Lessons I Learned While Furloughed

I felt that all too familiar anxiety monster creeping back in on only the first few hours of being back to work. So I knew it was time to regroup and identify the differences. What is it that immediately makes my muscles tighten when my routine finally returns?

I would have thought getting my routine back, the one I so desperately begged to have back in the first couple weeks of the Federal government’s partial shutdown, would be a huge wave of relief. I thought I thrived in my routine, until I had the forced opportunity to shake it up. I was living day to day so mechanically, that I was forgetting to take a moment and really enjoy my life around me. In these past few weeks, I’ve learned to let go and let God. I’ve been able to enjoy my strong, peppermint mocha coffee in the morning at my own pace versus dumping it in to a travel mug and running out the door. I’ve explored my cooking skills and became inspired to put effort into our meals. There has just been so many lessons that this shutdown has taught me. Some practical and some more emotional. And as this is much easier to admit with our paychecks on their way, I really appreciate these lessons.

Take your time seriously. It’s yours and only yours. Don’t lend too much of it out for things that don’t fill your cup. Of course, you have to take care of things out of necessity, but keep room budgeted for things that bring you joy.

Budgets don’t have to be boring. Who doesn’t like keeping money in the bank? Well, that might be me. I’ve never fully grasped the concept of a savings very well. My younger years could be described as having a hole in my pocketbook. As I’ve added years to my belt, I’ve actually really enjoyed stacking the dollar bills up in our savings. It’s almost become a game to me. The numbers grow, my motivation grows. I tend to ride that motivation in waves though. So this shutdown was a really great reminder about how important that budget game is for us.

Be kind. Give the little you have and receive it back tenfold. Have empathy. I witnessed so many acts of kindness during the past few weeks, that I think my heart grew 14 sizes. I know this sounds a little nuts, but I encourage you to try something here. Let’s say you are having a really rough week and you decide- forget this- it’s time to do something for me that will make me feel better. Maybe that something is a Starbucks coffee or getting your nails done. Think about how much you feel like those things could REALLY turn your week around. Now I encourage you to do the harder part, one that most people don’t think too much about, and give that blessing to someone else with no strings attached. I’d be willing to bet that small gift will turn your week around faster than any expresso or manicure ever could. The world needs so many more people being kind.

True friends and family know exactly how to support you in the way you need- and this is a very valuable lesson. Some of it may have been more validation of the people in our lives than anything, but I couldn’t imagine the shutdown without them. I despise asking for help and my true friends know this about me. The best thing they did was love me for that and, now that I look back, I realize they snuck in ways to help me. They did this in ways I wouldn’t have realized that it was an extra hand. Dropping off extra groceries, inviting us to meals, acting as if they wouldn’t use the grocery store gift card, giving me things to do to stay busy, being down to just hang out around the house. As I reflect on the past few weeks, I realize exactly how important it is to surround yourself with your people. And even better, they accept my efforts for paybacks. The lesson in all this was to make sure those people you include in your tribe are best fit for the job.

As my routine may be going back to normal, I plan to value things a little more. I don’t want to get caught back up in the hustle and bustle and forget these lessons that I learned. I want to take my time with my morning coffee, I want to spend more hours laughing with Bryan, I want to take the time and learn how to do new things. Routine may make living with anxiety easier and safe- less energy spent on fighting the unknowns. But, at the end of the day, is that really living? Is that fighting back against my anxiety or letting it control my life? There will still be days that all I can do is fall into my routine, but while I hold the light of energy- I’ll use it to light the way into a new level of healing and a new level of adventure. I have a renewed energy to really love life.

Being furloughed really rocked my world, but maybe- just maybe- that’s what I needed.


Fairy Godmother

You are looking at a first time fairy godmother here! I don’t have words and yet I’m overflowing with them at the same time.

My nearly life long friends are having their first baby. I’m so full of happiness for them. I didn’t think I could be any happier until tonight! I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a real life godmother to this precious little baby boy that will make his arrival in May. Words can’t even describe how honored I feel. So I want to write a vow of godmother- goals if you will to be best that I can be.

I vow to love every little bone in your body as they grow big and strong.

I vow to remind you always of your worth in this world no matter how heavy life may get.

I vow to always set a good example of serving others.

I vow to help guide you in your journey with loving your faith and God.

I vow to celebrate every victory with you no matter the size.

I vow to encourage you to strengthen your relationships with people that bring you joy.

I vow to be your cheerleader through any task you face.

I vow to teach you to recognize your own strengths and strengthen your weaknesses.

I vow to never let you forget how much love surrounds you.

I vow to support your dreams and goals.

I vow to love your parents unconditionally for our whole lives and show you what true friendship can mean.

