Olive: our anxiety

 The FRAZZLED early days of dog-motherhood

The FRAZZLED early days of dog-motherhood

When they brought her around the corner of the rescue organization, the first thing I noticed was her protruding ribs.

But this malnourished two-year-old dog looked at me and her whole body wiggled. It was like she said “oh, thank god. You made it.”

Moments later, when my husband entered the room, she said something quite different to him. She said something like, “fuck you, I will kill you dead.” She initiated what we would come to affectionately call “full-on Cujo mode.” She tucked her ears back, barked and snarled while backing up.

“Oh, yeah. She doesn’t really like men,” the rescue organization lady said.

Jeremy immediately dropped to the ground, palms up, and said with confidence - “it’s okay, she’ll love me in a minute.”

And because he knows these sorts of things, she totally did.

Thirty minutes later, the three of us piled into the car and went home.

And we were happy because, since the loss of Grace more than a year earlier, we had shuffled through life with a dog-shaped hole in our hearts. Olive filled that space beautifully. But it might have been worth thinking about the implications of her little Cujo moment.

Olive was anxious, timid, and haunted by her past abuse. She has had very few experiences of the world, other than having far too many litters of puppies for her young age. Fire hydrants, flags, and statues were terrifying. She made no distinction between house guests and intruders, so anyone daring to step onto our porch would send her into a fear-rage. When I walked down the driveway to get the mail, she cried hysterically as if her death was imminent. She ripped the spines off my books. If we put her in a crate, she would bang her tail against the side so hard that it would spurt blood, covering the walls like a horror film. When I tried to pad the crate by pinning a quilt to the sides, she ate the safety pins.

"She's so cute," my friends said. "How's it going?"

I would smile and say "She's a handful." And I'd try not to cry.

We wanted a challenge. We said that to anyone who would listen while we were looking for a dog. We were experienced dog owners and we were ready for a dog who was difficult. We expected that would be an older dog with health issues, but we kept saying we wanted the harder-to-place rescue. And we got just what we asked for.

The last five months have been filled with love and sadness. Of heartbreak. Of joy. Of learning and of failures. At times, I wondered if we took on a dog who is too much to handle. If her anxiety and fears are beyond my capabilities -- because they trigger all of mine. I laid in bed and held Jeremy's hand in the dark while I choked back my shame and guilt and I whispered: "what if we made a mistake?"

But as I train Olive, I find myself in training.

We use the phrase "leave it" to mean a bunch of things. It basically means I don’t like what you are doing with your face. It could be sniffing at a rotting bird carcass, or barking at the neighbor kids. "Leave it" means - stop that immediately and make a different choice. 

One night, I was spinning. It was 3 AM and I was obsessing about how Olive's terrible separation anxiety was going to mean that Jeremy and I could never travel again. I'd never again go out to a movie. I extrapolated to the extent that I no longer had a career because I was not able to leave my house. (Nevermind that I work from home - this was not a time for logic.)

3 AM has a way of creating a singular panic within your heart. The half-awake, inky blackness seeps in and makes any number of irrational things inevitable. At a certain point, my wiser self woke up, stepped to the forefront and said, This is silly. We need to stop. So I said, out loud, LEAVE IT. It's time to stop what I’m doing with my face. Or, rather, that unreliable narrator behind my face - my mind.

Leave it, Lisa.

Leave the irrational thoughts and the spinning and the obsessing that is not productive. Leave the repetitive, negative thoughts. Put down the fear like the rotting bird carcass that it is.

Leave it.

And go lie down.

In the past few months, we have recruited the help of some incredibly talented dog trainers, and Olive has made fantastic progress. She is calmer, more confident, and less fearful. Her separation anxiety has dissipated and she now knows that I always come back to her. I see how clearly she reflects my anxiety right back at me. Olive needs me to temper my fears so that I can show her how to manage hers. I need to be brave so she can relax and let me be the Alpha of our lives. She is forcing me to calmly step up and take charge.

We are learning how to play. How to find the courage to go on adventures. And we always come back home where it is safe and warm with good food and cozy beds.

Sometimes what seems like a mistake is actually a gift. Because this is what love does: it builds you up and it breaks you down to the core of what you need to deal with. It holds up a mirror and shows you the scariest depths and most beautiful heights, all at once.

And when you get to witness it all and also get to be the recipient of cuddles and unconditional love? You're one lucky dog.

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Accurate not arrogant: admitting your strengths

 

What are you really good at?

Does that question make you squirm? Or is it just me?

Perhaps it’s a product of my humble Canadian upbringing (heaven forbid a Canuck be proud of an accomplishment) but the idea of talking about the things I’m good at seems about as fun as a bikini wax.

But isn't there a difference between confidence and arrogance? Between honesty and grandstanding? Isn’t it our right as people of this planet to embrace the things we are good at – isn’t that, in fact, our societal obligation?

Why can I only admit that there are some things at which I do not completely suck? I say things like “decent” to describe my writing, my yoga, my workshops. I cringe when asked to promote the two books I've written. But ask me where my weaknesses lie and I’ll launch into a calculated and comprehensive attack detailing my sub-par spelling skills, fashion sense, and map-reading abilities.

Not everyone is this way. Other people can stand with pride and say “Hey, I’m good at this” and not be struck by lightning or fall so madly in love with themselves that they are rendered useless to the outside world. Other people can accurately name their strengths and then identify their weaknesses in an equally factual manner.  I know that these Other People are not just mythical creatures but they truly do walk around among us. I am married to one of these baffling mortals, which makes it all the more frustrating that I’ve not picked up on this particular habit.

