it certainly doesn’t slow him down. Ghost has learned to live with his injury in his young life, and although I feel horribly about whatever must have happened to our “little due,” I now look at him with a new perspective.

When Ghost first came to us, he was only nervous for a couple of minutes. He seemed to instantly make himself at home and wasted no time in harassing his older sister. His behavior has been frustratingly challenging at times, and we still have a lot of work to do, but I have a new respect for what he must have gone through with this eye injury. Since he was only about 8-10 months old when we adopted him, and anything but shy, we figured he’d had a pretty cushy start in life. But the new information about his eye tells us that he’s overcome his own struggles and pain, whether the injury was from an accident or abusive human.

Suddenly Ghost’s resilient and sometimes defiant behavior makes a little more sense. He’s had to adapt to his eye injury in order to keep thriving, and perhaps he tends to be defiant because someone didn’t treat him properly when he was a puppy. Maybe that person was cruel when trying to train him, and instead of cowering like most dogs with trauma, Ghost copes with it by running away and not obeying orders.

So while his personality is nearly the polar opposite of Miss Kitty’s, my eyes have recently been opened to how dogs deal with trauma differently — just like people. While Kitty was (and still is) wary and cautious, she’s learning to trust more and more each day. Ghost’s outgoing personality is bringing her out of her shell, and we hope that Kitty’s relatively good behavior will eventually rub off on Ghost.

But the most important thing I learned that night at the vet’s office was that we all have our traumas, our scars, our struggles. We all deal with them in different ways. And sometimes we don’t want to share those stories with others, or like animals, we can’t do it in a verbal way. Still, if we’re lucky, we find people (or pets) who are patient and kind and help us work through and overcome these obstacles that tried to hurt us or hold us back. And while ideally everyone would like to crush each hurdle easily like taking a hammer to an egg, sometimes we simply have to live with the scars life has given us.

Even if we never fully recover from a negative experience, injury, or trauma, there’s hope that we can adapt to it and work through it as best we know how. We may never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean that we’re unlovable or incapable of living our lives and pursuing our dreams. Sometimes the reality of things is completely different from how you imagined it or how you wanted it. But that’s okay too.

My fur babies — Ghost is the little one and Miss Kitty is the bigger one with the black ear

More Coping Mechanisms for Panic Attacks

Like most people, the last 10-12 months have tested my mental health. Even before I contracted COVID the last week of 2020, there were a lot of moments where I was sobbing, borderline hysterical, barely able to get out of bed, and feeling like all the progress I’d made with my anxiety over the last few years had gone out the window.

While I was able to see my therapist on a regular basis thanks to Zoom, there were a few times that I had to employ the help of friends, family, the Internet, and my own creativity to claw my way back to some semblance of calm.

So today, I’m sharing the new tips, tools, & techniques I learned in a year that has been rough on all of us.

Relaxing Music
This is a tool that can be used almost anywhere — at home, lying in bed, driving, or even (for most people) at work. When I need something to bring me down a notch, I pull up the Pandora app on my phone and tune into a station that makes me feel like I’m at a spa or on a relaxing vacation. I highly recommend the following stations:
* Instrumental Chill Radio
* Classical Relaxation Radio
* Happiest Tunes on Earth

Mantras
One of the most important things I learned doing EMDR therapy is to have a positive mantra to replace a negative thought or belief. My two favorites —
* I am safe. I am calm. I am quiet. (when I’m at work or trying to concentrate on something, I change the last part to “I am focused.”)
* This too shall pass or this is only temporary. Whether the source of my anxiety is a stressful issue at work or the fact that we’re nearly a year into a global pandemic, it helps to remind myself that nothing is permanent.

Cold Water & Body Tensing
If, like me, you sometimes experience the physical effects of a panic attack without your mind actually spiraling out of control, you know how absolutely infuriating this can be. Your heart is racing, your hands are shaking, and you’re breaking out in a cold sweat — but you can’t pinpoint why exactly it’s happening. My sister said she heard this once described as “when you’re playing a video game and you hear the music warning you that ‘the boss’ is coming, but he never actually shows up.” Truer words.
In these cases, I like to do one of the following:
* Run my hands and wrists under cold water for 60 – 120 seconds. The cold sensation refocus your energy and attention to something palpable instead of something abstract.
* Tense every muscle in my body for 30 – 60 seconds (or as long as you can hold it), then slowly release each muscle, one area at a time (your toes, your legs, your torso, your arms, etc). This apparently tricks your body into thinking you’ve just “fought” something (the panic attack), and it works to calm itself down once you begin to “let loose.”

