Letting Go of Expectations

From hectic life in the USA to island life as a stay-at-home-wife, this blog follows the musings of an anxious Type-A as she learns to slow down and tune in to the important things in life

 

Month: October 2016 (page 1 of 2)

The Ebb and Flow of Mental Illness

I have been super productive lately. I’ve done lots of laundry (and managed to put it away), I’ve kept the dishes from piling up in the sink, I’ve swept all the dog hair off the floor (most days), and I’ve knocked a few things off my to-do list every day.

I’ve even gotten things done on my to-do list that I really really really hate doing. Such as anything involving making a phone call, or going to a new place.

While that might not seem like a big accomplishment to some, it has been for me. Because my anxiety causes me to feel overwhelmed to the point of complete inaction at times, getting stuff done is kind of a big deal.

What’s even more exciting about this is that when I have stepped out of my safe little box recently, things have gone well. For instance, the other day I had to take public transportation somewhere. I hate public transportation due to the lack of control that I have over the situation. Not only that, but I had to take this dreaded public transportation to a place that I had never been before to send a package.

Cue meltdown.

I didn’t know exactly where the building was. I didn’t know what bus stop I should get off at. I didn’t know what the inside of the building was going to look like. I didn’t know how much shipping was going to cost. I didn’t know if they would sell boxes that I could use to send my package.

I didn’t know what the people who worked there were going to be like. Would they be helpful, or hurried, or would they get frustrated with me since I didn’t know their procedures? I didn’t know how busy it was going to be. I didn’t know if they would have a bathroom there, or where it would be if I needed to use it.

In short, there were a lot of unknowns. I was also going by myself, which meant that I was going to have to make all the decisions. This is something that I am A) bad at, and B) hate doing. My anxiety told me that the whole situation was full of potentially disastrous outcomes.

Despite all of that, I went to the post office and nothing bad happened. My anxiety didn’t flare up. In fact, the trip gave me some time to enjoy the beautiful morning that we were having as I walked from the bus stop to the post office and back again. And when I got home, I felt accomplished, strong, and ready to take on the world.

It was a great feeling. But then the reality came crashing over me. I remembered times in the not-at-all-distant past when I would not have been able to overcome the long list of unknowns. Instead, I would have made up excuses about why I couldn’t make the trip to the post office and I would have kept putting it off.

As I remembered this, I also thought about how my anxiety will rear its ugly head again. There will come a time in the not-too-distant future when I will feel like I can’t fight through the lies that my anxiety tells me about why I can’t or shouldn’t or won’t do something.

That realization was almost enough to take away the feeling of invincibility that I had when I got back from the post office. I’m not going to let that happen, though. I’m going to hold on to my victories in the battles that I have against anxiety, no matter how big or small they are.

Hopefully, these moments of victory will accumulate, and I can use them to fight back against the negative, worried thoughts that anxiety gives me. Maybe then I will be able to win more of the battles, and the better times will start to last a little longer. Maybe if I win enough battles, the better times will last a lot longer.

No matter what, though, I know that I will have times when my anxiety is better and I will have times when it is worse. This will happen throughout my entire life. I don’t like to think about it, but I know it is true. I know that battling anxiety will be hard sometimes. Really hard. But I will keep doing it.

And maybe that’s the key. Maybe it isn’t the battles won that is the true triumph over mental illness.

The true triumph is simply continuing to fight back.

 

Check out part two of this post here.

3 Habits to Boost Happiness

One of the goals that I have during my extended stay on a Caribbean island is to learn how to live a happier, more meaningful, stress-free life. Though life on an island has its perks and lessons, sunny skies and sandy beaches are not a cure-all. They certainly help, but daily household tasks, financial worries, anxiety, and a history of living a busy, stressful life don’t just disappear.

With that in mind, I decided to look up some techniques that I can incorporate into my daily routine to increase happiness. Since my other goal is to share this journey with you, here are the results of my search!


1. Be More Mindful

The Oxford Dictionary defines mindfulness as “A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations…”. While mindfulness can be a type of meditation where you focus on the sensations around you and bring your mind back to those sensations whenever it starts to wander, I like to think about it more as a way to go through your day.

Instead of getting caught up in the thoughts in your head, try to take a little more notice of the world around you. Maybe being mindful is something you try to do throughout your day. Pull yourself out of your thoughts occasionally and really observe where you are and what is happening around you. Observe how you feel or what you are thinking, and accept those thoughts without trying to change them.

Or, maybe, you set aside a little time for being more mindful. My favorite way to do this is to go on a walk and really take in the color of the sky and the sights of the plants or people or terrain around you. Listen to the noises in the distance and feel how warm or cold the air is. Coexist there with your thoughts.

However you decide to incorporate mindfulness into your day, it can help you to feel happier, reduce stress, and live life more meaningfully outside of your own head.


