Driven to Silence

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Today is the day, the start of a 5-day adventure into silence. What am I doing?!?!

This crazy idea started back in May when talking to my therapist who shared with me that he had recently come back from a 7-day silent retreat out in Big Sur. He was sharing his retreat with me after I told him that there is simply too much noise in my life and it was making it hard for me to figure out what comes next. I was on the cusp of my 50th birthday and he told me to try it. What ultimately sold me was his confidence that if I removed all of the noise the answers I was looking for would appear.

I immediately BOOKED IT! I found a retreat center that was a little less “extreme” than the one my doctor had attended, one that was more approachable for someone that is just starting to explore this world. The first session they were offering was in October and I booked it before my mind had time to contemplate it.

The five months that stood between me and silence went on as “normal”. Ironically enough that normal was the build-up to a much needed break but as the months went on I barely thought about the impending retreat. As September came and went I realized that I was two weeks out from my retreat and travel plans needed to be secured. I booked a flight, then canceled, then booked another flight and then canceled. Wavering on commitments to myself is my “MO” and this retreat was proving no different. My life is full of escape hatches and as the days loomed closer I was coming up with them; work is too busy, my family needs me here, my son is coming to town that weekend, you name it, I have an escape hatch. Not this time, there would be no escape hatch because deep inside I knew I needed the retreat more than all of those reasons combined. I decided I would take the 9+ hour drive to North Carolina from Florida.

On the morning the retreat was due to start I woke at 4:00am and set out on my day long journey driving to the retreat center, driving myself to silence. My sweet, and totally opposite-of-me husband, woke early with me to help with my luggage and offer his final words of advice, “don’t join a cult”…and that my friends is what we call moral support!

The drive as it would turn out would be a journey unto itself. As I was driving from Florida to Savannah, my audiobook was playing, traffic was as expected and anticipation was mounting. At the point that I crossed the state line from Georgia into South Carolina things started to feel a bit different. I could feel a melancholy come over me and then I realized, the last time I had driven this trek was to go to my mother’s funeral in Virginia three years ago, only preceded by the many trips to Virginia during her final year. This trek had always been driven with dread, subconscious as it may have been I always knew that this drive up would always deliver heartache and the drive back was wrought in despair. As thoughts of her came flooding in, I found myself reaching for the songs that bonded she in life and now in death. I Put on one of her favorites and a car concert was in full-session, that has only been better performed when she was in the passengers seat. I was strong but lamenting singing my heart out and then searching for the next song and the next like a fiend. As the drive continued into North Carolina and up into the mountains the view became eerily familiar. Again these mountains, these homes, these roads; they are what I remember of my many trips to Virginia, only this time my arrival would not be met with her coming out on the porch to welcome me.

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View from my porch. My Mom is surely with me…breathtaking in more ways that one.

As I reached the retreat center I was in awe of the beauty. I could feel peace wash over me and immediately knew that I was where I was meant to be…today. In the present moment and ready and willing to take silence on, all-in.

The drive into silence had been a journey unto itself. It was not planned and once I was in it there was no escape hatch. As happens with feelings, when they come to the surface, shoving them back in is nearly impossible. As I park my car I feel like a champion. I have conquered half of my greatest fear; going back to her home. I did not make it up her mountain but I faced the music, literally and figuratively.

She is always “with me”, of course, and this certainly makes other people feel better to say to someone who has lost someone when they have nothing else to say…however today I am one-step closer to the place we last held hands.

As for my heart, she has always had it and still does.

Silence…so far…is not so bad.

13 hours in – 🙂

Life as I Live it – L.

Tortured by my Thoughts

I have the most overactive brain of anyone that I know. I am thinking all the time constantly going over and over every conversation, every emotion, every thought, every relationship, every bite of every food, everything!!! Nothing goes on without me overthinking the crap out of it!!! I am not certain where this comes from as I come from two human beings that never thought about what they were doing on the forefront let alone ever thought about it again.

I credit my overactive thought process for much of the success in my life and maybe for a bit of the failure. As I do I was sitting here thinking about my thoughts; if that is not an oxymoron I am not sure what is…but I digress. The first thought that came to mind was the question, “Is everything that happens in our life because of our parents?” The answer comes quickly that this cannot be the case as many people grow up without parents. Is the question then “Is everything that happens in our life formed by childhood?” If that is the case at what point do you own the responsibility?

I think about my spending habits and are quick to blame them on my Dad because my Mom was the most frugal person I have ever known. In reality, when I test this theory I realize that while I am “giving” like my Dad I am far more frivolous…maybe. Ha! Overthought but ultimately I own it. I love to spend money…guilty as charged.

