Lent and Playing Hooky

After a pretty rough fight with OCD yesterday, which I lost and left me feeling down and out, I decided to play hooky today. I called into work and school sick. When I woke up this morning after indulging in some sleep until the sun was high in the sky, the first thing I did was stumble over to my desk calendar and glare at it. I had hatched this magnificent plan for this week, forsaking school and my own personal life, in order to “finish strong” on a project that had been haunting me (I have a whole other post about anxiety and work to write up after this). Totally unnecessary and yet overdoing it would make me feel “better”, at the cost of being drained and burnt out of course (why do we do that?).

As I was glaring at this week on my calendar, I noted that today is Ash Wednesday! The beginning of Lent. Lent is actually not a big deal for my family (it is not a deal at all actually). In fact, I have never been part of a church which even acknowledged Lent. In spite of that, I have always been intrigued by this 40-day event.  I get the feeling that if done right it could be the kind of season that restores your connection with God, gives you a sense of self-awareness and peace that we lose so easily in our hectic world, and at the very least can be the breaking of bad habits and establishment of good ones.

Confession: because Lent was never apart of my church growing up, I know nothing about it. I have no official education on what it means or how to do it or why we do it (I’m planning to read this for starters: http://christianity.about.com/od/holidaytips/qt/whatislent.htm), but I hold onto any hope for a fresh start or a shift in perspective. Maybe that sounds shallow , but I need any hope and inspiration I can find right now. I think in our world, we are just so busy and overly-connected that for some of us, we need to get our alignment fixed more frequently than we know. I think giving something up, as many of my friends do for Lent, can be a good start for that looking inward and readjusting. In this blog post by Wayne Meisel called Lent:Spring Training for Christians, Wayne shares that his mom encouraged him to not only give things up, but to replace them with something he would rather do, and that each Lent has brought him a new epiphany with lasting impact. Wayne also does great job of putting into words how the simple act of giving something up can be transformative.

So what are you going to give up for Lent? And what will you replace it with?

I’ll have to think about it for a little bit.

Is This Depression?

Every so often in my life, I withdraw. I don’t care too much about anything. I don’t care to eat, exercise, read, or be with loved ones. It is hard to focus on my job. I become apathetic about school well beyond the usual. I don’t even care to dream and wish. I see no future For myself. It is like this strange blanket of fog comes over me and follows me around for a bit. I sleep a lot or watch lots of TV. Everything feels threatening. I am confused. Is it OCD? Depression? GAD? All of them?

I think I am a pretty energetic person. I am normally a hopeful person. My blog is testament to the fact that I am full of dreams and am motivated to “just keep swimming”. I think I have a wonderful and exciting life! So what is this? I have had some very bad obsessions lately, so maybe that has set me up for this. Sorry guys, more questions than hopeful revelations in this blog. It is a very strange thing, not to hope or care or enjoy life.

Why 10 Year Old Me Had It Right

I went home this weekend for some much needed family time. OCD and anxiety seem to lessen their grip on me when I am in my childhood home 🙂 I ‘m sure the family dog helps too! I was chatting with my mom today as she was getting ready for the day when my eyes wandered onto some artwork framed on the wall.

I have always been aware of the existence of this artwork, seeing it in the corner of my eye whenever I had entered that room. Each time I have seen it I have also , somewhere in my brain, consciously recognized it as artwork I had created as a child. It was not until today, however, that I really decided to look at these souvenirs from my childhood. These were significant pieces! When I was about 10, I had taken the standard “trace-your-hand” assignment and turned it into a vibrant identity piece with all the things my 10 year old self had felt were defining symbols of my identity (complete with a watercolor N’sync logo on my pointer finger). In another frame was a poem I had written for my mother, paired with a painting of my mother and I as fairies floating above purple hydrangeas. These were some darn good hydrangeas people!

In that moment, as I stood appreciating those relics from my past, I suddenly recovered some wisdom that I think most people lose as they leave behind their childhood. Memories of me writing and painting and drawing  as a child for hours on the weekend came flooding back to me.  I remembered Saturdays spent creating and painting while time flew past. I did not notice anything or anyone around me. It was just me, paper, water colors, and sometimes music. It was sacred to me, and as a child, it just happened. And it made me so happy. Silly pictures that would never be seen or loved by anyone but my parents were so gratifying! I enjoyed creating for the simple act of creating and would just lose myself in it.

Ah yes. That fantastic and mysterious thing the great psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi captured in his theory of flow  (you should go read about it, it’s pretty awesome!).

