I’ve Got The Winter Blahs

Winter seemingly weighs me down like the heavy snow blanketing my front yard. Stepping out my door to fetch the mail, I slip on the thick ice, skid, but don’t fall. I take a tentative step forward as my nose hairs frost over and snow fills my boots. I’d hoped to lightly skim across the top of the deep snow drift that was once a cleared path only days before, butImage sink to my knees. Sigh. I finally make it to retrieve the mail, hoping to find a birthday card or my tax refund, but return with our propane bill that is double what it normally is (and unfortunately for me my salary is not). Winter, you’ve sapped my energy. I’m tapped and tired, although that may be more the fault of the influenza I’ve caught despite the flu shot I got. Lying in bed, I try to rest and force fluids, but instead obsess about the bills that are late, the work I’m missing, being a better mom to my children, helping my husband finding a better job that he likes, the book I don’t feel like writing and the half-marathon training I’m now falling behind in.  Much like the snow, the ice, the snow, the bitter cold, the snow, the snow, the snow (did I mention the snow?), my negative thinking blasts me.

Enough already! It has to stop. While I can’t control ‘old man winter,’ I can control my thoughts. I can choose to see the ‘silver linings’ and remember trying times only make me stronger. I can focus on the positives and smile.  I can live mindfully, but purposefully; moving forward, not dwelling on past mistakes nor worrying about the unknown, following my instincts without fear or second-guessing. I can look back to where I was and be proud of where I am now. I can look ahead and know better days are coming. They always do. As Elsa, in the movie, Frozen (hmmm…any coincidence that we too are frozen?), sings, “Let It Go, Let It Go…”  Yes, I need to take that advice. That will be hard, but not impossible. Starting now. Ready, set, go!

Here are five positive things about winter:

1. The beautiful ice crystals outlining the trees in my backyard contrasted again a clear blue sky

2. Snuggling on the couch under a warm comforter with my daughters on a snow day

3. Noticing the daylight lasts slightly longer each day

4. Seeing the smiles on my daughters’ faces as they point to the snow fort they just built

5. A ten-day forecast that shows a high of 51 degrees for next Thursday

And, now I think I will snuggle under that comforter (after drinking some more water of course) and take a nap. I’m feeling better already…Who knows maybe when I wake up it will all have been a dream and the flu along with snow will all be gone:)

Anyone else feeling the winter blues? What do you do to shake it off?

It’s Not in My Head (Not Really) and No, I’m Not Crazy (Not Really)

miawThe words “mental illness” make me cringe. My name is, Shar, and as much as I hate to admit it, I have a mental illness. I shouldn’t be ashamed of having a mental illness, but my perceived societal stigma often makes me feel that way. I’ve felt like I was less or going crazy, or not “normal” because of it. Looking at me, you would never know about the turmoil that lies just beneath the surface. Being that this week (October 6-12) is National Mental Illness Awareness week, I thought I’d put those inadequate feelings aside and write about the invisible, not-talked-about, reality of my mental illness in the hopes that someone out there can relate and know they are not alone or at least if you know someone struggling with these same issues you are more aware of what that person is going through.

I’ve struggled with anxiety/panic disorder since I was a teenager and if I think about it probably even before then. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I started taking medication to control the symptoms, even though I was hospitalized for three-days at the start of my freshman year of college (because of the dehydration I experienced from my inability to eat for weeks on end as a result of the anxiety). I’ve been in and out of therapy and know dozens of techniques to use during an attack and prevent future attacks. For the most part, the combination of these things keep me on an even keel. Yet, even so, something will trigger an attack or one will sneak up on me out of the blue for no apparent reason (at least to me).

I can recognize some patterns in my life that have led to an episode of panic – the changing of the seasons (especially the Fall), a conflict, traveling, flying and cutting back on my medication. Some of those triggers I can avoid (although I don’t really want to, like not traveling) and others are completely out of my control (Fall will come whether I like it or not). You might ask why I would mess with my medication. The main reason is that I’ll get cocky. I’ll go long periods panic-free and start to get on myself about using medication as a crutch and then try to cut back on the dose (with my doctor’s permission). I’m fearless and confident I can handle whatever comes my way until a panic attack knocks me down again. Logically, I shouldn’t see the medication as a crutch, diabetics don’t use insulin as a crutch nor is anti-seizure medicine a crutch to someone with epilepsy. Yet, in my mind even when someone would make these same comparisons to me, I would think but those are real conditions. Years ago as I went through multiple blood and GI tests, I kept hoping and praying they would figure out what was really wrong with me and not just the elusive anxiety that would magically go away if I could somehow relax and stop worrying.

