The Hidden Struggle: College Edition #WorldSuicidePreventionDay September 10, 2018

September is Suicide Prevention Month and today, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day. Like most of us, I too have been personally and closely effected by suicide. I am thankful every day that even during the most difficult times of my own mental health struggles, I have not been drawn into that darkness. However, many are not so lucky and struggle every day to see and feel the light.

College-age students are extremely susceptible, while simultaneously being really good at hiding their pain. I was reminded of my own hidden struggle recently as I went through the process of acquiring my transcripts from the undergraduate and graduate schools I attended.  Once I received those papers, I had an unexpected, visceral reaction. It felt like I was transported back in time as I closely reviewed each semester.

My undergraduate years were rough. An intense and traumatic relationship that had started in high school followed me to college. Layered on top of that, my nuclear family was facing obstacles no one could have ever imagined.

I went from an honor roll student in high school to a “holdover pledge;” i.e. my grades were not high enough to be initiated into my sorority on time, so I had to pledge an additional semester in order to get my grades high enough to be inducted, achieving the absolute bare minimum.

In addition to my relational struggles, I showed up on campus completely ill-equipped to self manage and self monitor. While others could party all night and get up and go to class, I couldn’t figure out how to balance the two, and ultimately chose fun times far more often than class time.  At first, this unfamiliar freedom to make my own choices felt new and exciting, but it escalated into a pattern of unhealthy decision making.

So why was I, someone who showed solid aptitude in high school, so challenged in college by its demands of independence and self-motivation, while others were able to successfully manage?

Anne Marie Albono, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders says she is inundated with texts and phone calls from students who struggle with the transition to college life. “Elementary and high school is so much about right or wrong. You get the right answer or you don’t, there are lots of rules and lots of structure.” College life is, she says, “free-floating” which causes increased anxiety in students.

Lack of daily structure, ignoring any potential consequences for my choices (DENIAL!), relationship and family problems, as well as a lack of defined sense of self**,  combined to form massive amounts of anxiety and bouts of depression for me. I never told anyone or sought out help while in college, yet the hidden struggles were there, building semester after semester.

I suffered alone or found ways to numb the feelings of fear, anxiety and depression.  When feelings were numbed, life was not so overwhelming and scary. Was help available to me? I’m sure it was but shame and fear kept me from telling even my closest friends and the stigma of mental health problems kept me from pursuing campus resources.

I recently read the book, What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of An All American Teen by Kate Fagan – (summary link here: (http://womensrunning.competitor.com/2017/07/books/what-made-maddy-run-suicide_77052). The book is the true story of University of Pennsylvania cross country athlete, Maddy Holleran, who committed suicide by jumping from a parking garage at the beginning of her second semester of freshman year. Maddy was a smart, talented, beautiful young woman from a wonderful family and home town. Her back story reminds me a lot of my own town and my daughters’ friends: high performing kids and exemplary members of their school communities in academics, sports and volunteerism.

The flip side of this type of environment is that the often intense pressure and demands they (or others) put on themselves to be high achievers can be doubled-down on as they enter college, leading to significant mental health struggles. Sadly, that was Maddy Holleran’s story and she was unable to see any other way out of her personal pain.

One statistic I recently read is that the number of students seeking help at counseling centers on campuses rose by 30% between 2009 and 2016.  Hand in hand with the increase in counseling services has been the slow but consistent growth in the number of students reporting feelings of depression, anxiety and social anxiety.  “In the past, students may have suffered in silence, unaware of the help available to them or too afraid of the stigma to take advantage of it,” one researcher says.

Below are some additional findings from the reports:

  • College students report feeling as if their mental health struggles are an extremely lonely experience – they feel disconnected and like they are the only ones having the problems they are experiencing.
  • In a spring 2017 survey, 40% of college students said they had felt so depressed in the prior year that it was difficult for them to function; 61% of students said they had felt overwhelming anxiety. If the student was an athlete, the numbers were even higher.
  • Peer comparison, shift of control from parent to student (think of the life change from helicopter parenting to complete autonomy), and a combination of academic (keeping grades high enough to maintain a scholarship, for example, or thinking about applying to law or med school) and financial concerns are listed as major causes of anxiety in students.

