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? 

But What If I’m Right?

It feels like fear. Not natural reasonable fear in the face of a visible threat. It’s just this stupid nagging voice at the back of my mind, in the pit of my stomach. Sometimes, I know it is OCD and anxiety. Other times, I really don’t know! That drives me nuts, when I can’t tell what is OCD and what truly requires my attention. Why can’t I be a bit more devil-may-care!?? I admire those people. They know they are going to be alright at the end of it.

And it strikes me out of nowhere at the worst possible times. Like right now, when I am trying to study for an exam that promises to do injury to the best of students.

I can’t shake the fact that this little nagging voice ends up being my true intuition 50% of the time and OCD-related monkey business with no foundation in reality the other 50% of the time. To make matters worse, I  think that even when it is correct, that some mistake I fear I have made really happened, I can’t tell if my OCD still distorted things because the crazy devastating consequence of that mistake is nowhere to be seen. Yes, the mistake happened. Was it a horrible ending? Not at all. The event I dreaded was real, but none of the consequences appeared to be. In fact, I don’t think anybody noticed or cared but me.

Let me give you an example:

I recently noticed a new employee at work completing on online learning module that I didn’t recognize. I knew it was required of everyone within 30 days of hire, and so I assumed I had done it, but that little voice inside of me said something wasn’t quite right and I’d better check it out. But I’ve been working here for almost a year! If my fears are right, someone would have told me. So I moved on. It must be OCD, making up some reason for me to get in trouble and be fired. 3 months later, I log in to my account and see that though I have no outstanding training, I totally did NOT do that required module! I was right!!! I had done a different one. No one noticed, but I panicked. It wasn’t my fault, it was all HR, but I panicked. So after 8 hours at the office, I came home and spent 2 more hours on  Friday night finishing that training and one more just to be safe. Who does that?

Sometimes, however, I am wrong. Like the time I thought maybe it was quite possible that my scantron for the final had slipped out of my professor’s pile and she would give me an F, so I emailed her. Of course, my scantron was safe and sound.

This morning, this beautiful Sunday morning, when I have to study  and run errands and go to church, I wake up and BAM! Suddenly I remember that about 3 or 4 years ago when I was a young undergrad,  I and an ex-boyfriend had tried to set up a webpage and paypal to collect donations and raise awareness for an endangered organization in our community. I recall being very wary of the idea suddenly and then being too busy; I wanted to leave fundraising in the hands of a separate group who clearly had a better handle on the issue. I also recall before hand trying to make a donation myself and the paypal link I made not working. Finally, I recall leaving the website in my ex’s very incapable hands after deleting the link to the paypal, etc. But he wanted me to leave the account open, as he still believed it could make a difference, so I left everything with him.

Cut to the present, and my big fear is that my bank account had somehow been linked to that paypal, the the ex idiot used it unknowingly (because he would do that), forgot about it, and then when our campaign to save that organization failed and all the separate efforts in our community shutdown, that somehow some donation money was left sitting in my account or in his paypal and we all didn’t notice. Because the details are so fuzzy from time passing, I can’t be certain. I want to scan every bank statement from that year, but those statements from years ago are no longer available. I even asked my mom, who when I was an undergraduate student, monitored my bank statements as a condition for helping me through  my undergraduate education financially, & she assured me she would have noticed.  I have called Paypal and they assure me that my bank account is not associated with the paypal of my ex.  I recall a big $0 and faulty donation link. I remember tying up loose ends. But what ifs abound.  Freak accidents happen. I knew I was thorough, but…what if, what if, what if…and I go to burn at the stake. Because that is how all OCD or not OCD-related fears end in my head. I must ensure nothing bad happened.  How unjust if someone donated money and it didn’t go where it was supposed to go?! My brain can’t bear the idea. What would people think of me?! I would need to fix it. Check and fix. Check and fix.

Wow. I feel loads better writing that out. The “what if I’m right” remains, but I kind of feel like I can move on with my life today. Let’s say, worst case scenario, the odds were defied and my worst fears are true. I was a very young individual with the best intentions; my guess is I probably won’t burn at the stake for something so small and unlikely from so long ago. I have no choice but to move on. I have done all I can to satisfy my anxiety. I could go order those ancient bank statements right now & scan every line, “just to check” & satisfy OCD , but life is moving forward and I need to as well.

PAUSE! I Insist.

I have homework to do. Emails to answer.  And I need to go running.  I don’t care about a ten point assignment, whether I responded to your email immediately, or cellulite right now. I will take time to pause.

I’ve never done that before today. Have you?

Heart racing, head aching, body tense, and lungs useless. That’s my body asking me to pause. I had a lunch break to be efficient with. Instead, I decided to just grab a short meditation podcast, set a timer on my phone, and laid down on the floor of my room. And you know what? I feel loads better. I think the  “pause” button  might also be “reset” button sometimes. I think being kind to myself is worth more than being efficient, although people around me may not agree.

