Monthly Archives: May 2016

Managing Wedding Planning Stress

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 3.46.27 PM.png

Last Wednesday, I celebrated my 8 year wedding anniversary. Since Memorial Day Weekend seems to mark the start of wedding season, I thought I would take the occasion to offer a little advice to newly engaged couples who find themselves in the thick of wedding planning. Now that I’m 8 years removed from the experience of planning a wedding, I can look back on it with some fondness, but boy did it feel stressful at the time. I have both planned a wedding (with some significant budget concerns), been a maid of honor, a bridesmaid, and a guest at many a wedding at this point, so please trust that these insights have been well researched.

1. Try not to get too caught up in details.

Weddings are memorable at the macro level. There’s an overall feeling of love and joy that is captured in a good wedding, and while the little details may help contribute to that feeling, they aren’t as important as they seem when you are in the process of choosing between all the little ways to make your wedding feel extra special. Don’t get too stressed out about choosing your color scheme, or flowers, or having the most delicious cake anyone has ever tasted. I have been to LOTS of weddings, and I promise you that I don’t remember what the flowers were at any of them. Not a single one. I can’t tell you who had large centerpieces and who had small ones. I don’t remember anyone’s bouquet, or if they had flowers decorating the ceremony. I went to two weddings last fall, which is not that long ago, and if you put a gun to my head I still wouldn’t be able to tell you what the flowers were at either of those events. Do you want to know what people will think about your wedding cake? That it tasted like cake. Have I ever eaten a chocolate wedding cake? I don’t know. Maybe? I don’t remember. All cake tastes like cake in a person’s memory. The only wedding cake I remember at all sticks in my mind because it had green frosting. But I still couldn’t tell you what the flavor was. If you need to cut cost, and save yourself some stress, do so by winnowing down these smaller items. If you are trying to choose between two different place settings, go with the cheaper one. Decision made.  No one will know the difference. No one will remember them at all. These little things all mesh together in people’s minds overtime and just become “wedding things” rather than specific elements of any one particular wedding. I have had people compliment me on how delicious the cake was at my wedding. That’s pretty weird, because I didn’t have a cake. Don’t sweat the details, they really don’t matter.

2. Focus on what makes your relationship special.

Your wedding is a celebration of your relationship, your union. Make it about you. By that I do not mean become completely obsessed with yourselves and make outrageous demands on your friends and family, but rather use your wedding as an opportunity for everyone to get to know you better as a couple. There may be a specific formula your ceremony has to follow, especially if you’re going with a more traditional, religious service, but try to find ways to incorporate private stories and little known anecdotes into the official proceedings. When I got married, our rabbi did not know either of us ahead of time. She asked each of us to write her a letter about the other person that she would then use when putting together the ceremony. We both wrote very personal letters that included stories about each other and our relationship that were not really widely public knowledge. She ended up reading each letter in its entirety during the ceremony. At first I was horrified, but I have to admit that it gave our ceremony a wonderfully personal quality, and made our wedding feeling deeply meaningful and poignant. Find small ways to open your relationship up to your guests and give everyone a peek at what you two mean to each other, without any reservations or sense of guarding. Be vulnerable and your wedding will feel more meaningful, and memorable. Those are the details that are worth spending your energy on, and coming up with them together will be a nice reminder of why you decided to get married in the first place.

3. Make time to talk about anything but the wedding.

Wedding planning can be very all consuming. Pick a week each month where you don’t do any planning. Take a break and just enjoy each other’s company as you did before you had to plan a major event with far too many moving parts. It’s important to step back from the wedding part of things and nurture the parts of your relationship that got you to this point. There are two things that are true of every wedding I’ve ever been a part of: no matter how well you plan, you’ll be rushing around to get things done on the weekend of the wedding, and it all will come together in the end. So don’t worry about taking some time away from your planning each month.

