Find a safe space

You’re having a panic attack, struggling to see straight, calm your racing thoughts, slow your pounding heart, and breathe. You tell yourself you’re okay. You aren’t in actual, physical danger. But something triggered your alarm system, which sent a message to your amygdala, which made all this shit happen in your body in order to keep you safe. Too bad the danger lives more internally than externally. Still, your fight-or-flight instinct has taken over (even though you can’t run from or fight the source of your crippling anxiety), and adrenaline is surging through you, all because we inherited such a response from our ancestors thousands of years ago and our brain systems just haven’t caught the fuck up. So what do you DO?

You can try to force yourself into breathing normally. Inhale slowly, hold it, exhale slowly, hold it. Repeat. Repeat. Or you can try to “ground” yourself, to reconnect with the fact that you’re exactly where you are, here and now, to live in this present moment instead of the impending future. You can try (almost desperately) to distract yourself. Solving math problems is great for that. So are word puzzles. Your brain can’t focus on figuring things out and panicking at the same time. The same is true of experiencing a rapid and drastic change in temperature. Take an icy cold shower if you can. Your brain will stop processing the paralyzing fear you’re experiencing (or so I’m told). The scent of lavender is supposed to be calming, but personally, I open a familiar perfume bottle and breathe in the comfort it carries for me. I always use that perfume before I do happy, relaxing things. So I’ve (almost) effectively trained my brain to associate it with happiness and relaxation.

But something that’s been particularly interesting to me lately is visualization. A kind of intense mental imagery. A purposeful relocation to a safe place.

I have a pretty active imagination. Maybe that’s the writer in me, but I have a particular proclivity for getting myself lost in whatever place I’m thinking of. Like, I force myself there. I picture everything vividly, paying careful attention to detail. I mentally feel the sensations that accompany that place. I let myself experience the feelings that would go along with being there.

Sometimes it’s a made-up place in a random, made-up scenario. Sometimes it’s an actual place in a scenario I wish would happen there. There are the typical escapes. The beach, with sun shining, the waves crashing, the smell of sunblock wafting through the air. And the perhaps less typical cozy cafe, with a good cup of coffee and a book I’m completely absorbed in. A lot of times it’s a memory that, a moment in my past that I’d love to go back to. (Again, that might be the writer in me; I love the quote “we write to taste life twice,” and I think reliving memories is another way to do that)

I haven’t had a full-on, gasping, clutching, gut-wrenching panic attack in about a month. And after being prescribed an as-needed benzodiazepine about two months ago, I definitely feel more in control of those situations. Knowing I have a pill in my bag that can alleviate those sickening physical symptoms is often enough to reduce the unrelenting (and usually unnecessary) fear. And if that isn’t enough, I put the pill in my mouth and swallow.

But I’m still an anxious person. That probably won’t ever change. So I’m trying to get this visualization thing set in my mind so I can get a better handle on my general, day-to-day anxiety. I’m trying to set up predetermined safe places that I can teleport to at a moment’s notice. So here’s my attempt at collecting them and getting them ready for use:

Disney World. The Happiest Place on Earth. In any park, with any loved one, either in memory or projection. Perhaps it’s the Magic Kingdom on Main Street USA in the early morning with my parents and sister. There’s time-appropriate music playing from seemingly nowhere, and we’ve just turned the corner to see Cinderella Castle standing majestically in the distance, and I feel like I’m Home, like nothing else matters because this moment is perfect. The love I feel around me is palpable. The excitement is tangible. All is well.

Driving down Ocean Parkway, looping from one Long Island beach to another, singing loudly to a crazy array of music with the man who’d soon become my boyfriend. It’s late at night and we’ve been driving for hours, alternating between deep conversations and enjoying the fact that our tastes in music are so similar. I’m calm and happy and fulfilled.

The bookstore. Summer 2010, the summer I really came into my own. My best friend just walked in the door and we greet each other by immediately launching into talking about exciting plans and things to try and what’s been going on since we’ve seen each other a day ago. We get matching cups of coffee and sit by the window and we bounce ideas off each other while simultaneously bouncing off the walls. When we’ve exhausted that, we wander the bookstore, admiring the books we hope to buy, feeling the peace that comes with being surrounded by such an awesome amount of written knowledge. Things are good.

Christmas morning. My parent’s living room. The day that we’ve been anticipating for an entire season. Surrounded by my family and presents, the Yule Log on the TV, love and laughter and magic filling the entire room. It feels right.

