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I am so pleased to give you a glimpse into the making of a very wise and insightful writer, Lori Deschene.  Ms. Deschene  is the creator of the inspirational website, Tiny Buddha, and has built a huge community of followers of her daily blog posts that inform, inspire and help so many.   She is the author of the book, Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions and has recently compiled her wonderful posts into a 5 ebook series.

 

1.   What has enabled you to get to some of the most fundamental concepts of the human condition – pain, meaning, self-love, to name but a few – and write in such a beautifully simplistic way that resonates with us all?

Well, first, thank you!  I’m glad to know my writing does that, and it’s especially flattering coming from you because of how much I admire you and your work.

I generally explore the issues I’ve dealt with, and I try to do so with honesty and self-awareness so that I really get to the root of those fears and struggles.  I think that’s the difference between writing that’s compelling and writing that isn’t.

Anyone can write about pain and self-love with a sense of authority or removal, but what really resonates with us is recognizing our own feelings and fears in each other.  That requires a willingness to be vulnerable.

On the other hand, vulnerability can be terrifying; but it also facilitates a strong sense of healing, understanding and connection.

As for simplicity, I usually write about everyday experiences and find the larger lessons in those.  I think we sometimes forget the little things are the big things – I know I do sometimes.  So I strive to shine a spotlight on those.

2.   Going through your own personal difficulties, as you share so openly throughout your writings, has given you an ability to help and connect deeply with others.  What personal qualities have contributed to this gift of reaching so many people in such an authentic and vulnerable way?

I’d say my emotional rawness is a big one.  I am highly in touch with my feelings, which is probably why I do so many creative things; they need an outlet!

There was a time when I didn’t appreciate that I feel things so deeply (likely because I assumed deep feelings had to go hand-in-hand with over-sensitivity, which I’ve since learned isn’t true).  Now I see things differently, because it’s that range of emotion that enables me to feel for other people.

Compassion and empathy are big ones, and they come from recognizing myself in others.  I think the other side of that is that I want to receive compassion and empathy.  I want people to see themselves in me, and appreciate our connectedness.

3.   You have incredible wisdom as revealed in your written words.  How, in your youth, have you gleaned such priceless wisdom?

Thank you!  I’ve gleaned wisdom the same way I imagine we all do:  I’ve hurt, and I’ve tried to learn from it so that I hurt less – and as a result, hurt other people less.   

4.   What are a few really important factors in creating a good life despite one’s struggles/difficulties?

Mindfulness–  focusing to the best of our ability on what’s in front of us, instead of dwelling on what happened yesterday or worrying about what might happen tomorrow.

Connection–  letting people in, sharing our struggles with each other, and enjoying each other so that our struggles don’t consume our lives.

Forgiveness/self-forgiveness – letting go of feelings of bitterness and resentment so we can create room for peace and joy.

5.   How can we examine and observe our own lives so that we can live in a more conscious and rich way?

I think it’s about finding a balance between examining and just being. I say this because, as a writer, I have a tendency to overanalyze.

At times, this has served me well, as it’s helped me understand myself and learn about what I need to do to be happy.  At other times, I’ve gotten too caught up in my head, trying to figure everything out, to really appreciate what was right in front of me.

To create a balance between self-reflection and action, we need to be mindful of how we spend our time so that we devote some of it to contemplative activities, like meditation and journaling or blogging, and some of it to engaging with the world. 

It’s about creating space to learn our lessons and apply them – and also allowing ourselves room to be, explore and play in ways that enrich our spirit.

6.  Your books are sprinkled with tips and show us different and new ways of looking at things.  Please highlight one from each of these 5 books.

Tiny Wisdom: On Self-Love

Stop justifying your feelings.  This is a reminder that helps me when I judge my emotions and then feel as though I need to explain them to other people – as if I’m not allowed to feel sad, frustrated, or anything else I might be feeling other than happiness.  When we accept our feelings, it’s a lot easier to work through them and let them go.

Tiny Wisdom: On Happiness

Recognize we choose what we see.  There’s a lot going around us at any given time, far too much to take in all at once.  We can focus on everything we think is wrong with the world, or we can recognize everything that feels right – and in doing so, increase our odds of creating and attracting more of it.