I vow to take this responsibility with my full heart and soul.

Being a godmother can mean so many different things to people. But for me, it’s a much larger purpose than just caring for myself. This purpose sparks a deep bright fire within me to push through any battles that may come my way and succeed. It’s a new light in the darkness that I couldn’t be more grateful for.

Your Furloughing My Mental Health

Fourteen days and counting…

Imagine waking up every morning not sure of what you’re doing with your day, not because you have a choice- but because your workplace isn’t open at the moment for reasons so far out of your control. Regardless of the politics that surround this issue and regardless of where you stand on said politics, it’s doing more than just giving federal employees a paid vacation.

For me, it’s impacting my mental health more than I can explain. But here I am to try to put this all into perspective, at least in my case.

I thrive off of routine. My best state is doing the same thing over and over again, which allows me to have extra energy when I am face to face with my anxiety. Free time doesn’t fare well in my world as it gives me far too much space for my thoughts to wander. Right now, the only thing I have is free time and a whole lot of fear and anxiety, which is taking a toll on my physical health. I’ve had the same headache since New Years, the ever growing knot in my neck that Tiger Balm is barely touching and a constant sick feeling in my stomach. I just want to feel well again and have my purpose back.

The house has been cleaned top to bottom, closets have been organized, toilets scrubbed, even donations dropped off at the clothing bins. I’ve run out of things to clean. I’ve run out of things to do to feel productive and that’s a dangerous place for me to be. I feel the darkness around every corner, it creeps in closer and closer with every passing day the federal government’s doors are shut. The anxiety is overwhelming that the end of all this seems to be getting pushed further and further away. Threats that it may last months or years, whether they be empty threats or not, make every muscle in my tired body tense.

There are bills that have to be paid. Luckily, I can take advantage of the options my student loans provide for pausing repayments. That takes a burden off my shoulders, but it still leaves me with a finite amount of money left for the remainder of our bills for an unknown amount of time. For a person that has a spreadsheets for their budget- this doesn’t sit well. I feel like I’m walking up to the edge of a cliff, unaware of how much farther I have to go before I drop. It’s making sleep harder and harder at night. Even though we may get that pay in the end, when will that end be? Those bills don’t wait.

I am struggling, but I’m holding on to hope.

I still have a small light in my corner that I’m grasping onto for dear life. This furlough is costing me my health, but I refuse to lose all progress I’ve gain in the past few months. Anything that provides me with a sense of accomplishment- I’m diving into: puzzles, games, helping my friends out, serving others at church- literally anything to fill my cup. I am throwing myself into new projects just to pass the time. God doesn’t give us things we cannot handle. I know that- even if the timing just feels confusing. We just closed our clothing boutique, was it the right time? I sit here everyday and wonder how I can make some extra dollars to spread my budget a little further. I know it was the right time for that story to end, but how were we to know that days later I’d be shutting off my work laptop for an undetermined amount of time.

So desperately I just want life to go back to normal, to wake up early and trek my way into the office, to fill my to go coffee cup and head out the door. It’s more than just finding things to do with the free time. It’s about finding purpose with my day to dodge the darkness waiting for me to trip up and consume me. So I keep walking.

As you go about your day, I encourage everyone to be a little kinder and empathetic. You never know who is battling something more than being off work. I keep my smile on as a camouflage, but inside things are crumbling. I may mentioned being furloughed inside a bout of laughter, but inside that’s a bout of tears. As I keep reminding myself, things will work out guys, just keep holding on.

And if anyone needs any help literally doing anything I’m furloughed- seriously let me know. I’ve got two extra hands that have way too much free time.

Lyrics that I couldn’t write

Finding someone or something that speaks your own story is powerful.

Especially when you grew up not knowing things weren’t okay. Not understanding why you had anxiety or why panic attacks suddenly became something else to worry about. As age came, so did that knowledge and accompanying it was a sense of being lost. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to put into words how I feel towards the whole situation. It isn’t anger anymore though, which I’m thankful that I’ve found the strength to move past. Then you hear it in someone’s voice. It’s not just the words, but the all too familiar pain behind them. You don’t need to know the specific details behind them, because I know my own. The pain that turns into empathy, for someone who couldn’t be what they wanted to be. Demi Lovato has a song called “Father” that sang the words I couldn’t find.

“You did your best, or did you? Sometimes I think I hate you. I’m sorry, dad, for feeling this. I can’t believe I’m saying this. I know you were a troubled man. I know you never got the chance to be yourself, to be your best. I hope that Heaven’s given you a second chance.”

