Three upcoming workshops: Wanna hang out?

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I have three writing & yoga workshops coming up! During these workshops, we come together to practice, discuss, create, and connect. (And, no, I will never make you share your writing!)

No experience is necessary, all my workshops are open to beginners to both yoga and writing. And if you have a writing and/or yoga practice already, these workshops will help you take it to a new level.

June 23rd - Oak Island, NC

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I'll be at Rebel Soul Yoga doing a half-day retreat on meditation, yoga, and writing for anxiety. We will explore mindfulness,  yoga philosophy, and journaling prompts. There are only a couple of spots left, so reserve yours here.

September 6 – 9 - Boone, NC

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I will be leading a Writing and Wellness Yoga retreat with the incredible yoga teacher and health coach, Cecily Armstrong.  We'll be covering topics such as the various aspects of emotional and physical wellness, nutrition, journaling as a form of healing, and using yoga as a way to reconnect to your life.  Get more info and sign up at Art of Living Retreat Center.

September 28-30 - Buckingham County, VA

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I will be leading a Yoga and writing for anxiety retreat at Yogaville.  Both Yoga and writing offer ways to tap into the heart of the present moment and see what is true and real in everyday life. The key to more inner peace lies in learning to drop the story and access the serenity of the present moment so we can stop obsessing about the past and future. For those of us with anxiety, that may seem like an impossible task, but there are proven ways to retrain the brain and create healthier habits. Sign-ups are open now!

For more information about my Pose & Pose Workshops, click here.  And feel free to contact me with any questions. Hope to see you at a retreat!

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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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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New retreat at Kripalu in Massachusetts: Writing & Yoga for Anxiety

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health is an incredibly special place to me. It's where I did my 200-hour yoga certification, where I made some life-long friends, and where I found a new little piece of myself as a teacher.

And now I'm beyond honored to be teaching a workshop there! It's called Embrace Your Weird: Yoga, meditation, and writing to manage anxiety. Join me in Lennox, Massachusetts, March 30 - April 1st for a weekend of creativity, connection, and fun. We'll play with writing exercises and we'll practice some yoga. We'll talk about tangible ways to understand your inner critic, increase compassion for yourself and others, and access the joy within that often feels smothered by stress.

Never done any yoga? Never written anything other than email? No problem. This weekend is totally beginner-friendly.

Click on this link to get more information on the workshop and to sign up. Please contact me if you have any questions. And if you want to come, but you're feeling totally anxious about going to a workshop about anxiety, I'm happy to talk you through that. :)

I'd love to see you at Kripalu!

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Public Speaking Event: Hi, Michigan!

I'll be at Glen Oaks College in Centreville, Michigan this Thursday!

I'll be speaking about my new book Not Just Me, talking about leaving L.A., writing, mental health, yoga and whatever else might be on my mind that day. I'll be signing books and attempting small talk, so come hang out and let's be awkward together!

For more information, click here.

Moms for Mental Health event in Ottawa!

I am so thrilled to be part of this event in my Canadian homeland!

Join me and the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa for a lunchtime discussion on mental health on October 18th. I'll be there talking about my new book, Not Just Me, and a member of the YSB Youth Mental Health Counselling team will discuss what counseling looks like for youth and how to encourage a young person to reach out for support.

All proceeds from Moms for Mental Health will support YSB's life-changing mental health programs for youth.

Click here to register!

 

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!

 

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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Upcoming event in NY!

Hey, New Yorkers! I'll be doing a public event at Mohawk College in Utica on October 27th and I'd love to see you there. I'll be talking about my experience with mood disorders and the tools that help make life a little easier as an introvert who struggles with anxiety, depression, and a panic disorder.

But it's gonna be FUN, I promise!

You can get tickets here.

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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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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]

Embrace Your Weird event tonight in Virginia

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.02.31 AM Hi all,

I'm thrilled to be giving a talk tonight in Charlottesville, Virginia. The event is called Embrace Your Weird: from Anxiety to Authenticity and it's based on the new book that I am writing. There is even a whole fancy Power Point thingy.

