A different side of anxiety

Hello all my quarantine cuties. I hope you’re all hangin’ in there, whatever hangin’ in there might look like for you. We’ve officially been on lockdown in New York for 25 days and many of us started social distancing long before that. I must say it has been a wild ride thus far.

Okay, actually, my brain is totally in protective mode and I feel numb to most of it right now. It’s like being on a rollercoaster and just as you’re reaching the peak, the person comes on the speaker and says “folks, we’re having some technical difficulties. Our maintenance person is on the scene and checking things out. Please standby.” You know you’re like still safe cuz it’s not like the ride is moving, but it’s freaky, but also what are you gonna do and like all you can do is just like sit there in the ride with your ass squeezed in there, and just like wait… Well, that’s how my quarantine is going anyways. Honestly, I thank my brain constantly for knowing what I can and can’t handle.

Aside from that all that though, life is still moving and I am continually trying to find the bright sides to this whole no human contact outside of work and groceries thing. I’ve been trying to occupy my brain space with other things, so I don’t have too much time to linger on much else. I’ve been writing a lot more, like outside of this blog. Which I actually don’t do that often, but want to do more of. I have this dream of writing short stories, more poems, perhaps even a book some day, but I lacked the motivation in the past. Right now, I don’t necessarily have the motivation, but I do have the time, so it makes it easier to self-motivate.

Writing, no matter what I am writing, is a way to help me process things, because remember I am a slow processor (see “A little less alone and a little bit more seen” for more details). Even when I am writing fiction type stories and I look them back over, I see a piece of myself in the characters and I recognize the areas of my life that I am working through. This week as I was writing about a kid that played too safe, never tried things she didn’t think she would be good at, I was like “oh shit, that me.”

I’ve filled my space and my head with activities I know I am good at because being good at something makes us feel good. That’s normal. However, it is hindering if I only do things I know I can be good at. Actually the quote that comes to mind here comes from one of my faves, Jake the Dog, from Adventure Time when he says “dude, suckin’ at something is the first step at becoming sorta good at something.” Jake the Dog is right, but gosh when I think about suckin’ at something it makes the perfectionist in me v. anxious.

The thing I’ve learned about anxiety though, is that we can still do stuff with anxiety. For instance, dating is so triggering for my anxiety, but guess what? I still go on dates. Sure, I have to remind myself to breathe and I drink water to keep moisture in my mouth because otherwise it’s completely void of it, but I do it. Dating has taught me a lot in my life, but that is the number one thing I have learned from it- no matter how scared you are to do something you still can. And not to brag, but now I’m becoming sorta good at dating (I think).

I’ve taken this lesson to help me through quarantine and I’ve started doing things that make me feel anxious. It all started with my photo shoot. I’ve been trying to grow my brand or whatever you wanna call it, and I thought a good way to do this would be to do a photoshoot with myself. This involved the dreaded makeup portion. To clarify, makeup is not needed for taking photo’s; however, I am scared of makeup because I don’t know how to do it and therefore wanted to try suckin’ at it so maybe I could be sorta good at it.

I was ready to jump in. I gathered my pack of makeup which consists of all one-four year old makeup. (I know it’s gross, please don’t shame me). As I was viewing all my tools I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be funny if I did one of those “makeup tutorial” type videos, but since I’m not good at it the end result will just look like mess?’ LOL. I turned on my camera and I just went really quick through it pretending like I knew what I was doing. Then, something strange happened. I looked in the mirror at the end and I thought “well, that’s weird. I actually really like it.” Can you believe? It wasn’t the Starry Nights of faces by any means, but like I even added a winged liner and they matched. I thought ‘who is this girl?’ And let me tell you, that photoshoot was fierce. I had so much fun just taking pictures and thinking of fun poses and picking out outfits. I was just totally entranced in it for a few hours, which is a big chunk of time in quarantine land.

All of this is to say that in this weird, bizarre land that we are living in now, I am finding some interesting ways to take up brain space, while also feeling brave. My anxiety is completely attached to this central idea I have of myself: I am not good enough. My therapist described this core belief as a sticky piece of paper that clings onto everything that will make it feel true. Every negative comment, every heartbreak, every rejection it will feed into that thought. My hands don’t tremble when someone says I’m not worthy; I shrug and say ‘you’re right.’ Which means my  goal is to change that central thought, which is what I have been working on for the last year. I want my central self to read: I am enough. So with every scary task that won’t feed into that narrative I am altering those words to how I want to feel. Every date I muster up the courage for, every blog post I write without being a trained writer, every photoshoot I do in the middle of my living room, every time I pull out my makeup and start painting my face is a chance for me to say no to that central idea. I will keep doing things that make my hands tremble because I know that means I am doing something important for myself. I know that means that I am saying “I am enough”.

We are living in a time where most of us are probably trembling, not just in our hands but throughout our entire being. Just know that those trembles are your body living, which means you are doing something really important for yourself. And if the trembling is too much to take right now, perhaps a break with some TV might help.

I recommend Seinfeld, but whatever works for you.

A[wo]men

*Featured photo from said photoshoot*

think of your first time falling in love

hands trembling

unable to eat

breathe

sleep.

why should our standards

be any less

for any other passions

we deem fit?

