Pardon My French

I hesitated to write this post at first, but as I shuffled around speed-cleaning the house, the thoughts kept bubbling up, the words wanting to burst out of my head. So here I am, typing away instead of weeding through my children’s clothes to find the things they’ve outgrown (like I had planned). But as I’ve learned in my renewed love affair with writing, you can’t ignore a surge of inspiration. Poor Jack may end up sporting a crop top when he goes to put on that 4T shirt later, but at least I managed to purge my thoughts.

I’d been thinking about a phrase I’ve used lately, and frankly, too infrequently in the past. It’s a bit off the cuff, especially for me (a generally straight-laced, mild-mannered individual), but if something works for you, you go with it.

My husband had an outpatient procedure the other day that I had to accompany him to, and was also required to drive him home from.  The hospital is a good distance from us, so I anticipated having to take the interstate home.  I tried to avoid circling my thoughts around this too much, reminding myself that I’ve been successful lately with my highway driving, so this would be no different, right?

Someone else was nervous too!

Two things that worried me, however; it was 8:30 am, smack in the middle of morning rush hour in metro Atlanta, and I had an adult passenger. Sure, it was just my husband. But much of my driving anxiety started with him as a passenger, so there are some pretty deep associations present when he’s in the car. Poor guy, he thinks it’s all his fault. Anyway, I briefly toyed with the idea of taking the back roads, but we had been up since 5 am, and we were ready to get home. So I put myself on auto pilot and headed for the highway.

I haven’t touched much on my social anxiety, but it plays a big factor in how my other anxieties and phobias are affected. As a people-pleaser and chronic “nice” person, you constantly worry about what other people think of you.  You would rather die than ever burden anyone with your issues, so you bury your emotions. You constantly crave acceptance, so you only want to show the most acceptable side of yourself. All of this “acting” and pressure to be perfect can further contribute to anxiety by blocking any and all outlets of stress relived by showing genuine emotion.  I am constantly putting pressure on myself not to fail (although I’ve drastically improved at this lately) by avoiding my real feelings and hiding behind this perception of having it all together. The “fear of man”, that I have referenced in an earlier post, carries an uneven, unhealthy amount of weight in my life.

When I’m worried about trying to drive without having a panic attack, and then you throw the social anxiety on top of it, you end up with a Double Stuff Oreo of anxiety. Not sure if this is the best metaphor, as I love me some Double Stuff Oreos. So maybe an over-flowing trash can of anxiety? Whatever works here.

Anyway, I’m driving along for a bit, while my husband is in a post-anesthetic coma but managing to make work calls, and all of a sudden, I start to feel my chest tightening up. When you start to panic, you can feel as if you don’t have enough air (this can eventually lead to hyperventilating, which ironically, is the effect of taking in too much air), and I falsely sense the oxygen thinning.  I deepen my breaths and try to let the calm wash over me. I start to notice the alarming amount of cars around me, and my body stiffens at the thought of being trapped. I hang out in the far right lane for a while, giving myself an exit strategy just in case I need to pull over. I don’t worry much anymore about having to pull over with my husband in the car, as I’ve done it many times with him in the past and he has learned to be understanding. But I still have my pride, and I force myself to push through this impulse, knowing that I’ve faced this challenge before.  Still, with every approaching exit sign I have the urge to give up, to take the comfortable route. My thoughts are circling again, the doubt is surfacing. My body is stiff, my chest is tight, I struggle to get enough air in, or so it feels.

Am I going too slow? Are people getting annoyed with me? Can I pass this person or will I panic if I’m in the middle lane? Will my husband be disappointed if I exit now? Will I be disappointed? Can I make it home? 

Worry. Doubt. Fear.

I feel the words in my head causing physical symptoms in my body. The pressure to please. The lies of fear. The dialogue with my a-hole brain that has held me back from a full life…from freedom.

Then I remember; have the power. It’s within me. I can talk back to my a-hole brain. It will not control me. So I fire back at it.

Who gives a shit? 

You laugh, I know. This is not how I usually talk. But this is how I should talk to my a-hole brain.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I needed to talk to myself more like a friend, but my a-hole brain is not my friend. It is an intruder, an annoying, trouble making creep who’s taken up residence in my brain. I spend so much energy being nice to everyone around me, but I cannot keep being nice to the a-hole. I can’t keep entertaining its thoughts and resume a passive stance.