If this is indeed a habit, it can be adjusted. So, here’s my plan: I’m going to write down at least ten things that I am good at. From big things to little things. From the serious to the silly. From my ability to self-motivate and hit even the tightest of deadlines to my talents as a Stuffed Animal Surgeon. I'm a devoted friend and I can cook without a recipe. I love to give away books and I can carry a six-foot-tall Christmas tree all by myself. I’m going to put that list somewhere I see it a lot and I’m going to look at it until the sight of that list doesn't make my skin turn inside out.

Because here's the real issue: if we don't proudly stand up and own our talents - we get overlooked. If you're locked in "move along, nothing to see here" mode, you are absolutely going to miss out on some awesome opportunities. And those opportunities are not just great for you; they are chances for you to empower and inspire others. That's your moment to contribute some of your unique goodness to the world.

So, don't be selfish and keep all your awesomeness to yourself.

Stand up.

Be seen.

Take up space in the world.

It's your birthright to be here.

I want to hear it: what are you really good at? (Seriously, leave a comment and tell me.)

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Dear Gods of Whatever: a prayer from a highly sensitive person

Dear Gods of Whatever,

This is a prayer to care less.

This is a heartfelt wish to have it not matter.

To be the Queen of Whatevs.

To let it all roll off my back, like a nonchalant duck.

I think there are those people, people who are cool and calm and collected. Who shrug their shoulders and laugh it all off.

The blessed ones.

They can handle the awkward comment, the whining dog, the unanswerable question, the brutal unfairness of the world.

They seem to know they will survive, they will move on. It will all fundamentally be okay.

Why do I move so quickly to life-ruining conclusions? Why does my stomach churn at a mere thought? Why do my eyes tear as I imagine complete devastation?

So I pray to you, Gods of Whatever, to help me to care less.

To be more callous.

Less empathetic.

Please --- just make me a tiny bit more of an asshole.

Amen.

How to love someone who has anxiety

"What should I say?"

I get this question a lot. It almost always comes up when I do speaking events at colleges and conferences. During the Q&A, an incredibly kind and thoughtful person stands up and says, "I don't have anxiety, but my partner/friend/parent/kid does. How do I help them?"

I first tell them they are pretty much an angel walking around among us. They care so much that they came to a talk about someone else's issue just so they could learn to help. I hope that a million blessings fall on their heads.

Then I say that I don't have a one-size-fits-all answer, but I can tell them what helps me when I'm in the middle of an anxiety spiral:

Ask if there is anything you can do 

99% percent of the time, I'm going to say there is nothing you can do. But it's going to make me feel loved and supported that you asked. And on the occasion that I really do need something (Can you bring over dinner? Meet me at the gym for a workout? Get me out of this social obligation?) I'll know you actually mean it.

Understand that I don't need you to fix anything

Most of the time, I just need to explain what is in my head and have someone hold my hand and say something like, "ugh, I'm sorry, that sucks." Please know there is zero pressure on you to fix whatever is going on. And you definitely don't need to fix me. I'm not broken. I'm just a girl with some anxiety.

Let me cry

Crying is good for me - it's a release valve. Trying to shove those emotions down is much worse than just crying it out for a little while. If you can just sit with me through the uncomfortable ugly cry and maybe get me another Kleenex, that is incredibly meaningful.

Tell me you get it, that you've been here (if you really mean it)

This is a controversial one. I frequently see the advice that you shouldn't tell a struggling person your own stories of struggle or say that you know how it feels. But personally, I love it when someone does that. It makes me feel less alone to know that other people have had to deal with this shit, too. It reminds me that things won't always feel this hard. So use your own judgment with this one. But always make sure that you are listening first, and sharing your experience as a distant second.

Be silly with me

Lightening things up always helps me put things in perspective. Not in dismissive "it could be worse, you could be a Rohingya refugee" kind of way -- but let me know we can laugh together and it's not always about my anxiety.  Cute animal memes or cuddling up together for an Arrested Development marathon might seem frivolous, but it can help to stop the Doom Spiral.

Text to check in the next day

The "Just thinking of you and sending a hug"  text is a wonderful thing. A well-timed heart emoji has been known to turn my entire day around. For many of us with anxiety, we worry that people will decide that we're annoying or overreacting or just too much to handle. A quick check-in lets me know that you're still here, that my anxiety didn't freak you out, that you love me for who I am, which is so much bigger than the anxiety. (And you know that phone anxiety is a legit thing for some of us, right? So yeah, a text is better than a call.)

It's not easy to love someone with anxiety. So to all those friends and family members who care to learn and support us -- thank you. We're grateful from the bottom of our anxious little hearts.

**Want to read more from me about anxiety and depression? I wrote a whole book on the topic -- Not Just Me: Anxiety, depression, and learning to embrace your weird. **

Have additional ideas that have been useful to you? Please leave them in the comments!

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Writing & Wellness Yoga Retreat in Boone, NC!

Join me for a Writing & Wellness Yoga Retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, N.C. Nov. 2 - 5th, 2017!

You already know me, but you'll also get to know my retreat co-leader, the amazing Cecily Armstrong! Cecily’s trainings span decades and explore all facets of the mind, body, and spirit. She has a Health Coach Certification from the Integrative Institute of Nutrition and is a graduate of the Barbara Brennan School of Healing. Cecily has been teaching yoga for twenty years and is a facilitator at the Hero’s Journey.

