You Are What You Eat

I did something a bit, well, sneaky the other night.

As we were about to turn in for the night, my husband asked if I knew where his phone was.

“Your phone? Hmmmm…” I replied.

I knew exactly where the phone was. Selfishly, however, I omitted that information. Notice I didn’t lie, right? I told you I was sneaky…

My husband loves comedy podcasts. Like a lot. Every night, falling asleep in his huge headphones, comedians help lure his thoughts away from everyday stress. In the morning, it’s news on his phone. Scanning pages and pages of headlines, the latest shocking drama or political circus act. It seems like a harmless distraction, or is it?

He also gets caught up with work calls, texts, never gets a chance to fully escape from work. Constant responsibility weighs heavy. It’s a sacrifice, sure, but he truly loves the push and pull of his work life.

I too, am guilty of the addiction of finger swiping late into the night when I need to wind down. Before I know it, I’ve gone deep into the rabbit hole; this story leads to that story leads to another story. Sometimes interesting, sometimes informative, even uplifting at times, but for the most part, distracting chatter. I’ll read an article and then get caught up in the reader comments that usually read like childish banter of I’m right/you’re wrong nanny-nanny boo-boo. Its like an all-you-can-eat buffet, you just want to keep going back for more.

A while back we talked about this in bible study, about things we tend to watch or read regularly. My friend mentioned her husband started listening to these political podcasts constantly, and she noticed a subtle change in him. He became overly worried and invested in the toxic political atmosphere according to the news, when in reality his career was nothing related to that world. He became quick to anger and criticize. Finally she suggested that he listen to something a bit less intense.

For the past few years it seems, the phone seems to become my husbands constant companion. Ok honestly, it’s that way for a lot of us. It’s a way to escape at the end of the long day, or relish those last few minutes of laying in bed in the morning. And don’t even get me started on Netflix…I mean, how fun can that be on a rainy day???

The other day, before the phone hijacking incident, I told my husband he was turning into his mamaw. Don’t get me wrong, she was an amazing, spit fire of a women. Jason tells stories of how she used to buy things from garage sales and turn around and sell them for profit. The woman could pull off one hell of a hustle. When I first met her, she was sitting with Grandpa Brian on their plaid couch, cozied up in their small living room, eyes glued to one of the 24 hour news networks.

“Jason, don’t you go bringing kids into this world, it is a scary place,” she would say, staring at that small box in her living room. She would go on with concern about how the world and humanity was doomed. How we should be worried and afraid. She didn’t venture out much from her small house in Franklin, Tennessee much in those later years; the people in the tv warned her not to. The constant, negative news feed had shaped her entire world view from that half-acre lot in suburban America.

We already struggle daily with our own interpersonal news reel, feeding us the shoulds and what ifs and whys of our daily actions. We struggle with self-compassion and positive self-talk already, so to feed ourselves more negativity from the world around us can overload until we are drowning in hopelessness. We feel a tremendous weight and burden that we don’t even need to be carrying.

I’m not saying that we need to be unaware of what’s happening in the world, because I absolutely believe that knowledge of injustices and needs around us can call us to action and unite communities, but this is more of a help me, help you situation. Like putting on our own oxygen masks before we start helping others. If we run off trying to put out fires before we’ve filled up our water tank, we won’t get very far.

I decided a few years ago, I needed to change my diet.

It wasn’t a food diet; (ok, so there is lots of science to back up that this is essential also, but this girl needs some French fries in her life!!) I needed to change the information I ingested.

I struggled with self-worth, with feeling like I was enough, with shame and guilt over my anxiety issues. But unlike those extra pounds that you can feel and see, my extra weight was internal. It made my heart and soul feel heavy with doubt and fear. Being overweight in your soul can be just as harmful to your health as in the physical sense, but most of us don’t entertain this notion as much.

So how do you start a healthy diet for the soul?

Everyone is different here. We all have things we feel are lacking, and those are the nutrients we need to feed ourselves regularly. Of course it can be as simple as doing one thing we love everyday, or using our creative gifts more often. For me, writing, music, and being out in nature pack a healthy serving of soul food, so I try to make intentional time for those as often as possible. I have friends that go for long runs or take a trip alone once a year. The other day I told the lady doing my pedicure how much I appreciated it and how I wish it was covered by health insurance. Whatever self-care you can fit into your schedule, don’t feel guilty about it.

I also read my devotional every morning, either while brushing my teeth or even more effectively, when I drink my coffee. Tying a daily habit to another only reinforces the act. I make it a priority to read the “good news” of God before reading the news of the world around me. I’ve been doing this daily for about three years, and it’s become as essential to me as breathing oxygen. My oxygen mask.

Mindfulness and being still are other daily snacks that I try to feed myself. We are constantly attacked by countless distractions, and ingesting small moments of quiet and calm can better equip us to battle that sense of feeling overwhelmed with to-do’s. Even if it’s five minutes of your day, the benefits from this habit are life-changing.

Of course, physical exercise and a healthy diet directly affect our state of mind, so it is important to pay attention here as well. But just as we try to drink enough water, take our vitamins, get our cup of coffee in daily, we can’t overlook the importance of the information we are feeding our brains and hearts, figuratively speaking. The mind-body-spirit connection is about as critical as all those crunchy yogis and preachy pastors and chill therapists say it is, and I’m so glad the “mainstream” population (whatever that generalization really means?) is starting to believe it. We can’t do life on our own, people.

So before you scroll the endless barrage of news feeds and Facebook posts and check-lists, pay attention.

Have you fed your soul first today?

I know, it sounds corny. Cheesy. Whatever you want to call it to distract you from the fact that it is essential to your health.

The night I “hid” the phone, my husband and I cuddled up and watched a show together. It reminded me of our earlier days, when smartphones weren’t even on our radar. I relished in our quality time, and my soul started to fill up. In return, I felt loved, worthy, at ease. The extra pounds of loneliness and rejection slowly started melting off. I was satisfied.

So while this isn’t a lesson in how to deceive your husband (of course I fessed up the next morning, after gushing about how much I enjoyed our quality time), it is a reminder to take notice of the “junk food” you catch yourself craving; the deficits and distractions in your life that are depriving you and draining your happiness and health. If you have to set limits and boundaries to do so, go for it.

If you find yourself hungry for happiness, craving comfort and control, thirsty for security and self-compassion, start a new diet. Find what lifts you up, take it in, feed it to yourself a little each day. It’s the most important, most delicious, most satisfying meal you will ever eat.