4. You can’t please everyone.

Some people are sure to gripe that the date you picked is inconvenient for them. Some people might not like where they are seated at your wedding, or complain that they couldn’t hear the ceremony. Others might be unimpressed by your food choices. Some people will piss and moan that the bartender won’t let them order shots. Some people just love to be sour about everything, and you’re never going to please them no matter how hard you try. Let it go. Most people will have a good time at your wedding because it’s a party and most people enjoy parties. If you have fun and feel happy, most of your guests will join you in that feeling. If you find out either in person or through the grapevine that one of your guests wasn’t especially pleased with the festivities, oh well. Thank them for coming and for the lovely new blender they got you, and then move on with your life.

5. Keep the comparisons to a minimum.

I was the first of my friends to get married, which was sort of a blessing and a curse. I didn’t really know what I was doing and didn’t have other weddings to look to for guidance, but I also didn’t have a bunch of other weddings to compare my planning to. There will be things you love from other people’s weddings. Incorporate those elements into yours if you want, or if you can, but don’t feel pressured to make your wedding live up to anyone else’s. It’s your event, your budget, your priorities. Do what makes the most sense for you, and remember, in the long run, no one will really remember all of the little differences between your wedding and all of the other ones they’ve been to anyway!

 

Advice for New Graduates

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 10.09.24 AM

Me, at college graduation, tired of taking pictures.

As May winds down and we find ourselves nearing the end of college graduation season, I thought I’d offer a few insights and a little advice for anyone out there who finds themselves at the close of a major life chapter, looking out into a vast, uncertain future.

1. First off, congratulations. Go you! Celebrate, big time. Get all of your friends together and really live it up. College graduation is likely the last time in your life where you and your closest friends will all be celebrating the same milestone at the same time. As you move on into adult life, you’ll quickly discover that everyone you know is on a different trajectory. Some people will find immediate career success and satisfaction. Others will hop around for years, trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Some people will get married right away, and start families early. Others will stay single well into their thirties (and beyond). Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re ahead of the game, and other times you’ll feel like you’re lagging far behind. The reality is that there is just a lot of variety in how people live, and what they find most meaningful and important in their lives. Take some time to appreciate the fact that you’re all experiencing this big life moment together, at the same time. That’s not going to happen very often from here on out.

2. If you’ve got the time and the funds to do so, travel now. Take one of those big, I’ll-never-forget-this trips. Or take a series of smaller trips to places you’ve never been before, but would love to see. It becomes tough to travel once you’ve settled into the regular routine of work and adult life. I know people who do it, but I don’t know that many. It can be hard to carve out a big enough chunk of time from work to make a major trip worth the cost and effort. If you can, take a month before you start working, or before you head off to graduate school, or whatever it is you’re planning to do, and just travel around.

3. Embrace happy hour. College students have a tendency to do a lot of late night drinking. This is foolish nonsense, and if I could go back and give my college self one great piece of advice it would be to abandon all illusions of grand success. But my second piece of advice would be to stop wasting money on full priced beverages, and make greater use of happy hour deals. Why start getting ready at 9:30 to spend the night drinking until 2, and then wake up around noon the next day feeling miserable when you can drink for half the cost at 5:30, be in bed by 10 and wake up feeling like a normal human?

4. Don’t worry about having it all figured out. Some people know exactly want they want for their lives and set out to make it happen. But other people don’t, and that’s okay. College feels like a time when you’re supposed to be figuring out who you are and what you want your life to be, but really it’s just a time to learn things and discover your interests. You don’t need to come out of college as this fully formed working being who knows exactly how you want your life to unfold from that point forward. I know lots of people who started out in one field, but now in their thirties are shifting gears, going back to school and starting new careers in entirely different lines of work. I know more still who never really settled on any one particular interest and skip around from job to job, or settle into one career that doesn’t define who they are, but provides enough structure and stability to allow them to pursue their other interests outside of their working lives. Ignore all of those lists that tell you what you should have majored in to ensure a successful career–I know a lot of pretty miserable engineers. Maybe you’ll know exactly what you want and all of your success will be built upon that single interest. Or maybe you’ll have a lot of different interests, and over the course of your life you’ll build up lots of small successes that ultimately feel like a major accomplishment.