Join both of us for a fun, restorative and empowering retreat exploring various aspects of emotional and physical wellness.

The retreat will include:

writing exercises to understand anxiety & the inner critic

nutrition talks - examining both physical and emotional nourishment

discussions on purpose, connection, and authentic power

yoga, meditation, and pranayama

healthy Ayurvedic meals (all included in the registration price)

free time at the beautiful retreat center - massage, pottery, hiking

You'll return home with tools to help you live a more happy, healthy, vibrant life. And we'll have a whole bunch of fun, too! This retreat is open to everyone. No writing or yoga experience necessary.

Tuition includes accommodation and meals for 4 days/3 nights:  starting at $677   *$50 off for early birds registering before September 1st!

Get more information and register at: artoflivingretreatcenter.org

And please let me know if you have any questions! Hope to see you in North Carolina!

 

Interim Time: now what?

Transition. It's supposed to be a word that is exciting, full of newness and opportunity. But more often, it's just scary.

For the past eighteen months, I've had my head down, writing Not Just Me, my new book about anxiety and depression. It's been a wonderful experience and is incredibly meaningful to me.

But the book that has been the center of my universe is pretty much done.

I feel like I just got fired.

Now that I've lifted my head from the page and I'm looking around, I'm asking myself that question that is full of possibility and uncertainty.

Now what?

Of course, there will still be blog writing and yoga teaching and speaking events.  There will be tea dates with friends and Friday Night Lights marathons with my husband. But The Book that has been the center of my days is no longer. I have to let it out into the world to be liked or hated or ignored. That part is none of my business. I need to let go and move on to....something else.

It's unsettling.

At a time when I find the world to be particularly chaotic and confusing, I feel even more need to be intentional with my own life. I'm coming back to the questions I asked myself when I left Los Angeles and quit being an actor. What do I want my life to be about? What do I want it all to mean?  I asked those questions when I was 22 years old, and I find myself annoyed that I need to ask again at age 38. But I'm realizing that this an essential part of being awake - circling back to the essential questions. Revisiting them and being open to new answers.

My dear friend Susan sent me this poem and it soothed my soul.

(It's a longer poem, but these are the sections that got me.)

Interim Time ~ John O’Donohue,

The path you took to get here has washed out; The way forward is still concealed from you.

You cannot lay claim to anything; In this place of dusk, Your eyes are blurred; And there is no mirror.

The more faithfully you can endure here, The more refined your heart will become For your arrival in the new dawn.

So I'm doing my best to love the questions and accept the uncertainty. I'm filled with gratitude that I have options at all and I understand that having an existential crisis is a great privilege. I get it.

And I also think that getting intentional about our lives--not operating on auto-pilot--is how we act as a benefit to the world. We all want our lives to mean something, we all want to contribute in a meaningful way. That looks different for everyone and it's worth spending some time on.

If your way forward is concealed right now, you are not alone. I have faith that there is a new dawn for all of us -- and our strong, beautifully refined hearts.

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No is a complete sentence

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 12.06.48 PM.png I did a keynote speech at The Lady Project Summit recently and Avery and Erica made a meme of it. Which flatters me beyond belief. I LOVE being a meme.

It captures something that I said during the Q&A section of my talk when a woman in the audience asked me about finding balance. Dozens of heads around her nodded as if they were equally baffled by this idea of how to have a balanced life while still having clean clothes, a side-hustle, fulfilling relationships and a strong core.

Like many people, I have a hard time saying no. There are a million prettier ways to say this, but the reason I struggle to say no comes down to one thing:

I want people to like me.

Actually, I want people to love me.

That desire has been prevalent my whole life.  I have always tried to make people happy: I do what they want me to do, I am who they want me to be. I want people to think that I am reliable and kind and just...good. In the brief moments where I feel like maybe I've succeeded, there is this emotional high. But then, like all things, that feeling of approval fades. And I have to find some other hoop to jump through to prove something to someone.

It's not one of my most charming attributes.

It's not a bad thing to want to help people--a life of service is a beautiful thing. But when it happens in place of your own needs, it's unsustainable. You burn out. And then you're no good to anyone.

I had to say no to someone recently. Two years ago I would have said yes because it would have satisfied my people-pleasing nature. I would have hated every second but I would have done it, waiting for that moment when someone patted me on the head and called me a Good Girl. Which might happen. Or it might not.

But I took a deep breath and tried not to cringe visibly as I said no. I didn't go into a diatribe about why I had to say no. I just said that wasn't going to be possible. (And then I blurted out "sorry" because that's my reflex - it was like trying to hold back a sneeze.)

And it all felt terrible.

But then pretty soon, it didn't feel terrible anymore.

Because I wasn't being selfish. I was being reasonable. It was not something I could have done without being totally overloaded and resentful. It was not going to be good for anyone.

No is a complete sentence.

I can't make everyone happy all the time.  I'm going to do things that piss people off and make them mad at me. Not everyone is required to like me.

But I like myself a hell of a lot better when I say no sometimes. I remember what my priorities are and I include myself on the list of people who deserve to be happy.

And then I can give my own self a pat on the head.

Good girl.

——–

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Speaking event in Northern Virginia!

Hey Northern Virginia/DC people! I'll be doing a public event tomorrow night and I'd love to see you there!

May 10th, 7 pm to 9 pm in Clifton, VA. And I heard there might even be wine...