Promo Code: JOY

I promised myself I’d be in bed by 10pm.

Yet here I am, 50 minutes past my bedtime, deciding that there’s more important business to attend. Time to get back to writing. It’s been way too long, friends.

Life is good. Summer was hot. Heck, fall was hotter than summer I think. Halloween was crazy. I think the moon was full for like seven straight days at some point, so between that and all the candy my kids were plain bonkers.

Then my sweet old stinky dog died in his sleep. We went from bonkers to grief in 2.2 seconds. I was a sad, sad soul. I think I cried for 24 hours straight. But although I still swear I hear Bear’s toenails tip-toeing down the hall, and his little piggy-like snorts coming around the corner, we are slowly adjusting to the emptiness.

Now it’s almost December…and like every year we all stop and look at each other like HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!! Then ensues the blur of shopping and parties and Santa and Christmas songs and white elephants and Black Fridays and cyber Mondays and Giving Tuesday’s and days that I can’t even see straight because it’s FREAKING DECEMBER.

But I caught it early this year. A light conversation I had with a friend early in November stopped me in my tracks. We were literally dreading the holidays. Bracing ourselves for the chaos and basically setting ourselves up for a stressful month no matter what. And then I heard myself. And I decided to stop it.

NO! I will NOT dread this season. I will not get wrapped up in the busy distractions that steal my joy. I will not stress over buying gifts or worrying that they are enough or perfect. I will not go to every Christmas party if I’m tired and need to say no. I will give what I can to charities I love and know that I can’t give to everyone and that’s ok. My cards won’t be early if on time at all but they will get done. If the dang Elf forgets to move one or two or five nights in a row, it won’t ruin my children’s lives. The chaos will not control me anymore…I’m taking back my joy this season.

Because, y’all. We are so totally setting ourselves up for failure every year. It’s like some imaginary universal Christmas competition that we all go crazy trying to win. The decorating and the wrapping and the shopping and the baking and the partying…yes, it can be fun, and it may even bring you joy, but not if you feel like you are chasing an unattainable goal of winning the holiday perfection trophy every year.

That was the path I was on the last few years. Literally so distracted by all the stuff that I was missing out on the joy.

Why? What is it all for?

Last year, during our school’s mom/daughter Christmas craft party, Rachel Brown came to speak. Between the painting and blow-drying and kids running around with unlimited hot-chocolate, you could hardly hear the poor girl. I tried to listen as best I could, and I know she played her favorite Christmas song, but it was hard to hear. I asked her at the end of the night what the song was, and the next day, in the stillness of my quiet car (which is sometimes the only place a mom can get peace and quiet) I played the song; Wrap This One Up by Christy Nockles.

As I listened intently to each word, a peace came over me. I knew I needed to hear that song in that moment. I needed to be reminded of where my focus needed to be during that busy, crazy time. I just needed to be still and listen.

That song forever changed Christmas for me.

From that day through the rest of December, anytime I started to get wrapped up in the chaos and stress, I would force myself to stop and listen to that song. To remind myself of the why of Christmas. To remember what it’s all for.

Because the what and the why are so much bigger than the stuff.

If you get a moment in the next few days, try to be still, even for a minute. Focus on what’s good in your life. Focus on the fact that we get the privilege to celebrate at all. Forget the invisible finish line and the infinite lists you’ve made for yourself, and relish the fact that you are here to see another day. Soak up every ounce of joy you can. Be grateful for the tangled ball of Christmas lights and the 60 cookies you have to make and the paper cuts from the wrapping paper.

Or don’t do any of it at all. Just decide to sit and be with people and love on them and shine your light brighter than the dang Rockefeller tree.

Whatever brings you joy, will bring joy to others. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. No promo code required.

So before you go rolling your eyes at those Christmas songs that drive you mad sometimes, try to be still and listen. You may just be reminded what a miracle Christmas really is.

Just Say Yes

It was a rough start to the trip this morning.

As we took off through a barricade of storms in Atlanta, the plane once again bobbed and weaved through the turbulence, sending me once again to the edge. Zero visibility blinded my view and brought on panic.

Meanwhile, my brave daughter next to me could hardly contain her excitement. “We’re in the clouds!” she exclaimed. Unfazed by the bumps, she smiled and carried on without a care. Her joy was contagious, parting the clouds of my fear.

As we journeyed on to Denver and started making memories on the first leg of our trip, I realized just how grateful I am that I can persist through my fears. I could’ve crumbled and said no to flying at all. I could’ve foregone the excitement and anticipation of this time with my family. I could’ve just stayed in the safety of my home and never experienced a day like today, watching my children take in this beautiful scenery for the first time, their eyes wide with amazement.

I could’ve said “no”.

I could’ve said “I can’t”.

But I said YES.

Go, see, do.

Live.

The yes is not always easy. It’s not graceful or without pain or embarrassment or doubt.

But I’ll take a yes over a no any day when it comes to facing my fears.

What will your yes be?

The Blanket

I’m drinking coffee…on a plane!!! What?!! Who is this girl?

Many people head straight to the bar before they board an airplane, hit the Starbucks, whatever pumps them up (or calms their nerves) for the flight. Not me, I am straight-up ginger ale only up in the air.  I want to be in complete control at all times, just in case. Like I’ve said before, someone needs to be sober in case it all goes down, just in case I need to take over for the pilot or something. Yet here I am in the middle seat, next to my son; my husband and daughter in the next row, ordering coffee.  A previous panic trigger. There was a point in time where I wouldn’t drink coffee at my own house, as even the slightest elevated heart rate would start me down the worm hole of panic.

Ahhhh the dangerous desire for control.

The past couple of days I’ve really been thinking about the effects of the need for control. I’ve been a control freak most of my life it seems…which is why the fear may have started early. I want to have control to the extent that I can know what will happen next, which I’m pretty sure no one in the world has the power to do. The realization that this is utterly impossible, and that I must learn to accept that I will never have complete control in all situations, is a constant struggle.

Even my devotional passages this week have been reminding me of the importance of letting go of the desire to control every aspect of my life. I love these reminders, but then I start to feel bad about myself. Guilt creeps in. Why can’t I put all my trust in God? Is he mad at me for this? I am less deserving and worthy in His eyes because of my constant level of fear? 

So add trust issues on top of control issues I guess. I am constantly reminded to release my urge to control my life and look to Him.

“No one was ever meant to carry the burden of complete control”

Yes!!! 