-a different side of anxiety

 

A little less alone and a little bit more seen.

Welcome to what feels like day 5,682 of COVID-19. I’m your host, bored and lonely, and today we’ll be exploring loneliness in isolation, but first let’s hear those smooth jazz stylings of Kenny G. *Dododododdododo*

Okay, but seriously, I can’t really avoid it any longer. I haven’t wanted to write about what it’s like being alone right now because I know we are all feeling it. We are all scared and unsure and to put it simply- freaking the f**k out. Except, my blog is about being honest and brave and if I were to skirt around how I am feeling right now, well then it wouldn’t be too honest or brave of me.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this topic it’s okay to put the phone down. It’s okay to take a deep breath where a deep breath is needed. You don’t owe anything, to anyone (except maybe your landlord #rentstrike).

I may have discussed this before, but I am a slow processor. I often get called “the quiet one” of most spaces I find myself in. It’s not because I’m shy, or because I don’t feel like I fit in, nor because I am judging you, or feel superior in any way. Which is all feedback I have received from many people in my life. “When I first met you I thought you totally hated me because you just, like, didn’t talk.” I get it, it’s a fair assumption to make. If there is silence, then there are thoughts to fill that silence. But I promise that’s not it at all. I’m quiet because I am hearing everything you are saying. I am taking it all in, so later I can go home and think about what was said and not only understand my reactions to things, but actually formulate reactions, and not jump to conclusions.

I don’t know when this slow processing thing started, but I used to hate it. I would get so upset when I couldn’t formulate an opinion on a moments notice. “Here is x, y, z- what do you think that means? Sarah?” Then I would be the kid in class with bright red cheeks because I didn’t have an answer. “Pass,” I would mutter, feeling like a dumb dumb. I don’t get upset about it anymore though. I find it to be a blessing really. I’ve seen what can happen when people throw out reactions without thinking it through. How many painful moments could have been avoided if we just took a moment to process instead of feeling a need to fill the air? It’s also handy that I know this about myself now. I can preemptively tell people about this little known fact and there isn’t this, ‘why is this weird girl so quiet?’ thoughts. They can just think that I am weird with an explanation for my silence. I dig it.

All that is to say, my slow processing is etched into every aspect of my life. I’ve been awarded “WORLD’S WORST GOODBYE” before because I don’t get sad in those moments. I was leaving New York to move to Wisconsin, indefinitely, unsure when I would see my friends, and was like ‘welp, this was fun. TTFN.’ Two weeks later, I was sobbing, uncontrollably on my kitchen floor. This gives you an example of how long it can take me to process sometimes. World wide events are no different.

COVID-19 was making sweeping changes across the world and people called to see how I was doing. I would tell them “I feel okay for now, just give me a couple weeks and call again.” Well folks, here we are, a couple weeks in and I actually had to pick myself off the kitchen floor again- snot everywhere, hyperventilating, and scared out of my mind.

When I was little I used to get these stomach aches when I was upset. They were excruciating, like someone was tearing my insides out. I still get those to this day. Although, now I recognize them as my body signaling a need to process some emotion. (That, my friends, is called growth.) I felt it two days ago. My stomach was in knots and I knew what was happening. My brain was ready to process this whole ‘I’m alone in a worldwide pandemic’.

I don’t mean alone, alone because I am lucky enough to have some of the most amazing people in my life. I get texts, FaceTimes, phone calls, social media notifications. However, I am physically alone, and no matter how many calls or texts I get, it is a hard feeling to shake. During my run the other day I had to stop and take deep breathes because my brain decided to show me images of me loosing air, unable to call 911. Hunched over on the side of the road, trying to ease my panic attack, I’m sure people in the nearby building thought I had the Rona and was about to keel. Anxiety has this way of putting images like this in your head and then making you believe they are real.

My anxiety was yelling “WAKE UP DUDE. YOU NEED TO START PROCESSING.” My anxiety was right. So, I talked about and I wrote about it. About what it means to be in isolation without another body to occupy the space with you. Most everyone I know has somebody else, whether it be a family member, or friend, or loved one, or furry pal that is in their physical space. I don’t. People call me talking about the arguments they are having with those close to them and I find myself doused in jealousy, wanting to argue with someone because it would take up my brain space in a new way. Yeah, you read that right, I was jealous of those who are fighting. I wanted to fight, laugh, hug, make-up with literally anyone.

I spent the last couple days in the fetal position, rubbing my tummy to remind it that I am working through this stuff and that we will be okay. What I found in this space of processing is that it is okay for me to be scared, and jealous, and bored. Emotions that I don’t often explore here, but that are just as valid as my sadness or anger or joy. These are parts of myself that I don’t often connect with. I usually put my fears, jealousy, and boredom into the DO NOT SHARE column. They have this negative little connotation that make me feel like they are not good things.

And that’s when I remembered that there is no such thing as good or bad when it comes to feeling. These are just natural human responses. I can be fearful of being alone, jealous that other people have company, and bored because I can’t just go to a coffee shop. Not good, not bad- they just are. When I was able to just feel these things without judgement I could feel my stomach untwist itself. A beautiful reorganizing of the way a stomach should feel.