I think about my children and watching them live out their lives and feel a bit of karma coming back on me as I see their choices and know they were not defined by their parents! That is not to say that they cannot place blame on us as their perception of where their character traits come from is theirs to decide…I guess?!

Ultimately I am not over-defining life I am overthinking it. Two very different things. Blaming my spending habits on my Dad is defining not thought-provoking. The overactive thought process has more to do with a constant dialogue in my brain that questions every move I make. I am rethinking conversations, wondering if I said enough or too much. For goodness sake, while I am in the conversation I am thinking about whether to stay silent, speak up or interrupt and then immediately as I take that action, I am rethinking if I should have…? Exhausting? Yes!

My actions are thought-provoking as well. Do it or don’t, should I or shouldn’t…decision made…regrets?? Nothing is done accidentally or maybe it is. Ha!! Made you dizzy yet? This is my brain, not on crack but cracking up, certifiably CRAZY.

When I came out with my first prompt journal, Seeking Normal, I sent my Dad a copy. I was proud to have published something even if it was a series of prompts and self-published (not diminishing, just stating facts) and wanted him to have it in hand. When he saw it the first thing he said was “you think too much”…what…wait…this is your “take” on my craft, hobby, seemingly greatest accomplishment outside of my career…what the heck? I think too much!!!, that is all you have for me? In defense I came back with “Maybe you don’t think enough”…but then again I already know that about him. Ha!! In defense of my Dad he is not the first nor the last to say this to me as I have heard it from my children and husband many times before and again in all cases, I am fine with it. I don’t wear it as the badge of shame that it is intended but instead as the badge of honor that I do. It is who I am for goodness sake.

While this topic can be quite comical it has its tragedy. The entire addiction that I suffer from in food is cemented in overthought. It is through the overwhelming processes I have put upon myself in overthinking every single bite, drink, and workout that manifested itself into enormous dysfunction. It is only of late that I am finally getting to a place where I can distinguish the need to eat by true cues from my body and not from my mind that is on overdrive on when, where, and how I eat.

In most areas of my life, the overactive thought process does not hold me back or hinder me as I am decisive and active in my approach however the backlash of those thoughts can be exhausting. It elicits a “do” approach rather than a “be” and in that I find my thoughts to be relentless. Again as all things in life, this can be both good and bad however in being both, it is exhausting.

My favorite “game” to play with my husband is to randomly ask at any moment in time “What are you thinking about right now?”…and his inevitable response always being “Nothing”. I envy the idea that nothing can or could be on his mind at any time. How is that possible?? I can’t drive down the road without thinking about what is in the woods beside the road, if the road is bumpy and why it is so; and he thinks of nothing?!?! What must that sound like…quiet, peace, or an enormous void? Dang…give me a minute of that any day. Funny enough he rarely asks me the same question! I think he likely does not want to know what I am thinking…and I cannot blame him. What is ironic is that when he does ask, I typically cannot articulate it in those moments. It is the look on my face that elicits those moments that he asks…smart man…he knows I am perplexed and won’t be able to explain it.

In all fairness and in conclusion, I remedy this overthought by starting every single day with journaling anything and everything on my mind, as a way of clearing my mind. I learned this from a previous therapist and most recently from author Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artists Way”. You just write, anything that comes to mind without re-reading, just write. It works for me. It is far more effective than meditation as you cannot imagine the civil war in trying to meditate with an overactive brain!!! If you have an overactive mind, welcome to the club and if you are blessed with silence then embrace it. For me, it is who I am and all I know to be. I will continue to think on it relentlessly! 🙂

Life as I overthink it – L.

The Angst that is Anxiety…

I like so many others are dealing in anxiety daily. It creates an angst that makes you want to run but what exactly is stirring inside of you and where you want to run cannot be identified. It is a whir of nervous energy that unlike excitement breeds a feeling of doom. It feels like the world is going to crash down around you. Angst as it is defined is…

…which is exactly as I have described. So now that we know the feeling, what do we do about it. What I find is that while I KNOW what to do when the anxiety hits I rarely do what I know. I instead sit in it which compounds until the point that it can make you feel like shutting down. It is for this reason that today I bring you the “list” that you can turn to when you feel that angst and in doing this I am serving myself as well as this list I need to be reminded to turn to as well.

