Living Anxiously Part Five: Living Slowly

“For fast acting relief, try slowing down.”

–Lily Tomlin

This post will be short and sweet because it something I’ve only been learning within the past week. This blog is called Living Romantically, but I think maybe I should change it to Living Slowly. Along with anxiety, comes the feeling of being overwhelmed. Constantly. Sometimes just feeling like there is too much to do can make me incredibly anxious.

To combat this, I’ve started slowing down 10%. If I start to feel anxious about my to-do list, I will take some deep breaths and instead of going at 100% speed, I will go at 90% speed. This has a tremendous impact because not only does it make me move more mindfully (huge plus!), but it helps me to not feel overwhelmed. A switch flips and I realize that my to-do list is not my life (even though it definitely feels that way sometimes!). Life happens in between the checklist and I mean to be there for it, not lost in the checkbox.

I will have to add to this post as time goes on, but it didn’t feel right not to include it because it has been a key for me lately. Maybe I’ll join the Slow Movement! When my day gets so overwhelming I feel like I can’t breathe, I stop, remember to slow it down, and move again. 

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Wow. Thank you so much for coming on this journey with me. It has been very cathartic, if very scary, but receiving the support I have has been so amazing. Thank you all so much and, please, if you have anything to add or any comment at all, leave it below.

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Living Anxiously Part Four: Mindfulness Practice

The practice of living fully in the present moment— what we call mindfulness— can give us the courage to face our fears and no longer be pushed and pulled around by them. To be mindful means to look deeply, to touch our true nature of interbeing and recognize that nothing is ever lost.

–Thich Nhat Hanh, Fear

When I went to my first yoga class in-person (not with a YouTube video at home), I was petrified. The teacher introduced herself to me before it began and when I told her how nervous I was, she said, “No one does everything perfectly. That is why they call it a practice.”

That has stuck with me, especially because I have a tendency to beat myself up if I don’t do something to perfection. This is why I’ve titled this post “Mindfulness Practice,” not just “Mindfulness.” There is no destination with mindfulness. It is a constant, beautiful growth that never ends.

Mindfulness is the energy of attention. …The fruit of mindfulness practice is the realization that peace and joy are available within us and around us, right here and right now.

–Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Mindfulness

I’ve discovered that mindfulness is really worth all the hoopla. It brings me a sense of calm, a way to connect genuinely with the world around me, and helps me see life for what it is instead of how I try to define it because let’s face it, everyone has their own way to paint the world.

There is a serene beauty in breathing in and out and knowing you are doing it. The quick pace slows down and I can really see the rain drops on my window and smell it through the screen. When I am being mindful and I look into Owen’s eyes, I see things that I had forgotten were there. I see a little person with this incredible precocious personality that fills me with so much joy and pain and love and fear–and none of it scares me. All of those emotions create a meaningful moment where the two of us tell stories or have a real conversation without trying to get out the door or move onto the next item of business. These are rare moments, but as I practice mindfulness, they are becoming less rare and I like it that way.

When I thought about my funeral, I thought about my death. The thought alone is enough to conjure anxiety, which is why I knew I needed to think about it (feel it and do it anyway, right?). Thich Nhat Hanh’s Fear gives a great meditative practice that guides you in thinking about death in a safe way without much anxiety. And if there is, you can feel it and examine it mindfully instead of run from it.

As I’ve thought about death, I’ve realized that when I’m on my deathbed, I want to look back on a meaningful life–a full life, which means filling it daily, maybe even hourly, by moments that create meaning–that FILL me.

If you make a habit of mindfulness practice, when difficulties arise, you will already know what to do.

–Thich Nhat Hanh, Fear

I have read more than eight of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, each one of them better than the one before, and while he is a Buddhist monk, he keeps most of his writing as applicable as he can to people of all faiths. My favorites so far have been Fear (which I mentioned above and is WONDERFUL for anxiety) and No Mud, No Lotus (my favorite and AMAZING for depression).