Many of us are afraid to talk about anxiety, depression and panic attacks – it’s about time we change that. This talk is a deeply personal exploration of mental health, told with compassion and humor. It’s a hopeful, entertaining and enlightening look at the root causes of anxiety, the results of the latest research and ideas for how to manage stress in your own life.

The event is free and open to the public, as part of Retreat Week at Ix Art Park. For more information and to RSVP, please click here. 

And in case you were wondering, yes, I'm feeling very anxious about giving an anxiety talk. But I'm gonna to do it anyway.

with love,

~Lisa

 

Why I will do yoga until the day I die

IMG_0922 Yeah, I know. That’s a big statement. Especially for me.

I can have some bandwagon tendencies. I jump on and ride along for about six months until a more interesting wagon rolls on by. For a while, thought I needed to buy a potter's wheel, I looked for apartments to rent in South Africa and went through a phase where thought I really needed to be able to read hieroglyphs.

This is different. Yoga is a keeper. This is a lifelong practice for me and if I ever stop doing it, someone needs to kick my ass back on to the mat because I’ve temporarily lost my mind.

Yoga taught me how manage my panic attacks and anxiety, it has lessened my depression and made me a much happier person. It's made my marriage stronger and has given me the supportive community that I've always wanted.

And then there is the physical stuff.

When I was 11 years old, I broke my back. I was working on a film called Rambling Rose, and in a freak accident in the school room, I crushed three vertebrae between my shoulder blades and I got whiplash in my lower back. It's not even an interesting story, I pushed myself back to get out of a chair, the wheels got caught, I fell backward, hit the wall and snapped forward. I'd really rather tell you I was saving kittens from a burning building, but I like you - I don't want to lie.

After five days in the hospital, they put me in a metal brace and drugged me up on codeine, so I could finish the film. Then, I went home to recover and had to use a wheelchair if I needed to walk further than a few steps. (If you want to hear more, and the reason opiates and gorilla costumes don't mix, all that is in my book.)

In time I healed, but some issues remained. I had nerve damage and lingering pain. My left foot would drag when I got tired and the lightest touch to my lower back would cause spasms to shoot down my legs. I was generally stiff and sore, I couldn't get anywhere near touching my toes. But, I just accepted pain was part of my life; I was grateful I could walk. My back pain was manageable. It was mostly fine.

Then, at the age of 30, I walked into a hot yoga studio. Thanks to my anxiety, I had spent an entire therapy session devoted to discussing whether or not I could survive a yoga class. I felt panicked about the people, the heat, the physical postures I knew I couldn't do. But I got myself in the front door and found a whole community of men and women with open arms - ready to welcome my messed up body and chaotic mind. They all had jacked up bodies and minds when they started, too.

Everything changed.

I started to get flexible. 20 years of back pain melted away. And with it, a whole lot of emotional pain dissolved, too. It wasn't instant. It took time. But it became clear that yoga was making me stronger – mentally, physically and spiritually. Yoga gave me back my spine, in more ways than one.

I was ready for a life with a “bad back.” I was prepared for the constant ache and various restrictions. One of those things I shouldn’t be able to do is this:

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But here I am anyway.

It changed my normal. It changed what I could expect from life.

Yoga is not about being flexible or having cute yoga pants or chanting in some language you don't understand. It's about learning to get distance from the incessant chatter of that inner critic jerk who wants to ruin everything. It's about the courage it takes to be willing to show up, just as you are, and have that be good enough.

Some days who I am is a person who is overwhelmed by the world and needs to spend most of the class in tears, lying on my mat. And that's good enough, too. Yoga is where we learn to let go of what is no longer serving us and sometimes that process is emotional. Having a melt down in class is pretty much a  rite of passage. Everyone else is dealing with their own stuff so no one really notices, but it's still nice that tears look a whole lot like sweat.

