Anxiety

What My Grief Gremlin Taught Me About Pandemics

 

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Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

March may be the worst. Historically, the turning pages of the longest month ever continue to bring bad news to my doorstep. Four years ago, we lost my dad unexpectedly smack dab in the middle of the month. On that day, a grief gremlin took up permanent residence in my front pocket. She waves her ugly wings and tattered feathers on anniversaries, the start of football season, or when I see a man over 60 in Starbucks. She also flaps and flitters in the middle of a pandemic.

Bad news comes in threes, they say, and in 2016, our three rounded out with two more job losses before April.

All of our supposed-to-be doings came to a screeching halt. To cope, we gathered around the worn kitchen table in the home I grew up in and stared. Our eyes glazed over at blank walls then would drift to the floor. I’d make note of the raspberry color of my shoes and watch the puddles of tears dribbling onto the mesh just below my ankles. I’d lift my head and smear the remainder of tears on my t-shirt sleeves.

Grief is a powerful force – she takes what you once knew and shreds what was to bits.

Two weeks ago, life all around the United States came to the same screeching halt. We packed up our desks and set up spaces at home. We went to work remotely and just when the desk was looking beautiful, we found out the dream job we just landed crumbled into dust.

People are dying and communities are slowing. All of our supposed-to-be doings have come to a halt. It’s March and people are hurting again.

In our homes and at hospitals, we sit staring at walls. At screens. At puddles of tears dribbling down our faces and onto tile floors. Tears smear on sleeves. We can’t gather around the kitchen table because we aren’t allowed to be together. We can’t hug or touch or greet.

The pain is broadcast on the news, captured in memes, and thrown angrily at others in tweets and mad dashes to grab the last package of toilet paper off the shelves.

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from the loss of a parent and how, if I let them, the lessons grief continues to massage into my heart can serve me during a global pandemic.

Writing to you from the same basement where I heard the news my dad had left us, I hug myself and realize grief can be a teacher in times of duress. My gremlin has taught me how to cope with the squeezing, the panic, the uncertainty, and the pain.

Here are her three lessons that prepared me for a pandemic:

1. I was never in control – I’m not now. I can choose my responses. 

Elizabeth Gilbert recently posted on her Instagram this quote, “You are afraid of surrender because you don’t want to lose control. You never had control, all you had was anxiety.”

After experiencing unexpected loss, my anxiety came into sharp focus. It hasn’t eased in four years. I’ve accepted the anxious little bug living – roommates with gremlin – in my front pocket as she accompanies me everywhere I go. I worry about getting texts, not getting texts, and the ten pm phone calls. I worry about hospitals, and diagnoses, and imagined accidents.

I worry about who will go next, and where I will be, and if I said I love you enough because you just never know.

This week, we’ve all been reminded we just never know. With all that never knowing comes immense anxiety. Bank accounts are examined. Rice is rationed. YouTube distracts.

As humans, we think we have a say in how things are going to work. I realized in my mid-twenties, this is a lie. We have influence. We have preference. We have choice. We don’t have much control.

This truth has allowed me to live more deeply and experience the ordinary in a richer way. Seizing the day doesn’t take away the anxiety. Believing I have a choice in how to respond to the things outside of my control changes my perspective. I don’t have control of global markets, government relief, or the small company I wanted my husband to work at indefinitely. I do get to choose to stay home, to connect with loved ones, and to weep in the basement.

2. Find Comfort

The best advice I got when I lost my dad was, “Find comfort.” Surround yourself with things that bring delight, warmth, light, and tenderness into your space. Make a list of at least five things you can draw upon when the unknown feels too much. My pile has ground coffee beans, a white blanket, my mom’s number on speed dial, knowing where my dog is, and sweatshirt of my husband’s.

What’s in your pile?

Be careful of what you consume. You know yourself. Moderate unhealthy substances and be wary of who and what messaging you are letting into your space. Now is the time to be diligent about boundaries, turning off the news, and asking for help.

Self-medication isn’t always negative. What positive things can you allow to bring you comfort right now?

3. It’s going to be ok. 

I share those five words with immense empathy. It never feels ok when we lose something or someone we love. My life will never be capital O-K, because my dad will not be a part of it in the way I had hoped. But my family is doing ok in the way we’ve adapted. We hurt, relationships are still strained, things are far from perfect. And yet, we’re still here.

When we come out of this pandemic, which I believe will happen, things will not be capital O-K. Lives are being drastically altered. Grief is seeping in and taking up residence in thousands of heart pockets. Our hopes have changed permanent shape. We will have to adapt. Our resilient spirits will get to choose to lift their chins and answer the question, “How can I make what I have lowercase o-k enough?” You need not push the gremlin away.