Here are some of the things that I know work:

  • Don’t predict the future! You have no idea what is coming and cannot control it so focus on what you can control. Prophesizing what might happen does not serve anyone.
  • Don’t “sit in it”! This is about moving on from the thing that is causing the anxiety. In our case at this time and place that equates to getting stuck in front of the news that is reporting 24 hours a day the doom and the gloom that is paralyzing us! Limit the information stream.
  • Create routines. We are a species that thrives in routine. Where we have routines we have resolve. This is what is causing the most anxiety at this time is that everything that we know is upside down. We are no longer following a routine that we know so well we sometimes do it without thinking. We have to think about everything right now because nothing is routine. The most mundane of routines like going to the store or leaving the house requires thought. Create a new routine and follow it.
  • Get moving. Exercise solves anxiety in a HUGE way. Take a walk, turn on music and dance, do yoga, or just do anything that gets your body moving which helps your mind process. Personally I have to push myself to start but once I am in motion, I feel better almost immediately.
  • Call a friend. As we find ourselves isolated reaching out and talking to others creates a fellowship that reminds us that we are not alone. Even better is to utilize technology and have a video call so you can see the smile on the faces of those that you cherish.
  • Create your own peace. Turn on music, practice breathing exercises, sit in nature (even if that is in your backyard); create peace around you. Meditation can create that peace and there are numerous resources online to use if you are unsure how to meditate on your own.

Like everything in our lives anxiety comes down to a lack of control or indecision. We cannot control everything around us and ultimately that is affecting us. We have to identify what we CAN control and exercise our ability to DECIDE. You decide what you will do and ultimately you can ease the angst. You may not be able to totally remove the anxiety but relieving it is a start. Do what you can by first identifying the feeling and then deciding to do something.

We are in this together as a globe! Never have we been reminded how equal we all are as in this moment as titles, roles and identities will not remove us from this reality. Coming together and realizing that we are more alike than we are different is the resolution we have always needed. Embrace who we are…

…one nation under God indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Life as I live it…anxious – L.

The voices inside my head

Got your attention? Well they certainly have mine. The voices in my head keep me awake all night and keep me company all day. Not certifiably crazy, certifiably driven! Yes, that is right…driven. My mind is always going, always thinking, always learning, always processing 24/7. It can be exhausting at times as relaxation does not come easy but I am grateful for this monkey mind of mine as it is key to energy.

I have always had an excessive amount of energy as I was often described as “hyperactive” when I was young. I was indeed a busy girl but not more than I see in my own kids; or at least the way I recognized it. As a teenager again I think I was pretty chill but was never able to sleep-in and hated sleepovers because I was always the one up at 7a while my friends would sleep until 10a. Ugh…b-o-r-i-n-g! Outside of not needing 12 hours of sleep like most teenagers I was typical; love music, had the best BFF’s, tons of sleepovers and lots of laughter.

As an adult my mind would be my most powerful asset. The expectations have been set internally and the rules are always in flux. The pressure is real regardless of it being self-imposed. I always hold myself to a much higher expectation than anyone else could. While this seems like a good practice it can be mentally exhausting as you are always evaluating and redirecting the multitude of thoughts. I love rules and make them for myself constantly. Some call it self-discipline, and it is as long as you also exercise moderation. It is the moderation that is tough for me, “the gray”! It is all or nothing, all the time.

Multi-tasking is not a “thing” in my world. It’s hard enough keeping it all straight when I am doing one thing at a time let alone multiple tasks. I learned this early-on when attempting to talk on the phone and work on the computer. One would definitely suffer and it was typically the phone convo! Ha!! The person on the other end of the line would ask a question and I would have NO idea what the question was…busted!!!

While I do not multi-task my brain works in many directions when I am focusing on any task. For that reason I always keep a notebook on-hand or send myself an email to remind myself of what was on my mind in that moment to allow me to stay focused on the task at hand. If I am not disciplined enough to park the thought and continue driving through the initial task I will forget what I was doing and inevitably end up with 5 different windows open. Sometimes this can be quite humorous when I finish with the thing that took me off my course and realize what I was doing when my mind kidnapped my productivity!! I am also very guilty of this when surfing the web. I will go in for one simply search term and an 1.5 hrs later I came up for air realizing that I have just explored 10 sites digging deeper than thought possible on the original search.

So while I could go on and on about the voices in my head that keep me focused, take me out of focus, create rules, expectations and ultimately give every day a pass or fail…but that is neurotic. What keeps it all in check, what makes sure that I am not neurotic is “the work”. I do the work by creating timelines in my day, schedules are my jam, setting the intention for every single day, checking myself, my attitude, my energy…I do the work. Depending on the time in my life that work would be manifested through meditation, yoga, running, music, reading and all things that require my mind to quiet. This IS work! When you have a monkey brain and voices constantly driving your day the attempt to quiet the entire thing down is a task in itself, but it is possible. It is through this quietude that I find myself and clarity ensues.