Living in the Moment
Typically I loathe this term. Of course I want to live in the moment, but my mind doesn’t allow me to. That’s why I have anxiety. But this time I mean it quite literally. If my mind is racing out of control about something, I have to throw all of my concentration into exactly what I’m doing at that moment. This literally means forcing my thoughts in this pattern: I’m turning on the faucet. I’m testing the water temperature. I’m undressing. I’m stepping into the shower. I’m wetting my hair. I’m shampooing my hair.
I’m unlocking my car door. I’m putting on my seatbelt. I’m starting the ignition.
I’m walking into the office. I’m sitting down at my desk. I’m typing in my password. Etc, etc.

Sometimes my anxiety gets so out of control I have to deliberately remind my brain to focus on menial tasks in order to get the panic monster to stop roaring so loudly.

Five Things
This is a helpful tool that I read about somewhere that helps me fall asleep most nights and also helps me peel myself out of bed on those days when depression rears its ugly head and I can’t find anything to look forward to or work towards. Usually I just recite the thoughts in my head, but it can also be helpful to write them down.
5 Things I’m Grateful for & 5 Things I Want
Sometimes I’m grateful for something as simple as my bed and my favorite hoodie. Sometimes all I want is to find the courage to leave the house or the energy to make dinner.
Other times I’m grateful for more monumental things and I dare to dream about traveling the world and making a shit ton of money with my writing.
Either way, compiling these lists and reciting or reading each item several times is a sure way to calm your mind and distract it from becoming a run away train of doom.

These days, we’re all looking for ways to chase away the demons clouding out vision and messing with our minds. I hope some of these methods help you out, and feel free to share any tips if you learned something new during this bizarre period in history.





5 Good Things That Happened in 2020

By the time this post goes live, Christmas will be over and we’ll all be muddling through that weird final week of the year where we’re not sure what day it is, we’ve eaten too much rich food, and we’re waiting to ring in 2021.

Like most everybody else, I am sending 2020 into oblivion with hopes that the next twelve months look brighter and happier for everyone. While I know that the change of the calendar isn’t a magic wand that will make everything shitty suddenly go away, I’m trying to stay hopeful that we can put the ugliness of this year behind us and move forward to a more positive, inclusive, and healthier way of life.

That being said, I do want to take a moment to reflect on the fact that there were a few good things that managed to happen in 2020. These are the things that kept me going over the last twelve months, and I invite all readers and bloggers to reply or re-blog with the little things that kept them going in these unprecedented times.

  • I finished my manuscript!
    January of 2020 started with a slap in the face for me, and this was way before the word ‘Coronavirus’ was a thing. I wrote here about losing my (completed) 90,000+ word manuscript that I’d been slaving over for YEARS thanks to a USB crash. Also on that flash drive was the first draft of another novel in progress, as well as countless other short stories and nonfiction articles. I was devastated. I cried for two days and sulked for another week. But then I opened up a blank Word document and started all over again. Admittedly this was infinitely easier thanks to a very early draft that my friend (and lifesaver 10X over) had saved in her email, and I used that to rebuild the entire thing over the next couple of months. Being quarantined for spring and summer definitely helped the progress along, and I spent the second half of the year getting feedback from beta readers and editing. I plan on 2021 being the year of the query and already have my first five perspective agents picked out! Wish me luck!

