I see a therapist to help me cope with the anxiety that I face. And in a recent session, he recommended I read a book published by British author, Charlie Mackesy titled The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse.
Hmmmmm. It looked like a children’s book, and honestly didn’t catch my eye. I felt I instead needed to spend more time diving into the latest publications by respected psychiatrists and other anxiety gurus. I needed coping strategies and powerful words of wisdom. Not cute kidlet stuff.
But I bought it, because during this quarantine time I’ve had some really hard moments, and I found myself more than willing to try something unusual. So, I sat down and read the book.
And I was HOOKED.
I read it again. Then I read it again. Then I sent a copy of it to my Mom.
I don’t know if it was the combination of the illustrations and simple truths, but that book was food for my soul. It's the little journey of three animals and a boy, and they discuss life. And they share very simple, encouraging truths that I really needed.
I honestly have no idea if this book will do for you what it did for me. Everyone is different. BUT I think the lesson I learned is for anyone. I know I’m not alone when I say I need coping strategies and powerful words of wisdom. And these can be found in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. We can study theories until our eyes are red, but maybe what we really need is to watch an inspirational movie or browse the children’s book section. Maybe a fun cartoon or a novel will speak to us.
As a child, I loved storytime, and as adults, I strongly believe we still need storytime. Because we still very much need stories.
One night, when my husband and I were visiting Munich, we decided to catch the metro back to our hotel. We didn’t realize it was the same time a huge football (soccer) game had just let out. The train was PACKED.
As we squished in with everyone else (standing room only of course), I found myself completely engulfed by ecstatic fans. Apparently, Munich had won the match. I told my husband, as I was smashed between football jersey clad bodies, I felt as if Germany was giving me a giant hug. And I honestly didn’t mind. The excitement and happiness was almost tangible in the air that night.
I started thinking then about how often we are hugged in life. And I’m not just talking the traditional, physical embrace. For example, I’ve often heard the phrase that tea is a “hug in a mug.” It makes sense to me! With the liquid warming up my body, it definitely feels like the tea is giving me a squeeze of affection.
Certain scents are like a giant hug to me. For example, cinnamon! The lovely smell wraps around my head as I breathe in, and I feel it’s a full-on cinnamon embrace. (I could also say the same for fresh baked bread and Mexican food!)
What else gives you a “hug”?
What about a beautiful song? Music can completely envelop my being.
What about a cozy blanket wrapped around your shoulders?
The bright sunshine warming up your skin during the summer season?
My cat cannot hug me, but when he happily curls up on my legs, it’s like a hug for my lap.
I think especially during our current time, it’s good to be reminded that not all hugs have to be conventional. When we can’t be held by our loved ones, we can STILL be encircled with something just as powerful.
I recently heard a podcast by The Minimalists. On this particular episode (#202), they interviewed Tara Button, founder of Buy Me Once website that from my understanding, promotes minimalism by encouraging people to carefully buy quality items so that they last a lifetime. A great concept. Anyway, on a slightly different note, during the podcast, she expressed how cleaning – even something simple, like our breakfast dishes – is a form of self-care.
I felt a little silly for not realizing such a fantastic truth sooner.
I never really thought of cleaning my home as an act of self-care, which then in turn helps me better combat anxiety or any difficulty I have in life. I think on some level, I felt this truth, but Ms. Button worded it perfectly. Just like eating a healthy meal, working out, or doing deep breathing, having my house clean helps me to relax and mentally feel more at ease. (I know some people don’t notice dirt and clutter. For better or for worse, I’m NOT one of those people.)
Ms. Button also points out, not only is cleaning self-care, it’s instant gratification. For example, when you clean off a cabinet, you see the fruits of your labor right away. And it’s satisfying.
Once again, I’m reminded that it pays to be more mindful and intentional. To focus on what’s in front of me. To soak in the fact that the sparkly cabinet is looking pretty good and take a moment to really realize it. Then I can use that moment to help propel me forward.
I think the hang-up comes when I realize that I STILL have so much more to clean. I live with a constant to-do list, and it can be overwhelming. BUT, while that may be the case, concentrating for a minute on what I’ve just done, how great it looks, and how I am physically changing the atmosphere around me, is a BIG help. Even when my actions don’t seem so big.
I stumbled on this fantastic quote someone had pinned on Pinterest:
I won’t let pain turn my heart into something ugly. I will show you that surviving can be beautiful. Christy Ann Martine
Which started me thinking. When I was young, “beautiful” meant everything perfect (my definition of perfect), lovely (my definition of lovely), and no pain (again, my definition of pain). Beautiful meant bordering on a fairy tale, but not quite, because I mean, life isn't perfect, right? I couldn't be too greedy.
Oh, Gina, Gina.
With adulting and aging, thankfully, I've learned that beauty can be those things, but it has so much more richness and depth and POWER which can spring from the difficulties. The unpleasant. The gut wrenching hurt. NOT the fairy tales.
Beauty doesn't always feel good to me. Beauty doesn't always look "pretty" and in style and all hair strands tucked in. Beauty can be pain, humility, and that miserable trio of blood, sweat and tears. But boy, is it worth it.
When life shatters superficial beauty, something much grander can emerge. Before I lose you with flowery descriptions, let me plainly ask: Do you know what I’m talking about? I meet these people. They aren't the most put together, with the perfect home and family. They aren’t the most stylish. Yet there is a beauty about them that comes from something deep. It can even be a little intimidating, yet it pulls me toward them.