5. Make an effort to keep in touch with your college friends. I have found that things like Facebook and texting make you feel like you are in touch with people and caught up on their lives, when in fact you most definitely are not. Whenever I meet up with friends from college, and we have a chance to catch up face-to-face, I’m always amazed by how much is going on in their lives that I didn’t know about. Reach out to each other regularly, in meaningful ways. Plan reunions, get together, stay in touch.

 

 

“Hello, Depression? This is your friend Anxiety.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.47.15 AM.png

Depressed circle from the Zoloft commercial.

 

Do you remember the Zoloft antidepressant commercial with the sad little circle? It drags itself slowly across the screen beneath the shadow of a rain cloud, frowning and whimpering as it scoots along. Until it takes Zoloft, and then the cloud disperses, the sun starts shining and the little circle starts bouncing happily along with a smile on its face. There was a whole series of these Zoloft commercials, all done with this simple animation, and they were pretty iconic. They are certainly the first thing to come to my mind whenever I think about pharmaceutical advertising.

I think they were missing something, though. The depressed circle could have used a friend–a shaky, restless circle of anxiety walking by its side. Or perhaps instead of walking together, the commercial could have gone something like this: Depressed Circle wakes up in the morning in his little gray house of sadness and shuffles slowly over to the phone. Across town, Anxiety Circle, feeling wired and tense from a night of very little sleep, answers the call.

Anxiety: Hello?

Depression: Hello, Anxiety? This is your friend Depression. I woke up feeling so incredibly sad today and I don’t know why.

Anxiety: Unexplained sadness? That’s not good. Something could be terribly wrong. I’ll be right over and we can spend the entire day fixating on all of the ways your whole life could suddenly fall apart. Maybe it’s nothing, but you never know Depression, your sadness could be a premonition that the world is about to end. I’ll be right there.

In an alternative version of the commercial, Anxiety phones Depression in the middle of the night. Depression answers in the phone with a deep, sorrowful sigh:

Depression: Hello?

Anxiety: Hello, Depression? This is your friend Anxiety. I can’t sleep. My mind is spinning and I can’t stop thinking about all of the things that could go wrong in the days and years to come.

Depression: Oh no. Come on over. We’ll spend the rest of the night wallowing and feeling completely helpless. I promise we don’t have to do anything even remotely proactive to try to address these fears. See you soon.

It has been my experience that depression and anxiety are good buddies that like to spend a lot of time together. If you find yourself struggling against both of these forces at once, my advice is to do your best to figure out who called whom. Is depression reaching out to anxiety, or is anxiety the one dialing the phone? When you are struggling with depression and anxiety, figuring out which of these problems was your initial trigger can be incredibly helpful in allowing you to address your concerns, stabilize your mood, and move on. If your anxiety is triggered by a depressed mood, rationalizing with yourself to counter your anxiety might lift some of your worries, but it probably won’t do that much to improve your mood. But if you can address your depression, and practice whatever techniques you use to manage and improve your moods, you might find that your anxiety goes away as your mood gets better, and you don’t have to spend any of your precious energy focusing on your worries. Similarly, if your anxiety triggers feelings of depression, just trying to improve your mood may end being a lot of wasted effort. Instead, try countering the anxiety and see if your mood naturally gets better as your concerns lessen.

I’m definitely not suggesting that this a full-proof way to manage anxiety and depression–it’s not, and you don’t get a prize for managing your mental health on your own, so you should seek out help whenever you need it–but it’s a good starting point for those times when you feel overwhelmed by your emotions and fears, and you don’t where to begin in addressing those issues. Interrogate what you are feeling, and try to figure out which of these circles was the first to pick up the phone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actual Good Advice on Exercising When Depressed

Good advice on the internet is pretty rare in general. Good advice about dealing with depression is basically the internet’s Big Foot. Someone has claimed to see it once or twice, but you can be pretty sure it doesn’t actually exist. So I was pleasantly surprised when I came across Sarah Kurchak’s piece, Depression-Busting Exercise Tips for People Too Depressed to Exercise. Most exercise advice for people with depression boils down to “force yourself to do it and you’ll be shocked by how much better you feel!” As Kurchak points out, that advice is not entirely wrong, but it’s also pretty useless when the simple act of tying your shoes leaves you feeling as exhausted and physically depleted as you would be after running wind sprints.