Weep, release the tension in your hands, stare at walls. Yes.

And wait and see what is yet to unfold.

What we make with the things that remain can be beautiful.

Day 8 – 52 Good Things

How did today go for you?

I spent the morning swirling as we received more news of postponed jobs.

In a meeting, my coworker posed the question, “How are you getting wound up in negative possibilities?”

Gulp.

I am so. darn. good. at. that.

At the start of the year, I challenged myself to use my imagination for more positive things. I didn’t know of the coming epidemic and I forgot about my resolution as I swam in the dark sea of what ifs.

So, after deep breaths and mental silence, I’m at it again. Focusing and remembering on the good things that make us laugh and bring us sustenance. Trying to imagine big, beautiful possibilities.

This practice can change minute by minute.

50. This t-shirt on Amazon had me laughing out loud

51. I made sourdough bread from salt and flour and water and it’s beautiful and that’s enough.

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May we remember to go back to the basics.

As a reminder, send me a note with the good in your world at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or a DM on Instagram. Keep em’ comin.

What would the geese do?

I’m not an “operate at high-speed” person.

I pause.

I take time to think before I respond to questions.

When my boss comes to my desk hoping for quick responses, I gently remind him my brain takes a few extra seconds to shift gears and enter into his gracious questioning. I’m lucky he’s patient with me.

This week I’ve been forcing myself to swirl my arms and churn at a higher gear. Probably at the natural speed my boss operates.

I’ve been up late trying to get my silly iPhone upgraded (it’s still stuck on the old operating system) and transferring photos to make space to get the obnoxious ‘not enough storage message to go away. I’ve been working and babysitting and running and shopping and returning clothes and trying on swim suits (it’s own kind of torture) and dealing with online orders never refunded. Dylan and I got in a tiff about insurance cards and checking bags and I know I’m not communicating at my best.

My to-do list grows and with it my anxiety escalates at a steady rate. When I went to bed last night with great intentions to wake early and multi-task some more before work, I had to take deep breaths. The dog slept on the floor instead of next to me where she usually settles in for the night. I think she could sense my bad energy.

This morning I pressed snooze and woke later than I hoped. Chucking a load of laundry into our tired washing machine, I got a few more things organized as I poured dry kibble into a clattering bowl. I sped to work and walked in the office door with ten minutes to spare, ready to check in for a flight.

I watched the minutes tick by.

Click – right as the time turned over – and my stomach dropped.

I did not have the necessary information to get my boarding pass and I almost started crying at my standing desk.

Four big, deep, ‘Ohmmmmmms’ later and I walked myself to the coffee shop to get my regular hot beverage that restarts my soul. Yes – vanilla lattes are a coping mechanism.

I approached the shop with its warm lights and freshly ground beans beckoning and tried the handle. The back door was locked.

“Son of a bitch,” I cursed under my breath. As I walked around to the front door I told myself, “You need to do a better job of being kind to yourself.”

I’ve learned, in the last few years, moving faster does not get me where I need to go any more efficiently. I make errors, I forget things, or the universe tells me to pause when the barista forgets to unlock the back door forcing me to take a few more steps.

Moving faster just gets me frustrated.

There’s a stretch of road in between a few large fields left undeveloped and protected by the prairie dog lovers of Colorado on my commute. As I drove I saw the snow-dusted foothills and looked up to see a flock of geese flying in the bright blue sky. At the same moment I was muttering for the car in front of me to go just a teeny bit faster, these beautiful birds were flying on their way to the next thing. I doubt they had big to-do lists nor were they worried much about their speed. I’m guessing they just followed their instincts, flapped their wings, and took flight.

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Photo by Tim Umphreys on Unsplash

This week I’ve been ignoring my instincts, saying yes and packing days full when perhaps I could have just started moving my wings at their own natural speed.

So when the internet went out at work this afternoon, right after I sent my boss to an appointment not present on the other person’s calendar, I paused and had to ask, “What would the geese do?”

They’d keep flying beautifully.

Beauty Happens Every Night – All Around the World – Guest Post by Charlotte

Another Twitter connection. Another delightful person working bravely to write, create, and appreciate gifts right under her nose. Check out this sensory guest post from Charlotte Underwood. I love how she reminds us we don’t have to venture far to find experiences that please the senses.

Author: Charlotte Underwood
Blog: www.charlotteunderwoodauthor.com

Her Favorite Quote: “Time passes, people move. Like a river’s flow, it never ends. A childish mind will turn to noble ambition. Young love will become deep affection. The clear water’s surface reflects growth. Now listen to the Serenade of water to reflect upon yourself.” – Sheik

Nature is a gift that we receive every day and yet seem to ignore and maybe even act ungrateful for. It’s easy to forget that in our ever-increasing urban lifestyle, that we are on the doorstep of some of earths most beautiful creations.