  • We rescued 2 doggos!
    As if 2020 hadn’t started off crappily enough, and as if the beginning of the ‘rona pandemic weren’t scary enough, J & I lost our fur baby Comet in April. Saying goodbye to our fuzz bug was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and having a house devoid of any paws or barks or clumps of fur was beyond depressing — especially in the middle of quarantine.
    The silver lining to having a fur baby cross the rainbow bridge is, of course, welcoming a new one into your home. J and I happily welcomed Miss Kitty into our home in May, and Ghost joined us in October. It’s been a crazy ride with quite a few struggles, but overall I’m so happy that we have two crazy mutts sharing our home. Kitty is the epitome of a rescue dog — she was found lactating and emaciated on a four lane highway near San Antonio, TX, and clearly had a history of abuse and abandonment. Seven months in, she has made SO MUCH progress and is quite simply the sweetest girl ever. Ghost still has a lot to learn (we have puppy classes scheduled for January!) but he too has made lots of progress, including learning how to ‘give paw.’ Watching these two play and snuggle together absolutely warms my heart and I cannot say enough about how good it feels knowing you saved a life (or two) by adopting rescue dogs.
    If you’re searching for your own companion, may I suggest God’s Dogs in Texas? https://godsdogsrescue.org/
    Both Kitty and Ghost were adopting through this nonprofit and they were awesome every step of the way. If you prefer to meet your 4-legged friend before adopting, I highly encourage you to visit your local shelter or rescue. There are so many animals out there who need homes!

  • I had 2 poems published!
    While I am most certainly a writer, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a poet. I dabble from time to time, and a few years ago wrote a couple of pieces about the Outer Banks. This summer, Capsule Stories published those two poems in their print journal, and I was super excited to be able to share my love of the barrier islands with strangers and other writers.
    Capsule Stories is a refreshing, accessible literary journal that actually publishes in print, so check them out if you’re looking for something new to read: https://capsulestories.com/
  • Joe Biden & Kamala Harris won the election!
    I still get emotional when I think about that day that my husband texted me the news — I was standing in line at the deli at the grocery store when I learned that love, peace, and integrity had triumphed once again and that Joe Biden & Kamala Harris would be the next pair to occupy the White House. While Biden wasn’t my ideal candidate and I know that his presidency won’t solve all the issues in our country, I am beyond relieved that we won’t have to suffer another four years of hate and lies. It is also incredibly refreshing and encouraging to see how much diversity Biden will have in his cabinet, and I look forward to seeing his efforts on bridging the massive divide that currently separates this country.
    Love trumps hate. Love trumped hate. Love is love.
  • We went on vacation!
    When our friends moved to Holland last year, I was hopeful that J & I would get to visit them sometime in 2020. Of course those plans derailed like a train running on moonshine, and god only knows when we’ll ever get to go overseas again.
    However we did manage to make it to the Outer Banks for the first time since 2017, and though this vacation looked different than any other, it was nice to get out of our zip code and feel the sand and sea on our skin, especially when we were so desperate for some type of peace and relaxation.
    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that travel won’t be out of the question for the rest of my life, and in the meantime am having fun living vicariously through books and movies and Facebook posts.

So did anything good happen to you in this mess of a year? Please share, even if it’s something as simple as buying a favorite shirt or learning to cook a delicious batch of cookies. Stay safe, stay healthy, and here’s to a better 2021 — whatever that means!

Outer Banks 2020

Well, peeps, I’m only 2 months late, but here it is — my recap of our vacation to the Outer Banks, 2020 edition.

Better late than never, I guess, and I figured most of us could use a dose of the beach considering winter is rearing its frigid head in most parts of the world right now. Plus, I know it’s been hard for a lot of people to travel what with the pandemic and all, so if you haven’t been able to leave your zip code in the last eight months, I hope this post helps you live vicariously through the Internet for a few minutes.

This trip was originally supposed to take place in May, but got postponed because of COVID, so our vacation looked nothing like we initially anticipated. Virus aside, we planned this excursion with every intention of taking our dog Comet, of course having no idea that he’d end up passing away in April. We ended up taking our new fur kid, Kitty, and as an added surprise our latest (and a bit unexpected) addition Ghost came along too. Considering virus precautions and having two new dogs in tow, my anxiety was pretty high in the weeks leading up to our departure.

We did have a few hiccups along the way — somehow missing the exit for our first traditional rest stop and driving an hour out of our way & Kitty nearly jumping out of the car unleashed — but the journey went relatively smoothly, all things considered. Finding food and bathrooms during the six hundred mile trek required a little more planning with COVID shutdowns, and we had to be hyper vigilant and cognizant of hand washing and sanitizing and pay attention to the differing restrictions in each state. Once we reached out destination, we found that North Carolina’s restrictions were very similar to those in PA. We had to wear masks everywhere we went, capacity limits at tourist attractions were small, and restaurants only offered take out or sparse outdoor seating. Still, I felt safe all week and following these extra safety steps were in a beach town didn’t take away the relaxing and freeing feeling of being on the coast.