I’m at a concert venue about to see my favorite band play. My friends and I are standing by the mosh pit, being bumped by someone dancing in circles every now and then, and we’re all screaming the lyrics to the songs we know by heart. The music fills my entire soul and leaves me feeling energetic in the best way. They start playing my favorite song. Then the singer cuts out and he points the mic into the crowd so that the crowd can take over the song. We’re all different but also so similar, most of us with tattoos and dyed hair and checkered vans and band t-shirts and the like. I feel connected and important.

It’s Monday morning and I just sat down in my therapist’s office, on the floor by the window, where we can watch the clouds go by and the wind blow through the trees and the cars driving by. But we’re talking about important things and processing the chaos that is my life, and occasionally veering off topic to easier things, and oftentimes looking at funny memes. I’m wiggly and all over the place, but there’s safety and comfort sitting across from me so it’s okay.

I’m in our room, sitting there on the bed under my weighted blanket, laptop propped up on a pillow, and I’m scrolling tumblr. He’s sitting next to me, and every 10 seconds we stop to show each other something stupid we stumbled across online. We’ve been sitting there for like an hour in relative silence, but it’s the epitome of what love looks like. I don’t have to worry about anything because he’s there and he understands and he loves me.

My favorite places, my favorite moments. There are more, of course. And I’m sure throughout my life I’ll continue finding ones to add to the list. But for now, I’m gonna try to remember that I have these to escape to whenever the need arises.

Happy things to appreciate 💙 (updates!)

Random acts of kindness 💕

Cloud watching ☁️

Giving something my all💯

The tippytap of my dog’s paws as he comes to me when I call him 🐾❣️

Family!! 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧

Fairytales about princesses and castles 🏰👑

Classic Disney movies °O° 📼

Waking up without an alarm ⏰ 🌅

Selfies when I’m really feeling myself 🤳🏻

Coffee ☕️ enjoying that first cup in the morning 🙂

Meeting up with friends 👭

Getting stronger 🏋🏼‍♀️ (physically or mentallyyy)❗️

Proving my resilience ⬇️🆙

Beer with friends after a long week 🗓🍻

Going on a trip ✈️

Pretty bows 🎀 (and other accessories) 💍

Smiling for no particular reason 😃

Roller coasters!🎢 the anticipation at the top!

Fruit salad 🍒🥝🍍🍎🍉🍇🍐🍌

When it all comes together like a puzzle 🧩

Old school video games 🎮

Leaving love notes (or any notes!) 💌

Gettingggg love notes (or any notes!) 📬

Good news in the paper 📰

Enjoying nature 🏔🏕

Karaoke 🎤

Flowers on a spring day 🌷🌻🌺🌿🌸

Cookies and milk 🍪🥛

The smell of rain/ thunderstorms ⛈⚡️

Balloons 🎈

Tea 🍵 with honey 🍯

Binge watching a good show on Netflix/Hulu 🖥

Tropical vacations 🏝

The smell of mom baking apple pie on a fall morning 🍎 🥧

The sun, rising every day 🌅

A fresh notebook waiting to be filled 📓

Cute puppies 🐶

Cute cats 🐱

My favorite music 🎼 🎶🎵

A stack of books waiting to be read 📚

Seeing a rainbow 🌈

Photography that captures feelings 📸

Improving myself 📈

The sun coming out 🌥⛅️🌤☀️

Fireworks 🎆🎇

Cosmic phenomena 🌙💫 -notice the miracles

Getting a good night’s sleep 💤😴

City skylines 🌇 🌃

Office supplies 📎✏️ 📋

Magic✨/ unicorns 🦄 / etc 🌟

Being alive!! 🌎 appreciate that 👈🏻

Shooting for the moon 🚀 🌕

Hot chocolate 🍫 on a cold winter day ❄️

Making someone happy 😃

Deep conversations 🗣 with close friends 👥

My perfect nephew 👶🏼

Learning something new about science 🧬

Comfy pajamas ✔️

Jeans that fit just right 👖

Frantically writing ✍🏻 getting ideas💡 on paper

Pride 🏳️‍🌈 for whatever I am

Connecting w people I love on social media 💻📱

Self-care 🕯 🧼🛁🧖🏻‍♀️

Really appreciating stars 🌟 in the night sky 🌌

Good fortune 🔮

Getting into a video game 🎮 (or watching one)

Shopping sprees! 🛍

Fall 🍁🍂🌾🌼 bonfires 🔥

Achieving something to be proud of 🎓

A big paycheck 💵

Late night car rides🚙 with Andrew🥰 singing🎶

Funny memes 😂

The incredibleee excitement the night before a Disney trip 🔜

Waking up on Christmas morning 🎄🎁

Feeling lucky 🍀

Winning something 🎰

Classical music that brings back memories 🎻

When things fit together perfectly 🔐

Making art 👩🏻‍🎨🖍🖌🖊

Appreciating all the world’s differences 🗺

Becoming the best version of me 🏆

Learning 👩🏻‍🎓

Books 📖 & how so many of them exist📚

Making wishes 🧞‍♀️🧞‍♂️✨

Things that comfort me 🧸 🐘 (my stuffed elly!)