Then I learn their beauty came the hard way. Through ugliness: depression, pain, horrible circumstances. And this is good news for those of us that face the hardships of life. Every. Day.
Because suddenly the past and the future seem more bearable. There is a greater purpose to my own hurt. Like that mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, we too can emerge and show others that “surviving can be beautiful.” Despite the unspeakable ache and unstoppable tears and deep, deep wounds. It just may not be instant. It takes time.
But that is such hope for all of us.
I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely finding myself in the kitchen more and more during the quarantine. I find comfort in creating and eating yummy, home-made food. The problem for me is finding too much solace in food, if you know what I mean. But there are so many delicious comfort foods! Pancakes, cookies, spaghetti, tacos, pie, ice-cream etc… (I could do the backstroke through the list!)
I have a chef friend in London who is also a health coach. She wrote an excellent article about stress eating, “Overeating & Emotional Eating During Difficult times.” I highly recommend giving it a read. It really helped me understand some reasons as to why I’m so quick to bite into that delicious, homemade blueberry muffin (I LOVE blueberry muffins). The article also shares some techniques to help keep us from mindless eating.
For example, by asking simple questions such as “Why am I craving this?” and “What am I really craving?” We might be able to stop some of our needless eating and focus on what we REALLY need. And it may be that blueberry muffin, but it may not be.
And there it is again…another nudge toward living intentionally: to pause, and really think through our potential actions and the potential consequences. In this quarantine time, many of us feel like life is one giant pause. And it can be incredibly frustrating. But my friend’s article was a reminder to me that pauses can be a good thing. A healthy thing.
When used carefully, a pause can keep us from choices we regret. And while it might be (relatively) unhealthy food, it could be something even more. Something bigger. Something that can change the direction of our life in an profound way.
In essence, I’ve realized that this current quarantine should be used carefully. I want to step into the future with purpose and intention and wisdom. I don’t want this pause to go to waste. I don’t think any of us do. So may we use this time wisely, carefully, and maybe ...with that blueberry muffin as our treat.
Why do we keep torturing ourselves with the lie that other people have it all together, have it easier, or have it much better than we do? (Whatever “it” is….)
I’m so tired of this lie.
Yet, I continue to believe. I get a snapshot into someone else’s life. It might be an actual one via Instagram or Facebook. Or I create my own mental snapshot through a conversation or even just an observation. Then, with just that TINY snapshot, I am able to convince myself that everyone (oh yes, I go straight to absolutes) has life figured out and under control, and I’m the one scrounging around trying to make heads and tails out of…well…a lot.
As a fellow human being, please let me assure you, my friend and reader, that I do not have it all together. I do not have all the answers. I still tango with pain, doubt, and fear. During this quarantine time, it’s easy to get lost in our thoughts. It’s easy to convince ourselves otherwise: that we are alone in our dancing.
But please, if you remember nothing else from today, know that you are not alone. I’m right there with you. And I want to assure you, that even if you don’t see it, feel it, or even dare to believe it, we are ALL struggling together.
A good friend of mine once told me, we are all battling dragons, some of them are just invisible. The point is, we are not fighting solo; I loved it when she told me this. She was my friend who reminded me of this truth. Let me be that friend to you today.
One of the most discouraging aspects of fighting anxiety: it’s rare to experience an instant victory.
During intense panic, we can do the mindful breathing, we can drink the chamomile tea, we can lay flat on the ground and close our eyes, but very rarely do these techniques make anxiety go away “poof” like a bad dream we can wake up from.
One of the techniques I tried before taking anxiety medication was an intense workout. As much as I wanted to believe one session at the gym could take away all my bad feels, it just wouldn’t. And starting the workout? It was plain miserable. When already my heart was skipping beats and my hands were shaky and I was short of breath, the last thing I wanted to do was a hard-core workout routine. I instead wanted to wrap myself in a cozy blanket and NOT move. (As most of you probably know, this wouldn’t help much either…)
The best and very painful truth was learning that it took a while for my anxiety to build up, no doubt years upon years, and it would take time for the anxiety to subside. It’s not a truth I wanted to accept, let alone hear. But hidden within that truth is a tiny bit of comfort. I’m not damaged beyond repair. I’m a human being fashioned with such complexity - layers upon layers of tiny pieces and parts - and it’s okay, even normal, to not overcome anxiety in a short period of time.
I began looking at my situation as a journey to go through verses a single test to pass. It took a lot of pressure off my expectations, causing me to relax (just a bit! But hey – I’ll take it!); this, of course, in turn did great things for my anxiety. Because a journey involves planning, right? I became more proactive versus reactive. I discovered the importance of using tools, such as deep breathing, even when I’m not stressed. And deep breathing when I’m not panicking? It’s incredibly relaxing and enjoyable. I find myself drawn to it, so that even when the anxiety sets in, that specific coping mechanism is more natural and comforting.
It’s not an instant victory, but it’s still a victory. And I think that’s what I have learned about fighting anxiety: it’s not just one giant win for me, but instead a succession of smaller wins. And I am okay with that.
For those of you who relate to what I’m writing, please know I care about you, and are not alone. We are fighting together.
Creator of Love, Auntie.