The only major disappointment was our beach house. After two decades of visiting the Outer Banks and staying in everything from mansions to modest cottages, this place was probably bottom of the barrel. The house was old and in dire need of dozens of repairs, and I was not impressed by the cleaning staff, COVID aside. Still, we made it work as best we could, and the drawbacks at the house did not detract from the stunning views and quiet, peaceful location in the southern town of Frisco. We spent hours wading, discovering seashells, watching pelicans and dolphins, and marveling at the stunning sunrises and sunsets. We took the nearby ferry across the Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke Island twice, where we made sure to patronize local shops and restaurants effected by Hurricane Dorian and the virus, and walked the haunting trail at Springer’s Point, where Blackbeard’s body is said to have been thrown after his last battle off the coast. Our dogs particularly enjoyed the sugary soft sand, where they dug holes and chased birds.

Back in Frisco and Buxton, I explored a beautiful church, Our Lady of the Seas, to get inspiration for a pivotal scene in my WIP, Ocracoke’s Daughter. I browsed a cool little bookstore called Buxton Books, housed in a pre-civil war building with each tiny room dedicated to a different subject. We made plans to attend a ghost walk on October 30th, but it ended up getting cancelled due to high winds and power outages from a storm off the coast (2020 strikes again). We visited the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, where I did some additional research on Blackbeard, again for my WIP, and as usual spent my last night walking solo on the beach, feeling the rush of salt water run over my ankles and wiping my tears as I said a temporary goodbye to the sea once again.

This vacation was definitely different from any other I’ve had in the Outer Banks, being in a much more remote location on the southern beaches as opposed to the more populated, touristy spots further north. Still, the whimsy of the island did its job in healing my world weary body, mind, and soul . . . and I already miss it.

Les Sigh.

Guess I’ll have to live vicariously through my WIP until I can return.

We Have a Ghost

No, not that kind of Ghost.

Remember a few posts ago I mentioned that Kitty was getting a little brother?

Well, he’s here, and after much debate, J (and I) named him Ghost.

Ghost is about 10 months old and came from the same rescue in Texas as Kitty. We don’t know much about his story, but believe he was saved from a kill shelter. He’s part Jack Russell and possibly part Schnauzer, and only weighs about 25 lbs. And every pound of him is pure energy.

The first and only time I had a puppy was when my family adopted my first ever dog, Maggie, back when I was eleven, and I have to admit that I forgot just how energetic puppies are. Ghost is in instant play mode as soon as he opens his eyes in the morning. He’s always running, jumping, grabbing toys, and prodding at poor Miss Kitty 24/7. The two have learned to get along pretty well for the most part, but I’d be lying if I said the first few weeks weren’t tough — there was even an incident caused by a piece of rogue chicken that resulted in lots of yelping and Kitty ripping some of Ghost’s fur out — something that sent my anxiety into overdrive and had me practically hysterical. But after many conversations with doggy foster moms, friends, and our vet, I eventually realized that this wasn’t quite the horrible sign I thought.

We only had Ghost for 2 weeks before going on vacation, and that was a challenge in and of itself (more about that next time). Even though we’ve been home for nearly a month now, he still has a lot to learn. Though his potty accidents are now few and far between (knock on wood), he is most definitely getting enrolled in puppy classes as soon as one comes around that works with our schedule.

Ghost has learned to sit and give paw (adorable!) and we’re working on “come,” but he’s completely oblivious to “down” and “stay.” We also can’t seem to get him to stop jumping (and nipping) when we come home, and he is SO destructive with his toys — even ones that look indestructible for bigger dogs. J and I have tried everything we can think of — and everything fellow dog owners and the Internet recommends — but he does not respond to yelling, clapping, “AH! AH” or even bops on the nose. We’re trying to be patient and know that he’s still in his transition period, but we definitely want to correct these behaviors soon before he begins to think it’s okay to jump (and walk) all over people and completely ignore the rules.