I would not wish a panic attack on anyone. It is the worst feeling ever. A panic attack can hit me anytime of the day or night, but once I have the initial one it takes me a couple of weeks to get back to myself again. From that point on mornings are the worst for me. As I’ve come to know myself and apply techniques I’ve learned along the way, the symptoms aren’t nearly as severe as they were in the past and they don’t last as long as the used to, but it still doesn’t feel good – at- all. I’ll wake up with a heaviness in my chest. My heart will race and I’ll get really hot and start sweating. In the next moment, I will be shivering and my arms will tingle as my feet and hands go numb. My stomach will (in the past I’ve even thrown up) and flop as my appetite disappears to nausea. These symptoms will play havoc on me off and on for several hours. Upon which I will feel extremely tired. Unfortunately with a full-time job in addition to being a wife and mother of two – sleep usually isn’t an option. I have to get out of bed, which is a good thing. This forces me to face down the symptoms warring within me to talk myself down as I accept the feelings and then let it go. By the end of the day, I’ll feel like myself again until the cycle begins the next morning until it doesn’t.

It isn’t easy getting out of bed those days, but what other choice do I have? Keep on, keeping on.

Has anyone else felt ashamed of having a mental illness or thought it was something they should be able to just get over?

Later this week I will write about some of the ways I’ve learned to cope with my panic disorder.

What Do Fuzzy Caterpillars Have To Do With It?

The past few days on my evening run (I wouldn’t have believed it either if you’d asked me six months ago!), I noticed several fuzzy caterpillars cross my path and thought of my grandma. I live on the same road that she did and on the “back” of my “out and back” route I can see her old house as I return to mine. Strangers live there now. She’s been gone from this world for 16 years now. It hardly seems that its been that long since she put her arms around me and hugged me.

I still remember that giddy feeling I’d get in the bottom of my stomach, that rising excitement and face-splitting smile that’d cross my face when my Dad turned our old Malibu station wagon  on to her country road and her white farmhouse would pop into view. My sister and I would bounce on our seats – “we’re almost there!” Almost too Grandma’s house and staying up late to watch Dallas, eating frozen oatmeal cookies and laughing uncontrollably over a hand of cards. I miss my grandmother. I miss getting her letters and hearing her voice on the telephone. I miss lemonade under the big tree and sleeping under the light-up Jesus picture on her living room floor.

When we moved into our house twelve years ago I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about seeing her house everyday and knowing she wasn’t there. I thought it might make me sad. For the longest time I’d used my magical thinking powers to “pretend” that she wasn’t gone, gone. She was just in Florida or on vacation and would be back soon. My twenty-something self couldn’t bring myself to think of her as dead. It seemed so, so final. When I see her house now though, I smile even though I know she isn’t there or in Florida or on vacation. While she may not be on this earth, she is in my heart. I see her in the smiles of my children.

photo 1So when I see a fuzzy caterpillar cross my path on a run and pretty yellow butterfly, I think of her. I wonder if she sent them to me as a sign that she’s still around, that she’s smiling and proud of me. What do fuzzy caterpillars have to do with it, you might ask.

photo 3Well, here’s the story. When my sister and I would stay with my grandma, we’d always take a long evening walk (she’d always take her manicuring scissors with her as protection from bad guys of course). As we walked along the side of the road she pointed out the caterpillars to us. She used to say you could tell how bad the winter would be by the color of the caterpillar. I, however, can never remember if it’s the darker the color the worse the winter or the darker the color the better the winter. The caterpillars around my house are pretty light-colored this fall so I’m hoping the light color means a light winter. I Googled it and found out the caterpillars are actually called woolly bears or woolly worms. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a definitive answer on what the caterpillar’s color actually predicts. So, I’m thinking that legend is much like the ground hog’s shadow and winter will be what it will be.

Does anyone out there know what the caterpillar color winter predictor legend is? I’d love to know!

Keep On Keeping On

Me at the "Run or Dye" 5K (like the tutu?)
Me at the “Run or Dye” 5K (like the tutu?)

A million and nine thoughts bombard my mind any given day, any given moment. As one of those quiet introverts, I admit I spend a lot of time in my head. In fact, it can be maddening at times. I can spend hours daydreaming, pondering some question or trying to glean some sort of insight and meaning into it all (and rather unsuccessfully so). From the little questions like “What should I make for dinner tomorrow?” to the medium ones like “When will I finally be debt free?” to the really big ones like “Who made God?” I have a hard time just clearing my mind of all the clutter and just living in the moment.

