Fight or Flight? Freeze.

I constantly struggle to decide how much and what, exactly, I should share about my personal life on my blog. I have often wanted to write more about my personal experience in dealing with mental illness; but I felt that these struggles were either too personal or would open myself up to a lot of critical judgment from others. I’ve experienced, firsthand, the stigma of mental illness and the feelings of worthlessness that can result from thoughtless comments made by people who simply cannot understand what they, themselves, have not personally dealt with.

No one likes to feel vulnerable, me included.

The problem is, though, that no matter how hard I try to remain positive on my blog, many times this aspect of myself seeps through anyway. Stress and doubt and all those fears I fight against every day make it very hard to be open and completely honest with my readers if I am constantly trying to hide that ‘thing’ that deeply affects my life. Hiding it also prevents me from posting a lot of what’s going through my mind and getting much-needed feedback from others.

The more stress I feel, the quieter I become.

Communication is never so difficult as when I feel overwhelmed, and it takes so little to overwhelm me. The slightest change in my environment or daily routine turns my world into a chaotic nightmare. It takes me forever to find the words to express what I’m feeling or thinking. Processing emotions and thoughts for me is like trying to read a book with AC/DC blaring on the radio while my reading lamp flickers on and off, spiders crawl all over me, and the TV streams non-stop obnoxious commercials, not to mention that annoying clock ticking that even AC/DC couldn’t drown out!

Life has a funny way of re-testing us over and over again. If we fail miserably the first time we are tested, that lesson continues to present itself in one form or another until we finally learn from the experience what was meant to be learned. I’ve experienced many of these tests over the years. Most, I don’t care to repeat; but there it is again without fail. This makes me question. What am I missing? What lesson have I still not learned? I don’t understand….

And I say all of this to get to the point of this post.

When danger or fear presents itself, the common responses are fight or flight; but I think there are variations of how these responses present themselves. For example, rather than a physical altercation as a fight response, people might use sarcasm, insults, or any other verbal abuse at their disposal. Flight, or running away from danger, could just as easily present itself as “freezing,” like the opossum who plays dead in the face of a threat.

I’ve never been a fighter. Heck, when I took karate to fulfill one of my college physical education requirements my freshman year, I remember one particular day in class when we paired up, sparring. The girl I was sparring with hit me right in the solar plexus, not hard, barely a tap; but I started crying! Of course, everyone (including the teacher) thought I was hurt and gathered around me for assistance. And of course, that made it even worse! By the time the teacher sent me back to my dorm room, I was in a full-blown panic attack. So, no, I’m not a fighter. Dare I say that I’m a total wuss? Yes, probably so.

I hate confrontation. In fact, I avoid it at all costs, even if it would be beneficial to spar with words to improve a relationship. Verbal arguments are the worst for me because I end up saying things I regret when I’m pushed to the point of feeling overwhelmed and hearing words that can never be unheard, whether they’re being said to me or thought in my own mind. It’s like my brain doesn’t work quickly enough to process the thoughts and information being shared. Then, I find that I can’t figure out how to respond appropriately; so I end up blurting out the first thing that pops into my head, resulting in a lot of hurt feelings. All while only hearing half of what was said.

Or – I shut down completely.

Quickly manifesting thoughts, emotions, and harsh words drown out the glaring, red light in my brain flashing: “WARNING! WARNING! Information overload… Shut down in 3… 2… 1…

Then, nothing.

And I think the hardest part of this shut down is that it happens so quickly that I don’t even realize it is happening. There’s no way to stop it. My mind simply freezes. Hours later, I wonder to myself, “What happened?” I’m left trying to piece together an argument that feels vague and confusing, not fully understanding why the other person is still so angry with me.

This unconscious behavior, for lack of a better term, isn’t just isolated to confrontations and arguments. It’s a forever-present defense mechanism that occurs for any type of overwhelmingly fearful situation in my life. And since most things outside of my normal everyday routine produce anxiety and fear for me, it’s a minute-by-minute struggle on a daily basis to challenge myself to stay present in this moment. Forget about thinking about the future. That is completely incomprehensible to me. It is enough of a challenge to keep a positive attitude in this moment and concentrate on what needs to get done right now.