2. Meditate

We’ve all heard of the many benefits of meditation, such as reduced stress and better focus. People who regularly practice meditation have also reported physical improvements, such as lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system. Meditation has become so well-known in recent years for improving both physical and mental health that a number of highly successful companies have even incorporated it into the work days of their employees.

A lot of research is being done into the why’s and how’s of meditation and its effects. One scientific study showed that changes in the brains of study participants could be detected after practicing meditation for just 8 weeks. Another study has shown that meditation can decrease rumination, which is a common feature of both anxiety and depression.

Meditation can seem daunting, and it can be really hard to clear your thoughts and focus just on your breath or your surroundings. There are tons of resources out there to help get you started, though! Meditating can be as easy as getting an app on your phone or finding a guided meditation video.

Remember, meditating is a skill that will take practice, but the time you put into it will be well worth the rewards in both physical health and happiness.


3. Start a Gratitude Journal

Expressing gratitude is something we do every day, at least in small amounts. We thank the person who holds a door open for us. The person who rings up our purchase thanks us for shopping and tells us to have a nice day. With a little extra effort, you can let gratitude improve your life in a number of ways.

In one study, it was found that people who wrote about things that they were grateful for exhibited more positivity about their lives than people who wrote about either neutral or negative life events. Other studies have contributed to the long list of benefits that gratitude can provide, ranging from better mental and physical wellbeing to stronger relationships.

One easy way to experience more gratitude in your life is to start a gratitude journal. The idea is simple. Just write down the things you are grateful for, and make the commitment to write in your journal consistently, whether that is every day, once a week, or anywhere in between. You can also check out these tips, and find gratitude journal apps on android or apple!

If taking just a few minutes a day to write down five things that you are grateful for can increase your overall happiness in life, why not start today?


The biggest thing to remember is that happiness is a journey, not a destination. And most of the time, journeys are hard work. It takes commitment to develop a new habit and planning to fit it into your busy schedule. If that new habit can help you reduce stress and improve your quality of life, though, I think you’ll be glad you did it!

Which one (or two, or three) of these techniques do you want to try? Leave your answer in the comments below!

Learning to Live on Island Time

When we were preparing to come to Grenada, many people warned us about “island time”. They said that everything was going to take longer, from receiving a call back to getting food at your table in a restaurant. We prepared ourselves as much as we could for things to take more time than they did in the hustle-and-bustle of the US.

We even experienced island time before we got to Grenada when we were looking for apartments. Some rental companies seemed aware of the culture of instant customer service that most students coming to the island were used to and replied to our inquiries right away. Others, however, took days to hear back from, if we got a response at all.

It turned out that we were apartment hunting at the same time as a lot of other people, and places were filling up quickly. This, combined with slow response times from many of the people that we contacted, led to my anxiety-fueled fear that we would never find a decent apartment.

As is the case with many thoughts that are a product of anxiety, this fear of not finding a good apartment in time did not turn into reality. We did, in fact, find an apartment that we like very much. However, this first encounter with island time left me a little apprehensive about living with it once we got to Grenada.

Now that we have been here for a few months, we have had plenty of encounters with island time. One of the first things that another student told us was to multiply any amount of time that someone gives you by three. For example, if someone says that they will meet you in 15 minutes, expect them to be there in 45. I was skeptical of this at first, but it has proven accurate so far!

Another aspect of island time is that places might not be open when you want them to be. Coming from a college town in the US where you can get any type of food you want at 3am, I was surprised when people here boasted about the restaurant (yes, singular) that offers 24-hour takeout.

After I finished grieving the loss of easily accessible fast food and considered the relative size of the college town here compared to the one I was used to, it made sense that there were fewer places to get a quick bite to eat any hour of the day or night. At least places would be open during the day at their regularly scheduled hours, right?

Wrong.

One of the first restaurants that we went to was closed on a random week day with no indication as to why. There was a holiday earlier in the week, and my guess is that they decided to take a couple extra days off. Oh well, if you can’t go to a restaurant, at least you can always rely on the grocery store, right?

Wrong again.

The grocery store’s recent floor re-surfacing project, which already involved limited hours compared to their regular schedule, ended up being extended about an extra week. Their hours became more limited, and they even opened later than their already delayed start time on at least one occasion.

Any one of those things happening when I lived in the US would have driven me crazy. Now, though, I just have to laugh about it.

You see, the key to living with island time is living on island time. This might seem obvious, but as a person who always kept busy and had a rigid schedule, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make the transition. No doubt living the stay-at-home-wife life made it easier, but I don’t feel like I had to make an effort to live on island time. Island time found me, and it has been incredibly rewarding.

When I bought a vehicle from a local, what started out as his gracious offer to help me get car insurance turned into an all-day affair where I got to try authentic oil-down and see beautiful parts of the island that I wouldn’t have otherwise. That was only possible because I allowed myself to be on island time.