Citing the upward trend in college students increasing mental health support needs, the government has infused money into colleges and universities to increase resources available. Here are some examples of a few progressive university innovations:

  • Virginia Tech opened satellite counseling clinics to reach students where they already spend their time, including above a campus Starbucks, in the athletic department and in graduate centers.
  • Ohio State in 2016/2017 launched a counseling mobile app that allows students to make an appointment, access breathing exercises, listen to a playlist designed to cheer them up & contact the clinic in emergency
  • Penn State allocated $700k in additional funding for counseling and psychological services in 2017 citing a dramatic increase in demand for care.

With this post, I hope to reach college-age students who may be wondering if they should reach out and ask for help – the answer is YES. Talk to someone. Know there are resources available to you at all times. You are not alone, even if it feels like it. Most of us have felt have you feel!

My hope is also that parents of college students will read this, listen to their intuition and pay attention to any red flags in their child’s behaviors, words or lack thereof (i.e. isolation, lack of communication, etc.).  Most importantly, make sure your child is aware of all the resources available to them on campus. Just find it and text it to them, even if they act like you are crazy. Tell them to share the information with their friends.

Reducing the shame and stigma of mental health struggles by increasing communication on the topic will help in normalizing the experience of mental illness. Had I known this when I was in college, I would have saved myself from many years of private struggle, from college years into adulthood. Increased awareness of behavioral red flags and pushing through what feel like awkward and difficult conversations can save lives.

Please leave a comment and/or share this to reach as many people as possible today.

RESOURCES:

TEXT:  The Crisis Text Line (crisistextline.org) is the only 24/7, nationwide crisis-intervention text-message hotline. The Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741-741

CALL:  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/) is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255

World Suicide Prevention Day:   https://iasp.info/wspd2018/

_____________________________________________________________________________________

**Definition of Sense of Self. … In psychology, the sense of self is defined as the way a person thinks about and views his or her traits, beliefs, and purpose within the world. It’s a truly dynamic and complicated concept because it covers both the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ self.

The Positive Side of Voluntary Quarantine

Today I came across a friend’s post that listed all of the things that you CAN do in spite of CoVID-19; go outdoors, listen to music, engage in family time, read, write, perhaps even REST. When I saw that post, it shifted something inside of me that has been really broken and hurting since the cancellation of Maddie’s senior JMU lacrosse season. When was the last time we have had time to rest, to turn inward and shore up our personal foundations? I, like most of you, had a spring calendar with very little open space. Every week was filled with multiple games, hotels stays and travel all around the east coast. With the cancellation of the NCAA season, extended spring breaks and college and high school classes going on-line, we are now faced with mandatory staycations, yet we have the opportunity to choose how to spend this time for our greatest benefit.

My heart shifted as I thought about what I can do during this time that I haven’t been able to do, or made time to do, in what feels like years – take walks, write, deep clean, connect more deeply and in new ways with friends, family and neighbors. It also reminded me that now is the perfect time for me to share the benefits of CBD with those of you who may be experiencing increased stress and anxiety, seeking reduced pain and inflammation, and improving appetite and sleep cycles.

As many of you know from my posts on http://www.spiritusliving.com, I have struggled over the years with anxiety and depression. I have addressed these struggles over the years in multiple ways -therapy, medications, and holistic avenues. Even having taken all of those measures, there are times when they creep back in and leave me feeling vulnerable and scared. Times of stress often cause these symptoms to increase. However, since the fall I have been using CBD products for stress, anxiety and to help me sleep. And to be quite honest, I think they are helping me stay grounded in the face of CoVID-19.

About a month ago, my sister and I joined our cousin’s company based out of North Carolina to become advocates of Green Compass Global. We have seen the benefits of CBD in our own lives and want to share the products with others who may benefit as well. Prior to Green Compass Global, I had to find an online retailer or go to local vape shops to find CBD. Each time I bought a new product the results varied. I started to realize how differently – and CHEAPLY – many CBD products are made.