We should be able to share our emotions without a quick response. We should be able to talk about how we feel without judgement spewing from others words. This includes the way we talk to ourselves. If we feel fear it doesn’t help to quickly respond with ‘that’s stupid’ because all that does is create a disconnect from how you are feeling and how you think you should be feeling.

When I have a patient in my room (or on the phone these days) my number one goal is to try and make this person feel as though they are being heard. I try not assume where they have been or where they are going. I don’t try to think of advice or what my next sentence should be. My main purpose is to listen. To fully hear the words that they have managed to put together and share with me. An honor I never take lightly. I wonder what it would look like if we all did that with ourselves.

When I am feeling lonely and looking in the mirror, instead of saying I am stupid perhaps I listen to that part that feels alone. Perhaps I hold a gentle space for it and let it share how it is feeling. Maybe I even say it’s okay to feel lonely. I could even hold that part of me, gently, and let the feeling waft over us. And may, just maybe, by being heard it feels a little less alone and a little bit more seen.

This is how I would describe loneliness in isolation- devastatingly poetic.

A[wo]men

can you hear me?

can you hear me?

can you hear me?

my brain,

screaming this;

from the top

-of the lungs,

to the depths

-of the belly.

just listen.

-processing

Best Case Scenario

Hola friends. I’m practicing my Spanish for when I go to Spain for my 30th birthday, so you may experience a few different greetings over the next year as I start to practice more. Starting off simple.

This week I have been feeling really strange… Like not bad, but not good either. A middle of the road feeling of uncertainty is how I might describe it. I don’t know if it is the changing of the weather or the idiotic time change thing we do that disrupts our sleep patterns or the political climate or the corona virus or that terrible finale of the bachelor- things just feel off. Recently, was discussing with a co-worker how we, as empaths, need to take care of ourselves. Basically, empaths have the ability to absorb energies around them. So, you can imagine the amount of anxiety that is being absorbed at the moment. All I know is that it is a lot to handle and I think my body is just like “what the f*ck is happening?”

My answer to that is I really don’t know. I don’t know what is happening and that feels scary. Yet, it is just a part of life, right? We never know how things are going to turn out. What’s around the corner? As Pocahontas so beautifully sang, “just around the riverbend,” ya know? As I’m writing that though I’m thinking that it doesn’t have to be scary. When I was a kid watching that scene I remember thinking how she was full of adventure and wonder and unclear if she should marry the man her father chose for her or take her own path. She was excited about things that could happen, about her story and how it might be written. And hey, it didn’t turn out great, her boyfriend was shot and all and her father almost beheaded him, but like they got through that. So yeah, maybe around the riverbend is something not so great, but also maybe it is something worthy of the movies. I’m trying to learn to explore more of both of those sides. That doom and gloom auto thinking is a hard habit to break away from. So, I’d like to put it into practice exploring that exciting side. How maybe just around my riverbend is something really beautiful. “They” say the best way to get what you want is to put it into the universe. Can’t hurt to try:

I leave this Starbucks today. The weather is perfect, because “it’s not too hot, and its not too cold, all you need is a light jacket” (Name that movie! *cough Miss Congeniality cough*) Due to this fantastic weather, I decide to go for a run. While I am running, I realize I don’t feel tired. In fact, I want to keep running. I meet my three mile goal today. I feel unstoppable. On my cool down, I see a dog and give it loves and the owner says ‘wow, she is usually not this friendly with people, but she really likes you.’ A compliment of the highest honor. My serotonin levels are soaring at this point. I then decide to keep walking around the neighborhood. While walking I see people holding hands, and birds are singing. I can’t help but smile at the way people are scared but still living their lives as best as they know how. My smile makes my serotonin levels even higher and I feel as though I am floating on a cloud. I finally go grocery shopping and get all the groceries I need, under budget. I put the extra money I saved onto one of my credit cards. My credit score goes up and I’ve finally made it into a new bracket. At 5pm, I post my blog. People are loving it. It’s relatable, its kitschy. My blog goes viral, but I don’t find this out till the next morning because I decide not to be obsessive about how many people are reading about what I wrote. I go to WW and we talk about our highs and lows of the week. We all lean on each other for support and encourage self-compassion. I then go get drinks with a friend. We have a lovely time talking about work, life, and all the things in between. Is my socializing over? Not quite. I then go on a date. He’s sweet. He buys me a drink and says that he likes the way my brain works. I like the way his works too. At the end of the night he gives me a goodbye kiss that is magical and I leave thinking ‘wow, I don’t know where this is going, but I am excited to see him again.’ I get to bed at a decent hour and wake up to find out that Ellen would like me to come on her show. I’m honored, blessed, grateful. I start writing full time and continue to do social work part-time. Now, it’s ten years into the future. I have published 2 books, with a third one on the way. I have two children, without a third one on the way. My partner is amazing and supportive and loving and snores too loud and I never let them forget it. We go for our yearly flu shot and corona virus vaccines as a family. Michelle Obama is our president. Betty White is still alive. Life is still scary sometimes, but every week I explore what good could be around the riverbend. My kids think its a weird practice and they tease me by saying “okay, millennial”. Then we laugh and laugh as our pet pig Petunia the second is resting by our feet.