I have always been infatuated with the beauty of nature and the little gems that the world provides us, memories of me playing in the mud, dancing under blossom trees and going on adventures through woods and dipping my toes in the hidden lakes of my hometown; these are the ones that showed me true happiness, love and awe, it reminded me of life.

Now, I must admit that as an adult with severe anxiety, I do tend to ignore the world that I crave all too much. I want nothing more than to pack up and travel the world, to see each of the wonders of the world and to experience every culture known to man; but for now, that is but a dream but one that I will achieve.

Until I am able to jet off, it doesn’t mean that I can’t make the most of my local area, we all seem for forget that our own towns and neighborhoods contain some truly beautiful sights. Be it the park that has contains a pond full of rainbow fish or a building that fills your mind with curiosity, when was the last time you actually took the moment to look and to ponder, to let that imagination flow.
My old garden and the memories of it has become my happy place when things start to get hard for me, because the environment it gave filled me with such warmth and safety; I’ll never forget it. I used to lie on top of my trampoline in the evening, with the sun glistening through the trees the enveloped my garden and caressed my cheek, I could hear the birds sing and the trees sway in the wind that was tickling my toes, this was happiness.

I can no longer sit in that garden but the memory will last a lifetime and also, right now, like you, I am surrounded by opportunity that will surely leave me breathless and thankful. A short drive away from my home is my local beach and while it is not the prettiest, have you ever sat and watched the sunset on a beach? Where the sun shines a golden coat across the coast and then folds into a hypnotic shade of purple before darkness fades in? This happens every night, all around the world and yet so many of us, even those who literally live on the doorstep will miss out – why?

Mother nature is an artist with the most precious and fine creations that not one person could ever mimic, with no cost or trap to experience the beauty and lust of these masterpieces, it seems almost wasteful that we do not spend more time appreciating what is right under our noses.


Hunstanton

Charlotte Underwood is a young 22 year old from Norfolk, UK. She is a growing mental health advocate and likes to use writing to inform and support.

You can follow her blog,  where she posts a lot about mental health, depression, anxiety and suicide. She hopes to raise awareness as well as end the stigma. You can follow her on Twitter.

A Beautiful Moment is Enough – Guest Post by Ruth

Twitter. A mysterious, magical thing that connects me to readers and writers all over the globe. I’ve been following the #bloggerswanted for awhile now and throw my name and my website into all kinds of hats to see if I can write for bloggers. So when Ruth tweeted one of her goals for her blog was a guest post, I was happy to send her my guest blogging requirements.

She’s right, sometimes a beautiful moment is more than enough.

Take it away!

Author:  Ruth of the blog Ruth in Revolt

Favorite Quote: “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” – William Shakespeare

It was spring 2018. Spring – a time for new life. A time for hope.

There I was, not feeling much of anything at all. At best, I was lost. At worst, I was empty.
I had been on a slippery slope for a few weeks. The stress of work, the stabbing ache for home and the constant fear I wasn’t good enough were consuming me. I was being sucked into a black hole. I needed something to hold onto.

The sun was shining, but there was a cool breeze. It was the perfect day for a trip to the beach. So, that’s where I decided to go. Strange, indeed, how I needed solid ground, but I sought a body of water.

I set off in search of relief. All I wanted was a moment of clarity.

My legs were shaky as I walked. There was a tightness in my chest and butterflies furiously flapping their wings inside my stomach. Anxiety had its fingers wrapped around my heart. In spite of it, I took strides forward. I turned my music up, desperately trying to drown out the thoughts in my head. I could see the sea in the distance. It drew me in. I told myself that if I could make it there, I would feel better. A sense of determination washed over me. My legs moved quickly now, until I reached the esplanade.

There were people everywhere. We had all had the same idea, but I imagined they were here for very different reasons. They were smiling. I was barely holding it together.
There were children, laughing as they played in the sand. There were couples holding hands. There were dogs, chasing balls and splashing in the sea. There was a photographer or two, trying to capture the magic of it all. It was a hive of activity. It was full of life and for a moment, I was, too.

I noticed an elderly man, sitting alone and eating ice cream. He must have faced troubles in his life, but he looked content.

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I decided I wasn’t leaving the beach until I felt it. I knew it would come. It had to.

