Roots


Somehow, where a person grows up defines them. This seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately. 

At my recent checkup, my doctor asked whether I had made any trips to third world countries lately. I jokingly said “Indiana, to visit my sister”. He asked where I was originally from and when I said Minnesota, he seemed satisfied. “That makes sense, because why would she move to Indiana if you were from the East coast?” Then he apologized in a lighthearted way for his prejudicial view on what he considered a “downward” move. I laughed and said it was no big deal, my husband has felt the same way since I met him. He considered New England to be the proverbial promised land. 

New Englanders aren’t the only ones guilty of an inordinate pride based solely on geographic location.  On the highway which slithers northward along Lake Superior toward Canada, there stood a billboard blazing the words, “Tired of the rat race?” I discovered recently that piece of advertising shaped my entire view on where to live. I’ve always felt that the “smart ones” escape big city life to settle in some remote northern territory. A place paradisaic in beauty during the summer, but barely habitable in winter due to massive snow banks and deadly wind chills. These are the ones who were living their hamster wheel lives, but one day while fishing on a northern lake during their one week of vacation, they decide it’s not worth it.  They decide to quit fighting the traffic snarls on their way to a dog-eat-dog corporate job in the city. Why wait until retirement to enjoy nature every day?

I was not one of those “smart ones” trickling in from the nearest big city. I was lucky enough to have been born there. I didn’t have to learn my lesson the hard way. I was already in God’s country, and only I was going to choose where and when to leave. 

Researchers have pinpointed a connection between our sense of smell and our memory. A few years ago on a family road trip we drove through Wisconsin in summer. The smell of the wildflowers and fresh mown grass along the country highway took me instantly back to my childhood. It felt strange to have my senses supersede conscious thought and transport me bodily to a time and place I didn’t know I had forgotten. No gourmet dinner could smell better. No luscious perfume could have delighted me more. In that moment of recognition I became “me” in a way I hadn’t felt in decades. 

I feel enriched for having these realizations about my roots. Would I have had them without leaving? Maybe not. Each place I have moved has set off a new evolution of self within me. I first seek to understand and fit in with the locals. At some point I discover some fundamental way I differ. Unconsciously, I analyze whether this difference is something I like and agree with or not. At some still further point I inevitably find a difference between myself and my new abode that I refuse to assimilate. I then go through a rebellion of sorts, as I stubbornly assert my own identity shaped by my home. 

I’ve come to welcome this process. Even though some of it can be painful in the moment.  It’s part of what makes travel and moving so positive. It has helped me learn about myself in ways that would never have been possible. The only problem with this is people who understand my perspective have become fewer and farther between. 

The other day we were walking on a quiet street in Pawtucket and saw a home for sale. I wondered aloud what it might cost (this curiosity comes from having a builder husband). My friend asked whether we would consider buying a home there. I said probably not. We would be more likely to look for a place in a quieter area. She couldn’t understand what more I could be looking for. Only 2 cars had driven by on that street in 30 minutes. She said, “that’s only because you come from ultra wilderness.” I agreed. 

When I get near a lake, any lake, my whole being exhales and each muscle releases all accumulated tension. The waves greet the shore with a display of sound and reflected light that changes by the moment. The sky meets water like a friend and opens up to reveal it’s beauty, whether it be breathtaking sunsets or enigmatic cloud formations or pinpricks of star shine on a blanket of blackness. Each season displays it’s own shade of blue in sky and water. Each day has it’s own mood ranging from introspective stillness to raging froth. And when I slide into the water, it envelops me like a womb, and I am home. 

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5 steps to quiet anxiety

I’ve done a lot of research on how to cope with anxiety in the past year. This is not something I’ve ever felt. So when someone I love started experiencing anxiety, I could not relate. I needed to help her, but I had no idea how to deal with anxiety. Thankfully, there are some really helpful books out there for children and adults. I started by putting a few on hold at my local library. I would educate myself, and we would get through this!

One thing I learned is that anxiety is very common. If you deal with anxiety, you are not alone! 1 in 8 children and 18% of adults in the United States have anxiety disorder. Many more struggle with feelings of anxiety or panic but are not officially diagnosed with anxiety disorder.

I was convinced of two things: 1) I did not want her to feel unsafe 2) I wanted her to be armed and ready to face her fears.

I knew she would have a huge struggle on her hands all her life if she got into the habit of giving in to her fears and running away from scary situations.