This summer I’ve been working on a practice I’ve been reading about called “mindfulness.” The concept is simple in that you try to focus on your breathing or a word for a period of time and as stray thoughts come across your mind, you dismiss them without judgement and get back to your focus. My daughter’s therapist read us a story about a monkey and a panda. The panda was peaceful and happy because “when he was walking, he thought about walking; when he was working, he thought about working and when he was playing he thought about playing.” Sounds good. Right. I certainly can use more happiness and peacefulness in my life!

Along with mindfulness, my summer has also been about running. I started the couch to 5K program back in April and am proud to say I’ve participated in six 5K races. I finished all six and actually ran without walking in three of them. My goal of having a stronger and healthier body is coming along. Which brings me to my next goal of having a healthier mind and a happier outlook, which brings me back to mindfulness. Thus, I brought the two ideas together and I am practicing mindfulness when I’m running/walking. I make myself focus only on my footfall or my posture as I run. If I start thinking about the errands I need to run later or the laundry I need to move to the dryer, I stop myself when I realize my mind is drifting and bring it back around to the feel of my body as I run, the way the wind feels against my hot skin or on pulling air into my lungs and exhaling.

This exercise helps me focus on being a better runner (note I didn’t say faster!). I’m hoping eventually I’ll be able to use mindfulness to  free myself of distractions in other areas of my life and focus on what I’m doing at the given moment. I don’t need to worry about tomorrow’s dinner, until tomorrow, right?  On the other hand, I do need to have the right ingredients on hand, so I guess there is something to say about planning. So how do I reconcile the two ideas of living in the moment versus planning ahead? Well, my plan is to set aside time to plan ahead (when I’m planning, I’ll think about planning, right!)

I once read if you keep on doing the same thing, you’ll keep getting the same result. Thus, I’m all for changing it up and plugging away at being more mindful.

Has anyone else tried to practice mindfulness? Any tips or ideas you can share?

 

Maybe Jack Frost Isn’t So Bad After All

photo credit: Ennor via photopin cc
photo credit: Ennor via photopin cc

The icy wind chills and blowing snow from four months ago don’t seem quite so terrible after a week of heat advisories. Yes, I know that is blasphemy coming from this summer-loving gal. However, after sweating through seven days in a row of 90-degree weather combined with 95% humidity and no central air, I’m ready for some cooler temperatures. And yes, I’ll deny writing those words come January when my feet are frozen and summer is a distant memory.

The home I grew up in did not have air conditioning.  When I was in high school my parents broke down and installed a window air conditioner in their bedroom. My mom was a school librarian and home with us during the summers. I think she got tired of sweating all day in addition to mediating the bickering between my sister and me.  On the really hot days we’d all pile into her bedroom and watch soaps, read or play cards.  The nights cooled down and with the windows open and the fan on, it really wasn’t that bad (although I’m sure I complained about it a lot). Interestingly my parents installed central air after my sister and I both moved out.

Thus, for twenty-two summers or so, I lived without that modern technology called air conditioning .So when my husband turned on our central air on that first hot day of the year back in May and nothing happened, I decided we could live without it this summer. How bad could it really be? I worked all day in air conditioning, so I’d really only have to live AC-free in the evenings and weekends. We could be a “green” family this summer, I reasoned. Plus, we’d save money on electricity and an AC-repair bill. I figured if it did get really hot, at the least I’d sweat off an extra pound or two. It was a winning situation all the way around! Our broken AC was actually a blessing. We sailed through May and June with a few hot days, but the nights cooled off to the high 60’s and low 70s.  With a cool breeze blowing the curtains, I feel asleep with ease. When July started out cool and rainy, I figured we could tough it out sans-AC for the entire summer.

Rewind to a week and a half ago, when the “heat wave” hit. After a weekend of not sleeping, of sweating within minutes of after taking a cold shower, I cracked. On Monday morning, my husband got home from the night shift. Casually, I mentioned maybe we should call the repairman to look at the central air after all.  He reminded me that I wanted to save money this summer. I told him I’d find some other way to save money. He then pointed out that by the time the AC guy could come out to our house the heat wave would be over. And he did have a point. Dejected, I left for work, hoping the weather would break soon and wondering if I could sleep in our mini-van with the AC on if I parked in the driveway! Thankfully, a few hours later my inbox dinged bringing an email from my husband. He’d called the repairman and they’d be by later that day or Wednesday morning at the latest. Elated, I hoped to come home to the glorious coolness only AC could bring. That was not to be, however, and the girls and I sprawled in front of the fan on the pull-out couch for two more nights.  Wednesday morning brought the genius man who fixed our central air though.