It’s, flat-out, exhausting!

The reason I tell this story is that last year while Social Security was reviewing my case, this fear response took over my life. I couldn’t fight them. I froze. And I lost my SSD benefits as a result. Finding a therapist to help me felt too overwhelming. Finding anyone to help me felt too overwhelming. As the stigma of mental illnesses became a talking point for political bureaucracy, the voices of so many people commenting on blogs and articles about the misuse of social services ran through my mind, saying things like, “Why can’t you just keep a job?” Or, “You need to try harder.” Or, “You’re just lazy.”

I struggled the entire 5 years that I received benefits to justify my need for them. I questioned the validity of my illness. I developed a fear of psychiatry, medication, and general medicine so severe that I quit seeking treatment altogether! I haven’t been in therapy or taken any psychiatric medication since the middle of 2007. I didn’t quit seeing therapists and psychiatrists because I thought I was “cured” or even stable. On the contrary, my anxiety and fears became so severe that I fled.

I fled because I felt they were doing more harm than good. Over the course of 13 years, I had been hospitalized 9 different times for psychiatric emergencies and had taken every new medication available at the time, sometimes several at once. At best, the medication made me feel unreal or numb. At worst, the medications made me suicidal. Nevertheless, I found that my creativity suffered; and I no longer had the desire to do anything, including live.

Throughout those years, I was shuffled through countless psychiatrists and therapists due to insurance issues. They didn’t listen to my complaints about the medications and ineffective treatment. They offered very little productive feedback. Each one gave me new labels that ranged from a variety of Axis I to Axis II diagnoses. The list below is just the ones that I remember receiving in the order I was given them:

Postpartum Depression

Dysthymia

Major Depressive Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder

Anorexia Nervosa

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Schizoaffective Disorder

ADD

Bipolar Disorder

There could have been more, but it’s difficult to remember a lot of things from those years that I was medicated. After this 13 year roller coaster ride with psychiatry in general, I gave up because I was fed up. I was tired of being a guinea pig or lab rat, whichever floats your proverbial boat.

In any other species, the weak simply die off. That is, after all, natural selection. I’m not saying that this is either right or wrong. That’s just life, the way of the universe. Humans are only slightly more civilized than other species of animals in that they provide assistance through a variety of social services. At least, they like to think they’re more civilized. Receiving said services are, however, conditional. I’ve witnessed some of the most beautiful acts of kindness and compassion through this window to my outside world – my computer. I’ve also heard of some of the most atrocious acts of violence.

Fear is a debilitating emotion. I know I need help. For the first time in 6 years, I’ve resorted to going back to therapy. I am thankful that I finally found the courage to ask for help because sometimes, I need someone else to help me make sure my thinking is rational and constructive.

It has taken me many, many years of self-reflection, meditation, and therapy to understand the inner workings of my mind, to even label the emotions that I feel, to understand that to be conscious is a choice that one must make consciously. I’m not certain that I will ever master this human experience; but taking each moment as it comes, allowing myself the time it takes me to process whatever I’m dealing with, is the best solution I have to cope with the challenges I face and the challenges that others place in my path.

I apologize for the length of this post, but I had a lot on my mind. Mental illness affects so many people today. Telling our stories is an important part to creating better solutions and better care for those who so desperately need these services. Thank you for reading my story!

366 Photo Catch-Up

I decided I would catch up on my 366 project in one post rather than several posts. It’s hard to believe that I only have 5 more days until my year-long project will be complete. I put a lot of time and effort into this, and I’m proud of my determination to see it through to the end. I’m afraid this post ended up a lot longer than normal, but it is in total 7 days worth of daily photos.

This holiday season has been much more of a challenge than earlier years. Prior to my trip back to East Tennessee to visit family for the holidays, I was experiencing a great deal of anxiety, more so than normal. I have no explanation for why the anxiety was so bad this year. It just felt like I was suffocating before I even left on my trip.