The talk will be about the things that most of us are afraid to talk about - anxiety and depression. I'll share my experiences with those issues and the ways that they have impacted my life. I'll talk about my time working as an actor, and the decisions that led to leaving my career to find something that felt more authentic. We'll look at the causes of anxiety, the latest research on what helps those of us who struggle and we'll laugh a lot --because if we can't laugh at our anxiety, we really are screwed.

We'll have plenty of time for Q&A and I'll have my memoir You Look Like That Girl for purchase and signing.

Please purchase tickets through this link - I'll see you there!

Revisited - Recipe for happiness: squash the expectations

*I'm working hard on my new book and finding myself with little time for new blog posts. I decided to bring back some older posts, that you might have missed... Hope you enjoy! i-f7dC4Xd-L

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This is apparently the mathematical breakdown of what it means to be happy. I totally agree, don't you?

Actually, my idea of happiness doesn't ever include exponents, but what this equation means is totally fantastic.

There was recently an article in The Atlantic that offers this equation and says that happiness doesn't depend on how things are going. It depends on whether things are going better or worse than you thought they would.

Happiness is all about expectations. 

This is entirely true in my experience. My life used to go like this:

  • I get crazy excited about something (starting a Facebook page to share my blog)
  • it starts off the way I hoped it would (I post stuff, I have 9,000 people following the page)
  • then, that's not enough, I change my expectations and emotionally crash because I don't have the upgraded version of that exciting thing (why do I not have 90,000 people following the page?)

And when things don't go at all as I expected? If someone doesn't respond the way I want them to respond, or I work really hard on something and it flops - suddenly I'm curled up on the couch claiming I'm eternally destined to be a dismal failure. It's a screwed-up roller coaster of emotional angst.

And it's the nature of the human condition.

It seems we've always been that way, and that's why 2,500 years ago, the Buddha said that life is suffering. (He used the Pali word dukkha, which could be less dramatically translated as "unsatisfactory" or "stressful.") We suffer because we are constantly clinging to something that is slipping away. Everything is slipping away because everything is impermanent and nothing lasts forever.

Which seems kind of dark and horrifically depressing, until you realize this is just the reality of the world and there is an answer for dealing with it:

    • The Buddha called it equanimity
    • The coach from the UVA men's basketball team told his guys to not get "too high on themselves or too low"
    • The Gin Blossoms said, "If you don't expect too much from me, you might not be let down."

It's all about managing expectations. Of course there are things we want. That's good. But when we tie our self-worth and inner peace to whether or not we get them, that's when the trouble starts.

I want to do well in life.

I want everyone to like me.

I want to have a nice glass of scotch without it giving me a massive headache.

I can't always have all the things I want. But I want them anyway. And sometimes, I expect them. Which, if I look at that another way, can seem like I'm saying that I am entitled to have those things. And an attitude of entitlement is gross.

So, is the answer to never want anything? Or to wander around like Eeyore expecting life to generally suck? No. It's finding that beautiful middle ground. It's about living in a place of contentment, where what you have is enough, and your expectations are humble - so you are pleased when things are going well and only slightly ruffled when they are not. It's riding that wave of life with gratitude, rather than fighting with the tides because you'd prefer if the ocean was a puddle.

Let's stop thinking the world owes us something, let's work hard but let go of the emotional attachment to the outcome, let's be kind without looking to get something in return. Suddenly, 99% of what happens is a joyful surprise.

And that is a really happy thing.

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Perspective shift: a weekend with history

blog-mlk-0029-2 A couple of months ago I went to Washington, D.C. with my husband. It was his birthday and we spent the weekend eating too much, drinking over-priced cocktails and walking around the city.

I'm Canadian but I have lived in the US for the last twenty years and I now have my American citizenship as well. I love this country, and I see the problems. And the problems have been overwhelming me lately. The divisiveness, the name-calling, the hatred and bigotry. I get deflated and anxious. I get sad and frustrated. I talk about moving back to Canada.

But while in D.C. we went to monuments and memorials: Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Roosevelt, WW II, Vietnam - and something occurred to me:

As a country, we have been through some serious shit.

Are things bad now?

Yes.

Have they been worse before?

Yes.

That doesn't negate what is happening right now, but what it does mean is that we can do this. We were made to deal with hard things. We are strong and resilient. We were made to overcome and heal and work together to become better. This is true whether we're talking about the political climate or global terrorism or our own personal struggles with anxiety or depression.

It's easy to throw up our hands and assume that it's all just going to hell. But apathy is the easy way out. We might go through hell -- but we're sure as hell going to keep walking until we get somewhere better.

We're all in this together, so let's be radically kind and endlessly courageous.

with love,

~L

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Meditation for People Who Can't Meditate: an audio guide

"Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem."

-Dan Harris, 10% Happierscreen-shot-2016-09-21-at-8-51-33-am.png

People tell me all the time that they can't meditate -- they tried it and their minds are spinning wildly and they can't stop their thoughts.

I’m sorry to break this to you because I'm sure you are an absolutely delightful person: but your brain is not special. It’s not.

That is what everyone’s brain does. It's your brain’s job to always look for problems. That’s how it has kept you alive.

Saying you can't meditate because you can't stop your thoughts is like saying you can't play basketball because you aren't a unicorn. Of course you are not a unicorn and of course you can't stop your thoughts.