Like most dogs (and people), Ghost is a work in progress, and the fact that he learned “give paw” in only a matter of a week or so gives us hope. Besides, he’s pretty damn cute and a big cuddle bug. The fact that he wants to cuddle up beside us all the time creates some competition and jealousy between him and Kitty, so J and I are also working to make sure that the two of them know that they are both loved equally and that no one is being ousted. In fact, we bought a king sized bed so that all 4 of us can sleep together more comfortably (hey we needed a new bed anyway). And even though he can be quite a pest towards his sister, I’m glad they have each other, especially during the day while we’re at work.

Drama aside, I’m falling more in love with this little turd every day, and it melts my heart when him and Kitty play together, run in the yard, and curl up next to each other to sleep. I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted on their progress in the coming months.

And without further ado, a barrage of pictures —

Do Not Open til November 2020

Four years ago, in 2016, I wrote this letter to myself and sealed it in an envelope. I stuck it inside my nightstand drawer and didn’t think about it much until the last couple of weeks. I fully intended to open it this month, but I wondered when it would be appropriate to do so. Election day? Once the results were announced? After the news, whatever it may be, settled in?

Last night J & I had two friends over to celebrate the Biden/Harris win and the inevitable end to trump’s four years of an embarrassing parade of hate and misinformation. It was the first time the four of us had been together since COVID, and it felt good to be in the company of good friends again. It felt good to catch up, eat pizza and wings, drink beer and toast with champagne. It felt amazing to watch Kamala Harris and Joe Biden take the stage and celebrate with crowds of (masked) citizens who had taken to the streets to celebrate the end of a reign of racism and lies.

And this morning when I woke up, it felt appropriate to open that stuffed drawer of my night stand, sift through four years of greeting cards, newspaper and magazine articles, phone chargers, and coupons to recover the letter I’d written four years ago in the wake of an unprecedented election.

I’ll share it with you now —

Hey, you,

Four years ago, you made history by voting for a woman for President of the United States. She didn’t win, and it was heartbreaking and terrifying. (I don’t think you need to be reminded of who did win).

You spent hours crying your eyes out. You got into all sorts of political arguments. You felt angry, hopeless, embarrassed, and sad. But then you felt empowered. You realized you had a job to do and a cause to fight for and people to help. When you read this in 2020, I don’t know where you’ll be in life or where we’ll be as a country or humankind. But I guess the point of doing this is to remind you four years from now of how low and hopeless so many people felt and how somehow we banded together, and hopefully not only made it through but prospered and made some big changes.

So maybe by 2020 we’ll have a new president. Maybe it’ll be a newcomer we haven’t heard of yet or someone like Michelle Obama. Maybe you’ll be a mom, maybe you’ll live in a bigger house, maybe you’ll be really successful with your writing. Or maybe you’ll still live in the same house and work at C and write in your spare time.

But where ever you are in 2020, and whoever is on the ballot this time around, just take a moment to reflect on this simultaneously dark and bright moment of 2016 — and what is hopefully an even brighter moment in 2020.

Friends, I cannot tell you how good it feels knowing that trump will be a one term president. Like most of the world, J & and spent the last four days watching the endless election coverage and riding the emotional roller coaster that came along with it. There were moments of of hope and disbelief — that Biden/Harris had flipped several red states and counties blue, that the margins were so close, and that even after the disaster that has been the last four years, that so many people still support this mockery of office.

I was standing in line at the deli counter at the grocery store when my husband texted me to let me know that Biden won. I quickly logged onto CNN.com to verify the news, and my knees almost gave out. The relief spread quickly through my body, lifting a weight that had been burdening me and so many other Americans for four long years. As the girl behind the counter sliced my Dietz and Watson, I looked around for someone, anyone I could share the news with. The other shoppers all seemed oblivious still, and I knew it was inappropriate to broach the subject with strangers. I accepted my meat and cheese with shaking hands, then rounded the corner with my cart and texted my sister and my friend with tears in my eyes. As I struggled to get a hold of myself next to the baked goods, I was amazed at how suddenly it was so much easier to breathe.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt proud to be an American and hopeful for this country and its people — all of its people. I know that we still have so much work to do and there are so many more things that need to change, but I truly believe that we took the right first step this past week in electing two people that not only represent the diversity and beauty of this nation, but have its best interests at heart.