I barely did any Christmas shopping this year which is the reason I decided to stop at West Town Mall on my way through Knoxville. It was a stormy day on Thursday. I thought the drive would be much worse than it was. For the most part, the rain wasn’t too bad. Other than high winds pushing my car around a bit on the interstate, I had no problems at all, not even at the mall. The clouds were absolutely breathtaking! I drove in awe the entire way.

Day 355 High Winds & Stormy Skies (12.20.12) – Taken at West Town Mall, Knoxville, TN.

I arrived at Mom’s later that evening, and we stayed up past midnight catching up and talking. Early the next morning, I awoke to strange sounds coming from my mom’s room. I ran into her bedroom and found her in the floor next to the bed. She appeared unhurt and at times, giggled as if she was caught in some waking dream. After about 45 minutes to an hour, I managed to get her back into bed.

My mother is in her mid-70’s and has numerous health problems, including Type-2 Diabetes. Over the past few months, there have apparently been several instances of her falling out of bed. Needless to say, this particular instance gave me quite a scare; but I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I kept checking on her until she finally woke up for the day. She said she felt fine other than a slight headache. Later that evening, we attended the family dinner with all the extended family.

Day 356 Peaceful Sanctuary (12.21.12) – The view from my mom’s front porch. Isn’t it beautiful?

On Saturday, I took Mom to do a little Christmas shopping in Morristown. Governor’s Square Mall was crowded and noisy; so we didn’t stay very long. After I dropped Mom off at home, I took a drive out to Douglas Dam in order to “recharge my batteries.” I had hoped to visit the Great Smoky Mountains while I was home this time, but there wasn’t an opportunity. At least, I got to see them from a distance at Douglas Dam. The view from the overlook there is quite beautiful.

Day 357 Douglas Dam at Sunset (12.22.12) – View from the lower overlook.

The video is from the upper overlook. I’m sorry this video is a little shaky. It was really cold out there! “Douglas Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the French Broad River in Sevier County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States.” [Via – Wikipedia]

Again on Sunday morning around the same time as Friday morning, I awoke to the sounds of moaning coming from Mom’s room. I rushed into her room; and this time, I found her pinned between the wall and the bed. I quickly phoned my sister after I managed to get the bed moved over enough to give her a little more space. She told me to call 911 so we could get some answers as to what was going on. Two ER’s later, she was finally admitted to the hospital for observation and medication adjustments.

Day 358 Prayers for Mom (12.23.12)

I don’t have the words to express the emotional turmoil that I’m sure my mother is feeling at this time. No one wants to spend Christmas in the hospital. The added expense of more hospital bills certainly adds more stress than she needs. I was surprised to learn that hospital staff were already harassing her for money before she even left the ER. That was so wrong!

I worry a lot about her living alone, but she is determined to remain independent and stay in her own home. And why shouldn’t she? It’s where she is most comfortable. The house is paid for. Selling it now would only cause her more emotional and financial stress in the long run.

Day 359 Hospital Christmas Tree (12.24.12)

There are no easy answers when it comes to caring for aging parents. It’s a difficult situation to be in. I feel my mother deserves the respect and freedom to make her own choices, but I’m also feeling pressured to abandon my own life to go care for her. A conversation was relayed to me by my sister between her and Mom’s doctor that led me to believe that this is expected of me since I’m not working and “otherwise unattached.”

I understand how hard it is to be dependent on others for personal care because I’ve been in that situation for many years, now, due to my own mental illness. I rely on David for many things like reminding me to eat and to tell me if my thinking is irrational. He’s the one person who was consistently there for me over the last 12 years when others were not, even when we were not dating.

Since my family has never acknowledged my personal issues or witnessed first-hand any of the struggles in my own life over the last 16 years, I can’t expect them to understand why asking me to do this could be dangerous for the both of us. I don’t exactly have the best judgment. I never have. Believe me when I say, I’m not trying to make excuses here. I’m simply stating my experience.

Day 360 Merry Christmas (12.25.12)

Well, it wasn’t my intent to turn this blog entry into a rant; but it is what it is. I needed to get a few things off my chest. I’m convinced that no one in my family reads my blog, so I feel that my openness won’t be judged harshly by my faithful readers. I do hope each and every one of you had a very Merry Christmas! I hope the New Year brings each of us closer and blesses us with peace and prosperity.