If you’ve struggled with depression at any point in your life, you’ve probably heard some well-meaning soul say “just try to get some exercise, it’s good for your mood!” Annoyingly, they’re right; I don’t think that exercise can single-handedly cure depression or treat its symptoms, but it’s clearly helpful for many people who struggle. In the 10 years I spent in the fitness industry, both as a personal trainer with depressed clients and as the depressed client myself, I’ve seen physical activity provide focus, routine, comfort, and even assistance with physical health when it feels like everything else is going to hell.

But there’s one thing that never, ever helps people who are dealing with situational or clinical depression: telling them that exercise will help.

When it comes to having a mental illness, the G.I. Joe doctrine is meaningless: Knowing what will help you isn’t close to half the battle. It’s a tenth of the battle, at best. Most people with depression are already aware—often too aware—of all the things we could or should be doing to combat our condition. But where the well-meaning mentally healthy person sees a straightforward progression toward improvement, we see the paradox: yes, if we could do those things, it might help our depression, but not being able to do those things is a major part of being depressed.

Kurchak right off the bat gets major points for acknowledging that failure to exercise when struggling with depression is not about people with depression not knowing what is best for them, but rather stems from an actual physical limitation, at times a full body resistance against any and all forms of action. She takes it one step further in her first piece of advice by recognizing a too often ignored rule of exercise and physical health: do not use exercise as a form of self-punishment.

You don’t have to exercise.

Be honest with yourself. Why do you want to exercise? If you’re doing it because it’s a positive step you want to take for your health, that’s great. If it’s something you used to like doing and you think you might enjoy doing it again if you can just push through the misery and inertia? That works, too. If you’re just doing it because you think that you should, though, or if it becomes just another way to punish yourself, that doesn’t work. If you can find an activity that safely works with both your abilities and your mindset, go with that. If you can’t come up with a single plan where the risk inherent in the attempt itself won’t outweigh any benefit you might get from it, then don’t do it. Take a break from the very idea of exercise and come back at it again in a few days to see if your perspective has changed. If not, repeat as necessary. Unless that repetition itself is only exacerbating your depression—then step away from that, too. In short, exercise can’t help with your depression if even thinking about exercise is making you more depressed.

“Exercise can’t help with your depression if even thinking about exercise is making you more depressed.” 

This is a person who gets it. You can check out the rest of her tips here.

A (Perhaps Too Honest) Portrait of Living With Depression

FullSizeRender (5)

In one of my earliest childhood memories, I walk into my dad’s study to find him sitting at his desk. The room is dark, lit only by a small lamp that casts a soft rectangle of light across his body. He is hunched over, resting face down in the crook of one elbow, his other arm flung across the back of his head. I stand there for a moment, watching dust particles drift back and forth through the lamp light like fireflies blinking in and out of sight. I wait for him to notice me, and when he doesn’t I quietly ask, “Are you okay, Daddy?” My voice is barely above a whisper, but it breaks through the quiet like a crack of thunder and my dad’s shoulders tense from the startle. He does not lift his head, though, but rather drops his top arm and rolls his head over to face me. Half of his face remains hidden in the flesh of his forearm, but I can see the edge of his lips pull up into a strained smile. “Yeah, baby,” his voice sounds dry, scratchy. “I’m okay.” He sighs deeply, sending the dust particles whirling through the air around him. “I’m just a little sad today,” he tells me.

“Me too,” I say. I walk over to him and lean my tiny forehead against the soft, but sturdy side of his body. “I’m a little sad today too.”