I say this phrase silently, in my head. As soon as the words take over, the fear melts away, almost instantly.

I’m driving too slow and this might annoy people. So what?

I might panic if I switch lanes. Who cares?

I might disappoint others or myself. Who gives a shit?!!

I hardly ever curse. Not that I’m against people who do, it’s just not my thing. Unless I’m trying to learn a new sport. Then you might happen to hear a few choice words. The first time I tried to ski with my husband (who is one if those natural athlete-type people and therefore infuriating to the athletically challenged, like myself) I cursed like a sailor and at one point proceeded to throw a ski pole.  But cursing at fear and doubt can be incredibly powerful, not to mention therapeutic. 

This is not me, but its pretty much what I look like on a ski slope.

I know some of you are like, this is how I think all the time, no big deal.  To you I say, more power to you. Way to be resilient and confident and unaffected by the messiness of life. Not that you don’t care, but you know when to say when. You know when to stand up for yourself. For those of you like me, who care too much, who worry about everything, who can’t imagine upsetting anyone, we need some more curse words in our lives.  Just stick them in your back pocket and pull them out when the too much is starting to paralyze you. Don’t feel bad about it. Don’t think you are disappointing anyone by using the power of a word. Okay, so do use your best judgment here, of course, but when talking to yourself, let it go. No one is in your head but you. You won’t offend a soul by silently cussing out the thoughts that shouldn’t be there in the first place. Go to town, my friend.

It’s truly amazing, the power of words. Words can knock you down, but just as quickly build you back up. They can hurt but they can heal.  When weakness envelopes you and  fear tries to trick you into imminent failure, reach into that back pocket and pull out the words that will fight back.  It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic, of course. You may simply shout NO!!! STOP! when defeating thoughts begin to surface. Whatever works for you.

Of course, one of the most important things I’ve learned on my journey with anxiety and panic, is that you don’t want to stop the actual attack.  When panic is coming on, it’s important to let it come, and not try to stop the actual event of a panic attack.  Thinking you can stop a panic attack, and desperately trying to stop it, has the counter-effect of making it worse and more intense.  But changing our thoughts in the moment is the key here.

For example, if I’m riding along worrying about a handful of things while driving on the highway in a heightened state of sensitivity, there’s a huge difference in saying “No, I cannot panic. Please don’t panic.  I’m so scared that I will have a panic attack. Oh no, here it comes!!” and “Who cares if I panic? Here comes a wave of panic now. I will be just fine. It will be uncomfortable and I don’t like it, but who gives a shit? It will pass and life will go on. No one cares if I panic.” Can you pick out the better way to talk to yourself in an anxious situation? Which one is more forgiving? Which one gives you room to breathe and let go?

In the past when I would start to panic and freak out in front of my husband, he would tell me to “ride the wave”.  Of course, at the time I would just get mad at him and tell him he didn’t understand.  As it turns out, however, he was right (cue eye-roll).  The wave of panic will come, and like any wave, you cannot stop it.  It has to gradually grow, crest, and break.  To prepare for this, we must learn the best way to ride the wave of panic. It will be uncomfortable, unpredictable and hard to control, but we can do our best to steady our boards and ride it out until the water eventually becomes smooth again. More waves will come, yes, and some will be bigger than others.  We may be scared and unsure. But we become better riders with practice.  We learn to lean into the waves and our ride becomes smoother. We are better prepared if we get tossed into the surf. We ride it out and know that eventually we will reach the safety of the shore. 

It takes so much practice. That’s the scary part, starting the practice. But it can make all the difference. Don’t give your fears too much material to work with.  Belittle them and they will slowly fade away. If you don’t care about them, they won’t care either. Neglect your fears and they will not survive.  Don’t let them back you into a corner; just walk right past those fears and don’t give them a second glance.

I hope you care enough about yourself to not give a shit. Not when it comes to believing the lies fear throws at us. Not when our thoughts make us think less of who we are. You are too important to put up with that.

What will you say to your fear? I hope whatever it is, it’s not very nice. Frankly, I hope it has something to do with going to hell.

Okay, you can wash my mouth out now.

The soap may taste bad, but the freedom tastes oh so good.








Happy List #3

Okay people. I’m bringing back the happy list.