My favorite question to ask Gary is, “What are you thinking about right now?” and his response is always “Nothing”. What the heck??!!??! How can you NOT be thinking about something every second of every day; including dreaming about the days events at night??? B thinks it is because Gary is in a constant state of meditation…we are going to go with that…Buddha Dad!

Life as I see it – L.

Medication or Meditation?

Medication or Meditation…that is the question. Or is it?

It is astonishing to me how many people have reached out to me after posting “The Smiling Faces of Depression” and to date the “mental health” tags in my blogs have received far more views than any other subject matter. It is clear that I have hit a nerve and while I am on your nerves allow me to continue the conversation with the hopes of settling your nerves.

I have had many conversations over the years on depression and the many solutions that exist; natural and pharmaceutical. It is my belief that if we engage in this conversation with the sentiment that we are speaking on behalf of mental health as we would physical health then it would seem to me that the following statements should apply.

  1. Depending on your level of depression you could require meditation OR medication. This is why it is important to seek the help of a professional. My first analogy is a simple one, if you had high blood pressure (HBP) you would go to the doctor who would suggest you change your diet and exercise and possibly prescribe a medication. You would likely not think twice about this advice. So why is it then when it comes to medications to solve depression we pause? That pause can do as much damage as untreated HBP as depression worsens without some form of intervention.
  2. Should you use natural supplements? It is not my preference as I told my “tribe” during a recent girls trip when we had this debate. Every bout of depression is not the same and therefore there is not one solve when it comes to choosing a medication. It is far better to go to a professional that can determine the severity of your depression to find the chemical that can serve you best without worsening it versus experimenting with supplements.
  3. Meditation is ALWAYS the answer regardless of the question. Meditation has many forms so finding the one that works for you is simply trial and error. I have tried many forms of meditation and ultimately what serves me well is counting my breaths, breathing deep and controlled. I prefer it because I can do it anywhere and any time. Meditation calms the mind, it clears the soul and through the practice it resolves the physical, slowing the pulse and calming the central nervous system.

Despite the debate the fact is that you need to do SOMETHING when you feel a depression coming on! Yes, that is not a typo…it is a “a depression” just like it is “a cold”; you are not depressed, you are affected by depression and can treat it and come out of it which is why we are not identifying with this condition as a characteristic versus the disease that it actually is. Not doing something about depression is where depression like any other illness can make us prisoners in our own lives. An analogy for you to consider:

  • When you get the sniffles you hope a cold is not coming on so you blow your nose and continue on. Then a cold sets in and you likely run to the drugstore to get some over-the-counter meds but they simply suppress the symptoms they don’t heal the infection brewing inside. Those sniffles eventually turn into bronchitis which without medication/antibiotics turns into pneumonia which without medical intervention can kill you.
  • When you feel sad, you acknowledge that your spirits are down but likely are not alarmed knowing that it is just a moment. When the sadness sits in for weeks at a time you start to feel worse as it is likely affecting your sleep, ability to focus and overall mood. If that long-term sadness is not addressed it can then turn into a depression which requires some form of intervention. This is a pivotal point in the journey of depression as if it is not dealt with or identified at this point where the depressed individual can be “reached” it can turn into suicidal thoughts and at that point reaching the individual suffering is far more difficult because like pneumonia when you are that deep into the disease the intervention needed is professional.

This is the conversation that we need to continue to have with each other. It is through these conversations that we can save lives. Openly discussing mental illness as easily we do HBP or any other mainstream condition is important because we acknowledge that we are more alike than different. We all want to feel like we are not alone in any journey whether it be medical, mental or social.

Back to the original question…Medication versus Meditation? To this I say BOTH! Medication is prescribed as needed to offer the body what it is deficient in and there is no shame in that especially when it can make all the difference in your life. Walking around anxiety-ridden, panicked or overwhelmed is debilitating and that a medication can solve is what I call a no-brainer! Meditation is a form of exercise for the brain, for the body and most importantly for the soul. it can be done anywhere and is as easy as breathing. There are great apps, free guided meditations on the internet and books and magazines that can offer techniques.

I conclude by applauding YOU my audience for making this conversation the top trending all month. We have to continue to have these conversations and have the courage to share that we seek therapy, take medication and meditate and these things do not make us “less than” they make us BAD ASS. My life is AMAZING because I am as serious about my mental health as I am about my physical health and that combination makes me whole, it makes me who I am. This is life as I see it. L.