 

I have been a little sad for my entire life. By the time I was 13 years old, my sadness had a name–depression–but looking back, I can tell that it was always with me, growing around me like a second skin. Living inside me like the ghost of a different self, haunting me with a voice so similar to my own, but beyond my ability to control. It whispered in my ear, telling me I would never be good enough, that I was unhappy because I was unloveable, that everyone around me was sick of the sight of me, made miserable by my mere existence. Whenever I laughed, freely and happily, the sadness would rise up to silence me. You’re being too loud, it would tell me. Everyone hates the sound of your laugh. When I played, felt joyful and at ease, the sadness would force its way into the pit of my stomach, roll itself up into a tight, hard rock and sit heavy in the center of my being, dragging me down with its weight, leaving me sick and exhausted, unable and unwilling to keep up with my friends. “You’re no fun,” my friends would say to me. Or, “fine, we’ll go on without you,” whenever I became suddenly, inexplicably teary-eyed, and needed to go back home. See, the sadness would say, I told you they were only pretending to like you.

Sadness has been my lifelong companion. It’s as much a part of me as my one crooked tooth that never fully straightened even after years of braces. It’s as ever-present as my big, solid thighs that refuse to slim down no matter how much weight I lose, or how often I exercise. No amount of work or corrective effort has ever fully banished my sorrow. It has been with me, unyielding, for so long that I sometimes wonder if it is the real me, and the person I think I am is just an affectation, a mask I pull on whenever I need to convince the world, convince myself, that I am capable, together, valuable and worthy of existence.

It is tiring to hate yourself, to be so routinely agonized by your own presence. The internal tug-o-war, the constant push and pull between sad self and other self, the social acrobatics of appearing fine when inside you feel like a cliff’s edge that is being repeatedly, endlessly pummeled by crashing, violent waves. It is physically exhausting. I am 31 years old and I cannot remember a single day when I felt fully, wholly rested. New parents are always saying that the kind of exhaustion you feel when you have a newborn cannot be properly described. You have to experience it to understand it. I think the same is true about depression. Unless you feel it, there’s no way to know what it’s like when your nerve endings feel drained of energy. There’s no good way to describe the kind of ache that exists all the way down into the calcium in your bones. How can a body be worn down by sleeping for 16 hours straight? How can you be tired to the point of tears, but still stay up for three days in a row, your mind buzzing and humming and refusing to let up from its convincing diatribe that you are a worthless waste of space?

Sometimes it feels like the sadness grows from within me, like an invasive fungus that sprouts in the dark, murky depths of my core and slowly spreads through my body, filling me with a blackness that seeps through every pore. My edges blur and fade into the darkness until I exist only in negative space, a shadow, an outline, an impression of the person I might have been if I had been able to fight the depression, to keep the dark spores from multiplying and killing off all that is bright and light, and good about me.

Other times it is like a wave. I stare out into the ocean in front of me and I can see it building, gathering strength and speed as it nears my shore. I watch it crest, feel the first cold drops of its spray against my face, and then I catch my breath and slam my eyes shut as it crashes over me, drowning out the rest of the world. It lifts me off my feet, and pulls me under, sending me flailing and churning, kicking wildly, desperate to scrape my toe against solid ground, or to thrust my face above water for just a second, an instant, long enough to gasp for breath. Just a brief moment is all I need, a quick reminder of which way is up.

There are so many metaphors and not a single one is apt. There is no way to explain a phenomenon that is both the core of who you are, but exists entirely outside yourself. To know me, to love me, is to be routinely lied to. “I’m fine,” I’ll tell you. But I’m not. “Oh I’m battling a cold,” I’ll often say, but what I really mean is that I’m battling a piece of myself. You cannot simply tell people that you are depressed in the same manner in which you might tell them that your allergies have been acting up. “There’s a demonic version of myself that turns the blood running through my veins into a billion little pin pricks through my entire body, and tells me that I’m a garbage human and not worth the air that I breathe,” isn’t quite as easy for others to digest as something like “the pollen count must be really high right now.” I lie to protect you. I lie to protect me. I lie because it is easier than telling the truth, and I’m too tired to deal with any additional difficulties. I lie because you cannot say “I’m depressed,” without someone inevitably following up with “why?” How do you respond to a question that has both every answer imaginable, and no answer at all?

