Day 5: Learning to Navigate the Water

How did it go?

Today was meant to be a day of relaxation. For me, that means taking Belle somewhere fun for us to run off the last bit of the weekend. So, we went to a dog beach in Annapolis. And, boy, did she have fun!

This time we brought one of the new Chuck It balls I bought after the last time and a Frisbee. She didn’t care much for the frisbee, and I found she doesn’t like when other dogs try to take her ball (though she has no qualms about stealing theirs).

As I watched her run into the water and play with the other dogs, everything else in my head seemed to just stop. As the waves came in and out, I let the water wash over my feet, and I let myself feel it’s warmth. As I went out deeper to get the ball (because Belle was too intent on playing with another dog’s tennis ball), I found I didn’t care that I was wading in above my knees wearing my workout shorts. As her sandy paws hit my stomach when she jumped for the ball in my hand over my head, I found I didn’t care I was getting water and sand all over me.

And right then, I knew I was just in the moment and enjoying it.

I read an article today I found a little helpful: “Having Anxiety Does Not Make Me a Loser.” While I am by no means in the tech industry or a high-ranking official in an organization, something about this resonated with me. Maybe it was the idea that I often feel judged when I mention my anxiety or that I can’t handle a certain psychological stressor due to my depressive symptoms. I liked the concept he mentions about being an observer.

This idea came from the post “Dealing with Anxiety” by Karen Young. While I am sure I won’t get this right the first time around, it’s definitely something to try. It also pointed me in the direction of another article to help me cope.

What did I learn?

I learned that it is far easier for me to be present in a singular moment when I am with Belle. She makes me focus, and she helps me to see the freedom the world has to offer—because she sees things so simply.

In reading Young’s post, I also found one of the hardest lessons I need to learn: let go of the need for certainty, even if it’s just for a moment. I am praying for strength to let go of the need for certainty and to trust in God’s plans and His time.

But what keeps coming back to me as a lesson is that small change is okay, and it’s good. “Think of these strategies like drops in a bucket,” Young writes, “The first time you try them, you might not notice much…Eventually, though, the more you experiment with them and the more you use them, the more capacity you will have to harness the strength of your wild and beautiful mind and make it work more in your favor.”

“You will learn that you will always have what it takes,” she continues, “and that anxiety is a feeling that comes and then it will go, just like a bad weather day.”

And maybe that’s the best reminder: anxiety and depression will come and go like waves, but, like boats in the ocean, I will learn how to navigate the rough seas.

Day 4: Confidence & Positivity

How did it go? 

Some days are better than others. One minute you’re alright, the next you’re not. It’s the nature of life. It’s also the nature of dealing with depressive symptoms.

It also seems to be the nature of dealing with technology.

There was a TED Talk podcast the stood out to me today: “Why our screens make us less happy.” What I heard was fascinating. If you’re at all interested in the affect technology has on us, I recommend that episode.

But it made me wonder if that’s maybe part of my anxiety—that I seem reliant on technology.

So I decided to add something to my positivity challenge: I will reduce my time on some of my social media accounts. I am interested in how it will affect me.

Probably the best part of my day, though, was Belle graduating from training. She has gone through basic obedience training before, but I needed to feel more empowered in working with her, and I felt she needed a gentle reminder (as did I). She passed the test! Then the class did a “race” with loose-leash walking, and she did very well. I was so proud of her, and, I have to admit, a little proud of me. As we were doing the test, I realized I felt a lot more confident with her than I had before. I know she will be able to pick up on that confidence, which means she will listen better. I don’t know about her, but I certainly felt a sense of accomplishment when she received the laminated paper certificate.

What did I learn?

The one big message I’ve learned today is this: maybe society lends to our depressive symptoms. When we are on social media, we tend to compare ourselves and our lives to the lives of others. It adds to our expectations, which can lead to disappointment. (Check out “(Not) Exceeding Expectations” for more on expectations and disappointment.)

Most importantly, though, I think I learned my confidence is tied to my positivity. Being confident in my ability to do something, even if it is in training my dog, boosts my attitude significantly. Perhaps that is why I am happiest when I write, and why I want to teach again—because I am confident in those abilities.

And, as my therapist told me, it’s okay to desire a piece of your comfort zone when everything else seems outside of that zone.