Luckily, we're not trying to stop our thoughts when we meditate. We're just trying to shift our relationship with them and realize those manic thoughts don't have to run our whole damn lives.

Meditation was an absolute game-changer for me - it helped me get a handle on my anxiety and depression, and I believe it can help everyone.  It's not woo-woo hippie stuff. It's science.

For me, meditation is like brushing my teeth. It might not be a thrilling activity, but it's vital to my health. And it makes me much more pleasant to be around. Trust me. 

I made a little guided meditation audio for you, dear person who thinks they can't meditate. The mediation part is just five minutes - you can totally handle that. Five minutes. Once a day. Not a BFD.

Happy breathing, everyone.

(And if you're interested in learning more, I write extensively on meditation in my new book Not Just Me: anxiety, depression, and learning to embrace your weird.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBfkjgYg71Q&w=560&h=315]

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What do you say?

"You have great hair." I was putting down my yoga mat at the studio. I turned to the woman who had spoken to me, she was sitting on the floor, stretching. I had never met her before.

"Pardon me?" I asked.

"You have great hair."

My hair had been up in a ponytail all morning because I had been writing - fighting, really - a troublesome section of my new book and so now that my hair was out long, it had that weird kink in the middle where I had secured the elastic too tight. As I was writing, I had thought maybe the words would come more easily if I could feel some air on the back of my neck. It hadn't really worked.

My last haircut was seven months ago. I've recently started using this special shampoo in an attempt to combat my eternally oily scalp and it leaves the ends of my hair feeling dry. But I hadn't even washed my hair in two days.

I considered telling her all that. I wanted to explain why she was wrong and list all the ways in which my hair was not at all "great." I thought I'd tell her how I always wanted to have straight, blonde, angel-hair thin strands that hung passively to my shoulders, not the wild curls that make their own decisions about where they are going. I was about to tell her that my dark hair is increasingly streaked with grey and, while I don't take issue with the color, I do not understand why those hairs are a different texture and they stand straight up in the air - as if they are waving in the landing of middle age, directly upon my head.

But then I looked at her, staring up at me, offering me a smile and this kindness.

What do you say?  We ask little kids when they are given a gift.

Thank you. They recite.

When did we forget what to say? When did we get so full of self-doubt and self-hatred and whatever else this is that masquerades as humility? It's not humility when we reject someone else's gift of kindness. It's not modesty when we shut down someone's attempt at connection because we are unable to get over ourselves and our insecurities. It's just rude.

Maybe it was something about being in a yoga studio that reminded me to be grateful. Yoga has a funny way of doing that. So instead of taking her compliment and bashing it into the ground with all these bullshit issues about beauty and femininity, I said:

"Thank you. You made my day."

As I was walking out of class, I said to the woman in front of me:

"I love your leggings."

She shook her head, "Oh, no, they're cheap. I just got them from that consignment place downtown."

"I really don't care - you look super cute."

She grinned at me and laughed.

"Well, thank you."

Maybe someday, we'll all remember what to say.

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Mostly I write but sometimes I say the words out loud

Hey all, I wanted to share this clip from a talk I did in June - all about anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Even though I don't entirely love living with these things - I love talking about this stuff. It makes me feel less alone, it reduces the social stigma around mental health and above all, it reminds me that healing is possible when we can connect and laugh and say to each other oh my God, I totally know what you mean.

Hope you enjoy this short clip. (I have been doing more talks lately, so I should have more clips to share soon.) And if you're interested in having me come talk at your school, organization or conference - you can see my speaking kit here!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilcjT2Sbbnc&amp]

Burn it up: impermanence and playing with fire

I was talking to a friend about how much I like to burn my writing. I don't burn it all the time, but when it's something I feel like I need to release, it's incredibly powerful cathartic ritual. That got me thinking about a wedding I attended two years ago.

I didn't want to go to the wedding because I had nothing to wear.

It's humiliating to admit that. It's such a frivolous, stereotypical girl excuse. I'd been to a million weddings, but nothing quite like this. There were going to be a lot of people there and my social anxiety was running pretty high.

It was silly to think that I was worried looking out-of-place...with a bunch of people who take looking out-of-place very seriously. The wedding was done "burner-style" (think Burning Man) and grounded in the spirit of community, art and self-expression.

When we arrived at the farm in rural Virginia, there were tutus and masks and glow in the dark hula-hoops. There were hot pants and frilly bras -- and the women's outfits were even more eccentric. There were also 60-year-old women in lawn chairs wearing Laura Ashley dresses that would have been right for a church picnic. There was literally nothing that I could have worn that would have been inappropriate. And if I had worn literally nothing, I suspect that would have even been okay, too.

People had set up camp for a week and there was swimming in the river and fire dancing and a tent full of dress-up clothes. There was home-brew and dune buggies and of course, there was a wedding ceremony, in front of a two-story temple that our friends spent months building from scrap wood and fallen trees. We placed paintings, poems and wishes for the couple inside the temple, hanging them from branches.

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And after the ceremony, after the "I do" and the kiss - we burned it all to the ground.

There was such joy in watching it burn. It was a profound sense of release.

Of letting go. Of surrendering to life and the inevitable destruction.

Because eventually, everything deteriorates and falls apart and there is no sense clinging to it. Permanence seems comforting but it's an illusion, and that makes this moment now even more precious. You have to love it with all your heart while it's here. Because one day, it won't be. And neither will you.