Okay, that was way more fun than I thought it was going to be. It was also surprisingly easy to think of all the good things that could happen. I really tried not to limit myself, because yeezy knows I never do when I am thinking what bad could happen. I have found myself in some pretty dark holes, so it was really fun to be in really bright spaces. However, those bad thoughts didn’t shut down while I was doing this exercise. I still found myself saying, but also what if no one reads this and what if my date goes horribly, but for everyone of those thoughts I had a positive one to combat it with. It’s okay to explore both, but I know I need to be better at exploring more good. I can always tell you worst case scenario. I am really good at it.

If you find yourself always going to that space, I encourage you try this out. It’s really fun to think about what good can come your way. Plus, without restrictions you could marry your celebrity crush if you write your story that way. Then, according to “them”, the universe will provide. So, like I said, can’t hurt to try. Also, we have enough of the worst case scenarios just from turning on our TV’s. We deserve more best case scenarios out there.

You’d really be helping an empath out.

A[wo]men

i

can’t predict,

can’t guess,

can’t know-

how

exciting.

-what’s next?

Shannon Robinson- Love Can Survive Fear

Welcome to a new season of my interview sessions. I’m excited to share that we are starting this year off with another family member and I am so happy to share her brave and honest story. Just to fill you in about our story teller Shannon (more commonly known as KneeKnee in our household)- she is a 27-year-old, nanny, who is the youngest of us 5 girls. That’s right, the baby sister. She’s got a big heart (as you’ll see from her interview) and is working on her own healing.

As I got ready for the interview, calling her several times to no avail, I though ‘well damn, she bailed on me.’ About two minutes after that I get a text that says:

“Sorry! I fell asleep. Let me go out to my car to call you.”

I should probably also mention the text I received that morning: “You should just interview someone else. I can’t think of anything significant to talk about.”

Both of these texts are important because throughout our interview we talked about Shannon’s mental health diagnoses. One of those included anxiety.

“Wait… why are you going out to your car? Roommates?”

“Yes.”

Both of these are examples of the way Shannon navigates her anxiety. She works hard to keep herself safe as her body warns her that something doesn’t feel right. Throughout our interview those moments continued to come up-

“Wait is this car trying to get around me? Wait, hold on. Oh, no they are okay,” she says with a sigh of relief. “So, I’m parked by this park, and there is like a funeral, and I’m nervous that people are going to hear me talking,” she whispers into the phone.  “Is this even a story? I don’t think I’m talking about anything important.”

We, as Robinsons, laughed through most of it. “Speaking of anxiety” we would say as we giggled like we were still little kids playing store in our front living room, one of our favorite games.

Shannon has this beautiful aura about herself. Her skin is always flawless. Her hair a beautiful auburn, brown, blonde mix that has these amazing curls through it. She is the sister you go to if you need beauty tips. Every time I am home to visit I exchange goods (clothes, meals, shoes) for her to do my hair and makeup. As kids, Shannon would spend hours getting ready for school while I would wake up 5 minutes before we left to drive us around the corner. In the interview the natural light, from sitting in her car, makes her face glow and her bright blue eyes shine.

“If I don’t like the interview, will you just not post it?” she half giggles and glances up, already expecting a no from me. “I don’t know where to start.”

“I suppose I would just not post it if you really didn’t like it, but that hasn’t happened yet.”

“I’ll be your first,” she says as she does a side smile and squints her eyes.

I laughed, knowing that this is how she operates. Knowing that she just wants an out, just in case. I placate her and say “okay” also knowing that she is one of my biggest supporters and she knows I’ll do her justice. I then dive into the interview asking her about some of the things that came up from her while she was thinking of what she wanted to talk about.

“Well, like veganism was one thing I could talk about, but I’m like, err, nobody cares.” 

Shannon goes on to say that she was trying to pull a story out that would make people cry. She said she read the other interviews and wanted to “tug at the heart strings.” She thought ‘talking about animal cruelty might get some tears in there.’ Again we giggle. She talks about some of the events from childhood that, she believes, converted her to veganism. Each story she tells I can feel her going back to those moments. The memories so vivid and distinct to her. The real story I am hearing though, behind the acts that she witnessed, was her desire to witness kindness over cruelty. Between the lines she is sharing her fear of people that can cause harm.

I am not here, nor is she, to debate this topic though. As she is talking it becomes clear that veganism is important because it speaks to a larger desire for peace of all things and a way in which she can control that feeling of peace for herself. As her family members though, we started to witness something else when Shannon decided to go vegan- her mental health seemed to improve.

“I’ve been diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder, anxiety, and uhm, uhhh, what else?” She rattled these off without a wince. I mention this because when she was first diagnosed the response to those words were much stronger. Knowing the person I am interviewing helps me steer some of the questions. I ask her about when she was diagnosed.

“Probably 23, or 24, and it was helpful at the time but also… I was excited to know some things that were wrong with me because once I figured that out I was like ‘oh, this is not normal behavior that I’ve been experiencing all my life,’ but, uhm, also, it was hard to hear all of that. I started obsessing over all my diagnoses and how to treat them, and I felt like, kind of like I was a crazy person because I had all of these and I’m like also questioning it. Just cuz they say I have them doesn’t mean I do have all those, ya know?”

I do know. Oh, do I know. And although she was diagnosed in her 20’s she shared that she felt something was off long before that.