Unlike most CBD products on the market, Green Compass CBD is grown on certified organic farms by 6th generation farmers in North Carolina. The farmers themselves use the CBD balms for to relieve joint pain. My cousin is the daughter of an esteemed physician in Salisbury, NC. Being a scientist and doctor, he dug deeply into the claims and legitimacy of Green Compass Global, and has since gone on to not only support her venture but to become a customer as well.

I don’t know when I would have “had the time” to kick off my own CBD venture with Green Compass if I had not had this enforced time at home. So this is going to be my WHY for the short term. Instead of being crushed by the losses we face this spring, I am going to focus on what I CAN do.

By 2022, CBD is projected to be a $22 Billion dollar industry and in less than 12 months of business, Green Compass has become a leader in this burgeoning market. If you would like to listen in and learn more about the products and/or the business opportunities at Green Compass, I invite you to PM me so I can give you details of a ZOOM call we are having tonight @ 8 PM. If you are not ready for a call but want more information about CBD and the products we offer, please reach out to me or head to my website: https://janemcdaniel.greencompassglobal.com

Approval Seeking or Authentic Living?

(I started the first draft of this post on 4/18/18…since then I think Kanye may have taken a dark turn on his twitter…I will, however, stop time on April 18th for the purpose of this post, so if you will, bear with me and/or ignore any of his other cray shizz.)

N’er (I learned from my youngest this is acceptable in iambic pentameter) did I think I would reference Yeezy in my personal blog. I do, however, enjoy insightful reflection from unexpected sources. Hence, my Kanye tweet is the basis of today’s writing.

KWauthenticity

I spent many years of my life, most years in fact, seeking approval instead of authenticity.  I believed I had to act, speak, think and look certain ways in order to be worthy of love and acceptance. This is exhaustion defined. No peace. No present moment awareness. No true connection to self or others.

Authentic. Authenticity. These are words that apply to original works of art, famous family recipes. What does it mean in terms of a regular Joe trying to live a best life?

Well, Kanye purports authenticity over approval. And frankly, so do I. So let’s dissect:

In 2006, psychologists Brian Goldman and Michael Kernis defined authenticity as “the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self in one’s daily enterprise.” The four components of authenticity contain the following:

  1. Self-awareness: Knowledge and trust in your own motives, emotions, traits, strengths, weaknesses, desires, etc.
  2. Unbiased processing: Objectively evaluating any self-relevant information (such as your strengths and weakness) regardless of the source (internal or external).
  3. Behavior: Acting in a way congruent with your own values and needs regardless of the circumstances and not as a consequence of external goals.
  4. Revealing one’s self in close relationships: Being open and actively disclosing both the good and bad parts of one’s self to close others.

Trading authenticity for approval then, keeps one disconnected from their truest core self.  So how do we move from approval seeking to authentic living?

Authenticity requires self-knowledge and self-awareness. People who are truly authentic accept their strengths and weaknesses and are accountable for their actions. Their actions and values are consistent with one another.

I used to think that my imperfections and fears were to be hidden from all. If I removed the mask and let people see the real me, rejection and judgement would accompany the revelation of my truest self. While hiding my truth, I also minimized my strengths by devaluing myself and my attributes. I erroneously believed that my contributions and presence were not noted, needed nor valued.

Understanding exactly what it is that YOU value is a major step toward living authentically.  If you are unclear about what you value and desire, it’s almost impossible to live authentically. This was an ah-ha moment for me.  At one of my lowest points over the last year, I literally sat with a clean slate – a blank piece of paper and drew/wrote what was important to me in order to become clear on my values so I could begin living authentically.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Value #1: Prioritizing my family- I could go into a shame spiral here but I will stop myself…I spent some years pushing my extended family (anyone outside my nucleus of 5) away from me in lieu of approval seeking behavior for those living in closest proximity to me (neighbors, kid’s school friends, endless activities that I thought I “should” do for acceptance, etc). I also wanted to keep my private pain away from my family.  I fancied myself as the familial caretaker, not the one who needed care. I was more comfortable in focusing on other’s problems than taking a hard look at myself. That felt too scary and vulnerable.