Not being able to get groceries when you set out to could easily make your day worse. But when you’re not rushing to get things done based on some pre-determined timeline, you have the opportunity to think about the things that are truly important – the things that really need to get done – and you are able to prioritize those. Maybe you can even prioritize something that you want to do.

I realize not everyone will have the opportunity to experience a slow, purposeful life lived on island time. It is hard to slow down when commuting and work and exercising and running errands and social engagements can take up so much of your time. I know that after two years on island time, I will return to that life, and it will be hard to hold onto the lessons that I’ve learned here while slowing down.

However, the three things that I have learned on island time and hope to keep with me throughout my life are: 1) Make it a priority to leave a little time for yourself each day. Do something that you want to do, not something that you have to do. 2) Don’t feel like time spent relaxing is time wasted. Those moments spent in slowness, either by yourself or with others, are likely to be the things you remember most – and most fondly – later on. 3) Live deliberately and with purpose, instead of just reacting to what life throws at you. This will make even the mundane moments more worthwhile and vibrant.

I can’t take island time with me, and while I’m inclined to be sad about that, that would go against the true meaning of living on island time. Island time is, at its essence, about being more mindful and present in the current moment.

And that’s something I can always take with me.

Long Distance Friendship

This might come as a surprise, but I tend to form expectations about how things will turn out in the future. Shocker, I know. I especially do this with things that I haven’t experienced before, and then I cling to those expectations for security. I don’t like things that are surprising or unfamiliar, so having a clear picture in my mind of how things will unfold can be very reassuring.

Coming to Grenada with Husband, I had an expectation about how the relationships that I had with friends and family back home would change. So far I have been proven absolutely wrong. And I am really glad about that for a change.

Don’t get me wrong, coming to an island where everyone I’ve ever known is hundreds of miles away across a vast body of water certainly did change my relationships. It was just not in the way that I predicted.

What I’ve learned so far is that when you live near people, it can be hard to make time to spend with them. You tell yourself that you are too busy, or too tired, or that you will see them next week. Definitely. Probably.

You take interactions for granted because you will see the person again at work tomorrow. Maybe you don’t make the time to talk to someone as often as you should because, somehow, living in relative proximity makes you feel more connected to them than you really are.

When you live far away from your friends and family, though, there is no proximity, no chance to visit them easily, no thinking that you will probably see them soon. While this can put strain on relationships, it doesn’t have to.

Luckily, we live in a time when it is possible to communicate with people all over the globe almost instantaneously. Thanks in large part to this, my relationships with friends and family haven’t stagnated as I feared they would. Instead, they’ve just changed, and not for the worse.

Now, when I communicate with friends and family back home, those interactions seem more deliberate and meaningful. The scarcity of their company makes those emails and messages all the more important to me, and I don’t take for granted the words that we are able to exchange like I did before.

When you are able to spend a lot of time with someone, oftentimes the conversations become diluted with filler just to pass the time. However, when you are no longer able to interact with someone frequently, the conversations become distilled and you find yourself talking about the things that are truly important.

Distance can even open up fun avenues of communication that you probably didn’t use when you lived close to friends and family, such as writing letters. Maybe it’s because gifts are one of my love languages, but when I take the time to write a letter and put it in the mail, it makes me feel much closer to that person. It is also nice to receive something in the mail besides bills!

I’m not going to lie, staying in touch can be difficult. Sitting down to write to your friends is not nearly as fun as spending a Friday night out together. For those of us that are bad at answering texts or messages under normal circumstances, there can be an added layer of complexity when that becomes your only form of communication.

The effort that it takes to stay in contact with people will cause some relationships that were tenuous before to falter, but the effort required to maintain relationships, especially over distance, is not always a bad thing. On the contrary, if you put the effort into maintaining a relationship when you live far away from someone, it will only make that relationship stronger.
Another thing that I’ve come to realize is that living farther away from someone can even increase the amount you communicate with them. The person that I have experienced this the most with is my brother.

Growing up, we were always close enough. As we entered the bustle of college and adult life, we would see each other at dinner nights with our parents and all the extended family functions, but we rarely contacted each other just to talk.

Now that we’re in different countries, I’ve talked to him more on the phone in the last few months than I have in the past year, and our conversations are much more in depth than they used to be. I think that we used to feel closer to each other than we really were because we lived near one another and would see each other fairly regularly. Distance gave us the perspective we needed to see where we wanted our relationship to go.

I don’t think that you need to move to an island away from all the people you know and love to experience this change in communication and relationships. All the change in location did for me was give me a different perspective, and you can change your perspective wherever you are.