Tiny Wisdom: On Mindfulness

Cling less and enjoy more.  I wrote this post about my experience in Las Vegas.  Surrounded by opulence, I recognize a stark contrast between that world and my own modest home and lifestyle.  I’ve realized, however, that we can’t fully appreciate beauty if we’re trying to hold onto it all.  We have to let go of that need to cling to fully enjoy what’s in front of us.

Tiny Wisdom: On Love

Treat people how they want to be treated.  We all know the old adage “Treat people as you want to be treated,” but this disregards the fact that we’re all different – and we all want to be treated differently.  When we consider the unique needs of the people we love, we’re better able to be there for them in a way that really helps; and we teach them to do the same for us.

Tiny Wisdom: On Pain

See the good in the bad.  Research shows that people who identify lessons from painful events are able to move on more quickly because they can see their experiences as somehow useful, as opposed to victimizing themselves.  If we can see the good in the bad, we can grow not in spite of it, but because of it, and improve our lives and ourselves in the process.

Lori has graciouslyoffered a free give-away of her new e-book series to one reader.  If you would like to enter into the read-away random pool drawing on Wednesday, Aug. 22nd at 10 pm (EST),  please share ( in the Comment section) an insight or slice of wisdom that helps guide and shape your life.

“Recovery (and I’m not a huge fan of the word because I don’t think one ever truly recovers from mental illness but rather learns to manage it) is not about the light at the end of the tunnel, but realizing that there is light – even if it’s just a tiny bit seeping into the tunnel – and you’ve got to grasp it.”

I love this quote by Andy Behrman.  There’s so much right here in this one sentence.

Most struggles and problems in life are not ‘recoverable’. We don’t recover from, we integrate into our lives and {attempt to} manage them. 

Are there any human conditions, struggles, problems that are ‘fixable’? 

Addicts are ‘in recovery’ forever.  They are not recovered.  It is an ongoing condition that must be maintained and managed on a daily basis – one day at a time, as the mantra states.

My daughter, Nava, manages her permanent ostomy.  She has her life and her health back with it, but it’s a life life-long daily maintenance regimen.  (And by-the-way, she’s a natural at incorporating it into her life in a most matter-of-fact way and positive way.)

We manage the pain and sadness that loss brings.  Does one ever ‘recover’ from the loss of a child?  Does one recover from the sudden death of a young spouse? …from the death of a parent during their young years? … from the fall-out of a bad divorce?  

With time we learn to integrate loss and steer it towards new territories.  We try to build new frontiers using pain and hurt as our compass. 

We eventually come to see that there is a tiny bit of light seeping in and we try to grasp it.  It’s not about waiting till the end of the tunnel, for we need little hints of hope and light to hang onto along the way; it’s about stepping tentatively through the darkness and adjusting one’s eyes to the bits of light that gets into the cracks and crevices of our soul.       

We’re managing.  We’re grasping. We’re hanging on and watching those clouds part.  They always do.  There is light. 

Thanks for stopping by.  Please share by tweeting or facebooking.  And sharing your thoughts (in the comment section) is greatly appreciated.   

My close friend’s nephew took his own life last month.  A few days later a person by the name of Andy Behrman tweeted me that he has a ‘rebuilding’ story.  I read some of his articles and got the goose-bumps.  Here was a person who had ‘come’ to me in the immediate aftermath of the horrible news of the suicide of this twenty year old student who had a heart of gold and a mind filled with demons.

 Andy Behrman – mental illness;  nephew – mental illness. 

Andy Behrman – bipolar disorder;  nephew – various diagnoses, bipolar having been one of the more recent ones. 

The message of synchronicity was loud and clear –get this story out there.  It’s another chance for more education and awareness of a silent killer. So in memory of my friend’s nephew, I post this interview in the hope that it may provide some help and hope to the silent sufferers(those with the condition and those affected by it).    

Andy Behrman is a writer and mental health advocate.   Through his speaking and writing he promotes awareness around the stigma of mental illness, suicide prevention and overall good mental health practices.  His memoir, “Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania” is electrifying.   

