Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cast Away Your Worries

Cast all your worries upon me because I care about you. (1 Peter 5:7)

It’s a fact of life that people worry, but we’re not designed to carry around big bags of anxiety.  It drags on our health and gives us heart attacks and strokes and wrinkles.  But even worse, it robs us of the coolest things in life—like hope and joy and kindness.  Who can afford to be kind when they’re worried about how to pay the bills?  Who can meet the day with a song in their heart when they’re crushed by deadlines at work?

For people with mental illness, worry is a real enemy.  When your mind starts chewing on itself, it can leave you raw with symptoms like insomnia and irritability.  Your moods start to swing and it just makes the situation worse.  So what’s a girl to do?

Cast away your worries.

This solution came to me one day when I was overrun with the anxiety of appointments, deadlines, and chores.  Even fun stuff—my beloved hobbies—seemed like a burden to me.  I sat at my desk, frozen and unable to begin the day because I had no idea of where to begin.  I was sitting under an avalanche just waiting to bury me.    

I couldn’t carry it around any more.  I wanted to reach inside my own brain and empty it out.  I wanted to open my calendar and empty it out.  I felt so anxious I wanted to run or hide or scratch off my own skin just to escape the feeling of being trapped.

So, I cast away my worries.

I got out a blank piece of paper and titled it “Cast all your cares on me.”  Then, I wrote a couple of words to represent each of my worries.  I drew a circle around each “worry” to tether it to the page.  No worries are allowed to escape!

I didn’t use a nice piece of paper, a spectacular pen and beautiful calligraphic handwriting. Perfect presentation wasn’t the point.  The point was emptying my brain onto the page and creating something (a container) that would hold my worries for me.

I took a little time with this.  I wrote some cares, did a little work, surfed the Internet, had some coffee, and wrote some more worries.  I couldn’t do write them down all at once because, as I opened my mind to what was worrying me, I felt nervous, worried, and overwhelmed.  But, over the course of an hour or so, I chipped away at it until I’d written down all of the projects, appointments and deadlines that made me feel all snarled up inside.

I filled up a notebook page and it looked like this:

[Insert a little doodad that shows what my page looked like]

I felt a little better.  All of my worries were confined to a page of notebook paper.  But, I knew they wouldn’t stay there for long so I needed to work on solutions for each of them.

So, I looked at each worry and thought,

§       Do I even need to worry about this?  Is it something I need to worry about?
§       Is this something I need to take action toward today?

If yes, then I circled them with a highlighter.

§       Can I tolerate the consequences if I don’t take any action towards this today?

If no, then I circled them with a highlighter.

§       What’s one step I can take towards solving this worry?  It doesn’t have to be a GIANT step, just a step.

I wrote one sentence under each worry.

§       What’s stopping me?

All kinds of things stopped me:  money, time, the size of the task.

Then, I wrote the steps for all of my worries onto small Post-Its and assigned them to a day in my calendar.  I use colored Post-It's because they're happy.  You can do what makes you happy.  It looks like this:

[Insert a little doodad that shows what my calendar looks like]

No fair assigning the action step for every worry to today or even to this week.  As you’re assigning the worries to your calendar, be kind to you.    Create the kind of task list you’d make for someone you love.

So, why should you take the time to cast away your worries?  Because you are loved by your your friends.  Casting away your worries is the path to the freedom of being loving and kind and filled with joy.  

Give it a rest

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

[I want something here about the restless nature of life.  There's a push to go more, do more, have more.  It seems faster now, but it's always been there.]

One of the first things my doctor wanted me to work on in living well with mental illness was regulating my sleep.  She said that my moods would improve dramatically if I could find a way to get 7 or 8 contiguous hours of sleep.

I thought she was full of it, but I was desperate to be well.  I committed to work on it.

At that time, my life was terrifyingly stressful.  The IRS was after me for unfiled and unpaid taxes.  The DMV had suspended my license.  Even a person with normal brain chemistry would have a rough time sleeping in those circumstances.

And yet, I still wanted to be well and whole and able to do more than just get by.

I tried going to bed at 10 p.m.  Sometimes I couldn’t get to sleep until 1 a.m. Sometimes I fell asleep but awakened after 3 or 4 hours—not drowsy, but as awake as if I’d slept the night.  It was as though the stress of my daily life was robbing my brain of its ability to regulate itself.

I started to experiment with the common advice for getting better sleep.  I made sure I had a comfy bed, pillow and jammies.  I gave up caffeine after lunchtime and exercising in the evenings.  I tried supplements and over-the-counter sleep medications.  I did anything and everything I could to start sleeping regularly.

After a few months, I felt the positive impact of solid sleep.  I stopped feeling like an exhausted raw nerve all of the time.  I had more focus and energy.  I could function at a higher level.  It was awesome.

Now, nearly a year later, I’ve still got solid sleep habits.  I guard my precious sleep carefully.  There are times when I’ll stay out late with friends, or stay up late reading a great book, but I know that the cost will be a day of super low energy and inactivity.  So, the times when I sacrifice my sleep are few and far between.