Yes. As I read the words I remember this, they blanket my soul in warmth. But why then, do I end up finding myself so quickly back to feeling exposed and chilled with fear? Perhaps I didn’t remain under the blanket long enough? I didn’t let its warmth radiate deep enough?

If you are a person of faith, you realize that it is a journey. I’m a little late to the party, having not been raised going to church regularly. We did go occasionally, to different places sometimes, and every place always seemed a bit foreign, like they were speaking a language I didn’t quite understand. I wasn’t sure how to act, what to say, what was expected. I was afraid I was doing it all wrong. I went to church with friends, witnessed different types of denominations and their rituals. My stepdad is Jewish and we spent some time enjoying some of their traditions. I taught in a Catholic school for almost 10 years and can say the heck out of some Hail Marys. As intimidating as each new religious experience was, I did learn that finding God came in all shapes and sizes. For this perspective I am grateful.

But in not having a strong connection to one house of God, I told myself that I wasn’t worthy of his love. I couldn’t quote Bible verses, and was confused about whether to worship Jesus or God as a child. What if I talk to the wrong One? Do I need to choose? I had lots of questions that I was too afraid to ask. I was asked if I was saved or needed to be, and I was always unsure of how to answer. I often found I felt closest to God in nature (which is still mostly true); watching a sunset, reveling in the breeze, watching the waves on the ocean, I felt Him here. I felt close to Him through music and singing.  Did this mean I had gained his approval? Was this enough?Am I doing it right? I was never sure.

In my Bible study recently, we were asked what our relationship with God was growing up. Every answer was so different. I spoke up and explained that I felt like I was never quite worthy of knowing Him; I felt like God was one of the popular kids that didn’t want to hang out with me. I felt like a good person, like if He knew my heart he would be pleased, and I wanted Him to know that I had a desire to know him, but was also intimidated and didn’t quite know where to start. I felt like maybe I had missed the Jesus boat and was left back with the stragglers. Did I still count? Was another boat on the way?

Speaking of Bible study, the fact that I had even joined one in recent years was so unexpected for me. I always had a desire to join one, but what did I know about the Bible? Wouldn’t they look at me like maybe I was in the wrong place? Was there going to be a quiz on Bible knowledge to allow me to attend (as I’m editing this I just remembered that “Bible” is supposed to be capitalized…doh!!)? But a good friend invited me (she actually thought I already attended, haha!), and assured me that all were welcome, so in I went.

Guess what? They didn’t ask me to leave. There was no Bible verse quiz of any sort (shoot, another B I had to capitalize!!).  In fact, I was exactly the kind of person they wanted to reach. The one who felt unworthy. That felt out-of-place. They embraced me and took me in. They reminded me that there wasn’t a wrong time or a wrong way to find God. That we are all on our own personal faith journeys, and we all have our own pace.

I’m pretty sure it was with that group of amazing women that I first realized that God truly loved me, just the way I was. That I was secure and accepted with amazing Grace. I can almost pinpoint the moment. I was practically in tears about my struggles with anxiety (I could barely get through the carpool line those days without a near panic attack) and those women just took me in and lifted me up. They were the hands and feet of God (or Jesus, right?), radiating with love and acceptance. He grabbed hold of my hand and my heart and never let go.

Still, I am a skeptic by nature. I analyze things down to their core. I think and over think and think some more. Which is why sometimes I question. Sometimes I demand answers and clarity. Which when it comes to faith, you are not given.  You must turn a cheek, and dig deep within. You must walk by faith not by sight. Wow, so hard for me. But I’m still on this journey, and I’m not planning on turning around anytime soon.

There are strong nudges on this journey of faith, ones that shout and ones that seem to whisper. There are crests and valleys and moments where I struggle to understand and others where I am lost in the moment. But the most important thing I am learning is that there’s no perfect here either.  There’s no one size fits all when it comes to faith and God and your place in line for Heaven. Wherever you are, is where you should be, and He is there, waiting to meet you in that place, ready to wrap you up and cover you with love. No guilt, no shame, no doubt should preceed that absolute truth.

It was not ever meant to be our burden to carry. We are not meant to be in complete control.  The work has already been done. The price has been paid. The more we can let go and realize this, the less fear and uncertainty will stain our hearts and steal our joy.

Fear has no place when faced with love.

I turn down the little personal AC fan above my airplane seat, something small that I actually can control, and grab the thin little blanket for warmth. I cover up, sit back and begin to relax in the security of that warm, tiny blanket.

Maybe I should order another cup of coffee? I’m not flying the plane, after all.

Fake News

Cognitive distortions. What are they? Why are they important? Are you speaking Italian?!!

“Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but only make us feel bad about ourselves.”

To put it simply, it’s like fake news. It’s the stories we continue to tell ourselves that aren’t true. And they can affect every aspect of our lives negatively if we don’t keep them in check.

Throughout my years of therapy I’d been handed many wordy, overwhelming worksheets and charts that explained all this, but with my brain already struggling to make sense of anything during that stressful time, I yearned for someone to tell it to me straight, like a friend would. I needed a friend in that dark time in my life, one who understood the frustration and confusion and complexity of it all. That’s my goal, my service to you. I will do my best to provide that valuable insight as only a friend would.

Over the next couple weeks I’m going to break down the 15 most common thought distortions as simply as I can. All of us have struggled with negative self-talk at some point or another, whether we realize it or not. Those of us who have struggled with anxiety and depression have carried the crushing weight of negative thought patterns without even knowing it. Luckily for us, neuroscience has proved that the brain has the ability to change, just like any muscle in our body. This is called neuroplasticity. If we do the exercises, we can potentially “build” our brain muscles and improve our mental health and well-being.

But like anything in life, it’s not an easy fix. If you start a workout program to try to loose weight, it takes time, right? You don’t see results right away. You may get discouraged and want to quit. Same goes for retraining our thoughts. It takes time and effort to see results. It also takes persistence and maintenance work. The first step is learning what areas we need to work on.

Our bodies yearn for balance in order to thrive. If we are off-balance in one or more aspects of our lives, we start to suffer. Stress takes over and we begin to deteriorate. There are so many pieces to the puzzle. But training our thought patterns to work for us and not against us, is just as important as taking care of our physical bodies.

Lately I feel I’ve been slipping ever so slowly back into old thought patterns. It’s a tricky thing to realize, but when those old familiar panic triggers start to flare up and creep into my day to day, I know that I need to get to work.