Day 361 Red-bellied Woodpecker (12.26.12)

This last photo brings me up-to-date with my 366 project. We got a light dusting of snow today and a flurry of activity at the bird feeder. I saw Blue Jays, Downy Woodpeckers, lots of Cardinals (as always), Tufted Titmouse (Titmice?), Eastern Bluebirds, and of course, this Red-bellied Woodpecker. I’ve tried to get a good photo of him for ages! This one is better than nothing.

As always, thanks for stopping by! And feel free to leave comments or suggestions.

Day 276 The Dreaded Form Letter

Please, pardon me, while I vent a little before I implode. I promise not to make this a habit. I don’t normally write a lot about my life situation or the constant battle I fight against depression and anxiety. I’ve mentioned it a few times, but I don’t like to dwell on it. Maybe, I should share more. Maybe, I shouldn’t. I try to err on the side of caution because talking about it really does nothing to help, not to mention there’s enough negativity in the world without me adding to it. I prefer to share with the world and focus on the more uplifting and positive aspects of life in order to keep my own sanity in check.

I struggled to find that tiny light of happiness that usually keeps me going; but today, I couldn’t fight back the tears long enough to find it, not after I opened this piece of mail. Instead, I cried all day. It took 3 of the longest years of my life to finally get approved for Social Security Disability. Anyone who has been through the process knows what a nightmare it is. For those who haven’t, well… you basically have to survive for those 3 years on the generosity and compassion of others. For me, I felt I didn’t deserve to live because I was no longer a contributing member of society.

After I was finally approved, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I could finally breathe. I still couldn’t survive on my own; but at least, I was contributing a small amount of income to the household bills. Losing that $432 per month is going to hurt, a lot. I haven’t worked for 7 years. Given the state of the economy and the job market, I doubt very seriously anyone would ever consider hiring me with such a huge gap in my work history. It really doesn’t help matters any that going back to work terrifies me more than starving to death. I mean, seriously, I haven’t left my house in a week. How well is that going to work out when I’m supposed to be at a job?

According to the Social Security Administration, “You’re no longer disabled as of 09/12.” It’s nice to know that a lifelong condition will magically disappear next Friday. I will be so relieved to no longer feel the debilitating anxiety around people that I’ve felt since childhood or that overwhelming sensation of sensory overload that occurs when I’m forced into situations that are too much for me to handle. That would be great. I would love to have that freedom of normalcy and be a contributing member of society. It’s just a shame that real life doesn’t come with that magic on/off switch.

Look, A Bunny!

I’m highly distractible. Seriously, it only takes a sound or sometimes, even a thought to derail my entire day into twenty different directions. The fact that I have absolutely no concept of time can be a real challenge at times, especially when I need to get something done and I start obsessing over one little detail. But generally, I manage to work it out to the best of my ability and I’m okay with that.

“Look, a bunny!” has become a catch-phrase around my house. I’m pretty bad about blurting out a random thought which leaves my boyfriend, David, in the predicament of trying to follow the train of thought that led to the randomness. He’s actually gotten pretty good at this, a testament of how well he knows me. I finally asked him today where exactly he picked up that phrase. These are his words:

I was chilling at a friend’s house doing a bit of bowling on the Wii with my buddy and his two sons one day. The younger of the two boys was being especially hyper, jumping around and not really paying much attention to what he was doing. When he was in mid swing during one of his turns I shouted, “Look! A bunny!” Without missing a beat or completing his swing, for that matter, he immediately stopped and started to look around while asking, “Where?” From that day forward the phrase will be known as the ADD test.

Love who you are, not what you’re expected to be because accepting yourself completely is an important step to finding peace in a chaotic world.

A Memorable Mass Transit Story

I rode buses in three different cities on a regular basis. Riding the bus was always an adventure for me. Hawaii’s mass transit system was by far the best of any of the three cities where I lived. I lived in Hawaii from December 1992 until December 1995. The one thing I remember was that the buses were often very, very crowded, standing room only. Often times, I would be waiting at the bus stop only to have an overly crowded bus fly by without stopping. If there was no room and no one needed off at that location, there was no reason for it to stop. Luckily, buses ran every 10 to 15 minutes (24 hours per day, every day of the week); so the longest I think I ever had to wait to catch a bus was maybe 45 minutes during peak hours. And it was rare to wait that long.