The air seemed clearer here; lighter. For what seemed like the first time in weeks, I felt like I could breathe. I took deep breaths to ensure the air reached the depths of my lungs. My chest rose and fell, mimicking the tide sweeping in and drifting out. I turned off my music. I could hear it all now – the talking, the laughter, the sweet sound of memories being made. The delicate sounds of the waves kissing the sand was playing on repeat in the background. It felt like a hundred sounds reaching my ears at once, yet so peaceful.

As the waves came down, the grip of anxiety loosened. I let myself relax. Something about being here made it seem easy. All the problems slipped away, like grains of sand in my hand. I couldn’t tell you how good it felt.

Staring out at the sea, I knew I was bigger than my problems. I could conquer them. I could do anything. I was more alive than ever before. I knew it couldn’t last forever, but it was a beautiful moment.

And, sometimes, a beautiful moment is enough.


 

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Ruth is 27 years old and lives in Aberdeen, UK. She writes about everything and anything. Loves bourbon biscuits, typewriters, cats and music. Collects notebooks and Dr Martens. Happiest by the sea.

You can find new posts on her blog Ruth in Revolt every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Send her an email at hello@ruthinrevolt.com or follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

 

Beam of Light – Bailey D.

Bailey D.

I am a twenty something, “freshly wed” living in Northern Colorado. I love animals, cooking, being in nature, and have a natural talent for procrastination;)

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Life can sometimes, actually quite often, make me feel like a crazy person. I struggle with stress, insecurity, FOMO (fear of missing out), doubt, and a general sense of failing to do it all “right.” From time to time, I stumble upon a  “love note moment” that gently brings my spiraling mind back to the grounding truth.  Seeing a rosebud blooming in the midst of its own leaves changing color. Watching massive flocks of geese head south in the crisp winter air, so confident in their natural sense of direction. My extremely moody cat choosing to curl up in the crook of my knees and purr as I drift off to sleep. A beautiful piece of latte art that makes my coffee an experience rather than just a means to an end. The sense of awareness that accompanies such plain and simple moments, makes them extraordinary in their own light. And then it becomes a little easier to see myself as less “lacking” and a touch more extraordinary in my own light.

 

 

If you are interested in giving your own light, click here to learn more about how you can enter the Give Light Giveaway. I’m accepting submissions through December 31st. 

Ink

I made the mistake of scrolling through Twitter while having my morning coffee. Anxiety-inducing caffeine mixed with anxiety-inducing messages about how health care changes are going to influence us all swirl like the cinnamon in my cup. Today’s choice makes my stomach hurt – health care, not my coffee.

I’ve got to stop starting my day on social media.

Coffee time needs to be for Jesus, for devotionals, for lists of gratitude and prayers and hopes.

So I write, to calm my anxiety, and to ground myself in the good again. Putting words on ‘paper’ often times is the only thing that makes sense.

The phrase ‘pen to paper’ really seems to lose its romance when you think about how people write their thoughts these days. ‘Put your fingers to the keyboard’ has none of the glamour. No images of writers struggling are conjured with the act of typing. Click click click on a keyboard – the nostalgia is gone. You can’t smell typing like you can a ball point pen. The beautiful smell of ink coming out of a ball point pen.

Ink.

Pre-death, I always said I would only get a tattoo if I had something big to remember. If I went through something tragic, or lost someone.

Damn. I have lived through both.

I wrote a letter to my dad on the year anniversary of his death. In my ramblings, and through my tears, I wrote about how proud he would have been of my brother who has lots of tattoos:

You should see Sam, Dad. His long hair and big muscles and tattoos to remember you by. How we ink our skin in hopes of putting you and your legacy back into our bodies, to absorb you yet again into our blood. I want one, a tattoo to remember you by. I’m kind of scared though. Needles and me don’t get along. That’s something we had in common too. What would you get? Your handwriting on my arm? That chicken scratch scrawl that used to drive me nuts.

I went back and forth, for that fear of needles is real for me. Could I be brave enough to make such a permanent choice?

A few weeks later I was reading the handwritten speech Dad gave at my wedding. At the bottom of the paper he had scrawled his favorite phrase of adoration, ‘love you much.’

“Do it”, he whispered through those words on paper, “mix my words with your blood and carry me with you permanently.” 

And so I did. I met a beautiful tattoo artist who accepted my whole family into his studio with compassion. My mom embarrassed me exclaiming to Jordan, “but you are just so normal!” He laughed her words right off his shoulders.

Jordan took Dad’s handwriting and made it beautiful.  Figured out how to transfer the letters onto my skin. Held my arm, made sure the words were straight, transferred Dad’s legacy onto my skin and deeper into my blood. Words and love made permanent through ink.

Here it is:

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Needle to skin has shimmers of beauty too. Writing stories on our skin. Ink.

 

For more information on the studio Heart & Skin visit their website.