For example, the other day I was driving somewhere, and I felt my nerves start to fire up and my thoughts drift off to that place of fear and panic. It was an old, deep-rooted trigger (one of hundreds my mind had mapped out over years of uncontrolled anxiety). A certain stretch of road was all it took to bring me back to that place. It happened so fast. My throat dried up, I started desperately grasping for something to steady my fearful thoughts. When I am quickly flooded with panic, I feel like I can’t get enough air. I crack the window, turn down the AC, fumble for a sip of water. These impulsive reactions that are hard to explain, but it’s just the coping mechanisms my brain tells my body when it is triggered by a negative feedback loop. 

Ten years ago, when I didn’t know what was going on in my brain, I would’ve completely panicked.  My body would’ve been taken over with terrifying, uncomfortable sensations; heart racing, arms and legs tingling, unable to breathe, dizziness, tight jaw, dry mouth.  All while trying to maintain a vehicle on a busy interstate. I would’ve ruminated all day on what had happened, felt tremendous shame and isolation, and wondered how I was ever going to live like this. Oh, and I wouldn’t have mentioned it to anyone. Looking back, it’s no wonder I was afraid to drive on the highway for years!

Today, however, there is no mystery in all this. I know what I’m dealing with, exactly what cruel trick my mind is trying to play on me, and even though this is not a welcome battle in my mind, I have to remember how to manage this bombardment of fake news that is flooding my brain. I dig into my toolbox at that moment; I reach for my lavender oil, take some deep breaths, intentionally switch my train of thoughts to the positive. I practice present-moment awareness and become an observor to my surroundings; the feel of the steering wheel, the music, the cool air blowing from the vents. Most importantly I remember not to stop the anxiety from happening, but give it space to rise and fall, knowing that it will end as quickly as it began. This is the hardest part, trusting this process. But it has been a vital part of changing my feedback loop to be able to manage these moments of panic that will always be lurking around a dark corner. It is disappointing and discouraging to be back in this dark, scary place, but now that I’ve found ways to deal with my anxiety constructively, I must trust that I can do it again.

These moments are discouraging, sure, but they are invaluable messages that remind me that I need to get to work. As I’ve mentioned before, there is no cure for anxiety, only management. It will creep back in, but I have the power and the tools to keep it from taking over as much as it has in the past.

The mind is a funny, fickle little thing. It can trick you into thinking all sorts of false realities. It can make you think you are in real danger when in fact you are not. Worry, dread, phobias, panic: all contrived stories we tell ourselves, all fake news. So how do we keep these scary stories tucked away, up high on a shelf, witholding the urge to reach for them?

Again, we circle back to good old cognitive distortions.

Let’s think of an example so that we can explore the different types of distortions. Let’s say there’s a high-school girl named Sarah. Sarah has just moved across town and is starting at a new school. She is extremely self-conscience already and is nervous about this new environment. On one of her first days there, she has to stand up in front of one of her classes and introduce herself. Here are some of the thoughts going on in her head when she is told she has to do this.

“Oh my gosh, if I don’t do this perfectly, I am ruined!” – All or Nothing Thinking (Black and White Thinking)

“Ugh I should’ve worn a cuter outfit! I look so lame” – Mental Filter (discounting the positive and focusing on the negative)

“The other kids will think I am so dumb. I’m going to have no friends. ” –Jumping to Conclusions (Mind Reading and Fortune Telling)

“I am so humiliated, so I must be an idiot.” –Emotional Reasoning (thinking that because we feel a certain way that it’s true)

“I am such a loser.” –Labeling (assigning labels to ourselves or others)

“I always make a fool out of myself”-Overgeneralization (seeing a pattern based on a single event)

“My hair looks pretty good today, but that just doesn’t matter anyway.” –Discounting the Positive

“I am never going to have any friends at this school.” –Magnification (catastrophising)

“I should have never agreed to do this. I must be sure to never to do this again.” –Should/Must/Ought statements

“I must’ve done something wrong to deserve this kind of embarrassment.” –Personalization/self-blame

Do you see what poor Sarah has done to herself? She has let her mind take this one small moment and turn it against her. She feels terrible and self-defeated. Yes, talking in front of people is one of the most anxiety-producing things a person can do, but the way we think about it has the tendency to make it either better or worse. Wouldn’t you want to know how to cope with public speaking in a more helpful way?

It is so much harder for a teenager to hone in and dissect this dangerous way of thinking, as their brains are still developing. But knowing what I know now, I wish I had these tools as a child! What a difference a mindfulness practice would’ve made!

Pay attention to your thoughts towards yourself and towards other. Do you find yourself falling into any of these mind traps? I know I still struggle daily. But once we can start recognizing our unhelpful thoughts, we can work at changing them for the better. It takes time and patience, but it can be done!

Don’t let your mind betray you. With the right tools and a little practice, you will find yourself at the winning end of the battle in your mind!

And no, that’s not a distorted thought. 😉

My Mind is Playing Tricks On Me

You are what you think.

Mind over matter.

Think it, be it.

Yes, you’ve heard the phrases, but the idea is the same…our thoughts help shape who we are.

After the trauma and shame of the first few years of my panic attacks started to taper off, I found myself wanting to know more about them. Certainly this occurrence didn’t come without a biological explanation, right? This wasn’t some random crazy voodoo that was making me feel like I was dying all the time, was it? Knowledge is power, and I was determined to get to the bottom of my seemingly broken brain.

So I started to research and read every panic attack and anxiety/depression book that was out there. It was overwhelming, and I got all hung up and intimidated by the big fancy psychological terms and charts and graphs and exercises, finding myself discouraged yet again. Would I ever find out how to understand what was wrong with me?!!

It’s been 15 years since my first panic attack, and it’s been a journey to say the least. But in that time I have definitely gained a better grip on what exactly makes the brain pull these kind of pranks on us. I’ve found that logical explanations based on neuroscience and psychology can really bring a light to the darkness of anxiety.

Let’s start with our cognitive behavior.

When you her the word cognitive, what do you think of? Looks fancy, right? The word cognitive simply refers to our conscious intellectual activity, such as thinking, reasoning, or remembering. It’s basically using our conscious brain in reference to our daily lives. When we think a thought, recall a moment, try to solve a problem, we are being cognitive. Our conscious thoughts, however, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the complexity of our mind.