I think my worst memory from riding the bus in Hawaii was shortly after my son was born. The husband and I were taking him to his first well baby check up at TAMC. All I remember is the panic I felt and how worried I was about germs. I was a complete nervous wreck by the time we got home. I didn’t really think about things like this while I was pregnant. In fact, I was often amazed by the respect and compassion that so many people showed by offering their seats to a pregnant woman or the elderly. However, my anxiety was so bad after our son was born that we finally purchased a car.

Then there was Clarksville, TN. I began using the bus system there around August 1998 until September 1999 during a very difficult time in my life. My husband and I split up; I became pregnant with my second child; and my car was repossessed. A lot more was going on, but these 3 examples are the most relevant to this story. Tennessee cities don’t exactly have the best mass transit systems. It’s very hard to use the buses as a primary mode of transportation. But I did, despite the incredible hardships that came along with it. I was determined to do what I had to do to survive and I am a better person for it.

I guess the worst part was that the buses did not run on Sundays back then, not to mention they stopped running fairly early at night. I couldn’t afford the luxury of taking a taxi. I had to use my own two feet to get me back and forth to work or wherever else I needed to go when the bus was not running. Having no permanent residence during that time frame resulted in my moving 3 different times. Therefore, my walking distance to work varied with each move. All routes estimated using Google maps for a one way trip: 2.7 miles (54 minute walk), 1.6 miles (32 minute walk), and 4.9 miles (1 hour 41 minute walk). Winters in Tennessee can be quite bitter. I even walked home during a tornado, once. Walking was never ideal, especially during the later months of pregnancy; but somehow, I managed. I do have to admit here that all that walking made for a very quick and easy delivery.

Lastly, my time in Nashville, TN, was made very interesting by my bus riding experiences. I ended up getting rid of my car a little over a year after I moved to Nashville because it was in really bad shape and I sincerely hated driving there. I’ve never seen such inconsiderate, impatient drivers in my entire life! My nerves couldn’t handle it. Let’s just say, I don’t do well in larger cities. I’m a country girl to my core. The bus system was a bit better in Nashville than Clarksville, but still left a lot to be desired. Buses ran in most places every 15 minutes to half hour. In 2008 Nashville’s Walk Score ranked it at 39 out of 100, making it a “Car-Dependent” city. In the Walk Score ranks of the largest 40 cities in the U.S., Nashville placed at #39 out of the 40 cities listed. I didn’t really get out often, but when I did I expected the trip to take all day because I had to take into consideration the “safest” areas to walk.

The most memorable experiences from my mass transit days in Nashville include one instance of an overly crowded bus with one seat open that I took. No one wanted to sit next to this lovely schizophrenic woman who was having a very animated conversation with her “voices.” And there was one trip that I feared for everyone’s safety on the bus because of a very angry, drunk man who subsequently was removed from the bus for harassing riders and arguing with the driver shortly after he got on. Another day while waiting for my bus home at the hub downtown, a rather violent fight broke out between two men. I’m pretty sure that was the last time I rode the bus, partly because I let my fears get the better of me and partly because I lost interest in leaving my home.

Honestly, none of these examples is reason enough to not use mass transit. It’s a wonderful service that I hope is around for a very long time. There were times in Nashville that riding the bus was simply more convenient than driving, especially to get downtown. If implemented properly, mass transit could alleviate a lot of the traffic problems and environmental hazards that accompany them, not to mention improve people’s health by getting them active again by walking more places.

The experience is what you make of it. It’s one that can open your eyes to an entirely different way of life. I can’t tell you of all the wonderful encounters I had with people who briefly crossed my path and shared a glimpse of what their reality is like. I wouldn’t trade any of these experiences I had while riding the bus, good or bad, because I feel it is all equally important.