In clarifying my value system, I found that my “love tank” was filled up by my children, husband, sister, mother, step father, mother in law, sister/brothers in law, nieces and nephews. I had devalued my importance in these familial roles as well as their importance in my life. These family members love(d) me unconditionally, as I did them, and it was time for me to start acting in accordance with their high value in my life. And as I should have known all along, once I let them in on the challenges of my inner world, they were supporting, loving, and giving me lifelines.

  • Value #2: Connection & Compassion– I started believing and acting as if interactions I had with people were divinely inspired. That sounds crazy but it’s true. I would take a beat, a breath, each time I was one on one with someone. I wanted other people to feel that I truly cared about them in a shared heart/felt sense. I wanted them to feel safe to share their stories and for them to know they are truly cared for.  Taking a breath is also a grounding technique, which allows one to become fully present in the moment. Full presence creates a deepening connection between two people. Sharing my stories through this blog has brought me some of the most special interactions I have ever had in my life. These connections are absolutely sacred to me. They have have given me a clearer purpose, which is yet another step toward living authentically.

In therapy, I had a big fear that we returned to periodically – I was afraid that I didn’t have any real friendships and often asked how a women pushing 50 was going to find real friends. My perspective was that relationships are pretty cemented by age 50. My therapist told me repeatedly, and without wavering, that I will find my people and that my people will find me. And she was right. The more I started living in accordance with my value system, true relationships began forming and authentic friendships started to regrow. It truly was a “If you build it, they will come” time period.

This did not mean that I needed to shun existing relationships, only that I needed to release those that felt toxic. Living with connection and compassion as a driving value meant that it was time to heed my own advice: “If someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

Until this revelation, I had been willing to disregard otherwise unacceptable behavior because I thought that was the only way for the friendship to exist. It’s important to understand that each time we do this, it chips away at our sense of wholeness, our sense of self.  No, no, no, sister-self. You are worthy of so much more. 

  • Value #3: Willingness to learn and grow– Throughout this period of intensive therapy, I became a sponge. I explored, read, wrote, critiqued myself, journaled and went on retreats. I asked myself about my greatest shortcomings and my biggest attributes. What scary parts of my life am I willing to look at and decipher? When did I feel the most content in my life? How did the accumulation of traumatic events shape my thought processes and behaviors? Am I willing to “GO THERE?” Luckily,  99% of the time I said yes, even if it was only for a few minutes or even seconds.

This value, the willingness to learn and grow, was one of the greatest revelations in understanding my depression, anxiety and PTSD. Instead of feeling like a freak show of excessive, uncomfortable feelings and reactions, the pieces of the puzzle started to make sense. With time and care, it became clear that it would have been WEIRDER if I didn’t have these feelings and reactions after what I had been through. Through the core value of willingness to learn and grow, I was able to slowly give myself love, compassion and understanding.  I can assure you, this took the edge off my daily living, both for myself and my house hold.

  • Value #4: Invoke the Spirit of My Matriarchs–  In contrast to the traditional definition of matriarchy,  which is “a social system in which females hold the primary power positions in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property at the specific exclusion of male,” I created my own meaning.  My personal definition of Matriarchal Spirit is derived from the combination of attributes from my grandmother Althea, my grandmother Meta, my mother in law, Carol, and my mother, Annette.

While they passed away early in my adulthood, I have begun to revere the traits of my grandmothers and better understand their important influence in my life. My grandmother, Althea, my mom’s mom, was tall in stature, strong in physical presence and sometimes intimidating. She taught me to paint, took care of my itchy eczema when my parents were away, gave me a white bunny fur coat and muff (my most prized childhood possessions), was strong willed and a hard worker. She argued her points with my Pop-pop, which my husband can surely relate to. In contrast to my parents who, shockingly, never argued, I saw a woman who stood up for herself and her beliefs.