As I got older, I abandoned my creativity. I believed that painting and writing, unless I was exceptional, would not allow me to be the successful adult I was hoping to be. So why do it at all?  By the time I was 14, I was spending my Saturdays creating elaborate timelines for how I was going to get accepted into the Air Force Academy, getting ahead with extra classes, working, researching,  etc. While the specific goals have changed, the habit of replacing activities that bring about that natural state of flow and contentment with activities in the name of progress has not. While ambition is not a bad thing and dedicating energy to lofty goals has brought me far, I lost the natural wisdom 10 year old me possessed when I decided it was not worth spending unknown amounts of time on Saturdays bringing my imagination to life.

Why do we make such extreme decisions? Sure, I probably can’t paint unlimited amounts of water colors now as a 24 year old every weekend (or can I?), but who said I couldn’t do it for an hour? Or even 30 minutes here and there? Why is it that when once I had a closet full of art supplies, I now struggle to find a marker in my room? When and why did I decide that growing up meant zero tolerance for the stuff that naturally made me happy? I know that anything that naturally induces such extreme happiness and mindfulness should be a constant in one’s life, and yet some part of me seems to cringe at the very idea of allowing such a thing! Hmm. Interesting.  I bet I would feel a whole lot better every day if I just allowed myself to be uninhibited in creating again just once a week. I suppose though, now that I think about, this blog counts 🙂

Oh look! A TED talk about flow. Let’s watch it:

The Big Decision: Taking A Break From School

This weekend I took a really big step in the right direction towards being kind to myself and enabling myself to get in kick-butt condition for fighting anxiety and OCD. I decided, 6 days before the big deadline that was supposed to define my purpose in life, the great application that I spent 2 years as a post-bac and many sleepless nights preparing for, that I was taking a break from school. I would not be going through with my graduate applications this cycle. I’m still processing what it all means, but the gift of a year to myself is a big deal! I’m excited. We live in a world that finds less and less value in being kind to oneself. This is perhaps the most rebellious thing I have ever done 😉 I am looking forward to OCD support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy, investigating my options with medication, and learning as much as I can about OCD. “Time” will no longer be an obstacle, for now I will have plenty of it. And I have no doubts at all that when I return to grad apps, I will be a healthier, happier, and more mindful me.

I’m a Doormat to OCD

That’s the truth. I let OCD walk all over me. I’m kind of tired of hearing me whine about it myself.

I have just finished walking. After I drive, I go on walks. I don’t want to go on them, but it’s the compulsion to retrace part of the route I just drove because OCD is telling me I might have hit someone with my car and not realized it. So when I have exhausted the  driving in circles bit of the ritual, I decide to walk it. That’s a lot of time, but I tell myself to turn it into something good. Exercise! Right? :-/

Today I walked further than I have ever walked before. Along the main street, I walked until OCD was satisfied, but then I wondered if I had dropped something. No idea what that could have been. I know I did not drop anything. But OCD thinks it might have been my birth certificate or something ridiculous. I let OCD do it again, chisel away at my life again, hour by hour each day. And as I was walking home, I reflected on the sheer size that OCD has scooped out of my daily life. It’s huge. OCD is centerstage. And then I reflected on what I actually do about it. Nothing.

I have great OCD workbooks, unread and scattered about my room. I have a voicemail from the psychiatrist’s office, the second one they’ve left for my follow-up appointment to get started on my treatment plan. I guess it’s just time. I have to face the music. I have to give things up. I might have to give up straight A’s. I will have to give up money. I can’t keep worshiping at the altar of school and work. They don’t deserve my limitless devotion. Instead, I think I do. I think I deserve my time. I think my family deserves to have me be myself again. I think money spent on meds and therapy will be a great investment. I will do anything my boss or my professors demand, and my OCD, but I won’t do anything for me? Hmm…

I Mean It This Time: Goals and Intentions

I like to read about people who seem to be zen, calm, and mindful. I don’t ever do what they say they do, but I sure like to read about it .Someone whose zen I always wish I could absorb through reading about them is Tara Stiles, a very successful yoga teacher with blog, books, and a handy-dandy yoga youtube channel.

She recently posted on her website a blog about taking time to set daily intentions. I get really excited about these sorts of things: intentions, goal-setting, being kind to yourself, etc. On and on and on. Problem is, I never actually do anything with these wonderful words of wisdom. I also think that I never do anything with these great ideas because I set the bar too high. “Too high” is not even the right phrase; I set them in outer space on the edge of a parallel universe. I’ve come to realize I am really great at setting lofty goals that just don’t work with my lifestyle at this point in time. And I am an all-or-nothing kind of lady. If I can’t get up at 5 am to make that 6 am yoga class and go running afterwards, before I go to work that is, then why even try? Result: I can’t live that way and after one day of trying, 90 days later, the only exercise I get is walking to my car in the parking lot.