My favorite perfume 🥰

The first snow ⛄️ of the season 🗓 [peaceful!]

Singing in the rain ☔️

Checking something off my to do list ☑️

Tattoos 🌀

Ice cream (size congruent with my mood) 🍦

Parties 🥳

Quiet mornings 🔇

Crocheting someone a hat 🧶

Ska shows 🏁

Facing fears 🕸

My infinite internal power ♾ 💥

The journey 🛤

Climbing into bed feeling accomplished after a long day 🛏

A new haircut (or color!) 🆕👱🏻‍♀️💙

Reliving memories 💭 / looking through keepsakes 🎟🎫

Being the perfect amount of energetic🔋

Finding light in the darkness 🔦

When good things fall apart but better things fall together 💔➡️❤️

Counting down on New Year’s Eve just like the entire rest of the world 🎆🎇

Making someone proud (even if it’s myself)☺️

Late night adventures 🌙

The fact that I kicked the fucking shit out of anorexia once and I can fucking do it again 🍽

Thoughts become things, so choose them wisely: a platitude that I’m finding particularly relevant lately

We don’t have curtains on our windows, which is probably dumb for a few reasons, but the upside is that I get to wake up in harmony with the entire stretch of world that exists on the other side of the glass. Sometimes that means there’s a gradual lightening of everything outside that is echoed on my face when I’m starting to open my eyes and sometimes that means night’s darkness simply fades into a dull gray. Sometimes it means waking up to a burgeoning sunrise that paints the sky in broad red and orange strokes. It all depends on the day.

I’ve come to think of the morning sky as a screen on which the quality of my day ahead is projected.  In layman’s terms, the weather has a pretty big effect on the already-tenuous grip I have on my moods. And this isn’t coming from a place of superstition. Weather patterns actually impact mood. The sun can pull people away from the abyss of depression, rain can send gloom through even the happiest of people, and humidity makes people edgy and irritable. It makes sense. Not to mention seasonal affect disorder, whose sufferers’ moods cycle with seasonal changes (and oh hey, as a resident bipolar, I’ve obviously noted that my episodes align with such patterns).

So when the morning sky is a vast expanse of bright blue, chances are I’ll be starting out well-rested, rejuvenated, ready for the day’s adventures to begin. When the early morning is masked with cloudy skies, I’ll likely be starting with a vague ennui that might develop into nagging anxiety if not taken care of. When red and orange clouds linger with the climbing sun, it’s usually wise for me to heed the phrase that sailors have passed down over time and “take warning,” since chaos is surely brewing. Picturesque dawn means the sun is shining from below as inclement weather approaches from the west, scattering light through the present water vapor. And as beautiful as it might be, the calming hues of purple and blue are still chased away as if frightened by the impending storm.

In reality, no known atmospheric condition has power in itself to transcend symbolism and legitimately affect the circumstances of my day. My reaction to certain circumstances is certainly influenced by them; sunshine might make me more inclined to brush aside annoyances, clouds might make that harder to do, and a storm might bring forth my desire to hide away.

But it’s necessary to remember, even if only in the back of my mind, that I have the power to control how my days go. Regardless of the weather, and mood disorder aside, I have more power than I think.