My grandmother, Meta, was a soft, smiling, laughing, bear-huggable soul. I would do anything to have had more time with her, yet I see/feel a lot of her in me.  When I force my hug-resistance nieces and sister to bear hug me, I feel as if I am invoking her matriarchal spirit. I think my silliness and quirkiness come from Grandmom Meta. When I picture her, I see her at her kitchen sink, laughing and smiling while she made snacks for my sister and I to eat under her massive Willow Tree. Her spirit was contagious and my soul smiles when I think of her. I hope to be that for someone one day.

My mother in law, Carol.  If you have seen her you know – beautiful inside and out. I think of her as an energizer bunny. She literally can run circles around me. But deeper than just being a “do-er” is the love for her family, her children, grandchildren and luckily for me, her daughter-in-law. She’s the person who provides help before the question is finished being asked, often without being asked.  There is never an expectation of something in return. She just gives. Let me be that willing.

Last but not least, my mother. Oh boy, my mother. Has she ever had her burdens to bear. And not just her own. She’s had to shoulder the burdens of others as well. She is unequivocally self-less, the most self-less person I’ve ever met.  She has shown my sister and I the meaning of faith and love, even when we have been prickly and not so easy to hold onto. In the face of adversity, she has been steadfastly strong, always knowing she is a child of one loving God. Always knowing she would be okay whatever comes her way, because of her faith. She is an incredible friend and deeply compassionate to everyone. She’s never met a stranger. I wish to live with a few ounces of my mother’s selfless steadfastness.

For me, Invoking the Spirit of my Matriarchs, is a melding the strengths of these women into my core values. I seek to be a woman that my children, husband, family and friends love in the same way that I love my female role models. .

So those are my Core Four Values: Prioritizing family; Connection & Compassion; Willingness to Learn & Grow; and Invoking the Spirit of My Matriarchs.  These four guide me down the path of authenticity and away from approval seeking behaviors.

Your Core Four will most likely be different than mine. Excavating your personal values will lead you towards the path of authenticity, and will hopefully guide you to the lifelong freedom of authentic living.

Thanks for the thoughts, Crazy Kanye.

Be Fearless, Love Garry – Part 2

I had to return to Garry for this post because his documentary has stayed with me in deep and thoughtful ways since viewing the two-part series.

I posted Part One of Be Fearless, Love Garry in the middle of last week. As I was getting ready to go away for the weekend, I was wrapping a gift for a friend’s party for whom I was going to miss due to my weekend travel. I planned to drop the gift off before I left town.

I had a couple of oddly shaped presents that I wanted to connect together in their wrapping.  I inserted the goods into a hand-made bag that I had purchased from a local shop and went to cut the tags off. My heart skipped a beat and the hairs on my arms stood up. The bag, which I bought because I thought the wording on the front was funny and befitting the receiver, had this beautiful leather tag attached to the back of it, which I had not noticed when I bought it. At the bottom of the tag:

BE FEARLESSLY AUTHENTIC

All caps. The pretty tag was yelling at me. Thank you, Garry, I hear you loud and clear. Just as in last week’s post, Garry’s message was to be brave, fearless and myself.  Synchronicity Posse at it again.

The entire purpose of my writing, starting with the journals years and years ago, was to figure out “who am I” and “what is my purpose”? Authenticity in terms of self had not really entered my vocabulary at the time. But at 40+ a few, I had no idea who I was, what was important to me, what felt true in the deepest levels of my soul. My anxiety had crept up to levels of which I had not felt since postpartum with my first child.

I found myself being reactive, quick to make assumptions, feeling alone and disconnected. Unhappy with myself and my life situation, yet not having a clear cut reason for my unhappiness based on my surroundings and love of my family.

This quote from The Zen Diaries is one of the reason’s I can’t shake Garry’s story:

Sarah Silverman notes, “He turned to Buddhism, but it’s not because he’s Zen. It’s because he was in desperate need of being Zen.”

A few people in my life know personally what it is like to be cut by the knife of Jane’s words. Mean, nasty, inconsiderate, selfish, cutting words.  My inner struggle was taken out on those closest to me at times.  I was in desperate need of being Zen.

This observation, this comment by Sarah Silverman is so poignant to me because of the depth of truth contained within it.  Why do we change our diet? Because we need to lose weight. Why do we exercise? Because we want a healthy heart and bones. Why do we have relationships? Because the human condition requires connection.