To live with depression is to live with two selves. They ebb and flow together, moving you in and out of darkness and light. Sometimes I feel so lost that all I can do is wrap my arms tightly around my husband’s middle, smash my face into his chest and let his body be the anchor that holds me steady in the rocking sea of my own mind. Other times I am strong and capable. Fully present in myself, and my body. It’s like returning home time and time again. Ah yes, here I am. Just as I left me. I feel confident. Healthy. Happy. More and more, thankfully, that’s how I feel most of the time. But I always know that my second self is still there, waiting in the wings. I can feel it settling behind my ribs, slowly expanding, gradually filling the space between my ribs and lungs. My breathing becomes increasingly shallow and labored. I can feel it rising up into my throat, turning my mouth sour and acidic. My body tenses and tightens as I brace myself for its arrival, as I prepare myself, yet again for the agony of living day-to-day with my depression.

In the winter of 2014, I was diagnosed with shingles. I didn’t know that people in their twenties could get shingles. I had been in a car accident a month earlier that had totaled my car, and while it had left me physically unscathed, it took an emotional toll. I had trouble sleeping. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw the headlights of the other car coming at me. I was terrified of driving, and would occasionally hallucinate phantom cars darting out into intersections. That winter was one with frigid polar vortex temperatures. I couldn’t get outside and run regularly, which had always helped me get through my periods of depression. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t running. I was positively miserable from the cold and the stress kept building up in my body until the point where my body said enough, and I ended up with shingles. When you are already at an emotional and physical low, shingles is the worst kind of insult to add to your injury. It can be incredibly painful. It was always the worst at night. I was given a prescription for Vicodin, but I never filled it, because I find that drugs don’t mix well with my particular mind. So I subsisted on some extra strength ibuprofen and a terrible lack of sleep. By the end of a few weeks, finally cured of my shingles misery, I found myself sitting in my doctor’s office for a routine physical, absolutely incapable of keeping tears from welling up in my eyes. I burst into tears in front of her, completely unprovoked. It had been a very long time since I broke down in front of someone I barely knew, and it was humiliating, as unintended vulnerability so often is. We talked about my history of depression. She wanted to write me a prescription for antidepressants, but I resisted (again, I don’t like the way I feel on drugs of any kind). I explained that it had been a particularly bad couple of months, and that I had been unable to perform even my most basic depression management activities. I promised her that if I couldn’t get it together in the next two weeks, I would come back and let her write me a prescription. She said she felt worried that I would let things get further out of hand, and made me assure her that I had no thoughts of injuring myself. I think when people know you have depression, they’re all secretly wondering if you routinely want to kill yourself. It’s a valid concern, but one that can grow tiresome after a lifetime of living with this condition. No one ever celebrates you for being your own biggest warrior; they’re more fixated on whether or not you’re a threat.

I went home that day and I sat out on my back porch. It was frigidly cold. I wore two pairs of pants, multiple layers under my big winter coat. I wrapped myself in the comforter from my bed and with my dog at my side (a dog will always love you, even when you think you’re impossible to love), I sat for an hour out in the cold, my face turned toward the sunshine. Again and again in my life, this is what I have done. I have dragged myself out of the darkness. I have carried my body, heavy with depression, weighed down by self loathing and unimaginable despair. I have climbed my way out of impossible depths, clawing, clinging desperately to nearly invisible footholds.

For me, this has been the repeated struggle of living with depression. This is the cycle of a life that is lived on the edge of sadness. Sometimes I slip over that edge. Nothing I have done in my life has ever kept me from having to toe that line. It is simply who I am. I wish that I were tough enough to keep myself away from that edge. But I am not tough. I am fragile. More fragile than I care to admit. My emotional armor is like a fresh scab, so easily scraped away. I am a deep wound that is constantly being reopened. I ache too easily. For myself, for others, for hardships and heartaches both real and imagined. I am not tough, but I am resilient. I am like a thin, wispy weed. Small and pathetic, and so easily crushed. But my roots run deep down into the muck and grime of the earth. I can live on in the darkness. Growing, returning, pulling myself up again and again, in search of the sunlight.