Yoga is not about being "good"  - it doesn't matter that I still have a hard time getting my forehead to my knee in Dandayamana Janushirasana after seven years of solid practice. I’ll probably get there eventually. I’ll still be doing this when I’m 84; seven years is nothing.

I don’t take compliments well. I shrug them off and explain them away, inadvertently flinging a kindness back in the face of the person saying it.  But when someone praises my backbend, I do my best to fight that habit and simply say thank you. Because it’s the purest and most genuine way I know to express gratitude – to my spine, to this practice, and to this life.

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If you are interested in yoga and have any questions, please ask in the comments! I always recommend going to a class because teachers can help you with proper alignment and any modifications you might need. At the studio where I practice, we have men and women of all ages and body types - new people are always welcome! 

If going to a studio is not feasible for you - check out Yoga with Adriene. She has free YouTube videos that are fantastic for all levels. 

*****

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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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Panic in the produce aisle: dealing with loss at the holidays

I think it was mostly about the way the collar of her denim shirt was flipped up all wonky on one side. I couldn't stop staring at the woman in the Whole Foods. I watched her shuffle along, pushing one of those tiny carts with just a few lemons and a box of salad in it.

Her hair was thin and silvery and it flipped in at her jawline in a way that thin hair doesn't do naturally. She must use those pink plastic foamy rollers. I would find those little rollers randomly strewn around my house after my grandmother would visit - they'd be sitting on the side table, stacked up on the Kleenex box, lost under the guest bed.

This woman reminded me so much of my Gramma that it took my breath away.

Literally.

I have a panic disorder, so when something startles me - like thinking I see my grandmother, who died in ten months ago, contemplating avocados - I tend to hyperventilate. My husband was putting red peppers in a bag when I grabbed his arm and managed to say something about stepping outside.

"Are you okay? What happened?"

"Fine. I'm. Outside."

I don't tend to get my words right when I have anxiety.

I almost slammed into the sliding door as I stumbled outside. The December air felt good on my flushed face. I hid behind a pile of locally made Christmas wreathes.

Tears poured from under my sunglasses as I continued to gasp like a fish. I've had these attacks since I was eleven years old, so I know the drill. I started with my breathing exercises. I counted my inhale for four counts. Hold for two. Out for four. I propped myself up against a pile of scented pinecones and felt the pleasant burn of the cinnamon in my nostrils. My breathing started to normalize, but my hands were still numb. I moved on to my grounding exercises. I counted my fingers. Pressing each one to the opposite palm. One. Two. Three...

My Gramma loved Christmas, so this holiday season - my first one without her - is feeling thorny for me. Over the past few years, she has given me many of her favorite Christmas things. The little nativity set she and my Poppa got in Europe back in the 1960s. The hand-made gold spray-pained angel that now sits on my bookshelf year round. Various tree ornaments with sentimental meaning to her - the details of which I've now forgotten and they are precious just because they were hers. As I unwrap each one from the plastic storage box, I'm hit with memories that are both sweet and feel like an ice pick to the chest.

But it was the unexpected sight of a flipped up collar that had me undone. I was always flipping the collar of Gramma's denim shirt down. I don't know how many denim shirts she had, or why the collars were so troublesome, but it seemed to be my eternal karmic job. If I wasn't flipping her collar, I was twisting her necklace around so the clasp was at the back. And she'd do the same for me. She would attempt to smooth down my hair - mermaid hair - she called it. We had a lot of similarities, but my thick, wild curls are one of the few traits I clearly didn't get from her. I will never be in need of those pink plastic curlers.

In the most simple of ways, we took care of each other.

I walked back into the store and found my husband, who gently rubbed my back. Knowing I needed a distraction, he asked me if we needed bananas.

I didn't accost the woman and fix her collar. I didn't sob into her denim shirt and tell her that she reminded me of someone I still can't believe isn't here. I didn't tell her that the holidays are nice and all but sometimes they are really really hard. Instead, I let her finish her shopping.