I needed to find some sort of Zen because I was in desperate need of peace, love and contentment in my life.

A couple of years ago I took a birthday trip with friends. We were there to celebrate another friend’s birthday but it just so happened to be my birthday while we were there as well. I made a firm proclamation that I wanted essentially no birthday attention – the weekend was to be all about my friend.

Based on my reaction, that proclamation was not at all aligned with what my innermost self had wanted.  I was hurt, acted irrationally and basically made an ass out of myself due to my perceived unmet birthday adoration.  Awoken horrified the next day, I grabbed the book that I was reading at the time by Pema Chodron, “When Things Fall Apart,” and headed to the beach.

I can see how that may have seemed incongruous to the friends on the beach with me. I had acted like a bratty baby the night before and was now reading the teachings of a Buddhist Monk twelve hours later, keeping to myself, ashamed and saddened.

But that is why Sarah’s quote is so on target: we, the hurting souls and spiritual seekers, are here at this point in our lives because we desperately need relief. We know there is more to life than pain and discontent and we are willing to do the work to find healing. I know I am. And I want to help those who feel the same way.

I travel from place to place with my brief case loaded with a little “work stuff” but more fully weighted down by journals, articles and books about healing, meditation, mindfulness work,  resolving trauma, and self-compassion to name a few. These are my journey and they help me answer the question I for so long have asked: Who Am I? Why Am I here?

I am a flawed human soul who has a deep, almost desperate desire, to become the most authentic version of myself in this life time. I no longer hide in shame nor am I afraid to say I am sorry or to reach out to connect with those in need.

I am willing to be me, to BE FEARLESSLY AUTHENTIC, in life and with love.

befearlessGarry

Be Fearless, Love, Garry

Lately I have been having these incredibly interesting life events simultaneously occurring. As I continue to open myself up to others regarding my personal history with mental health struggles and some of the causal factors of those challenges, more people, more articles and more connections are continually being revealed to me.

In psychology, Carl Jung calls this “synchronicity:”  events that are “meaningful coincidences,” occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related.

For example, if someone recommends a certain book to you, then you happen to see a review of it in a magazine and then see a stranger reading it in the airport, there’s most likely a message in that book for you.  When three different people of no connection suggest you try something new, it is worth your effort to investigate. The universe has something waiting for you in these meaningful coincidences. I accept life’s synchronicities as little winks from the universe: “Keep going, Jane. You are on the right path.”

However, in order to be alert to life’s synchronicities, we must be fully present, or mindful.  As a reminder, mindfulness is: “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”

This is a picture of the artwork I keep on my office wall as a mindfulness reminder:

BeHereNow

It’s a lot harder than it seems, frankly. When I am at lunch with a friend, am I actually present mentally or am I thinking about the 3 things I need to do immediately after? When I am working at my “real job,” where the above artwork is framed, am I day dreaming about what I want to write about next on my blog? (Usually, yes…but we are all works in progress).

The most significant synchronicities have been in the revelation of connection through our shared experiences, particularly our common struggles:  real life stories of anxiety, panic attacks, major depression, anorexia and/or bulimia, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, alcoholism, prescription medication addiction, PTSD caused not only by military experience but also by rape and child abuse, suicide and suicide attempts. Real stuff. Scary stuff. But the stuff from which we are most deeply connected, if we allow ourselves to remove the shame and stigma.

Big name movie stars, athletes, news anchors, and comedians are braving the consequences and sharing the truth of their struggles with mental health. Parents, coworkers, college students, children, young adults and grandparents are opening up with confidants and professionals. I am hearing these stories first hand and know that the more we talk about these things, the more they will be lifted from of the darkness, free from shame.

Which brings me to Garry Frickin’ Shandling, of all people. As those closest to me know, I’m a sucker for anything biopic. Unlike a sitcom rerun that makes me run from a room covering my ears, give me a life story and I’ll inhale it faster than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. But Garry Shandling? Isn’t he a dorky comedian who was in his prime during my college years??