Good old Sigmund Freud conjured up the earliest concept of the three levels of the human mind, which in their complexity are not capable of being scientifically proven, but widely accepted among psychologists as the standard example of how our thoughts are used and stored. This is often referred to as the “iceberg theory” (hence my clever reference above).

Our conscious thoughts, which guide us through our day to day, are just a fraction of what lies beneath the surface. In our subconscious, we store the emotions and associations tied to these thoughts beyond much of our control, based on recent experiences or behaviors. The unconscious level is the deepest and hardest to reach, where blocked-out trauma, carnal human needs, and old forgotten memories reside. For more analysis and explanation, here is a great article that breaks it down.

When you suffer from panic attacks, your number one goal is to make them stop. As I’ve learned and mentioned before, you can manage them, but you will never be able to completely stop them. This is where acceptance is key. You can, however, greatly improve the frequency and intensity of your panic attacks in many different ways. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of my favorite tools in my anxiety toolbox, and I hope it can help you, too.

When you suffer with mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and so on, there is some type of faulty informational feedback loop in your mind that is giving you false or negative thoughts that can impair your everyday quality of life. Basically, what CBT claims is that by working to change your thought patterns, you can change your behavior. There are varying CBT exercises that can help with this theory.

I’m going to try to break it down for you as best I can over the next couple of weeks. Next time, I will explore Cognitive Distortions. When I learned about these, it was a game-changer for me. There is a lot to cover, but all I can do is offer what has best helped me, in the hopes that it can help others as well.

Most importantly, if you are in a place of suffering right now, give yourself a break and realize that you are not alone in this. Whether they choose to share it or hide behind a mask of perfection, so many others around you are struggling with similar issues. Don’t be too quick to judge a person from the outside, as you would not wish that for yourself.

We all have weaknesses. We just have to learn to own them and see them for what they are. If we want change, we have to do the work. If we want to love, we have to love ourselves. If we want to help others, we have to share our stories.

I am learning to trust the journey even when I do not understand it.”

-Mila Bron

We may not ever fully understand our journeys, but don’t lose hope. Lean in and trust what comes. You are stronger than you think.

Lift the Shade

Happy New Year!

After realizing that it was January 3rd and my outdoor Christmas lights were still on, I reluctantly pulled the plug and slowly started the process of un-decorating.  It’s been frigid cold here in the Southeast (they are predicting snow in Savannah!!!) and it’s been pajamas for days here in the house. The kids have been sleeping in until 9 am and we’ve all got a serious case of the lazies, which is going to make going back to school tomorrow seem impossible.  But, the world keeps turning, and a new year has begun.  So it goes.

I haven’t blogged in forever, and it’s been looming over my head like more of a chore than a necessity.  Since having both kids in school, I’m not sure what I’ve filled my time with, but I’ve kept myself busy.  I’ve missed writing, but haven’t been able to find the inspiration or drive to start typing. My anxiety has been pretty much under control; a quiet, distant memory at least for now, which has meant even less motivation to write. I had all these grand plans for starting an anxiety support group and producing more in-depth blogging to help those struggling with mental illness, but somehow I’ve side-stepped and found myself focused on more mundane efforts (volunteering, organizing the house, workout classes, Christmas perfection coordinator!?!). Life has been moving at a steady, undramatic pace (ok, minus the usual holiday drama).

Last night, however, I felt a shift. I woke up at some odd hour with a pang of longing, an urge to get up and get the words out. I briefly entertained the idea of popping up immediately and opening my computer with wild fervor (like in the movies!) but I decided going back to sleep was more my speed.  So here I am, after another pajama day, finally getting down to it.

I got news the other day that a friend of a friend had taken her own life.  I didn’t get much of the story, but as I browsed over her obituary on Facebook, took in her beautiful smile and pondered over the sweet words describing her kind spirit, I was struck.  She was about my age, married, strikingly beautiful with a successful career.  She looked like someone who had it all together. I sent a text expressing my condolonces to my friend; the girls had been good friends in college.  She said they had just been in Mexico a couple months ago with a group of friends, but she showed no signs of distress. To gaze upon that picture of her sparkling smile and to know that there was so much silent suffering behind it, that beauty and perfection weren’t enough, was a tragedy.

Her story lit a fire in me, and I knew in that instant that I needed to get back to work.  There are too many people out there, quietly struggling with mental illness, to ignore the cause. Too many beautiful souls smiling through their pain. Too many lives that need saving. I can’t sit back and let it go any longer.

Not long after hearing her story, I heard of another young life taken by choice, a close family friend of a friend who’s son had played baseball with hers. He was only 19.

Although there’s no statistical proof that the holidays have an impact of increased suicide rates (this is generally a myth), it can be a hard, lonely time for many.  If loneliness isn’t the problem, there is added holiday stress, financial burdens, family issues, and little down time.  The self-inflicted perfectionists (guilty as charged!) may not sleep until the last present is wrapped and decoration hung.  Top all that off with colder weather and less sunlight and the holidays can be a bit heavy for some.

There is a disconnect in understanding between those who have struggled with anxiety and depression and those who have only heard stories about it.  To realize that you are in need of serious help is either too embarassing and hard to accept or simply just too complicated to self-diagnose. I’m fortunate to have had only a small taste of depression (I’ve had more acute struggles with anxiety and panic), but once you’ve had a taste, you will never forget it.  It’s a disease that causes your own mind to deceive you, to tell you such enormous lies that you begin to question everything, even your own existance.  It is both tragic and infuritating, and it has the potential to affect us all in one way or another. We owe it to ourselves, and to our loved ones, to make an effort to understand and tame this monster.  There’s no easy answer here, but compassion and understanding are huge bridges towards healing.

That being said, it’s a two-way street.  If someone is unwilling to share, to speak up out of their silence, it will remain that way…silent.  You must be vulnerable in your truth. I opened up about my struggles with mental illness and it has granted me such tremendous freedom.  It is not a crutch or an excuse or a plea for sympathy, but simply a way out of silent suffering.  Ownership and acceptance and transparency can change your life, as scary as it may seem.

Another one of the most freeing things I’ve learned in my journey with anxiety is to give yourself permission to fail.  If you always want everything to be perfect, you will most definitely always fall short.  The pressure of perfection is suffocating. Forgive yourself. Laugh at yourself.  Love yourself no matter what. If you can’t, find the courage to learn how. If it means asking for help to find your courage, that’s okay. Asking for help takes a tremendous amount of courage in itself, even though some may fear perceived weakness.