Letting go means opening up more space for joy. Not even love can survive if you cling too tightly. Love works when you let the other person be who they need to be and love them through it. As my friend said in his vows "I love you and I will love who you become." Nothing is static. People change.

What a profound statement at the beginning of a marriage.

This wedding was full of joy. The bride wore a purple top. They danced down the aisle and basked in their weirdness. I have always been ashamed of my weirdness, and it did me good to see people so comfortable with theirs. I cried happy tears from beginning to end of the ceremony.

It was just so very them.

We let it all go, and we burned it all up.

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*****

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How to live in the world: tips for the anxious, the introverts, and other sensitive souls

 I’m going to have to make small talk, I just know it.

I’m going to have to make small talk, I just know it.

I am a person who gets easily overwhelmed by the world.

The snap of the shampoo bottle lid is too loud and startles me every time so I have to unscrew the lid which takes forever and spills shampoo everywhere.  Last Thanksgiving I read a book about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and my dismay almost ruined our entire holiday. We have dimmers in every room of our house because anything over 40 watts causes my heart to race. I was recently invited to a pretty cool event - I had to turn it down, mostly because there would be too many people there.

I'm what is known as a highly-sensitive person (HSP) which means that my nervous system processes sensory data more deeply than most other people. I'm also an introvert with an anxiety disorder.  It's the ultimate awkward trifecta.

And I always thought it was just me who had six fewer layers of skin than everyone else.

But there are actually a bunch of us. We're just not talking about it.

Being this way in the world has its challenges on the best of days, but in this age of constant exposure to the horrors of wars, terrorism and social injustice - it can be downright brutal. And to be completely honest, I've been struggling with this a lot lately. It's hard to know how to operate in a world with so much suffering.

But I've learned a few things that help:

Protect yourself from the media

I'm not saying put your head in a hole and ignore the planet. I'm not even sure how one would do that these days. But you can limit your exposure. You can read articles and watch programs only when you are feeling prepared to deal with it all. And don't fall down the rabbit hole and get hooked on marinating in the misery. Learn enough to be informed - then stop. The Skimm has revolutionized my life in this way. It lets me know what's going on in the world in one email every morning. It's framed in a fun but informative way, and reading it doesn't make me want to crawl under my couch.

If you're sad, feel sad

Really shitty things happen in the world. It's super hard out there. So, feel sad. Don't pile on extra angst that you shouldn't be so sensitive and don't worry that you'll fall into a doom spiral and you'll be sad forever. Just feel sad about the sad thing. Actually feel it. Don't distract yourself and drink/shop/numb it away. Give the sadness your full attention in whatever way feels right.  You can just sit there and cry, or you can write, draw, yell, beat the hell out of a couch cushion. The funny thing about feelings is that if you don't really deal with them - feel them all the way down to your bones - they never leave. They linger on your shoulders, ready to jump up and get in your face at any moment. We tend to be terrified of our less positive emotions - anger, sadness, loneliness, fear. But they are inevitable and just as much a part of the human experience as joy. They are all part of the package of being a person. Emotions come and go like waves, so we just need to learn how to surf so we don't drown in them.

Then, bring your focus to the light

After you've really acknowledged the pain that comes with life, it tends to dissipate. So, feel the suffering and if you want to engage or donate or go to a rally - do it.  And then resist the urge to dwell endlessly in the tragedy.  Look for the the things that are still lovely. Because we want to be realistic here: life can absolutely be hard, but we also need to cultivate gratitude for the wonderful things. Enjoy the simple moments. Go for a walk with a friend. Volunteer for a cause you love. Cuddle on the couch.

"Think of all the beauty still around you and be happy."- Anne Frank

This Living in the World thing is not for wimps, I'm still trying to figure it all out. But sometimes it's just nice to know that this sensitive soul of mine is not alone. There are many of us who feel lost and gutted by the suffering in the world.

And we'll cry together. But we'll also get up the next day and bravely show up to love wholeheartedly, stand up for what's right, and dance in the kitchen.

Because that's how things get better.

*this post was inspired by a question from a reader. If you have something you would like me to write about, send me an email - LisaJakub108@gmail.com

————–

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Looking back: lessons of 2015

I tend to be a pensive person anyway, but the fact that Christmas, my birthday and New Years all cram into one week - I go into major reflective mode. It was a complicated year in many ways. But isn't that how it always goes? Ups and downs, success and challenges, joy and suffering. But I learned some important things this year:

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable can have some serious rewards

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This one shocks me. Public speaking seems like a terrible idea for an introvert with social anxiety. But I get to talk at conferences, schools, libraries and organizations about the topics I love - authenticity, passion, living your true path even if it's different from what people expected. It's never easy, but every time I do it, I realize that it doesn't kill me. It's actually good fun and I've met some incredible people. I'm looking forward to the events I have scheduled for 2016.

 

Need something? Start something.

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Here's the thing about being a writer - you spend a whole lot of time alone, starring at a screen. I love talking to other writers at conferences, but realized I was missing that at home. I wanted that kinship but I didn't really know where to find it. So, I created it. I invited a few writers to have tea with me on the first Wednesday of the month and talk about our work. And books and words and pens.

This little group now brings me such joy. We get together to talk about things that spark or challenge us and we commit to accomplish certain things by our next meeting. It's all very responsible and keeps us accountable. But more than that, we have a deep sense of community and connection. We send  little messages of encouragement and vent to each other when Salon.com doesn't return our email. (Ahem.)