Heaven’s given me a second chance- to not live my life in anger or guilt. I understand things weren’t my fault. I empathize that you too may have had your own monsters you were battling. I know those monsters put up one heck of a fight. But I hope you know it’s never too late to find yourself and the strength to fight back against those demons. I hope you know it’s never too late to be your best. Has heaven given you a second chance?

One Sticky Note per Day

Why do we spend so much of our time piling the pressure onto ourselves to get every little thing done that crosses our mind like a frog hopping through traffic in a rain shower?

I really got to pondering this on vacation. Why was it that I could relax even though my to do list never changed or disappeared- it just got put on hold like a customer service representative likes to do after you ask for their supervisor. I know I had the beautiful surroundings of the beach, palm trees and sunshine- those things all of course help. But if I’m being honest, I wondered if it was because I don’t help myself when I’m NOT on vacation. I wanted to maintain my diluted stress levels once we got home. I told Bryan, “I want to live everyday like I’m on bacay-tion” (there’s a bit of a terrible Dominican Accent placed on vacation in that phrase- just stay with me). I’m just getting down-right tired of not enjoying life and if I could manage to do it for a week, I knew I could manage it for a little longer.

Like a brain surgeon operating on themselves, I evaluated what the differences were, what do I do that helps, and what do I do wrong (probably not something you want a brain surgeon to be evaluating). What changed between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning? Was it something in the air? Maybe the vitamins from the extra sunshine were the secret? Did it have to do with the unlimited amount of snacks around me on vacation? How much tequila was actually in this margarita?!

Tuesday evening at home rolled into Wednesday afternoon at the Punta Cana airport, but the to do list still existed. I didn’t delegate it to my assistant (mostly because I don’t have an assistant). I still had to complete the same number of tasks, whether I was napping on my pool float or sipping on a tropical beverage or at home- it didn’t matter. However- here was the difference I noticed. When I am home, I have a tendency to write down to do list items anywhere and everywhere. I claim its so I don’t forget to do the things, but maybe I need to let go and allow myself to forget them. Is wrapping my Christmas gifts really something I need to nag myself about everyday until I get them done? Something tells me I won’t forget to wrap them up before the 25th. So the list still exists on vacation, but it wasn’t visible at every turn.

While my therapist suggested that writing the lists may not be helpful to my anxiety, it does ease it (even if temporary) to get it all written down. Written down and out of the constant fog of my brain. If my mind had a daily weather report for itself, everyday would be foggy with a slight chance of sun. So if I jot it out, I know that I at least told a slice of paper what I needed to get done just in case it gets lost in the mayhem. On the flip side- I also understand that I may get a little out of control with the writing of them- like marathon level, 26.2 miles of lists. No, I do not need to write down to brush my teeth and feed myself on those lists. So I have been trying to find a happy medium between the chaos of not having a list and the time commitment of Olympic medal to do lists. I know it helps to write it down and get it out, but I wasn’t limiting myself to what I wrote down or how much- and that was the problem.

No one can function with something (or someone- but if its someone you might want to call the cops), constantly following them and nagging and screaming for more attention. I mean, except for Moms. They can with their littles because its their superpower, but the average gal wouldn’t be able to get much done or feel very good about doing it. That’s what I was essentially doing to myself- creating this colossal stalker that I continued to feed and grow. I’m kind of shocked about how much control I truly held over stressing myself out. That’s part of the struggle with anxiety though- it doesn’t give you much free time to kick back and watch your life unwrap, its more like that adorable, but slobbery three year old cousin you have that will tear through your wrapped Christmas gifts like a tornado because they just don’t quite understand the concept that everything isn’t for them.

I think I have a solution to this mess I get myself into though. I’m not sure if the solution will work honestly, sounds like it might- but I’m going through the trial run now. I will continue to write a to do list, however instead of the never ending, multi-page lists that I used to keep in a notebook- I will shrink that slice of paper down significantly. I have two things that I need to do when I get home. Somehow, the hour drive between the office and home becomes a black hole and all thoughts I had earlier in the day are sucked in and never return so I knew I needed to write these down.  I grabbed the bright purple stack of Post It notes off my desk and added my little check boxes and next to those wrote out the two things I could not forget to do upon arrival to my homestead. There was my ah-ha moment. Hit me upside the head like a foul ball. I will no longer be in a long term, controlling relationship with my notebook. If I want more time to enjoy life, I need to give myself the opportunity to relax and I cannot do that while sprinting through my list like a contestant of Supermarket Sweep. To do that, I will contain the things I need to get done on a single sticky note- one per day.