And because the Universe finds things like this to be hysterically funny, we ended up in the check out line right next to the denim shirt woman. And I saw her trying to snap closed that familiar elderly lady wallet - stuffed full of receipts and coupons and newspaper clippings.

In the middle of my sadness I found a chewy center of joy - memories of the tiny acts of love that live on forever. What a wonderful thing, to know that kind of love exists - that someone has smoothed our frazzled hair, fixed our collar, rubbed our back in the produce section. They tried, in some simple way, to make something better for us. Those seemingly tiny gestures live on and reaffirm love at every moment. And my pain dissolved, as it always does, in the face of gratitude.

What a stunning act of love it is, to say:

"C'mere. Let me fix that for you."

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Managing anxiety: off the yoga mat and onto the stage

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I went to Providence, Rhode Island last weekend to speak at Johnson & Wales University and The Lady Project Summit. I did a reading from my book, spoke on a writer's panel and gave a talk about the rewards and challenges living an authentic life and embracing who you really are.

It was a phenomenal weekend for many reasons. I  had lots of teary-eyed hugs with people who are on their own journeys towards living a life they truly believe in. I also met wonderful people like Maureen Petrosky who took me to Gracie's, which is a restaurant that not only has unbelievable food, but also shares a name with my dog.

I was also scared out of my mind a lot of the time.

I have structured a pretty quiet little life for myself. I struggle with anxiety and get overwhelmed easily, so I try to keep life as simple as possible. I spend time with my husband, dog, and close friends. I do yoga. I stay home a lot, watching Netflix and reading books and cooking dinner. It's lovely.

But I've started doing these events which thrill and terrify me in equal measure. Sometimes, when I am in a new place, standing at the front of the room with a bunch of people looking at me, I panic and go into fight or flight mode.

This is a pretty typical evolutionary response to fear. When our ancestors had to face down a woolly mammoth, we had a couple of choices. We could try to kill it or we could run away from it.

The thing is, these days, we don't see many woolly mammoths.

We see public speaking. Or an uncomfortable conversation. Or a group of strangers. Or an opportunity that is unnerving. Or a situation we can't control. Or an outcome that is unknown.

But our minds go back to woolly mammoth territory and we want to either fight it or run from it.

What if there was a third way?

This is the most monumental thing that doing yoga has taught me.

I do hot yoga. That's the one that is 90 minutes in a room that is heated to 100 degrees.

It's hard. But it's not nearly as hard as life.

So, the yoga studio is my place to practice dealing with the actual hard things in life. Because when I get to a yoga posture that is challenging me - and my instinct is to either run out of the room or walk up and kick the instructor in the shins for making me do this - I hear my teacher's voice in my head:

Meet resistance with breath.

Maybe I can get beyond my caveman mentality and just stop for a minute. I can realize that I'm stronger than I think I am and I can be still for a moment and stop the spinning of my mind. I can take a breath - then decide how I want to respond.

So, as I stood in a glorious theater in Providence, RI, with a group of strong and interesting women all sitting there, ready to listen to me speak - the spinning started:

What am I doing here? Who the hell am I? What makes me think I have the right to stand here and say anything about anything to anyone? They are going to throw things at me. I need to run out of the room right now.

And then I took a breath. I met that resistance from my inner critic, with my breath. Then I remembered that they actually invited me to come speak. They wanted me to do this. These people had voluntarily signed up for this workshop of mine and no one was tied to their chairs.

So, I said:

"Hi. My name is Lisa Jakub. Thanks for being here today. I'm a kind of nervous, but really want to talk to you about something that is important to me. I want to talk about how we can all live a life that feels authentic even if it's different from what other people expect of us. And the reason that I feel like I can talk to you with some authority about this topic is because I screwed it up so majorly, for such a long time."

And then they laughed and then I loved them.

That's what can happen when we don't operate on automatic pilot and when we are open to options beyond the binary way we are tempted to see the world. It's not always yes/no, black/white, good/bad, kill/run - the world is nuanced and so are we. When we can still the story line in our minds, a whole beautiful world of middle options become clear.