Coping Kit

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Happy things 💙

Random acts of kindness 💕

Cloud watching ☁️

Giving something my all💯

Stories about princesses 🏰👑

Selfies when I’m feeling myself 🤳🏻

Coffee ☕️

Meeting up with friends 👭

Getting stronger 🏋🏼‍♀️ (physically or emotionally)❗️

Proving my resilience ⬇️🆙

Beer with friends after a long week 🗓🍻

Going on a trip ✈️

Pretty bows 🎀 (and other accessories) 💍

Smiling 😃

Roller coaster parks 🎢

Fruit salad 🍒🥝🍍🍎🍉🍇🍐🍌

Leaving love notes (or any notes!) 💌

Getting love notes (or any notes!) 📬

Good news in the paper 📰

Enjoying nature 🏔🏕

Karaoke 🎤

Flowers on a spring day 🌷🌻🌺🌿🌸

Cookies and milk 🍪🥛

The smell of rain/ thunderstorms ⛈⚡️

Balloons 🎈

Tea 🍵 with honey 🍯

Tropical vacations 🏝

The sun, rising every day 🌅

A fresh notebook waiting to be filled 📓

Cute puppies 🐶

Your favorite music 🎼 🎶🎵

A stack of books waiting to be read 📚

Seeing a rainbow 🌈

Photography that captures feelings 📸

Improving myself 📈

The sun coming out 🌥⛅️🌤☀️

Fireworks 🎆🎇

Cosmic phenomena 🌙💫

Getting into bed after a long day 💤😴

City skylines 🌇 🌃

Office supplies 📎✏️ 📋

Magic✨/ unicorns 🦄 / etc 🌟

Being alive!! 🌎

Hot chocolate 🍫 on a cold winter day ❄️

Deep conversations 🗣 with close friends 👥

My perfect nephew 👶🏼

Learning something new about science 🧬

Frantically writing ✍🏻 getting ideas 💡 on paper

Connecting w people I love on social media 💻📱

Self-care 🕯 🧼🛁🧖🏻‍♀️

Really appreciating stars 🌟 in the night sky 🌌

Getting into a video game 🎮 (or watching one)

Fall 🍁🍂🌾🌼 bonfires 🔥

Achieving something to be proud of 🎓

A big paycheck 💵

Late night car rides🚙 with Andrew🥰 singing🎶

The anticipation the night before Disney 🔜

Waking up on Christmas morning 🎄🎁

Feeling lucky 🍀

Winning something 🎰

Classical music that brings back memories 🎻

When things fit together perfectly 🔐

Making art 👩🏻‍🎨🖍🖌🖊

Appreciating all the worlds differences 🗺

Becoming the best version of me 🏆

Learning 👩🏻‍🎓

Books 📖 & how many of them exist📚

Making wishes 🧞‍♀️🧞‍♂️✨

Things that comfort me 🧸 🐘 (my stuff animal!)

Singing in the rain ☔️

Checking something off my to do list ☑️

Ice cream (size congruent with my mood) 🍦

Parties 🥳

Quiet mornings 🔇

Crocheting someone a hat 🧶

Ska shows 🏁

Facing fears 🕸

Corner of Good: Fall Edition

As much as I loveeee summer and the bright colors, the enveloping heat, and the late nights and early mornings that accompany it…I so appreciate when the season starts to merge into fall.  When the colors turn their warm shades of orange and red, when the weather gets cooler and there’s a crispness to the air, and when shorter days start to invite hot cups of morning coffee, cozy nights inside, and the scent of my favorite candle burning on my desk.  When stores stock their shelves with the ever-cliched flavor of pumpkin in EVERYTHING, when I can wear cute jeans, fuzzy boots, chunky scarves, and my leather jacket.  Basically, I love and appreciate this time when change is at its best.  

Now, as if all that isn’t enough to fill you with goodness, I have a few more things about fall that will hopefully fill your heart with happiness 🙂

1. Change can be scary, but I don’t think anyone actually fears autumn.  It’s definitely change.  Kind of a big one.  Everything is moving on, and as much as life is continuing, it’s also starting to wind down in some ways (leaves falling, more hours of darkness).  But it’s just amazing to me how that all pretty much gets swept under the rug.  How people usually view this time as another New Year.  It isn’t the start of a new orbit around the sun (although January 1 is kind of just an arbitrary think, right?).  But it’s new.  And it invites opportunity.  It’s stimulating and invigorating and there’s a buzz in the air that revitalizes our energy, somehow.  So yeah.  Amazing.

2. Pies are a thing.  That’s something to marvel at right there, the fact that people think of these awesome recipes and share them with other people and we all enjoy the deliciousness of them.  But pie is somehow symbolic for me.  I remember this one time when I was in high school (which, if you know me or even have scrolled a ways back on this blog of time, you’ll know was a pretty fuckin’ shitty time for me) I literally woke up on Saturday morning to the smell of my mom making apple pie.  And it gave me such hope.  It made me happy.  And even though I’m fairly certain I didn’t eat any of it (thanks, anorexia), I think the fact that pies are a thing should be included in this corner of good.