These are 5 steps to follow when fighting anxiety or dealing with a panic attack. This especially holds true when you don’t have a trusted person around to help you. Or, if you are the trusted helper to someone with anxiety, you can refer to these steps when your loved one is feeling overwhelmed. First we practiced together and I talked her through each step. Then I explained that she could do the same on her own even when I wasn’t there to help her out.

  • Label the fear
  • Ask yourself, is it true or false
  • Take deep breaths
  • Say a prayer
  • Lock it away or let it go

This is why each step helps:

  1. Label the fear. It helps to label what exactly makes you anxious. Otherwise it’s just a big, overwhelming emotion. By labeling it you start to take control.
  2. Ask yourself; is it true or false? If the thing or situation you fear starts with the words “what if”, it’s false. And 9 times out of 10, the worry starts with those words. Panic is when your brain starts up the fight or flight response. This is a perfectly normal and useful process, except when it kicks in in response to something that is not immediately dangerous. Usually when anxiety takes over, your panic is lying to you and making something that isn’t dangerous seem to be. Now you’ve labeled your fear or worry and your brain knows it’s not really dangerous.
  3. Take deep breaths. This helps your body calm itself down from the fight or flight response.
  4. Say a prayer. Prayer is calming, but also reminds you that you are never truly alone. Who better to have on your side when you feel afraid than a loving, all-powerful Father?
  5. Lock it away or let it go. For an adult who has experience with anxiety, you may be able to just let it go. But if this is new to you and you aren’t sure whether this item you fear is or is not truly dangerous, put away the worry for now. Lock it up until you can talk about it with a trusted listener or write it out in a journal. When you are calm and feel safe, the worry won’t seem as real or as dangerous. You will be able to put it into the right perspective. This helps lessen the impact anxiety has on your everyday life. A word of caution, make sure you do later express your feelings in a healthy way. 

Learning to ride out the panic wave, using these techniques has really helped.  I hope they help you as well. It’s good to have some tools to deal with panic and anxiety. These steps don’t make anxiety go away. I’ve learned that it comes and goes randomly, when you least expect it. But knowing what to do when anxiety strikes is invaluable.

This challenge is relatively new to us.  We are just learning how to deal with panic and anxiety.  This simple theory has worked for now.  I’ll keep you posted if we learn more useful tips as we go along.

Have you used any of these 5 steps to deal with anxiety? What else have you found that helps? Please leave a comment below.

The 5 Senses of Feelings

macroportraitdroplets.jpgPhoto credit: @garythomas_photography  Instagram

“Just think positive.”

Have you ever heard those words and said to yourself, I CAN’T!?  If you have ever dealt with clinical depression, chances are a well-meaning loved one has said them to you.  You may have struggled to find a way to explain to your would-be comforter that it just doesn’t work that way.  Well, a dear friend of mine has come up with a way.  And I think it’s brilliant!

Feelings, those fleeting, illogical things that our brain creates from a combination of neural connections and chemistry.  Why can’t a person with a disorder affecting his or her emotions just “think positive”?

 

Five Senses

Photo credit: Nicki Dugan Pogue

Well, imagine you wake up one day and your 5 senses are not working properly.  You can’t smell or taste, and your sight is only registering black and white.  You are disturbed by this sudden change, and you have no idea if your ability to smell, taste, or see in color will ever come back. Your other senses of hearing and touch are hypersensitive, leaving you feeling bombarded and irritated by the tiniest sound or touch.  If someone told you, “you’ll feel better if you come outside and smell the roses,” what would that accomplish?  Absolutely nothing!  Except possibly to leave you feeling exasperated and misunderstood.

Each sense = an emotion

If you deal with depression, maybe this tip will help you break through to those logical, rational beings in your life (or even within yourself) who need something tangible to explain something abstract.  When your joy and happiness have disappeared, and your fear and anger are hyper-alert, it’s not because you decided one day to dwell on the negative.  It’s because your emotional senses have become impaired for whatever reason, possibly a trauma, anxiety disorder, a chemical imbalance.

And if you have a loved one who is depressed, you surely feel their pain.  Don’t assume that the answers lie in a simple formula: think positive, get out more, eat right, focus on others, etc. etc.  If that were true, the blight of depression would not exist.  Try to understand, listen, empathize.  Don’t take the emotions they feel personally.  Give them a hug!  And don’t let them give up hope that the 5 senses of feelings will be restored one day. Once again they will be in that rose garden, seeing the color, smelling the fragrance, and loving life again!

Photo credit @antikleopatra Instagram