But listen up, here’s some news for you; if someone calls you weak, guess what? Who gives a shit?!!! (I praise this phrase in one of my previous blog posts, and it still proves to be one of my favorites, although it’s usually just said in my head)!!! Keep on doing whatever you need to become secure in your worthiness. No apologies.

Yes, I still have lots of work to do.  We all do in one way or another.  But I can’t sit back and watch another tragedy without at least trying to do the best I can to help others.  It is my purpose and my duty.  I can’t be responsible for each persons journey, but I can help make a positive impact as much as possible.  I can lend an ear over a cup of coffee or a walk or a simple phone call.  I can take the profound darkness I’ve felt in my past and use it for good.  I have ears that hear and a mouth that speaks and a heart that loves.

So this year, if you see me around, or if you think you need to talk, or if you’re not sure if you need to talk but just need to cry or laugh or hug me, my door is open.  There is no story too silly or embarassing that will phase me.  I’ve been afraid to sit at a stoplight before, I’m still afraid of the dark, and I’ve gone into panic attacks on the most G-rated Disney rides.  I still shutter at the thought of being on a subway, in a crowded room or even just driving a car full of people around. I am working hard at being comfortable being uncomfortable, but it is slow going. There is no shame here, people. If it bothers you, it’s legit.  You can talk about it.  I’m here for you.

Let’s make this year the best ever.  Fear and shame and darkness will fall victim to your light. Just let go and let the shade lift, friend. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

You are so worth it. 

Up in the Air

*Fear of flying continues to be one of the most common anxieties today. I wrote this post a couple of months ago while flying home to Atlanta from Jacksonville, FL. I know that all you fearful flyers will be able to relate! I’m working on it…and I know you are too! With every flight I try to practice leaning in to my anxiety, which gets me one step closer to actually being able to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!

Another day, another flight. I have flown more lately than I have in years, and its a bit of a paradox for me. I can’t think of a place more terrifying and yet more utterly exhilarating than up above the clouds in an airplane. It’s truly one of the few places where I can almost completely surrender control, simply due to the fact that I have no other choice. For this challenge and opportunity I am thankful, but still uncomfortable.

One thing I’ve learned on my anxiety journey is that the hard things not only make us stronger, they bring us one step closer to healing . When I choose to lean in and deal with the discomfort of turbulence; when I ride the surges of panic that try to take over, I can begin to relax into my role. I can pleasantly sink into the fact that my only responsibility is to sit, watch a movie and have a drink or two (even if it is only ginger ale, nonetheless). No one needs me to fly the plane. No one needs me to explain turbulence to them to get through it. I have realized that what I thought was so hard may only be so due to my negative way of thinking. I can groom my thoughts, train them up, turn lemons into lemonade. I am in control of that choice. I can continue to battle with this invisible monster of fear (which, in turn, feeds it), or I can turn my back to it, and move forward.

Sure enough, there’s good reason for my self-pep talk. As I cling to these words of encouragement, I feel myself slipping back into the spiral of dread as we fly into impending storm clouds ahead. Visibility goes from clear to zero. This is the place I hate. The place where I have to trust without seeing. The place that tests my deepest level of faith. The bumps come; the invisible, unpredictable roller coaster of air shakes me to my core. 

I realize this is why I’m so scared of total darkness; I want to see what’s ahead, what surrounds me. Dark water slides, roller coasters, I even freaked out once on the People Mover at the Magic Kingdom it was so dark. Don’t even think about putting me on Space Mountain. No, ma’am.

Although it’s not dark during our flight, the concept of fear is the same; I have no control over what’s in front of me. This seems to only occur physically and spatially; conceptual control of things in my life are usually less anxiety provoking. Recently I’ve found that watching YouTube videos of amusement park rides helps me mentally prepare myself for what to expect, (really, I think I’ve watched every Disney ride ever made. Yes I’m a dork.) but there is no such life-hack when it comes to airplane trips. You are simply a slave to the wind and weather.

As we fly onward towards huge grey storm clouds, I grasp to remember my own words…Give. Up. Control. Turn my back to fear. Why is it so much harder to do in the moment? The answer, of course, is due to the discomfort that the physical symptoms of panic bring in my body’s quick response to stressful situations (again, in people with panic disorder, the fight or flight response is a bit disabled). But I persist, because this hellish place is where the magic happens. Where you become tolerant and patient. Where you look fear in the eye and say…I see you. I acknowledge your existence. But I don’t need you. You will not help me in this situation. So thank you for visiting, but you are not welcome here today. 

A friend told me recently that she loves turbulence. I looked at her like she had three heads. She also loves roller coasters, so I guess that makes sense.  This is a totally foreign idea to me. You love turbulence? To me that’s like saying you love jumping off buildings. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to see it for what it was; the same event viewed in two different perspectives. The same definition, simply experienced a different way.

You mean the same thing that terrifies me is same thing people love?!!
  Yes, the event is exactly the same, it is only the perception of the event that is different. What a shift in thought.

Yes, my heart is racing and I’m starting to get some hot flashes. This is not relaxing by any degree. But turbulence, which is just weather-related changes in air flow (a.k.a, invisible roller coaster that I loathe) is not out to get me.  The event has no more risk to it because of the way I view it than the person next to me. I’m pretty darn sure a plane has never crashed from turbulence (okay, so knock on wood just in case) just like the doctor tells you that no baby will die from crying it out when you’re trying to sleep train, although your motherly instincts make you feel otherwise.  I try to see the turbulence for the event that it is, rather than emotionally analyzing and constantly worrying about the discomfort it brings. This is easier said than done, but each time I practice, it gets a little bit better.

We are emotionally driven beings, complex in nature and sensitive to the world around us, some more than others. Certain things frighten and unnerve us that others don’t even blink at. But that’s a beautiful thing; it’s what makes us human, it’s what make us want to work together to find common ground. It’s what motivates us to seek community and support when we need it. If we all walked around with perfect, needless lives, how could we achieve purpose and meaning? We were not meant to live that way.  Our struggles drive connection and enable empathy.

Just like that, we are through the storm and making our way closer to home. One thing to remember about moments of panic, rest assured, is that they will always, always END. With the threatening clouds behind us now, I gaze down onto the ground below.  I notice a field filled with tiny glimmering specks, what are those? I stare closer.

Headstones. It’s a cemetery.
It screams up at me, not in a morbid, dark way but an enlightening one.  The sun illuminates each marble slab, creating a sparkling, enchanting display from the ground below.