“I think from a very young age, like probably 5 or 6 I’ve known. Especially my anxiety is like way severe compared to other peoples like I’m worried about weird things. And ppl I’ve dated have always told me ‘you need to calm down because thats not a thing that you should be worried about at all.’ Like I constantly worry about peoples judgement. Like I would skip out on like school projects and things just cuz I didn’t want people like looking at me. Like isn’t that weird?”

I could feel my blood boil at this point. How dare someone tells her she needs to calm down. How dare they tell her she shouldn’t be worried. I take deep breathes, knowing they meant well, but as I also know, that is not how anxiety works. We don’t just hear “calm down” and think ‘oh, they are right. Guess I’ll just calm down now.’ Anxiety is our bodies way of telling us we are in danger. She felt uncomfortable for whatever reason and she needed support in those moments, not to be dismissed about how she was feeling. Big sister mode was activated, but I tried to remain focused on her story. I asked her about specific times she felt anxious, so you as the reader could understand what anxiety can look like for a 6-year-old.

“My friends would have sleepovers when I was younger and I would just straight up make up an excuse not to go just because I had social anxiety and I would compare myself to my friends and yeah…”

I am now picturing a 6-year-old Shannon depriving herself of sleepovers because she felt like she couldn’t go. Because she felt unsafe. Because her mind told her she wasn’t like those other girls. An innocent 6-year-old trying to navigate anxiety and having no words or understanding of what that even is. 

Her conversation about her friends from school shed some more light on the topic. An array of memories of being picked on and bullied or watching others being picked on or bullied and this little girl joining in due to fear that she would be the target if she didn’t. Again, big sister mode is activated and I want to Liam Neeson these little shitheads and be all like, “I will find you and I will kill you.” Not literally, but maybe just send them that gif.

Shannon, however, steers the conversation and she moves from these mean memories to how she wants to use those memories to make the world better.

I feel like in school kids should have more of a place to go.. like I know there are school counselors and things like that, but I think it should be more. They should like push it more on kids to talk about their feelings with somebody as far as like bullying and things like that. I asked Eli [our nephew] the other day, I was like “do you have,” cuz I know he has anger issues sometimes, I was like, “do you have somebody in school that you can like talk to when you feel yourself getting upset like this” and he was like “no” and like I’m sure he does but also if he said no, he’s not very aware of this person or doesn’t want to talk to them.”  

Shannon has taken her experiences and doesn’t want to see the same thing happen to the people she loves. When she is around kids, and I’ve seen it in action, she talks about emotions with them. She is honest and brave with them, demonstrating both safety with her and compassion. She even discusses her experience as a nanny. She tears up talking about the two little kids that she cares for and how she talks to them about their feelings and works with them on being kind. She pours her heart and energy into working with kids to spread more love.

While she is sharing all of this I find myself wondering, how does she show herself love? How, after some really hard times in her life, how does she now work through it all?

“When I’m experiencing depression I get those moments where I look in the mirror, and I’m talking to myself just like mean bullies in elementary school and they would call me fat and I would cry. And that’s pretty much how I talk to myself in the mirror when I’m depressed. I just hate every little thing about myself and there is nothing good about me. But then luckily most of the time I can talk myself out of that. And I know now that those are irrational thoughts and I don’t feel that way about myself most of the time… [And] it’s like, luckily for me I know that I have to heal those things. A lot people keep moving on with their life like it’s nothing.”

“Where did you learn that? Like how did you get the tools to talk yourself out of those negative thoughts?”

“A part of it, when it first started, was because I started talking to this woman named Cheri and I started doing reiki with her and I think, I don’t know, something clicked in me.. And, well, I also did start seeing a therapist around that time too, so I think the combination of those two things. To have someone to talk to who was like Cheri, who was like kind and would tell me what an amazing person I am, it was just so nice. And I just started doing that. And well I talked to Tara (our cousin) too and she was like, she would tell me she would write herself notes on her mirror like “you are beautiful!” and eventually it just changed her outlook on how she saw herself. And I was like ‘oh thats a good idea!’ I started doing that… And so, I feel like I’ve only gotten better at doing that myself at being like hey I am a special person, I am pretty, I am beautiful, I am smart, I am all kinds of stuff.”

“You are” I reiterate to her. I then asked her my favorite question of any interview I do “What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation?” 

She talked about the importance of seeking therapy, and I swear I didn’t prompt her to say this.

“Definitely seek therapy. I feel like that’s the best thing I’ve done for myself and I feel like that’s the advice I’ve been giving my friends who are struggling mentally. But it’s a choice. You have to make the choice to put the effort in to do it because you can come up with all the excuses in the world. I have a lot of friends who are like “I can’t afford it,” “I don’t have the time for that,” “my life is too busy,” and it’s like if you actually care about yourself, and you want to not hate yourself, and you want to live life in a healthful way, then you will. You will seek out therapy and try to get help for your problems because honestly that’s the only thing that’s made a huge difference in my life anyways.”

As most of us are, there is resistance to therapy. The stigma, the fear, the overall commitment to change.. it’s a lot. So, I also probed a little more about what it was like for her to overcome that resistance. 