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Tennessee Toad

My neighbor’s granddaughter is constantly surprising me with gifts like this. I can only hope David and I convinced her to release this beauty back in the wild by impressing upon her the amount of insects she would have to collect in order to feed it. She knows how much I enjoy photographing nature. I have loved frogs ever since I was her age. My Grandma’s farm was the best place EVER for catching them (and turtles).

I think it is worth mentioning that all toads have poison glands.

“The warty skin contains many glands that produce a poisonous milky fluid, providing these toads with excellent protection from many of their predators. This poison is only harmful if it is swallowed or if it gets in the eyes, but it can make many animals very sick. (Dickerson, 1906; Le Clere, 2000; Matson, 2002; Oliver, 1955)” Source site: Animal Diversity Web

Always wash your hands with hot, soapy water after handling reptiles and amphibians.

“Most reptiles can carry Salmonella and these bacteria have been seen in turtles, snakes, iguanas, and lizards. Evidence is increasing that amphibians (e.g. frogs, toads, newts, and salamanders)
can also carry and spread salmonellosis to humans.” Source site: Reptile-Associated Salmonellosis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

I spent one summer living with a friend a few years ago that was pretty special because I kept some tadpole eggs in a fishbowl & watched them grow from egg to frog. This was an amazing experience. I started out with about 100 eggs taken carefully from her swimming pool before we finally got around to cleaning it out. Of those 100 or so eggs, only about 10 small frogs emerged. Unfortunately, shortly after the frogs started hopping, we awoke one morning to find that our cats had knocked over the fishbowl and had a feast.


One summer at my Grandma’s, my Uncle Gerald found me a huge toad and let me carry it into the kitchen where everyone was congregating. Mom squealed in her usual squeamish way telling me to, “Get that thing out of here!” Everyone had a good laugh, even Mom.


Mom told me when she was growing up on the farm, there were plenty of times that she would go out the old cistern to pump out water and pump out a bunch of little frogs, lol.

I’ve always found the call of frogs and toads singing their mating songs to be soothing.

Video uploaded by: myshowinglog on YouTube

My Thoughts on Death & Dying

I think most people consider it too morbid to think about death, let alone talk about it with one another. Yesterday was the anniversary of my father’s death (April 14, 2004) and my boyfriend’s father just passed away a couple of months ago. These last few months have brought me to the realization that I think a lot about death. From the summer I turned 14 on into my adult years, the thought of death and why we die has been somewhat of an obsession of morbid curiosity. One that has led me to discover a plethora of information about different cultural, religious, psychological, and scientific views on the matter. That particular summer was a pivotal point in my life because I was diagnosed with Lupus. For the first time in my life, I had to question my own mortality.

At the age of 14, I was so fearful of death that I completely blocked out a lot of that experience and ignored the rest. I’m no longer scared of death. I think of it as a beautiful experience, a reward for the struggles that we are asked to bear in this life. I have reached a point in my life where I don’t see it as something to fear. I believe in impermanence, that no physical manifestation lasts forever because the only thing that ever remains constant is change. Change is the natural order of the universe. I believe we are spiritual beings having a human experience. I see this human existence as some sort of training ground for spiritual development. I believe in reincarnation and that we choose to come into this life with certain goals in mind. I believe we are all made of energy that exists even past death, that spark of life that holds all of our memories, our emotions, our thoughts. But that energy like everything else changes, evolves.

Loss can be devastating especially when it comes in the form of death. No words can express the depths of grief. And no words can console the bereft with comfort. It is not the deceased who suffers at the time of death, but those left behind to grieve the loss. Time is relative to the breaking heart, but only time will heal the deepest wounds. I don’t believe that any two individuals experience the same life event in the same way. We all have different lessons to learn in this life. Death is just part of the exam. Deaths of loved ones are like the preparation quizzes for our own ultimate demise. The final exam concludes for each person alive when he or she finally gives up that spark and allows the human body to complete its mission of housing the spiritual being you truly are.

These are my beliefs, my thoughts about death. I’m not going to say that my beliefs will always be the same because if there is anything I have learned in this life, it’s that beliefs are meant to change. I will never claim that my beliefs are any more valid than another’s. I enjoy looking at things from as many different angles and perceptions as possible. The wisdom of age and experience is a great teacher and I have far to go. I felt compelled to share this entry from my personal journal, so there it is.