Wish me luck. I’ll try not to start writing in microscopic font sizes just to fit it all on the sticky. For the next couple weeks, or days- depending on which my attention span can last- I’ll share some updates about how my sticky note a day challenge is going on my Instagram, (@chasingmythirties). Here’s to saving trees and opening up more time to appreciate life a little more and my to do list a little less.

Blue Heaven

There’s nothing like vacation on our favorite beach.

As I sit on our balcony taking in the view of Dominica Republic’s beautiful beach line, I can’t help but relax and contemplate the vast deep blue expanse in front of me. There’s something so amazing about the powerful sea. Every wave that rolls in is relatable. It speaks to me like a grandmother whispering words of wisdom.

Living with a generalized anxiety disorder is like living within the crashing waves of the strong ocean. Life is as beautiful as this tropical island, but when your living in the sea of dread- you dread every approaching wave. It could be the best wave you’ve ever ridden, but it’s the possibility of impending doom that leaves your muscles tense. Will this be the wave that takes you down? Will it have the torrential strength to pull you back to sea with it?

Being here reminds me that, like the sea- I am strong. Just like the sea controls the land, so I control my life- who is a part of it and what I’m willing to deal with. The ocean is always there, always rolling with waves- full of life. So today I choose to be like the sea- strong and full of life.

Vacation Eve Panic

There’s something about the excitement of a trip that puts me into an utter panic- and not the good panic.

We look forward to this trip every year. Every December for the past five years, Bryan and I pack our bags right before Christmas and head off to our tropical paradise. A place where the drinks are delivered to you pool side, the food has no end and the responsibilities simply do not exist. We work hard all year so we can enjoy this one week in December. And as much as I absolutely enjoy myself- the days leading up to our flight out of here are pure torture on me.

Take this girl out of her routine and you have a bit of a mess. Cram her routine into two days and the mess just cannot be contained anymore. I’m doing better with being flexible. Challenging myself to go with the flow and not shut down at the first sign of change. I can see my improvements during a regular week, but Vacation eve is different.

Maybe because it’s not a regularly occurring event that I just never seem to have enough time to prepare. But if I’m being honest, I back myself into a corner with seconds left to spare. My excitement about going overwhelms me, so I just compartmentalize it- shove it into a tiny box until I don’t have a choice but to let it bust out. It comes in like a wrecking ball y’all. Every tiny thing I don’t even really need to do before we leave gets added onto the to do list. House must be cleaned spotless, you know? For all those people that won’t be there while we are gone. I don’t give myself enough energy to actually plan what I might need on the trip- so I pack it ALL. Anyone else end up with snow mittens in their tropical vacation bag just in case we come home and it’s snowing?

This year- I don’t want the Vacation Eve Panic. I want to go with the flow and keep my focus on the minimal I need for a week of relaxation. If this sounds like I’ve been a fly on the wall during any of your Vacation Eves, listen up. We can have control of our loss of control. We don’t need to schedule every single minute leading up to leaving. It’s okay to take a minute to sit and relax before you officially are on vacay!

Here’s what I’m doing this year to combat the panic and accept that I will not have control of it all:

1. Prioritize the to do list.

Now I stopped making my daily to do lists a couple months ago. Once my therapist showed me how the lists were aggravating my GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) I quit cold turkey. That’s been a battle in itself for another day, but for special occasions where I simply cannot forget to do something- I’ll write my list. But the list has the expectation that not everything will be completed on it. So I prioritize it- what absolutely has to be completed before we can leave? Find our passports. Take my final for coding class. Pack my toothbrush. Those go to the top of the list. The items at the bottom? I won’t die if I don’t get them done before we leave. Accept that.

2. Focus on the minimal

To enjoy a day on vacation- what do I minimally need? Swimsuit. Check- pack it. If I don’t bring all 45 swimsuit cover ups- I will survive! If I forget a bandaid and get a cut, the resort has some! I try to keep my focus on the minimal needed while packing and before I know it- I’m ready to go!

3. The house doesn’t need to be clean

Y’all- why do we do this to ourselves? We aren’t going to come home and be immediately offended at the new layer of dust that’s settled across the fireplace mantel on top of the layer that we didn’t care about the whole month before. If the house looks like a bomb went off while packing- THEN LET IT! Again- we will not die if we didn’t scrub the kitchen floors before we leave.

4. Breathe

The final step I’m taking. I will stop and let myself breathe in my excitement. I won’t keep telling Bryan to shush every time we brings up how many hours we have left til we leave. When he asks if I’m excited, I won’t roll my eyes and tense up at the thought of all I have to do before leaving. I will allow myself to breathe and live in the excitement. Because without doing this step- you really might die so make sure to breathe 😂

We officially have a little over 24 hours before we board that plane, am I packed? Not yet. But guess what? I am for sure excited!