 

 

Focusing on the Bright Side

It has been gray, rainy and dreary for weeks here in Baltimore.  It is starting to get to me. Every time there has been any bit of sunshine it’s been a day when I have a full slate of appointments and by the time I’ve wrapped up work, the clouds and moody fog and drip have returned. I miss the sun. I miss going out for a run and not having to cut it short as the rain starts to fall. I miss taking the dog on long walks and watching him smile as he prances through the grass, rather than frown pathetically as the rain drips down his face and soaks his fur. When Friday rolls around, I prefer to be excited and energized, my mood lifted by the promise of the weekend and my regular day off on Saturdays. But these last few weeks, come Friday afternoon I feel entirely worn down, slow and heavy, as if my body were as water-logged as the ground around me. I am trying to remain positive (it can’t keep raining forever, can it?), and focus on the bright side of all this rain. With that in mind, here are a few things that have made me happy this week.

Extra indoor time is a good opportunity for a deep dive into a new TV show. My husband and I have started watching The Americans, which I’ve been meaning to check out for a while now, and we are both really loving it. (Available for streaming via Amazon Prime.)

A rainy week means lots of time to catch up on some reading. I’m currently reading Tell The Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt, and enjoying it. (I’ll be finished with it soon and could use some recommendations for books to add to my reading list.) I’d also recommend a few longer articles that I’ve read this week while waiting out a few rain showers, including a good one on multilevel marketing (MLM), and one about two brothers whose parents turned out to be Russian spies (a perfect companion to my recent TV viewing).

After 15 straight days of rainfall, I’m feeling pretty confident that my garden won’t need to be watered for the rest of the summer. My plants could definitely use some sunshine, but the steady rain has made my dahlia bulbs spring up, and I’m already looking forward to lots of beautiful flowers in the months to come. Here’s some from last year. I can’t wait to fill my house with these again.

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 3.22.52 PM.png

 

I decided to try out a few new recipes this week. Last night we made this sweet potato and chickpea dish. It was so good! I’m also planning to make this granola in the days to come.

My wedding anniversary is coming up at the end of this month, and as part of my gift for my husband, I have put together a playlist of 8 songs (for 8 years of marriage) that I think he’ll like but may have missed, or forgotten about over the years. I’ve been doling the songs out to him one at a time in the lead up to our anniversary and it has been so fun watching him listen to these songs and seeing his reactions. It’s been a wonderful reminder of how much fun I used to have making mixtapes, and it also takes me back to our freshman year of college when we were dating long distance and D sent me a song a day for 25 days leading up to our first visit. These small moments of celebration, as we sit together and listen to the next song on the playlist, have definitely been bright spots throughout the past couple of weeks. But all the same, I have my fingers crossed for a little sunshine this weekend. We need it!

Have a relaxing, happy weekend!

Tips for Dealing With Social Anxiety

For many years now, I have struggled with social anxiety. Although it has become more manageable as I’ve gotten older, throughout my early to mid twenties in particular, I often found myself nearly debilitated by anxiety in the lead up to social gatherings. I recall many occasions where I would burst into tears while getting ready for parties, celebratory or business events, even casual dinners with a small group of friends, and beg my husband to call and cancel on our behalf. “Just tell them I’m sick,” I would plead with him as I began to curl myself into a protective little ball. But he would never go along with it, and over and over again I would have to drag myself, heavy with dread, into social situations and plaster a fake smile on my face.

People who know me well may find this somewhat surprising. I am not the least bit socially awkward. I make friends easily. I have no trouble interacting with strangers–I do so daily in my business, with ease and considerable skill. I am gregarious and outgoing. Talkative, humorous, open and honest, and perfectly willing to act goofy, or poke fun at myself and my personal failings. I am actually quite adept at managing any and all social interactions. Do not confuse social anxiety with shyness, or introversion. I am not shy. Far from it. But still, I get terribly nervous any time I have to take part in large group gatherings, especially if I know that for at least part of the time, the focus will be on me.