There are also times when sleep is contrary.  It just won’t come.  On those days, I let the sleeplessness go—but, on the following night, I do everything, everything to get sleep. 

To play around with my sleep, to take it lightly is the path to instability, hypomania, depression, and chaos.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010 7:47 a.m.

Monday, May 17, 2010 7:47 a.m.
Glenwood & Aliso Creek Road
Aliso Viejo, CA

Light Drizzle 59 °F
Humidity:77 %

Today is one of those days when the air feels wet but it’s not quite raining. I walk to my car, my face and glasses are speckled with small specks of water. As my truck slices through the morning, my windshield is streaked with water.

While waiting for the signal, I notice a young rabbit eating the grass on the parkway greenbelt. Suddenly, it leaps up, shimmies from head to tail, and does a few zigzag hops. I feel vaguely sorry for the bunny. Outdoor dining in the drizzly air would make me shimmy and hop all around, too.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 16, 2010 9:45 a.m.

Jim Dilley Greenbelt Preserve
Laguna Beach, CA

May 16, 2010 9:45 a.m.

I tried hiking alone for the first time today. I got about 200 yards down the Lake Trail, freaked out and legged it back to my truck.

It’s one thing to hike with a group of people or a friend. It’s another thing to walk alone down a city street. But, to walk alone, off the grid is something else entirely.

It wasn’t a fear of rapists or murderers that sent me running back to the comfort of civilization, but the sense of alone-with-my-thoughts-ness. No TV or radio or mindless chatter to fill the empty spaces.

Walking along in the wilderness—even with my trusty cell phone—showed me with stunning clarity what it means to be a vulnerable bag of meat without horns or claws or a protective shell and to risk becoming lost or hurt with absolutely no one else for miles around.

But I’m going to try again next week. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make it at least 400 yards down the trail.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thursday, April 13, 2010

1:57 p.m.
Business Park on UCI Campus near California & Academy Way

The roadrunner was cruising for lizards in the parking lot again today. When he caught sight of me, he retreated towards the outermost hedge. Having slurped up a juicy lizard and lacking shirt sleeves, he rubbed his beak vigorously against the dirt to remove any stray traces of reptile. Just the sight of him will last me well into my 2:00 meeting.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010 7:45 a.m.

Monday, May 3, 2010
Aliso Viejo, CA

Sunny, 62°F
Wind: N at 0 mph
Humidity: 62%

For 23 hours and 55 minutes per day my Tommie cat is content to be little more than an overstuffed sofa cushion; but, in the mornings, I open the front door and allow him a few moments of careful freedom.

He squeaks with delight as his chubby, tabby bottom runs down the steps. At the bottom, he collapses, squirming and squeaking at the luxury. After he has rubbed off every trace of confinement, he tentatively whiffs the nearby hedges, questing for the hint of unseen visitors.

He would explore for hours if I let him or at least until the rumbling of a delivery truck sent him rushing back to the safety of his known world. But the clock is ticking and my calendar is calling. I wish I could grant him the liberty he loves, but the outside world is too unmerciful for an unsupervised sofa tabby. I can’t keep him safe from the places his curiosity would lead him.

I shoo my darling boy back up the steps. He yields, yet stops every few steps to collect those last intriguing scents that he can dream about until tomorrow.

I’m inspired to take the green commute to work north along Laguna Canyon Road past the James Dilley Greenbelt, over the Laguna Lakes trail and over the Stagecoach trail. I roll down my window to scent the wind even though the air is too cold against my bare cheek and arm. My eyes pick the California poppies growing along the roadside and embrace the brilliant yellow mustard grass. The scent of scrub brush and sage makes my hiking boots call out my name. My eyes, my mind, my soul exhilarate at the open arms of the rolling hills.

Too soon I move into the pushing-traffic pavement of the 405 during peak commute. For a few moments, every green thing is gone. I scold myself to be grateful for the benefits civilization brings—food, clothing, safety in numbers. But I’m more grateful still that, like my tabby, I can be magically transported from captivity by remembering that my Father originally planned for me to live in the beauty of a garden and that someday I will.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Saturday, May 1, 2010, 9:40 a.m.

Saturday, May 1, 2010, 9:40 a.m.
Irvine Ranch Conservancy
Orange, California

Mouth of Fremont Canyon

This morning we are gifted by the tracks a mountain lion has left on the trail--fresh enough to leave an impression in the soft dirt but not so shiny as to arouse fear. The cat strolled towards the trailhead in the early morning hours, the tracks as silent now as when they were freshly made.

Further down the trail we cross the river Fremont on fast, flat feet. The busy river hurries to smooth our boot marks from its bed. We step up and wade into a sea of rip gut grass nearly as high as my thigh. Thea, our guide, goes before us, parting the sea with her staff, on guard for any serpents lurking in the garden. We walk on the thick litter of fallen leaves so soft underfoot that I’m reminded of walking on my childhood bed.

We come to rest under a canopy of oaks whose interlocking branches trap the coolness of a nearby stream. We’re sheltered from the heat of the day by nature’s own air conditioner. The dappled lighting and tender murmuring of the stream is so comforting that I could sit here forever.