  1. Please shed some light on the condition of bipolar and what it feels like.

My initial response to this question is that for me, bipolar disorder made me feel like “King of the Hill”, but I was always scared I would lose this feeling.  It is a roller coaster ride of euphoric highs and desperate lows.  I exhibited much more mania than depression.  I felt invincible during my manias and I was extremely productive, outgoing and the life of the party.  But at the same time I felt like I was walking a tight-rope without a net underneath me.  I was involved in drugs and alcohol, was overspending, racking up huge credit card debt, and was sexually promiscuous.  And I wasn’t aware of any of the consequences of my mania, which is why I became involved in an art counterfeiting scheme which landed me in prison.

Although during my manias I felt very much in control, in retrospect I know that I was very much out of control. I was flying from New York to Paris to Tokyo and constantly on the move.  I wasn’t sleeping, I couldn’t sit still and I was delusional.  There were times when I really thought I could take over the world. 

My depressions, which came very infrequently, were not the depressions typically associated with “the blues.”  Mine were violent and rageful periods which lasted very briefly.  For me, bipolar disorder relied quite a bit on my “racing thoughts” and acting on them.  There were days I would wake up, have no idea what my plan was for the day and simply act on one of these thoughts –i.e. fly to Paris, buy a new wardrobe, contemplate a run for Congress, think about new business ventures.

This is a serious illness which is finally in the limelight.  When I was diagnosed more than twenty years ago nobody had heard too much about it.  I had never heard the term ‘bipolar’; it was referred to as ‘manic depression’.  People were not yet out of the closet with this disorder and they were definitely not speaking about it in public.  In fact when “Electroboy” was published, it was one of the first accounts of this illness and definitely the first written by a male.  People regarded me and my illness as my being ‘wild and crazy’ when in fact I was out of control and scared to death for my life. 

Bipolar disorder destroys lives every day and people with this condition take their lives at a high rate.

  1.  How can this be managed to enable someone to live a functional and good life?

Bipolar disorder can be reigned in and managed in several ways, but it must always start with the proper diagnosis.   It is extremely tough to diagnose and I was misdiagnosed eight times by eight different doctors.   One reason for this is that I ‘presented’ myself to these doctors when I was depressed (usually agitated or angry) so they didn’t see the mania.   And why would I want to see a psychiatrist or therapist when I was on top of the world?  So I was just as much to blame, although many of the doctors never asked the right questions about my behavior when I wasn’t depressed  (I believed mania was my natural state.)

After my diagnosis, it was critical to find the right medications, to stabilize them and to stay on them, as many patients have the tendency to go off them after their condition stabilizes.  I tried more than 40 different medications in various combinations and was unsuccessful.  I then opted for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

 It’s important to point out that many people don’t like to be on medication because their ‘highs’ are dulled and they complain of being uncreative.  But in general, if you’re working with both a good psychiatrist and psychologist (and I stress the need for both), taking your medication, are aware of your sleep pattern and the absolute necessity to get good sleep at the right time, and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen, one can manage with this insidious illness.

  1. What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

I suppose I’d have to say that I’ve been able to move forward and work my way through bipolar disorder and return to being productive because of my perseverance and drive.  From the moment when I realized I was ‘stuck’ in my mental illness and when I finally realized I wanted to get better, my ability to acknowledge both my illness and the challenges was helpful to me.  I’ve also managed to maintain my sense of humor throughout my entire battle and this has been critical to staying well.   I just can’t explain how important it’s been having a sense of humor through some of the darkest hours of a cruel illness.

  1.  Was there a moment, epiphany  or thought that helped bring you to a better place mentally/psychologically, or did it evolve?

I think after I had spent time in prison for my involvement in my art forgery case, was locked in my apartment under house arrest and underwent nineteen rounds of electroshock therapy, I realized I had seen the lowest points anybody could see and I didn’t want to be living on a monthly disability check and be confined to my apartment forever.  For the first time it seemed limiting, which may sound like the wrong choice of a word, but I was caged inside because of my illness.  When I realized that I wanted more –  a career, a relationship and to explore the world again as a stable human being – I knew I had to strategize to take steps to get well. 