“The first time I went to therapy I was the most depressed I had ever been. I was trying different medications and they caused me to become suicidal and that was really scary for me. I couldn’t get out of bed, I was crying every single day. All I would do was lay in bed and watch Les Misérables. It was like a sad movie just made me sadder, but for some reason that was comforting. ‘Cause it was like they were going through so much in the movie but it was comforting to see problems that were worse… I was like okay this is actually scary and I need to fix things or I will be miserable forever or I will die. So yeah, that was the first turning point and then the second time, now that I’m in therapy again, it’s just like I know that’s that only things that’s helpful to me when I’m going through these bouts of depression. The only thing that does help is releasing these things I’m holding inside and until I sit down in that chair I don’t even realize how much I am holding in. I just don’t talk to anyone about the actual hard things that I’m dealing with emotionally and it’s nice to have someone who will listen to that without telling me exactly what I need to do rather just listening and asking me what I think I should do. It’s  a good perspective.”

I don’t say it and I’m not sure I even showed it, but in my head there is cheering and people doing the wave and fireworks going off. Obviously, as a mental health professional, I believe all these things about therapy, but to hear it from someone else, unprompted, doing the work and finding it helpful, it feels so validating. It also just makes me happy as a sister to hear that my sister feels safe somewhere.

So then, I start to wrap up the interview. I tell her when I expect to have the first draft to her. I tell her about the process and I again assure her that if she hates it we can “throw it away” and again we giggle. But then, unprompted she shares she has a “closing remark”. 

“My closing remark is just to be kind. Be kinder to people, ya know? You never know what people are going through and usually people are going through a lot. I feel like it makes a huge difference to just to be kind to people. I know like, especially lately, people are in bad moods and grumpy ’cause of the cold weather and like, I don’t know, I think it helps sometimes just to do something as simple as let somebody merge into the lane. Like it just creates  a ripple effect when humans are kind to each other. I think that’s my take away from all of this. Be kinder.”

I couldn’t agree more- Be Kinder.  

A[wo]men & Shannon Robinson

I sincerely thank Shannon for sharing her story and being so brave and honest with me about her experiences. If you or someone you know has a story they would like to share please fill out the form on my contact page. And if you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues and don’t know where to start feel free to reach out and remember you are not alone.

 

 Black History Month’s featured Black Artist:

“So I sing a song for the hustlers trading at the bus stop
Single mothers waiting on a check to come
Young teachers, student doctors
Sons on the frontline knowing they don’t get to run
This goes out to the underdog
Keep on keeping at what you love
You’ll find that someday soon enough
You will rise up”

-Alicia Keys, Underdog (2020)

Underdog is one of Alicia Key’s newest songs, released this year (2020). It goes through some of the difficult lives that people can experience and still rise up through it all. Alicia Key’s is of Jamaican and Italian decent. She has discussed in various interviews struggling with some of her differences and self-esteem issues as a child. She has channeled a lot of this into her work. For me and our story teller, Shannon, Alicia Key’s was someone we could always agree to listen to. For our stark contrasts in music preference this was a good middle ground. Her music is not only poetic, but also soulful and has a way of making an anxious mind feel at peace.

 

 

 

 

Gut Reactions

Hi friends, it has been a wild ride these last 7 days and I can’t wait to tell you about it. Well, if I am being honest I can’t wait to just let it all out and maybe it will make me feel better and more at ease. Before I dive into the events of the week though, I would like to say that I got a lot of feedback about my winter appreciation post and there are definitely great things about winter that I forgot to include. Most importantly, the solitude found during a winter hike because everyone else is at home afraid of the cold. That is a solid addition to that list.

C/W sexual assault and violence

Now that I’ve updated that, let’s just dive right in shall we. On Friday morning I was in a fantastic mood. I had a delicious breakfast and a great nights rest and it was Friday. Even though I work on Saturdays, Fridays are inherently great because everyone has good energy about the weekend. It rubs off on ya. Here I am boppin’ along, when I get to the train station and realize the D train is crowded AF. I was already cutting it a bit close with getting to work, so I took a deep breath and said ‘Sarah, ya just gotta get on this one. You don’t have time to wait for the next one.’ Some context to this fear of crowded trains might be needed.

My first year in New York I had an internship that required me to take two trains and a bus. It was a nightmare, especially for a new time New Yorker. One day I entered this extremely crowded train. About 2 minutes into the ride, I could feel a man groping my ass. The train was so crowded, I could barely move. I froze. I just remember making eye contact with the woman across from me who could see what was happening and we both had a tear in our eye. In our fight, flight, or freeze response we both seemed to freeze. I couldn’t breathe and immediately got off at the next spot trying to catch my breath. It felt like I was being suffocated. In that moment, I made a vow to never get on a crowded train again if it didn’t feel safe to do so.

Fast forward to Friday, where I felt uncomfortable entering that train, but did it anyway. I even thought to myself ‘Sarah, we don’t like crowded trains.. can’t we just wait for the next one’ but then I was like ‘no, we’ll be late to work then’. There I am, denying my gut response. DAMN YOU CAPITALISM. Then, I get on this train and I was doing everything I could to focus on being calm. This train was so packed I couldn’t even manage to move my arms to take my backpack off, so I left it on not thinking anything of it. I had meditation playing in my head phones, I was rubbing my fingers together, and I was doing some heavy deep breathing just to keep my cool. Then it happened. I felt movement on my back and my brain immediately had me freeze. ‘It’s happening again’ I thought ‘this man behind me is trying to touch me.’ I focused even more on my breathing as the train conductor announced “folks, we are stopped due to some train traffic ahead of us. Should be moving shortly.”