Well, yes, I guess, but I’ve just recently learned so much more about his depth and process through the HBO mini series, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, produced and directed by Garry’s protégé, Judd Apatow.

Posthumusly, Garry Shandling, who died at age 66, has become a major contributor to my Synchronicity Posse. Below are  pictures on my phone from some of his diary writings, which he began in his earliest days of trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, and continued throughout his explosive career.  His soul searching began as a result of the trauma he experienced as a boy through the loss of his brother at ten years old. His parents never acknowledged the death of his brother, nor allowed his grief. He wasn’t even permitted to attend his brother’s funeral.

I paused the show and snapped pictures, paused and snapped, taking photos of Garry’s personal diary and his words of wisdom and personal reflection. Each one of these had a personal meaning to me or was relevant to things I care keeping about: being fully present, being/becoming my most authentic self, being fearless, the power of vulnerability, just to name a few.

This is a screen shot of all that I accumulated… from Episode 1:

GarrysNotebooks

A writer. A spiritual seeker. A student of buddhism. Practicer of mindfulness. Also, often a pain in the ass, work-related perfectionist who was often difficult to deal with and overly sensitive. Was I watching a documentary on myself???

No, just my synchronistic soul brother, encouraging me to follow my path and be both brave and fearless at the deepest levels.

Because, of course, this is not the first time I have heard these exact words recently. Meaningful connection through occurrence. Synchronicity.

befearlessGarry

“Have the courage to feel your emotions in <whatever is important to you>”

Meditate on it, open up at the deepest level.

Be brave at the deepest level.

Be fearless.”

– Garry Shandling, Zen Diaries

Look for the 2 part series, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling on HBO:

https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/the-zen-diaries-of-garry-shandling

Rise

This post is for those of us who may have wanted to do something differently this weekend and are perhaps feeling some regret; maybe wanting to take back certain words or change some actions. It’s for those who feel they have let themselves or others down. For those who strive to be a positive example to their children, friends and families, but may have been tripped up by personal struggles. And for those who have been challenged by their physical or mental health.

We will Rise Up. A thousand times again.

This is for the thousands of students who Rose Up to their feet, who walked it out, in the March for Their Lives. You will move mountains.

In spite of the ache, we will Rise Up again, today and everyday.

“Just like moons and like suns

with the certainty of tides. Just like

hopes springing high,

Still I rise.” – Maya Angelou

I am with you. We are all connected. You are not alone.

Jane

Rise Up
You’re broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry go round
And you can’t find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
And I’ll rise up
High like the waves
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousands times again
For you
For you
For you
For you
When the silence isn’t quiet
And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet
And move mountains
We’ll take it to its feet
And move mountains
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you
For you
For you
For you
All we need, all we need is hope
And for that we have each other
And for that we have each other
We will rise
We will rise
We’ll rise, oh oh
We’ll rise
I’ll rise up
Rise like the day
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I will rise a thousands times again
And we’ll rise up
Rise like the waves
We’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
We’ll rise up
And we’ll do it a thousands times again
For you oh oh oh oh oh
For you oh oh oh oh oh
For you oh oh oh oh oh
For you
Songwriters: Cassandra Monique Batie / Jennifer Decilveo
Rise Up lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

I Do

I had my first full blown panic attack on my wedding day. Well, to be more accurate, it began at the exact moment that I was to walk down the aisle and meet my betrothed at the other end.

All of a sudden I was completely alone. After having people fussing around me all day long, everyone assumed their positions and I was left to cross the daunting aisle all by myself. To this day, my mother and I wonder why we did not think to have her escort me down the aisle. My father, who would have been the traditional choice, was not in our lives and, frankly, my wedding was planned at a bit of an accelerated pace. We just never really discussed that aspect of my wedding. It was a blind spot.

The expeditiously arranged event was not due to a bun in the oven or any other sort of potentially scandalous plight. It was just love, plain and simple. A 6 month whirlwind romance that had two 25 year olds longing to start their lives together.  That, and the fact that my sister had an enormously grand affair planned for her own wedding three months later that we did not want to encroach upon, had us moving at a rapid organizational pace.