Sometimes we get a chance to make friends with the woolly mammoth, and we're rewarded with a fantastic weekend, spectacular people and some really good macarons.

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How to care for your introvert: a helpful guide

mr fox Does the photo above look familiar to you? If so - congratulations! You're in a relationship with an introvert!

This introvert might be your romantic partner, friend, child, parent or even yourself. No two introverts are exactly alike - some are more introverted than others, some are outgoing introverts, some are shy introverts - but these simple care tips will help you to have a long, enjoyable relationship with your introvert.

  • Give your introvert a minute. We are not always fast on our feet and sometimes we need a while to adjust to a new situation. We need to quiet the voices in our head and figure out what we really think. We'll get back to you as soon as we can get the words together in a succinct way.
  • Understand that if we never call you, it's because we have a deep and eternal hatred of talking on the phone. Texts or emails are how we connect.
  • Please don't tell us to not be shy. Shy is different from introverted, anyway, and it's pretty much like telling someone not to be tall. It also insinuates that there is something wrong with us. Not everyone needs to be extroverted.
  • Last minute invites are often challenging for introverts. Dinner with just one close friend usually takes several days to gear up for. Large gatherings (more than three people) need even more emotional prep. Sometimes, we just can't manage it. No offense. But please keep inviting us to things, with as much notice as possible, because we have a wonderful time when we're psyched up for it.
  • New people can be intimidating, but we'll warm up. Introverts don't need an army of friends, but we have a tight inner circle of people who we love wholeheartedly.
  • If we leave early, it's not because we are having a bad time. It means we are leaving before we get overwhelmed. We probably had an absolutely lovely time.
  • We love the environment but we're not carpooling because we need to have our own get-away car, in case we need to leave early. (See above.)
  • We are not judging you, we're just good listeners. We are not bored or annoyed or zoning out. We like observing. We're just taking it all in and we'll share our thoughts when it feels appropriate.
  • Small talk will make us want to peel off our fingernails, but engage us in a conversation about the deeper things in life and we'll talk for hours.

Trouble shooting

  • "My introvert is being quiet. Sitting on the couch, reading a book and looking serious. Is there something wrong with my introvert?"
    • There is nothing wrong with your introvert. This is her natural state. Allow her to recharge. Maybe bring her more tea.
  • "My introvert said she didn't want to come out with me to a concert with all of my friends. Does she hate me?"
    • No. Your introvert still loves you. In fact, she loves you so much that a quiet dinner and a Netflix binge sounds much better to her.
  • "My introvert invited me to go to a loud concert with all of her friends/is talking in front of a large group/seems to be enjoying the company of others. I feel like I don't know her anymore. Is my introvert still an introvert?"
    • Yes! But sometimes even introverts enjoy extroverted activities. Some introverts are great at public speaking and performance. Just be aware that she will likely need lots of downtime afterwards to recover.
  • "Only, like, two of these things apply to my introvert."
    • People are different. We are not actually like plants. This is just the guide I wish I could hand out to everyone in my life.

(For a great read on introversion - check out Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking by Susan Cain.)

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Don’t just do something - sit there

  Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 9.03.43 AM The search for a deeper understanding of self is both inherently natural and completely exhausting.

That kind of self-reflection can leave you sweating and chewing your toenails if you aren't prepared for it. It’s the reason that we have reality television -- so that we don’t have to do the hard work of sitting with ourselves and trying to figure out who we truly are. But we do reflect, because it seems more selfish to just wander through life and not think about what you want your contribution to be.

Since I was a kid, I've had a nasty habit of getting so anxious about things that I hyperventilate and black out. It could be about a phone call or a party or merely pondering what the hell I am doing with my life. Panic attacks can happen anywhere. I can be in my living room or in a restaurant, when suddenly there is gasping and shaking and trying to fight the tunnel vision and convince myself (and anyone else who might be present) that I'm not actually dying.