  1. What are/were your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?               

Back then I had basic coping skills which included medication regimen and seeing my two mental health professionals regularly.  That was almost all I was capable of doing.  As I started getting better, I realized I could add a coping skill to my program as I was ready.  Some of these included things as basic as showering every day, eating three meals and snacks, exercising, focusing on a sleep schedule, keeping order in my life, making career plans and coming up with goals so that I could be financially independent again.  Oddly, I rely on these same skills today.

  1. What keeps you going and moving forward?    

For starters, raising two daughters, five and seven, keep me going and give me reason to keep going.  At the same time, I don’t want to discount the fact that I’m quite driven and want to create another work about mental illness more important than “Electroboy”, which will be helpful to people suffering with mental illness.  At this time I’m not sure exactly what that is, but I know I haven’t written my last book on the subject since I have much more to add to the discussion.  And finally, just living life, whatever happens on a daily basis – spending time with family and friends, meeting new people, seeing new places and enjoying every day keeps me going.

  1.  In general, how have you managed to rebuild your life?

That’s a great question because sometimes I’m shocked that I wasn’t just another statistic and didn’t end up dead.  I’ve relied on maintaining discipline and structure and worked closely with my psychiatrist and therapist, as well as doing so much work in group therapy.  But I think in general, I’ve always had the philosophy that recovery (and I’m not a huge fan of the word because I don’t think one ever truly recovers from mental illness but rather learns to manage it) is not about the light at the end of the tunnel, but realizing that there is light – even if it’s just a tiny bit seeping into the tunnel – and you’ve got to grasp it.

 

  1.  What advice can you offer for someone struggling with mental illness ?

For starters,realize you are not alone.  Twenty percent of the population is struggling in some way.  That’s a huge number.  And in addition to not feeling alone, there’s no reason to be ashamed.   If you had diabetes, there would be no shame.  You’d just learn how to manage living with it.   Next, find a good doctor with whom you can work, which can be very difficult considering the system is critical.  Finally, when you’re ready, sharing your story both with friends and family can illicit something you never imagined: support.

Thank you for reading this important piece.  Here are a few other links:

http://causes.msn.com/mental_health_month/?section=infographic#section=infographic

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7ELkrfuq9g&feature=related

http://bipolar.about.com/b/2011/12/22/where-does-my-mental-illness-end-and-where-do-i-begin.htm

http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/electroboy-andy-behrmann

Sometimes it’s those things that come at us out of left field. 

Sometimes it’s a waiting game in a difficult and precarious situation.

Sometimes it’s tough stuff remaining tough or getting worse.

Sometimes we find ourselves on unexpected shaky ground.

Whatever it is, how do we hang on when we come face-to-face with life’s hard times?

10 things to help us hold on tight:

  1. Close your eyes and breathe.  Be mindful that you have the breath to keep you grounded.  Do this as often as you think of it throughout the day.  Even a few seconds can bring you back from a highly emotional and charged state.
  2. Call that special someone to regurgitate it all out – someone who can listen and hold your pain.  Connecting can be grounding and letting it out is lightening. 
  3. Let the tears flow.  It is not weakening, it is simply a normal and healthy release of emotion.  It gives us room to go on.
  4. Maintain a ritual, whatever that may be for you; something that connects you to life. 
  5.  Do something where you feel in control
  6. Go inward and try to hear your own voice.   It can be a voice of pain and hopelessness.  Listen to it and be gentle with it.  It is you crying out.  Support it as you would with a friend crying out.  It needs acknowledgement to go on. 
  7. Engage in a healthy distraction.  We need shut-out and shut-down periods to come back to the situation at hand. 
  8. Pray.  There is something beyond what we see and feel.  Faith can go a long way. 
  9. Hope is a powerful force.  Miracles do happen.  And if not, there is rebuilding to do and ‘new goods’ to come.
  10. Gratitude – hone in on at least 3 things to be grateful for.

Sometimes hanging on seems like a lot of work and we feel as though we don’t have the strength or ability to go on.  We need to allow ourselves the slump down period and then call out our inner troops.  They’re there.  Dig deep and carry on.

 

What do you find when you dig deep?  Some inner strength you never knew you had??

Thanks for stopping by.