Day 3: One Day at a Time

How did it go?

I went to the National Aquarium today, which helped to keep my mind occupied, which helped to tone down the depressive symptoms and help me see some positivity. The behind-the-scenes dolphin tour put a smile on my face.

Then there was therapy. (Yes, I’ll be honest here and divulge I go to therapy each week.) While often very emotional, these sessions do help me to see things differently and reframe my thoughts so I don’t let them destroy me. But I couldn’t help the smile that broke across my face when I told my therapist I’m writing again, that I sent in my first pitch to a magazine, that I am finally starting to feel that I have something to offer the world in my writing, that I finally feel I am doing what I was meant to do.

How can I not be positive about that?

Today was about being in the moment and enjoying just what was in front of me, in this case the awe of marine habitats.

What did I learn?

I think today I realized that it’s okay to just be in the moment and accept it for what it is. Maybe that’s what’s meant by “take it one day at a time.”

So, today, more than ever, I learned to just take it one day at a time.

And that’s okay.

Day 2: One Small Change at a Time

How did it go?

It was already easier to get up this morning, though that may have had to do with the fact that today was my short day at work. (I’m sure we all get excited when we have those, right?)

I finished the TED Radio Hour podcast episode this morning on “Success,” and I began (and finished) “Disruptive Leadership.” Both helped me to maintain a positive outlook on my commute and even through my short work day. Mike Rowe’s piece in “Success” helped me to be grateful not only for the job I currently hold, but also to those who have jobs that make our civilized life easier. “Disruptive Leadership” taught me that we can lead in small ways, ways that may seem insignificant at first but can create a ripple, which I translated to mean that even a small change is good. (I also thought my husband would like General Stanley McChrystal’s story on what leadership means to him.)

And if small change can be good, then that means that even if today was just a little better—not perfect by any means, just a little better—then that’s okay.

In my desire to stay in positivity today, I took a look at the printout of the 10 Ways to Practice Mindfulness that I put on a wall in my office, and a few things struck me. First: “mindfulness isn’t about chasing positivity.” I know what you’re thinking—“but you’re doing a 30 day positivity challenge! Aren’t you chasing positivity?” Yes…and no. I am simply trying to retrain my mind to be more positive, to not focus on the negative so much. The second was “there’s beauty in realizing you don’t like something.” There is a sense of freedom in finally seeing “hey, I don’t like this.” Because then you have the power to change it.

And it’s great those hit me today because I struggled with a few questions last night as I was trying to quiet my mind. Does saying “no” count as being negative? Does finding what you value (or don’t value even) count as negativity? Is saying “I don’t want to” or “I don’t want that” negativity? Would you count “I don’t like that” as being negative? Is deciding what you don’t want in life, a career, etc. being negative? Then, most importantly: what is negativity?

What did I learn?

What these questions, and taking another look at the print out, showed me is that I was trying to go about this in a “law-like” way—this is positive, that is negative—instead of following my heart or what God is telling me.

I learned positivity can actually help guide me to finding what I love to do, what I want to be doing. In the days since I had this idea and started writing, I have never been more excited for an endeavor. It feels purposeful, fulfilling, and meaningful. I am finally using the journal my husband got me for Christmas in the way I truly intended to use it, and that makes me so happy. I finally have a reason to bring it with me everywhere.

I’ve also learned there’s a freedom that comes with seeing what you value (or don’t value), in accepting things for the way they are, and in not needing to immediately apply a meaning to every interaction or situation. This freedom has already let me experience my day in a more positive way.

I’ve already noticed that, while she helps my depressive symptoms and anxiety, I’m more patient (and, yes, positive) with Belle. I see even her differently.

I’ve also learned positivity can be found through a variety of sources when I need a distraction to help with the depressive symptoms. Walking or playing with Belle, writing it out, podcasts, reading…they all help me to maintain a positive outlook because I can get out of my head for just a little while, enough at least to go “I’m okay for now.”

And sometimes that seemingly small change, that “I’m okay for now,” will make the biggest impact.

Day 1: My Weaknesses in Positivity

How did it go?

Day one was harder than I thought.