When I get in situations where I start to feel panicked I repeat to myself ‘you are safe. you are safe. you are safe.’ I also knew I had to do something to get this man to stop what he was doing. I made eye contact with him and began to shift my body so he wouldn’t have access to my backside. The movement from behind ceased after the eye contact and the train began to move again. As we pulled up to the next stop this man said ‘oh, is this grand street?’ in a very booming voice. All I could think in my head was please leave, please leave. He bolted off the train and I felt like I could breathe again.

The following stop was my own. I took another deep breathe said ‘you are safe’ and started walking to work. As I was nearer too my job, I went to pull out my ID to get into work. Moving my backpack forward I noticed my zippers were open and I realized what had actually happened. That person behind me was not trying to touch me, he was stealing from me. I dug into my backpack to find my wallet was missing. I was upset, but also very aware that the things in that wallet are replaceable. Except for the business card I kept in there from my first job as a real life social worker, but what are ya gonna do? I cancelled my cards. I took a deep breath, I tried to move on with the day. I even saw a patient. It was helpful to talk to someone else. After my first patient I went to grab my chap stick from my front pocket… That’s when I realized, he also stole my keys.

I couldn’t breathe. Again, I didn’t care about the keys themselves, those are replaceable as well. However, all I could think was that this man now has my address and my keys. He can get into my building. He can steal more of my things. He can hurt me. I made eye contact with this person and knew exactly what he looked like. My imagination is incredible, both a blessing and a curse. I went into full blown panic attack mode as images of this person entering my home and hurting me kept sweeping across my brain. It was like a scary movie that I couldn’t turn off. Anxiety looks different for many people. For me, it is often in the form of images that play in my head over and over and over. I try to use mindfulness and deep breathing to “let the images pass like a cloud” but sometimes that bullsh*t doesn’t work; sometimes all I can do is let the anxiety take over. And I think it’s okay to let it take over. It was telling me that something wasn’t okay, and it wasn’t okay.

I left work and started to break down the things I had to do. Call landlord, cry, get locks changed, cry, go to police station, cry. FYI, my landlord, who was extremely unhelpful, shared that she would not be changing the front door lock because “it’s too many keys to replace”. Welcome to New York, where money is more important that the safety of humans.  So, this man does not have access to my apartment but can still get into my building. Also, the cops were just okay. I am scared of police stations and that made me cry more. They also couldn’t decide who has jurisdiction for like a full hour because I was on a moving train. COOL. I am not exhausted or anything. Thanks for your speedy assistance.

So what is the point of all of this? Well, many people have told me it’s a lesson. A lesson to not keep all your credit cards in one place and to not keep your backpack on your back and you know, all the blaming done to people that have a crime done to them. I, of course, think I learned all of these things, but that wasn’t the real lesson for me. The real lesson for me, and that I want to share with all of you, is about listening to the gut.

9 times out of 10 when my gut is telling me something, I tend to ignore it. Perhaps it’s from years of being told I was “crazy” “overreacting” and “stupid” when my gut would start to tell me something. Now, I often chalk it up to anxiety or being dramatic or the moon. I would like to call bullsh*t on it right now. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for about as long as I can remember. Both are significantly better, but are also used as an excuse to not listen to how we’re feeling. It’s a fine line understanding when it’s your anxiety and when it’s a man actually stealing from you and invading your personal space. Where do we draw the line and is it even a line? Does it oscillate between the two, combining reality and fears? How do I know when to listen to myself and how do I know when to not?

I think that is it really. We should always be listening to ourselves. There shouldn’t be a time that I think my thoughts are irrelevant or not important; whether it is my anxiety or not, my brains only goal is to protect myself. My anxiety is a part of me and all my parts of me care if I survive. Why shouldn’t I listen to that?

I want to clarify- I think we should do things that scare us. I want to jump out of a plane one day and I know my anxiety is going to be like ‘girllll, you cray,’ but there is a difference between feeling comfortable with the fear versus feeling frozen with fear. If I am to the point where I feel like I can’t breathe, I need to be able to listen to that. I need to be able to say something is not right here and I don’t have to brush it off or take a deep breathe to change the way my brain is working. I want to be able to say that I don’t think I should get on this train and then no get on the train.

Society today seems to be so insistent on quick changes, on deep breathes, and slowing down. Sometimes, it doesn’t help to slow down; sometimes we need to be alert and respond. This is all to say, that you, my lovely reader, are the expert of your own being. You should listen to your body and trust that no matter how you are feeling, there is a message behind the feeling, a message saying ‘I want to keep you safe’.

Stay safe my friends and maybe don’t go on crowded trains. I am re-entering that vow with myself.

A[wo]men

Go f*** yourself.

-A poem for my robber

Life Imitating Art

Yesterday, I gathered my belongings, googled the best spot to get work done in Brooklyn, and took two trains to reach the Brooklyn Roasting Company. I got a delicious peach iced tea and sat in a spot that could only be described as the most ideal place for writing. I waited till I stopped sweating, opened my laptop… and nothing.