And yes, the heat wave did break and the forecast for the next week calls for highs only in  the low to mid 80’s. Will I turn the AC off? I think not. As I type this post, I’m lying in my bed in relative coolness as our AC works to keep us comfortable and I am more than thankful. Lesson learned.

What about you? Can you live without  AC in the summer?

Yeah Right, Keep Dreaming Baby…

The girls officially started summer vacation almost two weeks ago already. They love the warmer weather, playing outside, no homework and later bed times. I love burying my nose in their sun-kissed hair and watching their arms and legs brown up, despite the sunscreen I insist they lather on. The other night as we were walking along, I talked about what we were going to do the upcoming weekend. My oldest looked at me and smiled. She said, “you know what I love about summer, Mom? I forget what day it is! I bet you don’t though, because you still have to go to work!”Sigh. Alas, she is quite right, though. For the most part, I know what day we’re on and how many days left until the weekend! I’m quite envious of my daughters. It’s days like that, I wish I’d gone into teaching (unfortunately, my authoritative aura is lacking and I’d be like the substitute that goes home crying because the class ran over her – not good for me or the kids.)

As the days continue to grow longer, though at least I get to enjoy spending more time outdoors with the girls after work and on weekends. As I’ve recently started a fitness obsession, we’re walking, riding bikes and shooting hoops in the driveway. What we haven’t been doing (at least not yet), is swimming. While the girls love splashing about, the pool is not one of my favorite summer activities. If I could float undisturbed on a raft (without getting wet) in my own private pool with a tall, tall fence I might enjoy it more. However, the idea of putting on a scrap of material (or in my case a really big scrap) and parading around in a public place with much of my body exposed mortifies me (hence, the above-mentioned fitness obsession!). On the bright side, at least I don’t live in a country where bathing suits are optional!

Me, Age 26
Me, Age 26

The other day I came across an old photo of myself (see right) in (gasp) a bathing suit (with a t-shirt over it). I remember cringing at this photo back in the day when it was first taken. I didn’t think I looked good – at all. I didn’t think I was pretty enough or curvy enough. Looking at the girl in the photo almost 20 years later, I would give anything to look that good in a bathing suit again! So I’m thinking, either I didn’t look as bad as I thought back then or my standards are lower these days! Unfortunately, I don’t think even if I ran 10 miles a day or limited myself to 900 calories a day, I could ever look like that again.  It’s a shame I didn’t appreciate what I had when I had it.

So I’m thinking as I stand in front of a mirror once again mentally criticising my body and they way I look, I wonder if when I look back at my 43-year-old self 20 years from now, I’ll wish I looked as good now as I did then. What would my 63-year-old-self tell me now? Would I tell myself I don’t look half as bad as I thought! Hmmm. Probably. So, why not think it now?  Why not be happy with myself they way I am right now? Well, because I know I could look better and feel better. Out of all the uncertainties in this world, I can control my body. I control what I eat, how much I sleep and whether I jog two miles or sit on the couch and watch TV.  And so, I’m running/walking in my second 5k on Saturday. Yes, the obsession continues….For now…

What about you? How do you see yourself in old photos? Do you think you look better or worse than you thought you did back when it was taken?

 

Wanted: The Ultimate, Ultra Umbrella

2013-01-29 09.06.17April in Northwest Ohio has certainly lived up to its motto, “April showers…” this year. Actually its been more like “April down pours.” We should have the best “May spring flowers” ever. Today’s been no exception to the rain. Rain would be fine, if it weren’t for the wind. The wind is merciless and unrelenting.

It’s pointless to carry an umbrella around here. No less than two minutes after I raise it up, the wind flips it inside out, I curse it, struggle to right it, end up wetter than I would have if I’d just made a run for it, and toss the mangled umbrella in the trash. I’m not really a prissy or anything. I don’t mind getting a little wet. Really, I don’t. I just want to get from point “A” to point “B” without getting drenched. I’ve tried all sorts of umbrellas from mini-compact to golf, they all end up – inside out. This is why I seek the ultimate, ultra umbrella. I believe it must exist somewhere out there. It doesn’t have to be a Mary Poppins-type umbrella. I’m not looking for magical or supernatural qualities. I just want one that’s sturdy enough to withstand a windy, rainy day in Ohio.

Anyone?