On days when I forget to be mindful or when I let anxiety rule and I end up in bed, I remind myself of that yoga teacher. Every day is my personal practice. That is all. No one does everything right and I am no exception. Small, meaningful steps, even if on a bad day I move from the bed to the couch and watch a movie and make popcorn with Owen instead of curling up, I have been successful that day. I hope soon I’ll make it much, much further than that. I have big plans! But for now, that is enough because I know that through these small moves the best gifts unfold.

Living Anxiously: My Story

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Ugh. Anxiety. Am I right?

It seems to be the topic popping up everywhere and so many of those near and dear to me experience it regularly–myself included.

I have been away from this blog for nearly a year and a half, my entire pregnancy and life of my new little boy. With my first baby, postpartum depression hounded me for nearly three years. I still struggle with it. I was so nervous about getting it again that I went to weekly therapy sessions and practiced mindfulness and meditation as often as I thought of it. It helped tremendously. Depression is dark and terrifying. It kept me chained to my bed most of the time and when not my bed, my house, because I was too lethargic to do anything else. I thank God every day that the same lonely darkness did not come back after the birth of this new joy in my life.

One thing that did come, however, was severe anxiety. I don’t often write so personally online. I try to avoid it, but as I’ve struggled and learned new skills, I have felt this tug to share and maybe help someone else or, at the very least, experience some kind of catharsis through writing about it.

Beginning a few months after my baby’s birth, I developed crippling anxiety for no reason that I could understand. My chest would fill with painful flutters with usually no triggers. It was like I was surrounded by fire, but everything around me was happy and bright and normal. I went from depression to anxiety, from darkness to fire. Neither pleasant, neither something I wanted to have in my life, and I found myself retreating again. It’s what I do when things get too hard, I find my sanctuary, my bed. The same one I’ve had since I was fifteen. And I disappear. I disappear into television shows and don’t come back until I am forced to.

The funny thing about coming out of a depression (I’m not totally out yet, but have made so many strides) is that I find myself wanting to take care of myself more. It’s not funny, really. Just really, really amazing. I am discovering what I value and it’s real and genuine and worthwhile. Because I wanted to take care of myself, I decided to take an anti-depressant which would also help with my anxiety. I started it in January. After three weeks, I was starting to feel pretty good. Until I wasn’t.

The fire around me turned into fierce, blue flames and attacked constantly. Even a funny show that had me laughing out loud would quickly turn my laughter into a full-blown hyperventilating panic attack. I lived on the edge of life-halting anxiety for another month before finally deciding to wean off, which was a difficult process too. I have had difficulties with three other anti-depressants in my life, and my therapist and I have concluded that maybe my chemical makeup does not handle SSRIs well. Maybe. That is not the point of this blog post, especially because so many people do so well on them, and I am so happy for anyone who has found peace, medicated or not.

After spending so much of the last four years crippled with depression, I was determined not to go back, not to let this be an excuse to crawl back into my bed again and not live. During this time, I upped my therapy sessions and started reading. Reading like crazy. I want to share some of the things I’ve learned here and include some of my favorite, most helpful books with reviews eventually. I am going to sum it up in four categories, making this a five-part series.

  1. Storms will come, but they will pass too. 

  2. Define my values. 

  3. Mindfulness and practice. 

  4. Living Slowly

There is so much more to learn. So much more to discover. And so much life left to live. I will release each post every other day for the next four days. If anyone does read this, please comment with what has helped you in your own struggles and let’s learn from each other.

I also hope if anyone reading this needs help, is struggling, and can’t find hope, that they will look for it, really look for it, because no matter the weather, hope is there. If you are really struggling and don’t know how to go on, please seek help. Go to your doctor, call a close friend, call the national suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255), do something. You are worth it. Life is beautiful on the other side, I promise. Even a very small, very simple life can be a very satisfying, romantic one. You are not alone. I promise that too.