3. Halloween, in general, is pretty amazing if you think about it.  Not only do we get to dress up, delve into another character (perhaps one that’s meaningful, maybe one that’s just fun), and enjoy the company of friends at parties or whatever other gatherings…but like, the whole thing where strangers give candy to kids?  Pretty cool.  And I’m not just talking “cool, free candy.”  I’m thinking about how people buy candy, lots of it, and give it away for free to children just for the purpose of making them happy.  I know it lights me up inside when a little kid comes to my door yelling “trick-or-treat!” in an adorable little costume.  It lights me up to see them light up.  And even if it’s a bigger kid.  Don’t you remember walking around the neighborhood in your early teens with your friends, feeling excited and happy?  It’s awesome that they can still take part in the tradition.  So let’s all take a moment to think about and value that.

4. By the time November rolls around, we start to think about what we’re thankful for.  It’s like, a time where we’re specifically invited to do that.  We might not always accept the invitation, but that fact that the reminder is marked on our calendars?  That’s great!  Gratitude is such a huge part of living a happy life.  We have to be grateful for what we have because that means we’re looking at the good shit.  And even if things aren’t going well (or if things are going terribly, even), trying to find the good, actively seeking out the positive, really does help.  I can go on about this topic more, but seriously.  A quick google search for “practicing gratitude” and you’ll find countless articles detailing why it’s so great.

5. Some of us are now hyper-aware that the winter holidays are approaching.  And if you’re like me, that makes you happy too.  I’ve learned not to rush it, though, because enjoying this time, right now, is important.  Mindfulness is always a good thing.  But more than that, right now holds the excitement with a far less intense amount of stress.  Not that holiday stress isn’t worth it (and not that it even has to be necessary).  It’s just that I feel like fall is particularly relaxed.  Summer tends to hold so much energy, which is a good thing, but by the time September hits, we’ve all earned a break.  Okay, for the younger ones it means back-to-school, and that’s certainly no break, but at least the fact that it’s a new year with new chances is kinda nice.

 

In conclusion, yay for fall!

Laura’s Corner of Good

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My brother-in-law texted me last night with this idea, and after thinking about it, I decided to do what he suggested.  There really is too much of the bad, too much bullshit, too much negative.  So I’m gonna try to make a list of good things weekly, kind of a regular thing, just to brighten my outlook and hopefully the outlook of anyone reading this.  They say when you notice the good, you attract it to you.  Let’s give it a try.

Andddd without further ado:

1. There are so many books out there to read, so many adventures to go on as you dive into a story, so many lives to live, so much to learn, so much to feel.  It’s unending.  It’s expansive.  It’s a gift.

2. There’s still so much left to WRITE!  There’s a whole world out there to document, countless experiences to make real via words on a page.  Writing is what we do to taste life twice or thrice, to revisit feelings and events and conversations whenever we want.  We can dive back into our memories.  Or we can create new worlds if we want.  We can do the impossible.  Writing is freedom, and it is ours and always will be.

3. And if that’s not for you, there are other types of good in this world that we only have to take time to notice.  Things to appreciate.  The smell of green grass, freshly cut, on a summer morning.  Crickets making music as you fall asleep on summer nights.  The dark night sky giving way to vibrant purples and oranges until it seamlessly fades into the pastels that turn into clear blue skies and sunny days.  Sipping a cup of coffee in reverberating morning silence.  The way the colors change as the seasons change, the artistic beauty of life at its finest.  A fuzzy blanket on a cold winter evening.  The quiet of the first snowfall of the season.

4. Kindness is stronger than hate.  And although it might seem like hate is more, uh, prevalent, it’s only because you don’t have to look as hard for it.  Hatred is more shocking, more concerning, more news-worthy.  But kindness is always there underneath the surface.  That’s why people are all so disgusted by the world and what it’s presumably becoming.  We have to know deep down that kindness exists.  Because it sure as hell does.

5. Loyal dogs that give us unconditional love.

6. Technology has progressed enough to give us the comforts of life we currently enjoy.  We can communicate with people all over the world via the internet, and yeah that’s an overused statement about what it has done for us, but if you really think about that it boggles the mind.  It’s also pretty amazing that I can text end my boyfriend memes even when he’s five feet from where I’m sitting.  We have access to all the knowledge accumulated from basically ever.  And like, we have cars and planes, we have washing machines and dryers, we have modern medicine, we have hair straighteners, we can watch TV because its a thing that exists.  It’s all phenomenal.

I’m definitely being vaguer than my bro intended, but it’s a good start to something I need to think about more deeply.  So yeah.  Good things that I appreciate ^

Romanticize the shit out of your life, honestly