I started doing these a while ago and they just kind of tapered off, but I think it’s time to bring it back. One- because it will force me to write more. And two- because we should always find a reason to celebrate the things that make us happy. So here is my list for this week!

1.FALL!!!!! I feel like I was just celebrating the start of summer. But all of a sudden, fall is upon us. I know I mentioned that summer is my jam. I could also say the same about Fall (although I’m pretty sure the start of any new season is the best, really). It’s been a really hot summer here in Atlanta, and in fact, the first technical days of Fall were equally as hot. But a couple of days ago, the switch flipped and now it finally feels like fall.  The crisp, cool air, the clear blue skies, the leaves starting to fall ever so slightly…I just want to eat it up! Throw in football, pumpkin everything, mums, Fall Festivals, apples, sweaters, leggings with cute boots and I’m smitten. The other day I made my Target run, and instead of just walking out with the birthday gift and milk that I intended to get (of course), I walked out with a Halloween sign, the cutest fabric pumpkin, a glittery bat garland, a cinnamon scented candle, and a fabulous gold pumpkin pillow.  That pillow almost made the Happy List by itself I love it so much. I know we (and I’m talking to you, ladies) make fun of ourselves for going into Target and getting side tracked, but that seasonal decor is really just too much fun to ignore. So in another month when I’m tirelessly sweeping leaves off my porch and whining about how annoying it is to get my kids to put on coats and socks, I will try to remember all the reasons why I love Fall. Target seasonal section, you will always be one of those reasons. 

2. Child’s Pose. I started doing yoga a few years ago. When people learned about my anxiety, they were all, “why don’t you try yoga?”   and all I could think was how anxiety-provoking it would be to try to do all those fancy hard-to-pronounce moves in front of a room full of strangers. But somehow, I found BeYoga on the Marietta Square and I was in love. And, they offered a workshop for beginners!!! That really helped with the first-time jitters. Turns out, I love yoga. The stretching, the breathing, the mindfulness. Great for your body and mind. Score. But child’s pose, man, that is the best. You sit on your knees, slightly spread apart, bring your head to the floor and stretch your arms out long on the ground, and breathe.  If you’ve never tried it before, I’m begging you, just do it…and get ready to say ahhhhhh. 

3.La Croix. I always wondered how anyone could drink barely flavored sparkling water. I didn’t see the point. I don’t know if there’s some magic age where sparking water suddenly becomes glorious but I guess I must be close because by-golly, all of a sudden I’m an addict. I am constantly hitting up the Costco for 24 cans of bubbly goodness. So cold, so refreshing, so barely-flavored. Which, apparently, is now my thing. If only I could figure out how to pronounce it. French class, you have failed me.

4.The Beach. The beach could be an entire Happy List by itself.  We recently made the trip down to Ft. Walton Beach, FL (the trip where I drove us home by myself!!!) a couple of weeks ago, and it was the best time. The weather was unbelievable, and the kids are at this magical age where they finally posses a decent amount of independence while still managing to be innocent and cute. We all enjoyed each other’s company.  One notable perk of the magical age is staying up later without totally falling apart the next day, so we enjoyed more than one sunset on the beach and our fair share of night swimming (which always feels like a huge adventure for the kids).  All of this while Jason and I could sit back with a cocktail and reminisce about surviving the good old days of swim diapers, beach tents and pack-n-plays.  I think I finally made a family vacation believer out of him. 

5.Football. If you are born and raised in the South, you have probably seen a football game or two.  Game Days are considered to have their own culture in some aspect. Being a Georgia native, I am a UGA Bulldog and an Atlanta Falcons fan (two teams that have broken many hearts during my lifetime), and I love everything about football Saturdays and Sundays (or sometimes, Thursdays and Mondays).  Planning your team color coordinated outfit, meeting up with friends and family, tailgate food, marching bands, and finally, the roller coaster ride that is the actual game. Every game is like watching a movie, the drama unfolds before you, in real-time; sometimes your heart explodes with excitement and other times you are left jaw-dropped with shock and disbelief. This past Saturday was no exception as the Bulldogs lost in the final seconds to the Tennessee Vols.  There were just no words.  But that’s the name of the game. You cannot predict every outcome. Win or lose, I still love this game.

