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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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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Why would we want Mrs. Doubtfire 2?

premiere November 24th, 2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Mrs. Doubtfire. It's astounding that people see me, a 34-year-old writer who lives in Virginia, and still recognize Lydia Hillard.

Ever since the movie came out, people have been wanting a sequel. Maybe Mrs. Doubtfire could be working as an undercover cop? Masquerading as an international spy? Blowing the lid off injustices in the beauty pageant industry? There is no end to the possibilities of contrived silliness.

While I'm grateful to have been part of a movie that touched so many people, I can't help but wonder why that isn't enough. It doesn't make any sense that there would be a follow-up to the story, but that doesn't seem to matter. Mrs. Doubtfire 2 doesn't have to be good - sequels almost never compare to the original - but people seem to want more anyway.

As we dive into the holidays and this Season of Wanting, epitomized by commercials suggesting that a Lexus with giant bow would be a great gift, I'm reminded that this is just how we tend to do things. We want more of everything. We are a nation of consumers, ready to trample each other to death for a cheap blender or stab someone over a parking spot at Wal-mart. We make long lists of things we don't need, but we suddenly feel empty without them.

We can easily mistake the endless wanting for ambition, but in reality it looks a lot like self-imposed suffering based on our own fears of not being good enough.

Because for that one flickering moment, we get more of __________ and then we feel like we've accomplished something meaningful. It seems like a tangible indication that we have a place in the world. For one second, we can take a deep breath...until we see that Williams Sonoma is having a sale on simmer sauces and we begin the wanting all over again.

And then you throw in a little nostalgia. I get it - there was something wonderful about the 90s. It was a simpler time. I, too, long for those days when you could walk someone right to the airplane gate and everybody could eat gluten. When "Whoa!" could be a catchphrase. When The Real World presented reality television as a groundbreaking social experiment, instead of a way to get famous for being rich and idle.

But, as countless people discover at this time of year, it's really hard to go home again. The world is a constantly changing place. And sometimes, in trying to recapture the past, you can ruin the memory of what you had. It's kind of like wearing a mini-skirt when that's no longer a good idea.

Maybe Mrs. Doubtfire had its time. In 1993. It seems greedy to try to squeeze more out of it. It's flattering that people want more, but maybe we can just be grateful for what already exists. Maybe we can take that deep breath and just be content with what is.

I don't know if there will be a sequel. Maybe there is a way to do it well. But I come back to the original question: why do we want it? Why do we want more of something that is just fine as it is?

My life has moved on since 1993. After I retired from acting, I spent a long time pretending that movies never happened, because when I talked about my childhood, people looked at me funny or accused me of not getting over it. So, I didn't talk about it for 10 years, and then I was accused of running from my past. I realized that I needed to stop caring about those outside opinions and do what felt right.

There will really never be total dissociation from Doubtfire. When you are part of a movie that is on TV almost every Sunday afternoon - a movie that people quote to you in line at the grocery store, a movie that has become a part of the culture of the 90s - it's just not really possible.

So, I embrace it.

Finally.

And then I let it go.

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