I wrote and erased and wrote and erased until I became so frustrated I was crying in the coffee shop. I closed the computer screen and thought maybe I just need to take a walk. I walked to the water, my usual happy place, and, in all honesty, I berated myself. ‘Why can’t you just write something? What is wrong with you? Are you stupid? Poor depressed Sarah, can’t even write about her own life.’ I then came to the conclusion that Tuesday was not my day to write. I felt defeated, low on energy, and pretty worthless.

I went to go eat lunch because I thought maybe that would help. As I sat in the crowded restaurant staring at the people eating lunch together, watching their conversations flow- symbiotic and mesmerizing- I felt alone, alone and sad. I got up at one point to go to the bathroom and my ass hit my neighbors cup as I tried to squeeze between the two tables. I heard the two people laugh and saw their eyes glance at one another. I was already feeling like shit, let’s pile on more. I could feel my face turning red as I sped to the bathroom. The bathroom, single stall, was where I tried to slow my breathing, hoping my red would dull. Of course, I was so embarrassed from the ass-cup incident I forgot to lock the door and my breathing exercise was not only interrupted, but my red face turned even more scarlet. “Someone’s in here” I managed to say in a high whisper. And then I began to cry again. Knowing I had to return to my booth where I had to shove my ass in between the tables again gave me anxiety. So I returned to my breathe, splashed cold water on my face, and avoided the mirror before returning to the table. I finished my lunch slowly, attempting to avoid judgment from my neighboring tables. I had this voice in my head that said ‘if a fat girl eats too fast while she is alone at lunch that won’t look good.’ Literally, no logic to this sentiment, but that’s where my head was at. As the table on my left (not the ass-cup table) was leaving they knocked their entire wine bottle of water into my lap. I smiled and said it was “no problem at all” adding in my head ‘this is just how my day is going.’ I looked at my phone and realized it was time to head to therapy. Thank yeezy.

I thought about how glad I was that I had therapy and how badly I wanted to cancel. I already knew that it was going to be tough one. Yet, I pushed myself to go. I knew it was what I needed. I hopped on the train to uptown Manhattan and arrived 40 minutes early, as someone with anxiety often does, and laid down in Central Park until it was actually time for me to be there. As I laid down it started to drizzle and I thought about how the sky is crying because I am crying. It felt like I was symbiotic with nature in that moment. Both of us rinsing our pain with water. I may not have had a lunch pal but I can always rely on nature to sit and engage with me.

It was then time for my appointment.

I went inside, sat on the couch, and burst into tears. “What’s coming up for you, Sarah?” My therapist often asks me this and I have to think about what is triggering my responses. “I feel empty. I’ve felt empty. I went to write, which is how I usually let things go, and nothing came out.” The session went on like this for about 60 minutes. Crying, exploring, crying, breathing, exploring, crying. Towards the end of the session my therapist said “Sarah, I’m scared for you. Are you scared for you? It feels to me like you are drowning.”

“Yeah, I feel like I am drowning.”

“Have you felt like this before.”

“Yeah, every few months or so. It’s just a cycle I am on. I know this will pass.”

“That’s bullshit.”

Damn, she said that. I was taken aback, but also grateful to hear it.

“I’m sorry,” she continued “but I don’t play games in here. We tell ourselves stories and we start to believe those stories. You have trauma and yes, I am sure it feels like you are ‘stuck on a cycle’ but you are not stuck. It is up to you to end it, Sarah. You have to fight for yourself; everyday you have to fight. It’s not easy, but you have to do this for yourself.”

And with those final words she gave me a hug and whispered again ‘you have to fight’.

I left that room and felt her words echoing in my ears- “You have to fight for yourself.”

I hopped back on the train towards Brooklyn with my next destination in mind. I wasn’t headed home, I was headed to CKO Kickboxing. Why? Well, for one I had made a promise last week to try new things. Two- I walk past this place everyday and think ‘I should really try that’ so I figured today would be the day I do. Three- I am watching Riverdale still and Archie is doing boxing and it looks badass. Four- They have a 29.99 special for three classes. Five- I have to fight for myself.

It was hard. It was painful. It was exactly what I needed. Every hit, kick, run, and jump I felt myself fighting to be alive. Fighting to break a cycle, or a story rather, that doesn’t need to be my story. I sent my therapist a message thanking her and informing her of the class. She told me she was happy for me and that I can do this and to “KICK ASS”.

There are so many stories we tell ourselves yet, we forget that we wrote them and we can erase and rewrite and erase and rewrite until the very end. Yesterday, I felt defeated that I couldn’t write; my pattern of writing and erasing felt exhausting. Today, I realized that was an exercise and reminder for me- the epitome of ‘life imitating art’.  Every time we write we can erase and every time we erase we can rewrite. Today, I woke up- sore from my workout- excited to rewrite.

Everyday I wake up is a chance to keep fighting and writing. I hope you all keep fighting and writing with me.

A[wo]men

*Note: I found my new, amazing therapist from My Wellbeing – a website dedicated to finding the right therapist for you. If you’re in the 5 boroughs area and on the search for a therapist you can truly connect with, follow the link and fill out your profile today*