All it really takes is a bit of reflection about the relationships that you value, and making a commitment to not take them for granted. Make a commitment to see people more often, even if you just had to work late. Make a commitment to call you grandmother more often. Make a commitment to put even a little more time and effort into the relationships that mean the most to you.

It won’t be easy, but I think it will be worth it. After all, what fun would life be without the people who give it meaning?

What Anxiety (Can) Look Like

I was hoping to wait a while before bringing up the topic of anxiety because, well, I have a hard time talking about it. And the funny thing is, my anxiety-fueled fear of how other people will perceive me is the very thing that keeps me from bringing up the subject. After much deliberation, I finally decided to bring it up because it is something that we need to talk about. In fact, it is something that we need to talk about much more often.

The road that I took to finding out that I have anxiety – and then finally doing something about it – was a long one. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I finally got help. It was then that I also finally got confirmation that what I was feeling passed beyond the realm of “normal” and into “mental illness”. For over two decades, friends and family members tried to be helpful, but ultimately dismissed my concerns that I might have anxiety. They would say that I was just “being a perfectionist” or “it’s normal for everyone to feel that way sometimes.”

My anxiety also did a great job of concealing itself. My anxiety gave me a tremendous amount of concern about what everyone thought of me. I didn’t ever want to come off as sad, insecure, clingy, afraid, angry, nervous, unraveled, or unable to cope. In my mind, the only thing worse than feeling those things would have been if other people knew that I felt them.

What that left was a quiet “perfectionist” who got good grades all the way through high school. But after high school, my anxiety morphed into something that seems a bit contradictory to the picture of anxiety that I usually see. Today, instead of my anxiety making me motivated and productive and organized, I often feel completely overwhelmed by it. Most of the time, I feel so overwhelmed that I can’t get anything done.

I make lists of things that I want to get accomplished in a day or a week, which can be helpful for many people with anxiety. Unlike many people, though, I usually become so overwhelmed by the perceived enormity of the tasks on the list that I become paralyzed. When that happens, I can’t bring myself to complete a single thing.

It carries over into my social interactions as well. It often takes me a long time to respond to a text or an email, or especially a phone call, because I’m so afraid that I will say the wrong thing. And if I have to tell a person “No”? I feel like I might as well be stealing their first born child. To make things worse, if I wait too long to respond to something, I end up feeling bad that I didn’t do it sooner. Responding becomes harder and harder to do, and the pattern of failing to act continues.

Things as simple as spending too much time in social situations or Husband re-arranging the living room can send me into a state of near-catatonic inaction for the rest of the day. Or longer.

I feel like I am always perched at the top of my window of tolerance, where it is easy for little things to push me out of my window. When that happens, I quickly fall from overstimulation into paralyzing inaction.

My anxiety doesn’t look like the high functioning anxiety characterized by busyness and achievement. Nor does it look like panic attacks or insomnia or restlessness, or any of the other things that I feel like it should look like.

I’ve never seen another example of my type of anxiety, which makes me feel like a fraud. At times, it makes me feel like I can’t possibly have anxiety because, if I had anxiety, my anxiety would be perfectly captured in a post or a meme somewhere. But if that does exist, I haven’t found it. It’s incredible how alone we can feel in the face of such vibrant social media networks.

Even though I do have some of the more well-known symptoms of anxiety – feeling nausea in a new situation or one that I feel trapped in, heart palpitations, worrying and obsessing about situations beyond what is normal – I still sometimes tell myself that those don’t really count.

Maybe I do this out of habit from the years before treatment when I tried to justify my thoughts and feelings as “normal”. This does nothing but put me in a state where I am both down on myself, and not framing things in a way where I am able to approach them constructively. If I can step outside of that for long enough and view one of my thoughts, such as absolutely dreading making a phone call, as a product of anxiety, it is easier for me to accept what I am feeling, give myself a little slack for feeling that way, and then push through the discomfort into a place where I am ready to take action.

Is this a ridiculous amount of effort to make one measly phone call? Yes. Do I do it every. Single. Time? Also yes.

I feel really fortunate that I did finally seek help. Though facing certain thoughts and actions can still feel like looking up at insurmountable mountains towering around me, more often now those mountains look like hills. Occasionally, they even look like ant hills. It is frustrating to know that my anxiety will never be “cured”, and that after two steps forward a re-arranged living room could cause one step back. What keeps me striving forward is the thought that I could be happier, and also that I deserve to feel happier.

If I help one person feel less alone with this post, I will have succeeded. If you have been considering getting help, it may be one of the hardest things you ever do but I highly encourage you to do it. If you are already getting help for mental illness, keep fighting the good fight. And if you don’t fall into either of those categories, I encourage you to really listen to your friends and family with mental illness when they talk about it.

Listen, because one story at a time we can lift the cloud of judgment surrounding mental illness, and then maybe – just maybe – it won’t be so difficult to talk about anymore.

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