I do the same with school and work, which has technically worked out fine, since when one does the whole shoot for the moon thing you can still “land among stars”  and all that. The problem with shooting not just for the moon, but for a parallel universe at the edge of space, is that you get in this cycle of maximum effort and output in overdrive followed by falling short of your goals. And then you get upset about not meeting goals you were never meant to meet in the first place. And then you are too tired to even shoot for the moon.  And then you just watch too much Netflix all weekend because you don’t want to do a single thing more that requires effort.

So I really want to do this. I love Tara Stile’s blogs and videos because she keeps it simple. Simple is so awesome! It’s calm. It’s clean. It’s realistic. I’m starting to believe simple can be incredibly satisfying and that I should really try it. Check out her blogpost to see what she decided to set for her daily intentions (she challenges her readers to commit to 30 days of this by the way).

So here goes: I intend to leave my house happy when I start my day.

Ok, that sounds weak-sauce and vague, but let me explain. I am a morning person actually. Not a 5 am kind of person, but a 6:30 am I enjoy the quiet morning to drink coffee in one place kind of morning-lark. Doing yoga for 10 minutes, doing my makeup, or reading something from my OCD books for 10 minutes. Basically, I know that on the rare occasion I was able to do something that was really good for me for even 10 minutes in the morning, I can walk into class or into work ready to perform well, and be a pleasant person at the same time. Most days, I roll out of bed, frustrated with my poor planning and anxious about the days work, and then I get to work or school after rushing to make it, and my peer asks me how I am, and I grumble “Good” when my tone says “BAD”, complain about something, and then my mind is everywhere else and I don’t perform well. What a sad way to start each day.

I plan to make this intention happen by making it a top priority that each morning, before I leave the house, I do just 10 minutes of something that is really restorative for me. Can’t be something related to productivity or school or work or errands. Simple and flexible. Let’s see what happens.

I’m off to a good start! Day 1: I wrote this blog post 🙂

The First Panic Attack

I had my first panic attack last night. Over something ridiculous. I am ashamed to post this (luckily, I blog anonymously).  A lot of people will read this post and roll their eyes in disgust. 

Ever since I was a small child, school has been my identity.  I need praise. I need perfection. I push myself to the extreme to get it. That was true when I was 7, and it is true now, and I am nearly 24. I don’t know how to define myself with anything else. It is my life. I have been superhuman in the realm of learning for basically my entire life. I suck at sports. I don’t make much money. I’m not the pretty one or the funny one. I even suck at being a Christian.  I have no talents or hobbies. As my good friend told me today, I have put all of my self-esteem and identity into one very familiar and, for me, stable bucket.

The problem is that when you are 24, you have other things you need to juggle besides your university coursework. Life happens, and you sometimes need to give your school work less attention and effort than you want to. Most people don’t have panic attacks about that. They just realize that paying the bills or maintaining relationships have much heavier consequence than messing up an assignment or exam. They make choices.

Last night, I basically fell short of my academic standards by a looonnnggg shot. It was pathetic. And the moment I realized it, I felt light-headed, my stomach hurt, my hands felt numb and shook, and my throat closed up. I felt out of control and wondered if I would die if I did not calm down.  I found out that this was a panic attack. According the definition, I think I have technically had lots of small panic attacks while driving, but this was the first time I wondered if I was having some kind of allergic reaction and my throat was closing up. 

I am alive. The point though, is not to share that I had a panic attack. I guess the point is for me to ask what is wrong with me? What kind of distorted worldview do I have that submitting something one minute late and sloppy for the first time in my life is what it takes to make my throat close up? Let’s not even go into the crying myself to sleep and then staying in bed all day today. I felt like my whole being was about to crumble with this one incident. I was no longer Supergirl in the only part of my life that has consistently gone well for me. I don’t know why my reaction to this objectively tiny event is maladaptive, over the top, and so uncontrollable for me . Probably sleep deprivation and the loads of coffee were not helpful. Clearly something needs to change. My entire well-being can’t reside in the basket of academia. My brain needs to see the world differently. 

Can I learn to be happy without things being OK? Perfect? What really matters in life? How do I start to teach my brain to see the world and myself in much healthier ways?