It's so important to have a support system - but these things aren't automatic. I had to reach out and create the community that I was missing. I didn't know the people in my writing group very well when I invited them to tea, but now they are my sisters in words. It takes some courage and effort, but it feels amazing to mindfully create the things you need.

 

Being a teacher doesn't mean you have all the answers

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I started teaching an online memoir writing class this year through Writing Pad. I was scared out of my mind to do it. Like, two hours before the first class started I was pacing my house and crying. What if my students grilled me about non-defining relative clauses? What right do I have to tell anyone anything? I don't have any fancy degrees. Hell, I was tossed out of high school.

And at the end, my class and I were all swapping information and saying how much we loved each other.

I found that my job was to encourage others to be their most brave selves so they could share their stories. My job was also to be myself and put my own spin on things, like talking about the Hero's Journey as it pertains to Dr. Seuss. I'm thrilled to be able to teach another class in January.

I'll be a student forever

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Yoga isn't just exercise for me - it's a way of life. I wanted to learn more about the practice, so I took a yoga intensive teacher training this year.

Yoga for me has been such a powerful tool for getting my anxiety under control. It's a full body/mind/spirit cleansing. Whenever I get overwhelmed and need to get my head right - I hit my mat. I love being able to share that with other people. And it's fun to do yoga-pretzel poses at parties.

 

Marking death is celebrating life

g and me

My Gramma passed away this year and that loss is still sharp for me. But I get my love for words from her, so I feel like I get to continue in her footsteps. She was my first yoga student and one of my first blog readers. I will continue to work on my terrible spelling in her honor.

 

Everyone defines success for themselves

I got to open a big box and it was full of my words. And while it's fantastic that my memoir You Look Like That Girl was published, I've been staying away from the reviews, sales stats and the Amazon rankings. I don't want to get caught up in those traditional markers of status. That stuff doesn't matter to me nearly as much as getting a note from someone who said they enjoyed it and felt that it resonated with them somehow. Besides, I figure if I made it to some best seller list or won a Pulitzer - someone would let me know.

I write because I think words are an incredible way to connect. That's why I love personalizing books for people. There is something really cool about the idea that the book goes directly from my hands to yours. And recording the audiobook was crazy good fun - I like that I get to keep people company on their commute.

 

Book tours and interviews are cool...but...

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I did a book tour for You Look Like That Girl and read in bookstores all over the place. Sometimes lots of people showed up, sometimes not so much. I did live interviews on morning television and I called in to twelve radio shows in two hours. Sometimes I was eloquent and witty, sometimes I got tongue-tied and spilled something on my shirt. Some interviewers were great and others made me respond "I'm not going to answer that" - repeatedly. It was fun and I'm grateful to have had the experience because it allowed me to connect with even more people. But it was also nerve-wracking and I had to wear nice shoes and they put lots of makeup on me. Life is this continual balance, and I'm just learning how to surf those waves without falling on my face.

***

What is 2016 going to be about for me? More writing. More connecting. I'm working on my next book - it is about anxiety, panic attacks and depression. It's my story, as well as the stories of others, told with love, humor and a whole bunch of legit sciencey research. This topic is incredibly important to me, and a big thank you to those of you who have contacted me to say that you are looking forward to reading it. That keeps my fingers on the keyboard, even when there is a Downton Abbey marathon calling to me.

As always, I am entirely grateful for all the support I've received from readers. I could not be doing any of this without you and so thank you thank you thank you. The community that we have created around this blog and social media has given me faith in the humanity that can be found in the world. There is a lot of crummy stuff out there - and there is also so much kindness. Y'all rock.

Okay, now you go. What were the coolest things you got to do in 2015?

Happy new year, everyone!

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Follow your bliss...backlash

I think you can find criticism for pretty much anything. I recently had someone say he was never going to read anything else from me because I wished for peace for everyone in the world. Eating healthy? That's the wrong kind of healthy.

Helping people? Don't help them too much.

Cute cats? Hey, why are you discriminating against dogs?

So, it shouldn't be surprising that there is some push-back about this idea of living a life based in passion.

And I get it. People like to argue about things. But I truly believe in this whole follow your bliss thing - even if it is a phrase that seems like it should be cross-stitched. The problem is that the intention behind the idea of pursuing your dream is sometimes misinterpreted.

I don't mean quit your job and move across the country

Yes, I get it - that is actually exactly what I did. But leaving my career wasn't the first step for me. First, I realized I was miserable and started exploring what I might find exciting in my life - then I read books about art history and going to law school and working for non-profits. I kept doing the job I had, the job that was paying my mortgage, but I took community college courses, too. Living authentically and with passion is about waking up to your life, not just sleepwalking and missing the whole thing. If it means signing up for a photography class on the weekend or volunteering at a shelter, that's amazing. If it means spending one evening a week checking in on your lonely neighbor or working on that freelance idea you've had for years - spectacular. Your job is merely one aspect of your life.