Last Thursday night I posted a piece on reactions to bad news.  Friday morning we all woke up to hearing the horrific news of the Colorado movie shooting tragedy. 

There is no sense that one can make of such a thing.  These are the times in life where we might go towards asking Why in order to grasp at straws to make sense out of the senseless.   We can come up with an act of an evil person, a mentally ill person, a gun-control issue, being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Whatever ‘explanation’ one may espouse, it’s all meaningless when dealing with the grief and heart-wrenching sadness at the forefront of it all. 

And so I say, again, it’s how we respond – how we reach out, how we support and help each other, how we allow ourselves to feel deeply so that we become naturally attuned to those in need, how we take time out of our busy days to notice others and give of ourselves each and every day. 

And it’s how we live with the impermanence of life. Every day we’re on this earth is a blessing.  Are we taking advantage of it by living well?  Are we focusing on all that we have as opposed to what we don’t have?  Are we grateful everyday for all the miracles of life, despite our problems?  Are we going through life not on auto-pilot, but rather with awareness and intent?

It’s easy and natural to feel the bad outweigh the good when such atrocities strike.  We may even remain in that place for awhile.  But then the key is to begin to focus on the shifting clouds as bits of sunlight peek through.   

The beauty is in the comfort, the compassion, the service and help, the support that is there. 

The work is in the rebuilding of the lives that remain with permanent holes in their hearts.

First and foremost, we must Feel – feel for others, feel with others, feel connected to others.  For then we will come together to share the pain and beauty of humankind.    

My heart goes out to the parents/family of the murderer.  For from their blood spilled the senseless blood of so many. 

Thank you for reading.  Here’s a piece that really resonated for me.  Perhaps it will for you as well.

Stay tuned for my revised blog site.  It’s being designed by the talented web/techy guy Joshua Denney.  He’s great fun to deal with.   He also happens to be the design guy for the Tiny Buddha site, from which he came highly recommended. 

I’ve heard a succession of bad stories in the last few weeks.  Some awful things have happened to people I know {of}.   A sudden death of a woman from my safari travel group; a suicide of my close friend’s nephew; a stroke of someone (my age) in my community; a sudden serious illness of a blogging friend’s daughter.  

After feeling the shock and overwhelming sadness, two things come to mind when I hear bad things – compassion and living well.

Our response to suffering must be compassion.  We must be there for each other, both in actions and words.   In this regard I am proud to say that my community exhibits this to the hilt.  When my daughter was critically ill, there were ongoing prayer services and meal deliveries for months while she was hospitalized.  .  This is done for everyone going through a trying time – be it illness, death, job loss. 

Someone even loaned us a car to use for six months to travel up and back to the hospital when our second car had to be junked.  An unusual act of extreme kindness. 

When I recall all the ‘angels’ who were there for us, I get re-charged in my motivation to extend myself and do good. 

That bad and painful things happen is part of life; no one is immune.  That we be there for one another with empathy, compassion, goodness and service is the beauty in response to the ugly.  It must be there. 

And it shows up tremendously after calamities.  After 9/11, after Hurricane Katrina, people felt a burning need to do something.  A sense of helplessness was deeply felt.  Volunteerism was at a high.  People dug into their half empty pockets because the need to give of oneself was so strong.     

“There but for the grace of God go I.”  At any point in time we know it could be us, but we’ve been spared.  And so we feel and we give of ourselves to those in pain. 

If these tragic halts in life aren’t reminders to live well while we can, then we’re missing out on a most valuable life lesson.   We don’t know when our time is up, what will be tomorrow.  We know all too well that life throws many curve balls way out of left field.  And so while we’re standing healthy and tall we need to live with intention, being consciously aware of how we’re living so we can give it our best.   We must spend our time in ways that are important to us and make decisions based on our priorities and values.   We need to take in the beauty and appreciate when things are going well.  We need to celebrate the good.

At the shiva (visiting the mourners) of my safari friend, her husband said so poignantly, “I can’t complain; I had her for 40 years.  Sure I would’ve wanted more time together but we certainly celebrated life together well.”

 

How are you celebrating your life?   

Thanks for popping by to read this.