You up there! Yes, you! You’re doing it! You’re living! You are alive! Don’t take this life for granted. This is your one chance. Don’t let fear steal your joy and hold you captive. Don’t waste your time on the enemy of fear. Keep moving forward. Live your life. Right. Now. 

That’s all we can do. Whether we’re up in the air or down on the ground, we journey on.
Okay, I just looked out the airplane window and no lie, there’s a rainbow below me. I can’t make this stuff up, people.

img_5719-1.jpg

You can’t have the rainbow without the rain. 

I see the runway ahead of me. This was not an easy ride, but it wasn’t meant to be. We are not guaranteed a smooth ride through this life. But we press on, we do the work, and if we’re lucky (or perhaps just a little insightful), we will find rainbows behind the rain.

Shirts That Say Things

Right now they are all the rage. You know what I’m talking about…the shirts. The ones with all the words. The statement tees. 

I have a bunch…Mind Over Matter. Keep Calm and (fill-in-the-blank). Good Times and Tan Lines. But First…Coffee. Namast’ay At Home. I Really Want Abs (…olutely all the tacos). 

Okay, that last one still makes me laugh pretty hard.

I like statement tees. They’re cute and fun, a playful way to express yourself. But I yearn for more. I want more than a few catchy phrases hinting at your life’s story. I want the whole story.

When I started struggling with this anxiety stuff, I remember wishing for a shirt that would explain this silent illness to people around me. I would appear calm and put together while crumbling on the inside. There was a disconnect, a fear of showing my true emotions, and shame and frustration in explaining it to people. Yes, I’m laughing and engaging in conversation with you, but I’m also starting to freak out because it’s getting kind of hot in this elevator and I am terrified of having a panic attack but I don’t want to be rude and interrupt you and I’m afraid you wouldn’t understand or care anyway so I’ll just sit here and act like everything is okay so you won’t think less of me but hiding my emotions makes me panic more so that’s why I am fidgety and nervous and taking deep breaths and sweating but please go on and ignore me and act like everything is totally fine. 

Phew. Try putting that on a shirt.

We are lucky enough to be heading out on vacation today. So of course I’m spending the morning at the airport, immersed in a sea of people. I do love the vast variety of people passing by, although sometimes the crowds can be a bit unnerving. All the while, I am vividly aware that my eyes are only witnessing what’s on the surface, and what I see is a fraction of what lies underneath.

I long for their stories. I want to know where they are going. Where they have been. I want to know their fears, what ails them, what their dreams are. I want to know what makes them human.

Of course, compassion is not always my first response . Take the guy behind me in his car the other day, impatiently honking and throwing his hands up while waiting for me to turn left at a busy intersection; he most certainly did not receive my compassionate thoughts at first. And I may have taken a liiiiitle longer to turn with the hopes of teaching him a quick lesson in patience. But beyond my spiteful reaction, I stop to wonder the reason behind his frustration. There’s always more to the story.

Think of the people you encounter everyday, the ones you pass judgment on without knowing so much as their outward appearance or spoken words. What story do they have to tell? Would it help us to understand their words or actions? Their appearance? Their attitude?

Some of them may not want to share their stories. They may be too painful to relive, or perceived as too shameful. They may believe they are all alone in their suffering, without an empathetic ear in the world.

If they only knew.

There is almost always someone else, someone who knows, who can empathize. They ache for a story to parallel their own. It’s out there, just often hidden in the most unexpected places, covered up and buried by the demons of pride and fear.

I’ve been trying something new lately. Whenever someone on the street asks me for money, I ask them, what’s your story? How did you get here? Okay, so I’ve only ever been brave enough to ask two people. The answers were short, generic even…lost my job, health went south, couldn’t pay the bills. But still I wonder…is there more? And does anyone care? How does it feel to be in their shoes? To be ignored and essentially forgotten? Do they even want to try? Am I insensitive to ask? Is their life’s story any of my business? And what can I do about it anyway?

It’s easier to walk by. Some would probably argue that it’s safer too. But these are people. And we as humans ourselves know that there are a lot of long, hard hours logged into being a living, breathing soul. As passers-by we only witness seconds of a full life lived. This is fascinating to me.

So again, what can I do? 

I think the most important thing I could do, that we all can do, is the easiest.

We can listen. 

We can stop and take the time to hear their story, their journey. It costs nothing to us but time, compassion, and a little patience.

And I don’t just mean the homeless guy on the streets, people. The people who need to be heard the most are often the ones you would never, ever guess. The neighbor with the perfectly manicured yard and a house that would make Joanna Gaines jealous. The mom at church whose family looks like they walked straight out of a catalog. The company president who is driving that brand new car.

What you see isn’t always what you get. The people that seem the most put together on the outside are often the ones who are falling apart on the inside.

Perhaps they are afraid, worried that any hint of internal issues may signal weakness and result in social separation and isolation. Maybe their outward appearance is their shield, a powerful suit of armor against the truth that suffocates them. Maybe to them, anything less than perfect is unacceptable.

I drove by a church the other day that had one of the best signs I’d ever seen. It said, Perfect People Not Allowed. It made me want to visit right then. I don’t remember anything else about the church, but that sign was all I needed.  This is the message I needed, that we all need.

No one is perfect. Come as you are. We are all worthy of love. 

If only we were all required to wear a shirt with those words. A shirt that sent the message that no matter what your story, you are important . I could argue that it should be our uniform for being human.

Don’t be afraid to share your story.  Even if the words aren’t printed on your shirt for the world to see, they are still there, imprinted on your heart.  Their content is what makes you unlike anyone else in the world, and yet so much like so many.  Your story can be a bridge, a new pathway, a shining light.  No matter what your statement is, just go ahead and put on that t-shirt. Do not apologize for it.  Wear it proudly and know that it was custom-made just for you.

What if You Fly?

The last time I flew in an airplane, I wrote my heart out for two hours straight. But when I failed to realize that my phone coverage didn’t extend beyond my home country, consequently, all was lost.  

What I did realize, however, is that despite my loss, the benefit from the process still remained. The process, markedly, was the expoltion of my emotions in the way that best serves me; by writing them out. 

When you are a writer, or any kind of creator, really, it’s like having an imaginary portal that bypasses the normal means of communication. Where as one may cry when upset or scream out when scared or verbally speak what’s on their mind, some of us need the portal of words to get our feelings out. Others may feel compelled to paint or draw or feverishly bang away on a piano. The pathway to emotional freedom is like that for me. The emotions stir within, churning and expanding, trapped without an escape route, until…the words come.  But seemingly for me, the words must be written or typed to be best understood. Verbalization of words becomes an extra hurdle of which I always stumble over.  Writing is the medium that makes the most sense to me; it has repeatedly proven to be the most authentic expression of myself. 