Looking for free meditation podcasts? Check out iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/meditation-mindfulness-baylor/id572991148

The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it. ~ Sydney J. Harris

Wandering/Blubbering In the Wilderness

Don’t quote me on this, but I vaguely remember many a bible story and study about the Israelite people, newly freed from bondage in Egypt, only to wander in the wild desert for 40 years. God was purposely withholding from the people the “promised land”.  They wandered aimlessly in circles to their death, paying for their grumbling, ingratitude, and lack of faith…or something like that. They are freed from slavery in the face of impossible odds, then complain about the food on their trek to freedom. They turn from giving God their thanks to inventing more convenient deities. They even choose to run from the promised land at some point, overcome by fear of the work they might have to do to claim it.  Oh, look . About.com has outlined this story, which can be found in the book of Numbers, since I’m pretty sure I got some of that out of order.

The point is, for some reason, my moping about today ended in my thinking of that old story. I’ve been having a rough summer, as I’ve written before, and for no good reason. My checking is at an ALL TIME HIGH and I waste hours each day. I have not been fighting it very well and often feel like just giving in. In addition, I feel like I am rotting inside and am very hard to please, and I’ve got no good reason. It reminds me a bit of something I went through in college, a year when I suddenly often found myself crying on the bathroom floor with no good reason. It was the same then as it is now: I have lots of reasons to be happy with my life, so why am I so often so unhappy?  Actually, there may be some reason:  I do know that the year I was crying like that on the floor until someone had to come get me, I was beginning to do my OCD rituals. I cringe when I remember the mess I was on that bathroom floor; my poor ex had to mop me up and probably thought he had a nutjob for a girlfriend.  I don’t understand why I did not catch it at the time, that maybe this was when the changes in my brain were first happening. I’d never checked like that before, and had never been that anxious. But something happened in me that summer, and I just sank into it and ignored it until it became what it is today.

So is there something to this pattern? My feeling overwhelmed by the anxiety until I end up blubbering with no known trigger? Don’t get me wrong; I’m trying to have a sense of humor about my behaviors and my OCD, because I need to lighten the load, but I in no way am saying “blubbering” and “no good reason” as a way to demean or misrepresent the very real impact of an anxiety disorder. I know what’s up. I have a very real problem, one with behavioral and biochemical roots and reasons, like any other health problem. My health problem does not make me break out in a rash or mess with my blood sugar (not directly and not yet anyway), but instead my brain is constantly sounding the alarm, be it a loud siren or a never ending buzz. But the noise and the anxiety is neverending, and that constant feeling in my body, that constant thought process in my brain which results in actions that disrupt my life daily, it drains the batteries and leaves me feeling pretty hopeless.

Anyway, back to my thoughts about my current wilderness: I am here and I can’t undo it. I am back where I once was, breaking out in sobs for “no good reason” and letting anxiety wreck my life and my spirit.  I am human, and I will find myself in my desert again, but if there is anything I retained from that Sunday school lesson, it is these two things: 1) I need to remember God is here to help me but 2) I really need to help myself too, as much as I can, and not make destructive choices that will keep me wandering until the years tick by. I can’t be afraid of the hard work it’s going to take to get to my promised land.

Time to sleep, so I can try again tomorrow.

Mindfulness Moment: Candles that Smell Like Cookies

This photo, "candle" is copyright (c) 2007 Jamin Gray  and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).
This photo, “candle” is copyright (c) 2007 Jamin Gray and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Life has been feeling a little heavy lately, hasn’t it?  Everyone at school and work has been cray-cray and exhausted. My loved ones are feeling overworked and stressed.  My own blog has been missing the usual silver-lining; I feel I’ve been fixating on the hard stuff (my OCD), and forgetting to also document the good stuff. Time for me to blog about a happy mindfulness moment, but where to start? I found my inspiration in the first thing I decided to do when I got home tonight: light a candle.

My mother bought me a jumbo-sized Yankee Candle for Christmas, the Christmas Cookie scent.  Have you thought about how amazing candles are lately?  I think part of the allure might be the beauty and power of something as primitive as fire; it’s captivating and soothing to be near, like a mini vacation from the artificial and man-made things we surround ourselves with. Candles seem to say “Take your time”.  A room bathed in candlelight just feels better than a room with glaring fluorescent lamps (confession: I  fancy fire so much, I have been guilty of playing the yule log fireplace DVDin the winter). Nothing humans can craft or manufacture could ever beat what nature has to offer; it’s pretty hard to match the majesty of fire, trees, and  lightening, don’t you think? What’s awesome about candles is that you get to harness that little bit of nature on the end of a wick, in a glass jar, in the comfort of your room.

It also helps that minutes after lighting my candle, my room smells like someone has been baking sugar cookies in it all day. As you know from my previous post about cupcakes, the smell of baked goods induces euphoria in me. (My boyfriend said I should get a perfume that smells like donuts. I laughed at him, but I think he might be onto something!).

Best of all, how wonderful that something so simple, accessible, and cheap as a candle in my room can help anchor me to the present, providing me with instant relaxation.

In conclusion, I bring you a quote about candles (and perhaps optimism) ! 🙂

There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.”

– Robert Alden