The year that I got married, we lived in Baltimore, but we planned to have our wedding in Michigan where both of our families lived. We traveled back one weekend when I had two bridal showers scheduled on back-to-back days. Both events were incredibly lovely, filled with warmth and kindness, and I was so thankful to all of the women who came out to celebrate me. It was both wonderful, and arguably the worst weekend of my life. I spent 48 hours in a state of near panic, worried that I would say or do the wrong thing at any moment and completely ruin the events. For days afterward, I replayed the entire weekend in my mind, trying to pinpoint any social missteps, or flubs. Was I gracious enough? Did I thank everyone enough times? Did I thank everyone too often? Did I seem tired? Not enthusiastic enough? Too enthusiastic? Could people tell I was nervous? Did I say something stupid? Make a joke I shouldn’t have? Missed a joke I should have made? Were people irritated that they had to be there celebrating me? Should I have apologized for making everyone come out? Did I tell too many personal stories? Too few? Did I make a fool of myself?

These are the concerns that run through my mind with any and all social events. Again, objectively I know that I actually have strong social skills, and that these fears are unreasonable. But that doesn’t matter when it comes to social anxiety. The fear is still there, building and growing in the weeks, days, hours leading up to a social gathering, and then haunting me in the days that follow. While I have reached a point where I can manage this anxiety to the extent that I no longer break down in tears, or feel the need to cancel plans at the last minute, I still find that I am often overwhelmed and nervous when first entering large gatherings. And in general, social events leave me feeling very depleted, worn down from trying to stave off my anxiety and balance multiple interactions at once. Over the years I have developed a few tricks to dealing with my anxiety that have allowed me to enjoy social events more, and on occasion, actually look forward to them with only minor trepidation.

1. Arrive on the early side for social engagements.

It may be fashionable to be late, but someone has to be the first person to arrive at any party, and you should try to be sure that someone is you. When you arrive late and the party is already buzzing, it can feel overwhelming to have to greet so many people all at once, and to try to slip into already running conversations. If you’re the first person there, you’ll find that other people will arrive and filter in slowly, which allows you to ease into the social setting a few people at a time, and gives you more control over the entire experience.

2. If you aren’t the first person there, ease in by keeping busy and making yourself useful.

If you must arrive after most people will already be there, give yourself a chance to adjust by distracting yourself with small tasks. Make your presence quickly known, but then run off to the bathroom and take a moment to catch your breath. If you’ve brought gifts, food or drinks with you to contribute to the festivities, take your time getting those things prepared and set out. Offer to help the host with any small tasks that still need to be handled. Let other people come to you, and approach you one-on-one, as you make yourself busy. Find something that will give you a few minutes to calm your nerves and adjust to the din of the setting before you try diving into the deep waters of group dynamics.

3. Offer the same acceptance to yourself that you give to others.

We all have awkward moments and social flubs. Do you hold every small social slip up against other people, never letting them go and allowing those mistakes to completely color your opinion of those people for the rest of time? Likely not, unless you’re a jerk, in which case, stop doing that. If you accept that other people can make social mistakes and move on from them without it changing your opinion of them, try to apply that same acceptance to yourself. Allow that other people can be understanding and compassionate and are not out to embarrass you or hold your mistakes against you.

4. Create some “save me” signals and ready excuses with your partner or a trusted friend.

Give yourself the confidence of an easy escape by having some set signals to communicate when you are feeling overwhelmed, or are beyond ready to call it a night and head home. And remember, it’s okay to leave early. You’re not required to spend your whole evening at a social engagement. If you made an appearance, caught up with friends and spent some time celebrating, and feel like you’re ready to go, go. That’s fine. If you’re not comfortable just saying “all right, I’m gonna head out now,” then go in with some pre-planned excuses to offer up when you’re ready to leave. This is where having a dog is beneficial. “I need to get home and let the dog out,” is a solid excuse that no one ever questions.

5. Find some opportunities to step away from the crowd.

Like easing into a social situation by making yourself busy when you arrive, find opportunities to take a breather and step away from the crowd throughout the night by offering to replenish people’s drinks, helping to clean up, giving yourself a little tour of the host’s house, or whatever your setting is. Take your time, and give yourself a few minutes to reset.