So, seeing that I must rely on the writing process to efficiently shed my overflowing emotions, here I sit on the airport runway, heart pounding and breath seizing, fingers typing feverishly, my two precious babies beside me, preparing for take off. My nerves are raw and my mind grasps to steady itself. 

Jack, being an overthinker much like myself, has been barraging us with questions for the past month. 

Are the engines loud? How loud are they? How does the plane lift off? How high will we go? 

He has flown before, but he was only 3 at the time. At 7, his ideas are big and the questions are bigger. He wants to know everything that’s going to happen before it happens. He yearns for control. He wants nothing to do with unpredictability. He is my child, no doubt. 

Then there is my little Allie. This is her first flight. At age 4, and being the second, more fearless child, she is gung-ho and ready. She woke up exclaiming, I’m so excited! Ahhh…the adventurous spirit of a young, uninhibited mind. 

Ready for takeoff!

We start down the runway, and Allie squeals with delight. I can sense Jack’s nervousness; he is watching the plane’s every move, internally analyzing. As for myself, I know too much. I am a mess of worry and fear and catastrophic thinking. I close my eyes and squeeze their soft little hands and say my most earnest prayer. 

The wheels lift and we are propelled upwards with a rush of air. I am forced to raise the white flag of surrender as I begin to accept my current situation. Soon enough, fear and anticipation quickly turn into wonder and amazement as the world below us shrinks. 

Look at the tiny trees! The tiny cars! Everything’s so tiny! 

I love how children are little sponges for joy. How they focus in on the positive in an instant, like a dog that has suddenly picked up a scent, is brilliant.  They hone in and live in the moment. It is an admirable trait. 

I had been anxiously anticipating this day of travel for months. I do not like to fly (despite a love affair with flying in my pre-panic disorder life), and doing so with my two smallish children in tow had not been high on my list of upcoming fun activities. Talk about a recipe for a panic attack. But there I sat, in the moment, the normal fears tangled up and swollen with the mom fears, but through it I must go. Exposure therapy, here I come! 

Okay. So it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it. My kids actually had a blast. They got to color, play their iPads, gaze out the window at the tiny houses and puffy white clouds, and they were so excited that they got mini cups of Sprite. Oh, AND they each got 3 bags of peanuts. I mean, how could one not be having fun?

We did get the dreaded buckle up for turbulance announcement. As soon as that seatbelt sign lights up and the ding!!! goes off, I prepare for the worst. My stomach sinks and my body goes numb in preparation for this event to occur. What is it about the turbulance??? Me no likey. 

Allie, however, sees this moment as a huge adventure. As we are tossed about on invisible waves of air, she is flat-out laughing. 

Wheeee!!!! This is like a roller coaster!

Oh, sweet Allie. To have your zest for life, your fearless zeal. I long for even a tiny taste. 

Taking this flight was a huge hurdle for me. The first flight, EVER, with both of my children. Not only did I have my usual flying anxieties to deal with, but I would also have to manage the unpredictable nature of little ones. I also felt the crushing pressure to be strong for them, to keep it together. I was the adult here. 

As I’ve mentioned before (especially in my previous post, Mama Bears (and Papa Issues)), as a mother, your deepest, purest desire is to keep your children safe.  On the contrary, in the midst of a panic attack, you feel total endangerment and loss of control. Nothing could seem farther from feeling safe and secure. This is why the fear of fear is that much heavier; I feel like I cannot keep my children safe while I, myself, am a panicky mess. It is a helpless,  depressing and extremely maddening feeling. 

Of course, this is a distorted thought, causing unnecessary worry and doubt. I am able to recognize these fraudulent thoughts now. Still, their roots run deep; it will take time to dig them up and uncover their many crooked pathways. It is a slow process. 

Thankfulky, we had an amazing Thanksgiving trip. Lots of quality time with family, beautiful scenery, and so many memories made. What a shame it would’ve been to miss it all because of fear. To think back on all the things I have already missed out on over the years is heartbreaking. 

Our view from our lodge in Cambridge, MD.
Jack is seriously a bass master.
The amazing Thanksgiving feast.

I’m declaring this trip a huge victory. The confidence gained just by checking off this box has been profound.  Not to say there won’t be nerves and doubts the next time we have to fly the “friendly” skies, but the first time is always the hardest. It’s even opened up a whole new pathway of thinking. One that asks, Where shall we fly to next? What family adventures await? 

It’s remarkably refreshing. 

I can’t explain how good it feels to be able to even think simple thoughts like this, thoughts that didn’t exist a few weeks ago. Thankfully, the framework of the mind is not made of cement. It is flexible, malleable; like the birch tree that bends without breaking, the mind can always be persuaded to lean just a little bit more each time. We can stretch ourselves in ways we never thought possible. We can claim even the smallest victories when it comes to fear. 

What will your little victory be today? Or perhaps you will decide to conquer one of your bigger fears? How can you bend your mind just a little bit more? What box do you need to check in your life? 

Just do it. 

You are stronger than you think. 

We are the champions, my friend.

Whatever cliche sports metaphor you want to insert here, it’s better than telling yourself you are a failure. It’s better than not even trying. Even if you have to motivate yourself just to think about trying, it’s better than succumbing to the debilitating chains of fear. 

Don’t listen to the naysayers in your head. Words can be beautiful and words can be downright destructive. You can choose which words will be heard the loudest; you can choose the conversation you want to have with yourself. When you hear words that praise you, that build you up and cheer you on, grab hold of them tight. Hold them steadfast to your heart and tattoo them on with the darkest of ink. Or maybe use a gold glitter sharpie. Whatever. But don’t let them go, those beautiful, life-saving words. 

I can think of so many words, whether it be a single word, a phrase or a quote, that have carried me to where I am today. These words sing to me when my heart is lonely and afraid. Sometimes they are my own words and often they are the words of others, but the source doesn’t matter as much as the substance. 

Wherever they come from, cherish them. Speak them to yourself with care and kindness. Words of praise will pull you forward and propel you upwards. They can carry you high above the dark depths of fear. 

The next thing you know, you’ll look around and see the clouds below you. 

And all at once, there you are. 

You’re flying.