My shrink recommended that I try meditation. She sent me home with stacks of books and the instructions to just sit there and breathe. Just sit there. Alone. In silence. With my own self. I would have preferred a recommendation to massage my eyeballs with sandpaper.

I had an entire film career based on the fact that I could let my thoughts run away with me. Acting required me to completely believe the worst possible scenario, such as the fact that my computerized house was really trying to kill me, and let my body react accordingly. My mind was the master, and my emotions needed to follow.

However, I tend to do what I'm told and so, I sat. Every emotion that I wished would stay lurking under the bed, got in my face. Those voices pointed out all the other people in the world who understood how to do this life thing just fine, and how pathetic it was that I had massive anxiety about going to the grocery store.

But I still sat.

I started going to a weekly group that did Yoga Nidra, a deep form of meditative relaxation. Most of the other people in the group were vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. They possessed this disconcerting combination of looking both very young and very world-weary. They picked at their cuticles and talked about their PTSD. They mentioned their lingering pain from combat injuries and they pulled down their sleeves and tried to cover up the scars.

I stayed quiet at the gatherings, deciding not to bring up the whole “I’m stressed because I’m a former child actor” thing. It lacked the drama of mortar fire and made me feel like a massive jerk.

Instead, I just listened. I listened to these young warriors who knew more about sacrifice and suffering than I ever would. One guy told me he hadn’t been able to sleep more than a couple hours a night since he got back from his tour. He said this "chanting hippie shit" was not his scene, but he had actually started sleeping since doing a meditation practice. So, he was happy to trek down the pathway, which was draped in Tibetan prayer flags and Obama signs, to come to this little shed near the chicken coop in a yoga teacher’s backyard. He’d do whatever it took.

We sat together and breathed deeply. We sat with the voices that tormented us and we sat with the uncomfortable unknown. We didn't fight with the doubts and fears and regrets, we just stared them down until they exhausted themselves and slithered away. We let go of the past and the future and simply practiced gratitude for this moment right here. Eventually, I noticed that I was spending less and less time gasping like a fish who had just leapt out of her bowl.

It wan't like some lightning bolt where I saw God.

But I saw some peace.

And then I saw that maybe those are kind of the same thing.

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Happy freaking holidays: a guide to surviving December

This is a stressful time of year.

Sure, it’s joyous and whatever too, but let's not candy-cane-coat this. Many people are feeling a time crunch, family pressures, and money stress. Those of us who struggle with anxiety and/or depression tend to have a hard time, thanks to ridiculous holiday expectations.

But we can do this.

Here are some things that help me this time of year.

Leave

Walking (especially with the dog) is a sacred time for me. Even a few minutes of fresh air helps clear my head, get me grounded, reconnected to the natural world and focused on what really matters. And anything that makes Grace or Olive happy, makes me happy.

Give

I always feel better when I am able to stop obsessing about my own life and help someone else. Volunteering or just doing something for others (baking cookies for the mail carrier or simply telling someone how important they are to me) brings an abrupt end to my pity party.

Downdog

I am a yoga fanatic; I think the benefits are endless for mind, body and spirit. I love that it can be done at home without fancy equipment and is accessible to everyone, even those with a severe lack of physical grace, like myself. I start my day with some simple Sun Salutations (which are great for beginners) and tend to unroll my mat whenever I'm feeling stressed. Yoga with Adriene offers free Youtube videos that are perfect for newbies and experienced yogis alike.

Write

Writing is my outlet. I have written angry diatribes, compete with outlandish accusations and the inventive usage of profanity. Once I write it out, I usually realize how silly it was and can let it go. And watching all that self-imposed drama go through the shredder is immensely satisfying.

"No"

"No" is a complete sentence. Setting boundaries is important any time of year, but it's integral to maintaining my sanity at the holidays. I am an http://lisajakub.net/2015/03/23/how-to-care-for-your-introvert-a-helpful-guide/introvert with social anxiety, and parties tend to be really difficult for me. When my husband is with me, it's a little easier, but there are events that I need to attend without him. Even though carpooling with friends might be more efficient, I almost always drive myself so I don't feel trapped and I can leave if I start to feel a panic attack coming on. Knowing that I have an immediate out allows me to relax and actually have some fun. But even with those accommodations, there are times I need to decline an invitation and stay home with the couch and a book. And that's okay, too.