(Peace Art by Kelly Anne Tearney)

En route to our weekend get-a-way at a friend’s house in the Catskill mountains (of New York), we made a spontaneous detour to Woodstock.  That’s right, the hippie concert area of the late 1960’s.  What a great step-back into time.  Tie-dyed colors galore, guitars decorating street posts, smells of incense hitting all our senses as we felt swooned back to ‘those days, guitarists playing on the streets the songs of yesteryear.  Nostalgia at its best.  

What moved me to post about this was what I saw upon entering a really neat coffee house.  This is on the wall as you step into the corridor:    

It’s an earasable fill-in-the blank.  Now if the colors, music and smells weren’t enough to fill me with joy during our brief baby-boomer appreciation walk, seeing this sealed it for me.  Some of you may think, ‘how crazy is that’, but it was ‘so me’ to fall into this. 

I hope you’ll take a stab at filling in your blank to this statement in the comments below.  Before I Die…..

It also just so happened to be totally in place for hubby Alan to be wearing his sneakers here:     

A couple of other cute pix:

I am thrilled to hear that Wild  just hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller listAuthor Cheryl Strayed had accepted my request for a blog interview back in MarchSo in her honor today and in my happiness for her I felt it appropos to repost her interview.

And if you haven’t already done so, read this book.  It’s a page-turning adventure story detailing one woman’s journey towards reclaiming her life while out in the wilderness.  It’s a unique story of courage,vulnerability, ‘kookiness’  and inspiration written in captivating prose that brings you up close to each and every event.

 

I am so excited to present this month’s interviewee, Cheryl Strayed.  I am exceptionally happy for Ms. Strayed because her memoir, Wild, which just came out March 20th  has been getting rave reviews and is currently  #7 on the New York Times bestseller list.  And Reese Witherspoon has optioned the movie rights to Wild, in which she will star as Cheryl. 

I am extremely appreciative that in this exciting ‘hoopla’ time for Ms. Strayed, she warmly and graciously agreed to this interview.    Her story is quite unique, to say the least, in how she has rebuilt her life after going through the tragic loss of her mother.  Ms. Strayed found her way back {to life} by embarking on an 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). 

“It seemed like years ago now – as I stood barefoot on that mountain in California – in a different lifetime, really, when I’d make the arguably unreasonable decision to take a long walk alone on the PCT in order to save myself.”

1.       What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

One of the last things my mother said to me before she died was that I was a seeker. I didn’t understand at the time how right she was, but now I do. My impulse to reach and dig and get to another emotional or psychological place, to understand a new thing, served me well when I had to rage against my mother’s death at the age of 45 and later, when I had to heal my sorrow and learn how to live without her.

2.       Did you go through a period of self-pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

One time about two years after my mother died I was with a group of women on Mother’s Day. We’d rented a cabin for the weekend and since none of us were with our mothers we went around in a circle taking turns saying something about our moms by way of honoring them. I was the only one with a dead mother. These women were kind to me, but I remember feeling an unreasonable amount of unexpressed resentment toward them. It felt so unfair that they got to have moms and I didn’t. (And then of course I felt guilty for feeling that way.)

I let go of my self-pity over time, as I grew up and accepted the fact that I would never get my mother back. I also met many people who’d also lost their parents young and they were a great consolation to me. I don’t experience self-pity anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice what I’ve lost. I’m never with a friend and his or her mother that I am not aware of it. A little    voice in my head always says, lucky you. But it’s a loving voice, and one that understands complexity. There are many orphans whose parents are alive and well.

3.       Was there a specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped bring you to a better place mentally/psychologically, or did it evolve?

I had many epiphanies that together formed an evolution. The hardest part about losing one’s primary parent in one’s teens or twenties is that you’re still trying to form your identity, to figure out who you’re going to be in the world, and smack dab in the midst of that, you’ve lost the person who’d defined you and against which you’d defined yourself. You’re grieving so hard, but you’re also trying to grow up.

Those things are utterly tangled together for me. I don’t know what was youthful angst and confusion and what was my grief, and I never will. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if my mother hadn’t died. I’ve learned as much from her in her death as I did in her life. I had to stitch my own stories with the threads of her absence. At a certain point I became willing to do that. I accepted her death as my rebirth, whether I liked it or not. I was on a big journey when this really became clear to me—on an 1100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, which I wrote about in my memoir, Wild. The summer I hiked the trail was a time of many epiphanies. My experience on the PCT changed me forever. It was my evolution.