I don't mean that if you don't know what your passion is, you're doomed

I hear this one a lot. People say that it annoys them to hear "follow your passion" since they don't know what that is. When I left L.A. I had no earthly clue what was next for me. None. I had no skills beyond a film set. I didn't have a back up plan or helpful things like a high school diploma. And yes, that was terrifying but I kind of loved it, too, because there was no pigeonhole waiting for me. If you are similarly clueless, I am so excited for you. Because you get to play. You get to try stuff. Here are some of the random things I tried and failed at:

  • I volunteered at a museum and helped little kids glue goggly eyes on a neckties and turn them into snakes. That didn't last long because of my lack of glue gun skills and my affection for profanity
  • I was a teaching assistant for a college course, but when I realized that was mostly about collating paper and buying tampons for students who needed them, I decided to stop doing that
  • I worked at a radio station but again my use of bad language made me not a great fit
  • I was a tutor for an adult literacy program which I loved but found heartbreakingly devastating
  • I designed websites for non-profits which I also loved mostly because I got to make pretty things while wearing sweatpants
  • I took a certification class to become a mediator and realized that when people yell about getting divorced, I mostly cry

If you don't know what your talents are, or what you love - there is nothing wrong with you. You just get to go on an adventure with your own soul. Are you mildly interested in heirloom seeds? Greek mythology? Helping people with addiction problems? Great. Step one in Project Passion: go to the library and take out a bunch of books on the topic.

Look at that - you're already living a passionate and engaged life.

Go, you.

I don't mean that you should plummet your family into poverty while you pursue your dream of being an Ultimate Fighting Champion

I expect you to be a reasonable human being here, and really look at how your passion might affect you or those you love. Some dreams should just be dreams. Might you be hurting someone? Then maybe it's time to look at ways to embrace your passion in a way that is less all-encompassing, or maybe it's a chance to keep yourself open for something else you might love.

I don't mean that it's easy

Of course it's not easy. Why the hell would I bother talking about it so much if it was easy? Living authentically might be one of the harder things we ever do in our lives. It's scary and vulnerable and people criticize you. It's painful getting out of your comfort zone and sacrifices are inevitable. Sometimes it downright sucks. But the inner peace that comes from feeling like you are living a life that reflects who you are - that is entirely worth it.

I'm actually not telling you that you should do anything

I'm simply saying that my life got a whole lot better when I stopped pretending to be someone else and started focusing on what I thought success looked like. If you're happy with your life, I'm thrilled for you. Don't let anyone tell you how you are supposed to live. But I like talking about passion because I never thought I deserved it. I thought it was more important to keep other people happy. I thought I was too old (at twenty-two!) to take on something new. I felt the need to live out of momentum and not rock the boat. I assumed I was incapable of doing anything other than acting, so I was destined to be dark and tortured. But really, I was just scared and didn't think I deserved something that felt better to me.

If you feel like you need permission to live passionately: here it is. Permission granted.

You deserve to feel that puppy-love spark about your life. And if you don't know what would offer that, you deserve to give yourself a little time - ten minutes a day - if that's all you have, to listen to your heart and explore the world and see what warms your soul. Because when you are happier and more fulfilled - you are able to give more to the world. And I don't don't know if you've looked around lately, but the world really needs it.

For me - it all started with the tinniest little whisper from deep within my core:

I like books.

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Recipe for happiness: squash the expectations

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This is apparently the mathematical breakdown of what it means to be happy. I totally agree, don't you?

Actually, my idea of happiness doesn't ever include exponents, but what this equation means is totally fantastic.

There was recently an article in The Atlantic that offers this equation and says that happiness doesn't depend on how things are going. It depends on whether things are going better or worse than you thought they would.

Happiness is all about expectations. 

This is entirely true in my experience. My life used to go like this:

  • I get manically excited about something (starting a Facebook page to share my blog)
  • it starts off the way I hoped it would (I post stuff, I have 9,000 people following the page)
  • then, that's not enough, I change my expectations and emotionally crash because I don't have the upgraded version of that manically exciting thing (why do I not have 90,000 people following the page?)

And when things don't go at all as I expected? If someone doesn't respond the way I want them to respond, or I work really hard on something and it flops - suddenly I'm curled up on the couch claiming I'm eternally destined to be a dismal failure. It's a screwed-up roller coaster of emotional angst.

And it's the nature of the human condition.

It seems we've always been that way, and that's why 2,500 years ago, the Buddha said that life is suffering. (He used the Pali word dukkha, which could be less-dramatically translated as "unsatisfactory" or "stressful.") We suffer because we are constantly clinging to something that is slipping away. Everything is slipping away because everything is impermanent and nothing lasts forever.

Which seems kind of dark and horrifically depressing, until you realize this is just the reality of the world and there is an answer for dealing with it:

    • The Buddha called it equanimity
    • The coach from the UVA men's basketball team told his guys to not get "too high on themselves or too low"
    • The Gin Blossoms said "If you don't expect too much from me, you might not be let down."

It's all about managing expectations. Of course there are things we want. That's good. But when we tie our self-worth and inner peace to whether or not we get them, that's when the trouble starts.

I want to do well in life.

I want everyone to like me.

I want to have a nice glass of scotch without it giving me a massive headache.

I can't always have all the things I want. But I want them anyway. And sometimes, I expect them. Which, if I look at that another way, can seem like I'm saying that I am entitled to have those things. And an attitude of entitlement is gross.

So, is the answer to never want anything? Or to wander around like Eeyore expecting life to generally suck? No. It's finding that beautiful middle ground. It's about living in a place of contentment, where what you have is enough, and your expectations are humble - so you are pleased when things are going well and only slightly ruffled when they are not. It's riding that wave of life with gratitude, rather than fighting with the tides because you'd prefer if the ocean was a puddle.

Let's stop thinking the world owes us something, let's work hard but let go of the emotional attachment to the outcome, let's be kind without looking to get something in return. Suddenly, 99% of what happens is a joyful surprise.

And that is a really happy thing.

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