Reading and education your emotions is one of the central activities of wisdom. ~ David Brooks

My Sleep Aid: The Alphabet Game

I think for many people, including myself, problems with sleep occur because they have trouble shutting down their mind. You know the scenario. You’re lying in bed determined to fall asleep. One thought leads to another thought which leads to another thought. Before you know it, a cycle of what-ifs begin. Worry leaves you wide awake again.

Worry can be a persistent annoyance. Anytime I start worrying about something, I’ve taught myself to ask the question, “Can I do anything about that right now, at this moment?” If the answer is “yes,” I do something about it. If the answer is “no,” I tell myself that it is a non-issue and refuse to give that thought any more energy. Most of the time just recognizing what I am thinking about is enough to let go of the thought that is causing me anxiety. That’s my first bit of advice: recognize your thoughts and learn to let go of them.

Worrying while trying to get to sleep can be particularly annoying. Several years ago I started playing a game to get myself to sleep. It works a lot like counting sheep because basically counting sheep is just a distraction to keep your mind from wandering or in this case, worrying. It’s kind of a meditative practice.

Lie down in the position you usually fall asleep and keep your eyes closed. Pick a topic, like animals or US cities. In your mind, list every single animal or US city you can think of that begins with each letter of the alphabet. Sometimes, I’ll just do 5 of each letter. Anytime your mind starts to wander to the things that usually worry you and keep you awake, bring it back to the letter you are on. I’ve found that I usually get to the letter “g” or “h” before I finally fall asleep.

This may sound kind of silly; but I swear, it works for me! Seriously, give it a try the next time you are experiencing insomnia and let me know if it helps. I’m really curious to see if other people benefit from this nightly exercise.

What I’d Say to My 16-Year-Old Self

I was totally bored tonight when I came across this prompt. Now, I’m glad I took the time to write this one. I enjoyed this writing exercise very much!

Dear Trish,

This is a letter from your future self. The last 22 years have been hard, much harder than anything you’re going through right now. Even harder than being diagnosed with Lupus a couple of years ago – as scary as that was. Don’t worry so much about that. It’s really not going to affect your life so much, just be sure to get plenty of sleep even if people judge you harshly for sleeping 10 hours per day. It won’t be like that every day, but the extra sleep will keep you healthy and functioning more normally.

I suppose I could tell you to be more careful, not so impulsive. However, I think if you had not been so impulsive, you would have missed out on a lot of very good learning experiences that shaped who I am today. Remember, the mistakes do not define you – you are not the mistake. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you learn the lessons they are offering to teach you. Again, others may be harsh judges; but it is important that you do not judge yourself too harshly. When it comes down to it, your own thoughts have much more power and control over you than those of others.

I know it feels like no one understands you and that you must constantly hide from your true self. There will come a time when you can finally love and accept yourself, weird quirks and all, because you will realize that life is not about pleasing others or living up to the expectations of others. Set your own goals for your life, determine what it is that you want out of life (what makes you happy and productive), and strive to accomplish those things. And above all else, keep it simple! I still get overwhelmed as easily as you do now, so simplicity is the key to managing your life.

There’s no easy way to tell you this, but you are incredibly naïve. You always see the best in other people which will lead you to be taken advantage of many times throughout your life. A quote comes to mind at this point (from PBS’s production of Northanger Abby), “I think you have had quite a dangerous upbringing. You’ve been brought up to believe that everyone is as pure in heart as you are.” Never lose sight of the best qualities in humanity. Those are a source of great inspiration. However, accept that evil does exist and choose the path of understanding to help cope with the loss of innocence.

There is plenty more I could tell you, but I think I’ll allow you to ponder this for a while. I’ll close with another quote, one that kind of sums up the quest of my life:

“In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

Sincerely,

Patricia

P.S. And one other thing, STOP getting perms! They just don’t work for your hair texture; and besides, long straight hair is much lovelier, goes with the whole 70’s style you love so much, and is sooooo much easier to care for. Just wash & go!