4.       What are/were your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?

I miss my mother every day, but my grief has lessened over time. It doesn’t feel like the great weight that will sink me anymore. When it did feel that way in the four or five years after her death, I found comfort in my friendships, in silence and solitude, in the wilderness, and in my writing. Acceptance was probably the most important coping skill. I found solace in simply sitting with my sorrow. There’s a lot of strength in crying the tears that need to be cried and letting go of what cannot any longer be held.

5.       In general, how have you managed to rebuild your life after your losses?

By moving forward. By searching out love and goodness. By keeping faith with the things that brought me the most inner peace. By mothering my children with the same big love my mother mothered me. By becoming the woman my mother raised me to be, even though she didn’t get to be here to see her.

6.     What advice do you have for someone going through loss in the hope of coming out of the darkness intact?

There are dark days and painfully bright nights in this life. We have the capacity to survive them. We know this because so many others have and are and will. It’s an ancient tale. Trust it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/books/review/wild-a-hiking-memoir-by-cheryl-strayed.html

Photo credit goes to Joni Kabana for picture of Cheryl Strayed.

Thank you for reading.  Sharing and Comments are always appreciated. 

I’m staring up at the bird on the ceiling.  I’m on his wings flying off  to Somewhere.  Blue sky and puffy clouds surround him. 

This is all a great visual while I sit in the chair, my jaw hurting as I hold my mouth open as wide as I can during a painless root canal procedure.  Yes, you read it right – it is painless because my endodontist has the gift of golden dental hands.  Having said that, it’s still not the most comfortable half-hour, breathing through a rubber dam while two people are working in my mouth with all kinds of instruments and foul-tasting sprays and medicines being used. 

And so I try hard to defocus on what’s going on in my mouth and concentrate on the beautiful ceiling, clearly designed as a calming factor in a typically anxiety-provoking situation.  Let’s face it, going to the dentist is not a pleasure-producing experience.   

In yoga, we’re told to pick a spot to focus on while doing balancing poses.  It helps keep us grounded and connected.  So while I’m not exactly balancing in my chair, ‘my’ bird is my focal point as I try to maintain a calm flow of breath and stay connected to that rather than to the tightness in my body.  If I’m lucky, I can even lose myself in flight along with Mr. Bird. 

Next week when I begin my visits to my general dentist for the crown work to be done, I will be staring at a plain white ceiling and imagining the beautiful sky and bird as my mind will have to work a bit harder at visualizing my flight to somewhere.   

I manage this specific anxiety through breathing, visualization and a form of meditation.  This generally works for me.

I do the same before I give a presentation.  Deep breathing, then quiet breathing as I close my eyes for a few minutes,  and then an affirmative pep-talk gets me calm, focused and psyched.  I talk to myself en route to the presentation and then allow for 15 minutes in my parked car to do my quiet calming exercises.   

Generalzied anxiety, as my recent interviewee, Priscilla Warner suffers from, is much harder to handle.  She’s worked on it for years and only recently has found more natural ways of managing it, in conjunction with medication.  When anxiety interferes with one’s overall functioning, it can be debilitating.  Where it’s more localized to specific situations, it can be coped with in {even} some fairly creative ways. 

On vacation recently, I met a woman who has tremendous anxiety over flying.  Since she’s  a lover of travel and won’t give that up, besides the knock- out pill-popping solution before getting on a plane,  she has started taking a ship across the Atlantic.  For someone who has the extra time and enjoys cruising, what a great solution.    

Antidotes to Anxiety:

Think out of the boxSeek creative solutions so you can attain your desired goal. 

Conscious breathing.  It really does slow down your whole system. 

Visualize positive outcomes or something you love.

Make friends with your anxiety.  Recognize the signs and then begin the calming strategies.

Talk to yourself.  Positive self-talk goes a long way in flipping the channels of the mind.