6.Campfires. Okay, so maybe we weren’t exactly camping, but we did set up a nice little cheapie fire pit in the backyard. With the fall temperatures finally cooling off, we were able to have our first fire the other night.  We carefully searched for the best sticks and roasted marshmallows. We threw leaves and pine straw into the fire and marveled at how fast they shriveled up. We practiced outrunning the smoke as it shifted with the breeze. My son became a little too obsessed with lighting things on fire, so eventually we had to call it quits. Also, I made the mistake of buying the bag of jumbo marshmallows, which resulted in my children resembling some sort of human fly paper.  Despite the stickiness, I’m predicting many more backyard pow-wows in the future. 

7.Starbucks. Okay, okay, I know there are a million cute mom and pop coffee shops that I could mention that make me happy, but there is just such a comfort in the reliability of a Starbucks. If there’s ever an hour or so to spare in my day, I know at least 3 Starbucks nearby that will be waiting with my Chai Tea Latte, free wifi, and a tiny little spot for me to just sit and be. I went this morning to do some work (making the class directory for Allie’s preschool class is serious work, people!!!) and again I was amazed and how dang happy it made me just to sit in a Starbucks with all the mature, well-dressed business folk (and a few other stragglers donning t-shirts and yoga pants, like myself) and just chill. There’s nothing like pounding away freely on my laptop while the echoes of verbal chatter and the hiss of steaming milk fill the air. I saw a sign today that they’re going to start serving beer and wine in the evenings?!! Really? As if I don’t loiter in there enough, now I am going to be enticed to stay straight on through until night-time now that I can enjoy a glass of Pinot and a cake pop simultaneously. Might as well just keep an overnight bag behind the counter.

8.Apple Slices and Caramel Dip. Makes me happy. The end.

9.The Sunrise. With the days becoming shorter, we are waking up before the sun. Which means we are catching quite a few sunrises these days. I know I mentioned the sunset as being up there with my top favorite things of all time, but a sunrise is just as magnificent, if not more so.  There’s such beauty in the beginning of something, and it’s hard to compete with the wonderment of a new morning. Plus, I have witnessed significantly less sunrises (or at least purposely sat and watched one) than sunsets, so the rarity alone adds to the awe of the event. Some of my most memorable sunrises… on the beach in Cancun, Mexico, during spring break in college (oops, we never went to bed!), early mornings when I lived in Breckenridge, Colorado (you couldn’t actually see the sun, but the way it lit up the rocky mountain peaks across the valley, in a blazing splendor of orange light, was one of my fondest memories), and sitting on the rocky cliffs overlooking the Pacific during our honeymoon in Kauai, HI (thanks to the time difference we were up extra early to enjoy a few of those).  I look forward to many more of these quiet, magnificent moments that come with each new day. 

10.People.  I realize that this can be a subjective topic.  Do I really like all people? I can’t say that I do. Especially if you ask me while in the Costco parking lot at lunchtime, in Atlanta rush hour or on Black Friday.  But for the most part, I believe that all people are generally good and have goodness somewhere in their hearts.  Yes, there is evil in the world. But let’s not focus on that now.  This is a Happy List, by all means. What fascinates me about people, is that what you see is usually not ever what you get. Heck, I am a testimony to that fact.  I am always curious about the story that everyone carries with them. So much so, that sometimes I feel compelled to ask complete strangers about their life story (from which I always refrain, for fear of looking like a complete lunatic).  The people who intrigue me the most are the ones who seems to be suffering, the ones with frowns on their faces, who are lashing out at the world.  What are their stories? Where is their source of pain? Okay, so maybe the guy honking at me in the Costco parking lot isn’t on my list of favorite people, but there’s still a tiny sliver of compassion for him buried beneath my irritation. For just like you and I, he has a unique perspective. There’s a story beneath it all. No one person in this world is the same, and that is a beautiful, amazing thing. People are the glue that hold our world together, and we have a responsibility to each other not only to respect our differences but to celebrate them. We as humans have a unique and powerful ability to influence our world, and if we can leave a legacy of any kind, I pray that it is one of peace and unity. People make me happy only when they are doing their best to be good-hearted people. Good, not to be confused with perfect, but good, decent, loving people.  Even those who seem distraught or coarse can be hiding a pure, but broken heart under a tangled mess of sadness and despair. So before you discount the weary, the broken and disheartened, get to know them as people. Listen to their story. Little by little, you will start to see the happy in their hearts. And I guarantee, by taking to time to listen, you will feel the happy in your own heart growing too.