I realized my negative thoughts actually begin as soon as I wake up—my alarm goes off and I just think “ugh, I can’t do this anymore.” So, this morning, I rephrased that to: “getting up this early let’s me take more time with Belle and I don’t have to stress about traffic.”

Surprise. It worked. Getting up was easier, and I felt better as I donned my work outfit (and I even tried harder on my makeup!).

But then there was traffic. I hate traffic, especially in such a large metropolitan area. And that got me negative super quick, so I had to reframe, and fast. I looked at it as an opportunity to really invest attention to podcasts and learning what they have to offer (my favorite podcasts are: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, TED Radio Hour, Lore, Teaching in Higher Ed, and BrainStuff).

Once I refocused my attention on my podcast (still paying attention to the road, of course!) I noticed a small difference in my attitude as I pulled into the parking lot at work. Small, but noticeable.

Ah, work. Inevitably, there are parts of any job we just don’t like, for whatever reason. My strategy for this was to remind myself all assignments provide a learning opportunity. It can be difficult, though, for me to not let my mind spin when I’m at work, mainly because most of my work is on the computer. My favorite part of my job, though, is writing, hands down. That’s the time I get to be creative, even slightly, and form a narrative. So, I reframed all my work today into that: forming a narrative. Everything I did became part of some story.

And what I noticed about this surprised me, even though it shouldn’t have. I am happiest when I am writing.

At one point later in my day, a coworker and I started talking on a more personal level. This took a toll on me, and I had to take a few steadying breaths to stop myself from crying. I went back to my office and read the post that started this challenge, and I focused on 2 of them: stay in the present moment and trust in something bigger than yourself. I closed my eyes and prayed for peace, strength, and focus. I took a deep breath. I opened my eyes, looked at the work I had to do for the rest of the day, and got back to it.

What did I learn?

I learned some simple things: my negativity begins partly because of when I have to wake up (so maybe I need to work on changing that, too) and I am happiest when I write.

But I learned a singular hard lesson today.

Being positive is harder than I thought, and it’s more than just saying “everything is alright”; it’s a complete change of the way your mind works. As I’ve told my students countless times, beliefs and values are the hardest to change. When you have “believed” in negativity for so long, it won’t be easy to become positive, and it’s going to take more than telling yourself “have a good day!” (And sometimes even telling yourself that can be difficult.)

Today, really, I learned about myself–that I have been right about my passion and my weaknesses when it comes to positivity, the places I need to grow.

But I also learned I am willing to grow. And perhaps that was the most important lesson.

Is it sometimes difficult for you to be positive? What are your weaknesses when it comes to positivity?

Challenging Myself: 30 Days of Positivity

Have you ever experienced a point in your life where it feels like everything has gone wrong, nothing has happened the way “it was supposed to” (according to your idea, anyway), and you can’t stop the spin of anxiety and negativity you seem to experience every day?

I have. And I’ve been looking for answers and a way out. I may have found one.

I came across The Truth Practice on Pinterest, and I Pinned the piece “10 Ways to Practice Mindfulness and Reduce Anxiety.” As I read through it, I was inspired to challenge myself: to 30 days of positivity.

So, for 30 days, I will not think negatively about anything I am experiencing, and I will not voice negative thoughts. Notice I don’t say “try.” In the immortal words of Yoda: “Do or do not; there is no try.” For me, saying “try” gives me an out. I am challenging myself; I will catch myself when those negative thoughts swoop in and before they can take hold in my mind.

Here are the 10 things I will be focusing on in the next 30 days:

  1. Stay in the present moment
  2. Don’t analyze the situation
  3. Accept there is only so much that can be done
  4. Trust in something bigger than yourself
  5. Find beauty in every moment
  6. Stop labeling everything
  7. Take action (if necessary), then move on
  8. Surrender to what is
  9. Focus on one task, one activity, one thought at a time
  10. Embrace being surprised

These sound terrifying, especially numbers 3, 8, and 10. I know me, though, and I know those particular concerns are the main cause of my anxiety.

But I didn’t know where to begin. How do I go about vanquishing dark and negative thoughts? Then I had an idea, a sort of “pre-challenge” if you will: make a “negativity list.”

I wrote down any and all negative thoughts I have had recently, releasing them. I prayed over the list, focusing on asking God to release me of my negativity and that I would hear Him during this challenge. Then I ripped up that paper into small pieces and threw it away. And, in all honesty, I already felt better, as if part of the weight had already been lifted.