For pervasive and generalized anxiety that compromises one’s quality of life, it’s important to understand the underlying root and possible causes.  Working  through the issues with a good therapist can go a long way in bringing someone to the point of then managing it with {the above-mentioned} behavioral steps.   

No one is alone with anxiety.  It is part of the human condition.   The differences lie in degree and ability to manage.

How do you cope with your anxiety?  How big is it in your life?  Share your techniques and ways of dealing with it.  It may help others. 

Thanks for stopping by and reading this.   Hope you’re building in fun this summer season.   Oh and by the way, fun is a great anti-anxiety defense.  In the midst of fun, there’s little room for anxiety to enter. 

I haven’t had a full-blown panic attack in a couple of years.  Granted, my body is not always an ocean of tranquility.  I still feel lonliness, fear, and what I call the black-and-blues – the sadness I finally allow myself to feel, the sadness that panic covered up for so many years.”

As many of you may know from my {June} interview with Meredith Vieria, I met her at an event in New York City where she interviewed her childhood friend, Priscilla Warner, on her recent book, Learning to Breathe.   That night was a win-win for me as I met two wonderfully warm and engaging women, and they each agreed to do a blog interview. 

So this month, it’s Ms. Warner’s turn.  She is a noted writer, having coauthored a New York Times bestseller, The Faith Club, and now her new memoir.   She takes us on a fascinating journey as she seeks to find ways to heal from her years of suffering from high anxiety and panic attacks. 

Most, if not all of us can relate to anxiety but her condition was oftentimes very debilitating.   Ms. Warner shows us it’s never too late to learn, grow and change or as she says, “An old tiger can learn new tricks.”      

I am so pleased to present Priscilla Warner.

  1. What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

My mother, a prolific artist, used to tell me, “People will disappoint you, but your work never will.”  The love I feel for my family and friends is the most powerful positive factor in my life.  But often what sustains me most during tough times, propelling me forward, is my ability to create something from nothing, whether I’m writing or making art and jewelry.

  1. Did you go through a period of self-pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

I didn’t go through a period of self-pity, but I did feel shame when I suffered from panic attacks.  I felt like I had a defective nervous system, that erupted at will, prohibiting me from functioning like a ‘normal’ person.  What lifted me out of that shame was writing Learning to Breathe, because it sent me on a mission to heal that proved to be astonishingly effective.

  1. Was there a specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped bring you to a better place mentally/psychologically, or did it evolve?

There was not one specific ‘eureka’ moment that turned me from an anxious person into a happy woman.  I take life moment by moment now.  My meditation practice helps me to note the happy, sad, anxious, boring, challenging instructive moments I experience and be grateful as they string themselves together into one long life.  The Thomas Wolfe quote I used for my high school yearbook is still surprisingly relevant!  “Knowledge is finding out something for oneself with pain, with joy, with exultancy, with labor, and with all the little ticking, breathing moments of our lives.”

  1. What are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?

Meditation is a daily practice that helps me sustain a feeling of being grounded, at peace and in touch with my essence.  I love knowing that all I need to do is observe my breath coming and going in order to feel empowered, healthy and happy.   I also start my day with a short prayer of gratitude, which gets me off to the perfect start, wherever else the day might take me. 

  1. What thoughts propel you forward?

The thought that propels me forward is, “This too shall pass.”  (So try and enjoy this somehow!)

  1. What advice do you have for someone going through internal difficulties that greatly impact the quality of their life?

I’ve discovered that people can heal in ways they never thought possible.  There are many resources out there to help make that possible.  We can all turn pain into understanding and growth.  We can choose the path we take through our suffering.  That path will twist and turn in ways we can never expect.  But if we put one foot in front of the other, and approach life one step at a time, we can move from a painful place to a productive one.  We can accept sadness and feel grace.  We can find teachers, therapists, techniques, experiences and resources that don’t have to cost a fortune, but that can make a huge difference in our lives. 

Hear Ms. Warner speak :

http://www.youtube.com/user/PriscillaWarnerBooks?feature=mhee#p/u

Her articles in Psychology Today:  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/learning-breathe/201204/how-i-learned-not-take-my-panic-attacks-personally
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/learning-breathe/201201/is-it-selfish-seek-happiness

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