Sit

Meditation has been an incredibly effective way of dealing with my anxiety. Like everyone else, I always thought that my mind was just too busy to meditate -- but something significant changes when you take a few moments to breathe and become aware of the present moment. (I have recorded a short guided meditation for people who think they can't meditate - hear it here.) Meditation is not easy, but it's so worth it.  If you are interested in trying mindfulness, just sit in a quiet place, set a timer (start with just three minutes and work up to more) and count each inhale up to ten, and then back down to one again. Your mind will wander - constantly - but don't get frustrated. Simply come back to focus on the breath, no matter how many times you start thinking about that witty comeback you didn't say when your friend was being so judgy over lunch last week...

Here are some of my favorite books on meditation:

10% Happier - Dan Harris (For the meditation skeptic)

Wherever You Go There You Are - Jon Kabat-Zinn (For simple directions on mindful living)

Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program - Sharon Salzberg (For those looking for audio guided meditation)

You can also check out the rest of my favorite books on Goodreads.

Most of all -- don't get caught up in silly holiday propaganda and think that everyone else is perfectly merry with their perfect families and perfect homemade hot cocoa you are the only one getting stressed out.

Remember the profound words of Ellen Griswold --

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=je4rgaSBO2g]

 

So, let's just take a deep breath and we'll all make it through this joyous season in one piece. Happy holidays, everyone.

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Farewell to Robin Williams: a thank you note

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Robin Williams died today.

It seems surreal to write that.

But since writing is the way I process the incomprehensible -- I find myself writing.

Everyone is tweeting and facebooking and calling into radio shows about what a great talent Robin was.

Yeah. He was. But that wasn't what I adored about him. It was the fact that he was an incredibly kind human being.

When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy. My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a "non-traditional" student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.

It's devastating, at 14, to have your formal education terminated. I felt like a freak and a reject. When I arrived at work the next day, Robin noticed that I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I explained what had happened, and shortly after that, he handed me a letter that he had written to my school. He explained that I was just trying to continue my education while pursuing my career. He wrote embarrassingly kind things about my character and my work, and requested that they reconsider and allow me to return to my classes.

When I told him I still didn't think they would take me back, he said, "It's kinda like Amnesty International. That school just needs to know that people know the truth."

The school framed the letter. They hung it in the principal's office. But they didn't invite me to return to school.

But here's what matters from that story. Robin stood up for me. He was in my corner. I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.

I know I said thank you at the time and I'm sure I wrote one of those stiff thank you notes that 14-year-olds write with slanting lines and spelling mistakes. But that all seems so insufficient now.

Even though I had not spoken with Robin in a very long time, I always assumed there would be some future opportunity to tell him that his letter changed my life. It taught me that you stand up for the things that matter. And even if your attempts fail, you tried. You told the truth. You took care of your friends. You fought back.

None of us really know what fights Robin was battling* but I know his struggles were not uncommon. It's estimated that 16 million people in the US have struggled with depression - and I include myself in that statistic. It's real and it's not shameful and there is help available.

You can bring it to the light, you can tell the truth, you can go to a meeting, you can reach out to a friend.

None of us are alone.

And if you have someone in your life who you are grateful for -- someone to whom you want to write another heartfelt, slanted, misspelled thank you note - do it. Tell them they made you feel loved and supported. That they made you feel like you belonged somewhere and that you were not a freak.

Tell them all of that.

Tell them today.

-----------------

The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

*ETA - Since I wrote this article, Robin's wife publicly discussed his other health issues. Obviously, I don't know the reasons for his decision but I do know that he had struggled with depression, regardless of whether it was a factor here. Depression was something that he and I talked about. I'm not intending to diagnose anyone - just sharing a story about someone I loved.


Here is the letter:

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