Each day, I’ll write about how this challenge impacted the way I went about my day and how it (hopefully) changed my perspective. I’ll also be publishing an article on Odyssey at the end of each week, highlighting what that week taught me, so keep an eye on there as well.

So, are you ready? Which of the 10 are most terrifying to you?

(Not) Exceeding Expectations

“It is our choices that show what we truly are far more than our abilities.” – Professor Dumbledore

The Harry Potter novels are full of wisdom and life lessons, usually found in the words of Albus Dumbledore. There is meaning in most everything in the novels, and many people, myself included, have examined these meanings and written about the themes present throughout the series. All my best learning seems to come from Harry Potter.

Perhaps that is why my favorite podcast has become Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Although this podcast has been around for over a year, I have just started listening, and I started from the bottom (Book 1, Chapter 1). But one session in particular made an impact on me: “Expectations: The Journey from Platform 9 3/4.”

The quote the session began with is what hit me hard and got me thinking (and crying) in my car: “Expectations are resentments under construction” – Anne Lamott

And it really got me thinking about the expectations I have had in my (short) life.

I was told that I sometimes make people feel like they’re just part of some plan I have in life. That hurt to hear, but then I realized that maybe there is truth in that.

I romanticize just about everything. (Not necessarily intentionally, and not necessarily consciously either.) In my Creative Writing course in college, my instructor told me he loved my story concept, and that I should keep writing it, but that I may have to end it in a way I hadn’t anticipated: with an unhappy ending. I gave up the story immediately because I love happy endings. I couldn’t put my character through the struggle I knew I would have to write because I wouldn’t want to go through it. I had an expectation going into writing that could not be met as I developed the character and the story. So I got upset and never wrote another word on it. Because I knew there was no way the ending could turn out any other way.

Choices show what we are, so what does this choice say about me? That I wasn’t ready to face the expectations I knew couldn’t be met.

I create these expectations of situations and people around me that no one can ever live up to. When those expectations aren’t met, I can become frustrated and angry, which only hurts the other person, me, and whatever relationship was there. It creates resentment because I just think “how could this expectation not have been met? was it that difficult?” And, of course, all that does is grow into a tumor of resentment in the back of my head.

I always thought growing up meant making all these plans and packing up ideas in a box with a neat little bow on top and presenting it, saying, “here’s the solution!” That’s what I expected from everything in life: school, marriage, a career. And that tumor would just continue to grow. But I’ve recently realized that isn’t the case.

If I learned just one thing in the seven years I was participating in higher education (and the one year I’ve been out), it is this: college is not reality. Do not base your expectations for life on what you experienced in college. Because in school, everything is packaged neatly: you have specific classes you need to take (with a few of your own choices scattered here and there), you have deadlines for assignments and exams, there are office hours with professors, you have a plan to lead you to graduation… That is all well and good, but life does not mirror that one bit.

I thought having these types of expectations for a person showed I cared, but, in reality, they breed resentment (remember the aforementioned tumor?).

Why?

Because no one can live up to romanticized expectations that sound like they’re out of a storybook, and life isn’t “once upon a time…”

When someone doesn’t meet those expectations and I become upset, it makes it seem as if I am trying to change that person or fixing something to be the way I want it to be, even if that was not my intention. It makes them feel as if they are just a cog in my machine of a plan of life and not the player or partner in it they should be.

My mom has often give me this little nugget of advice: don’t expect someone to do something (or act in the same way) you would because they are not you. Even if they began as good-natured expectations, those types of expectations will always breed resentment. Because you are expecting someone to act in a way that may not be in their nature. It leads to implications that their nature, who they are, is an inconvenience to you.

I have heard that a few times: that because I had the expectation of a plan, I was making the other person feel like an inconvenience. So these expectations can not only make us resent others, but they can also make others resent us.

Since hearing this perspective-altering quote, I have decided to adjust my perspective, to change my expectations. Sometimes, it’s best not to have any.

If choices show what we truly are, what does this choice say about me? I hope it says I am willing to recognize my faults and weaknesses and make things right when needed.

Who knows. Maybe I’ll go back to writing that story…