I didn’t care about many of the details of planning my wedding, unlike most brides. I just wanted to be married. I had met a man who made me feel safe in the world and who lived his life with uncommon morality. Characteristics that I was longing for in my own life.

We had approximately zero dollars and zero cents allotted to throw a wedding. My father had left our family essentially bankrupt and as much as my mother wished she could contribute financially, she had been burdened in all aspects of her own life as a result of my father’s actions. After designing and building the home my sister and I grew up in, she had to sell her precious abode at a huge loss, find her first paying job in 20+ years and move into a rental property.

My wedding dress was second hand; “vintage,” if you will. One of my mom’s church friends sewed the alterations and created the veil. She even took some of the lace from the dress and appliquéd it to my shoes.  Payless brand, dyed pumps, if I remember correctly.

None of that really mattered to me. I wanted to be as far away from the chaos of the life that I had come to intimately live over the previous years and start a new one. No more Jane O’Flaherty. I was to be Jane McDaniel from this day forward. New name, new life. If I could only get across the chasm of red carpet between my future hubby and me.

Standing alone in the narthex of the church, my heart began to feel as if it was going to jump out of my chest. The pounding was almost unbearable. My ears tingled and my eyesight grew blurry. The congregants stood and all eyes were on me. I tried to remember what we practiced at rehearsal: Step. Together. Step. Together. Except, instead of “Step. Right foot forward. Together. Step. Left foot forward. Together. Step. Right foot forward, etc.,” I could only move one leg: “Right foot forward. Together. Right foot forward. Together” and on and on down the aisle. I was the most ungraceful, lurching bride ever to traverse a wedding aisle. My sister and I can reenact this ridiculous walk until tears of laughter stream down our faces.

By the time I made it to greet my wedding party, I could barely remain standing.  Using the sister-eye-contact-that-needs-no-words for communication, I summoned her to my side. She and my future husband put one arm under each side of me to keep me standing upright during the ceremony. With their literal and figurative support, I made it through. I said, “I DO.”

I never talked much about that first panic attack.  It was easily negated in my mind by stories of traditional ‘wedding nerves’ and the frequency of brides and groomsmen fainting on their big days. Nothing to worry about.

But what I didn’t know then was that there was so much more to come. More pain and suffering, more panic and fear. And most often in silence and alone. Because, you see, we can not just leave one life behind and instantaneously become something else. One way or another the issues and pain we wish to suppress will rear their ugly heads.

There were long stretches at a time where I thought I had “it” handled. I was intermittently consumed with child bearing or child rearing or traveling or house hunting or volunteerism or mom’s clubbing or buncoing or partying or helping other people with their own problems to stop and pay attention to my own internal struggle. But when I did have quiet moments, the panic could set in. Not always but enough to say, frequently.

My husband would leave to go on a business trip or a weekend away and I felt scared, alone and incapable of handling all of my responsibilities. Frozen in fear, consumed in panic. And completely alone. Surrounded by friends and family, but alone. No one knew. I couldn’t let anyone know. I would be judged and rejected. And worse yet, I would have to face the reality of my own mental health struggles.

Believe me when I say, this went on for years and years and years. Not even those closest to me knew the depth of the struggle that I faced. I strived to be the embodiment of the perfect wife and mother. And I in fact loved being a wife and mother, much more so than I could have ever imagined. I tried everything I could to not allow my own personal issues effect my children. They were and are the best thing I have ever done with my life. I tried to give them the best parts of me and keep the darkness to myself. I also knew that I would do everything within my power to keep them from experiencing the scary stuff that I went through as a child and young adult.

I was living those days with anxiety, depression and PTSD and I leaned heavily on my husband for support. His presence was like a safety net and a buffer between me and the outside world. He was my safe person. In his absence I felt like I couldn’t stand on my own two feet. When he wasn’t there, I had lost my crutch and I wasn’t strong enough to bear this burden, whatever it was at the time, alone. Come to find out this is very common among people with trauma. Finding a safe person and limiting social activities to those in which the safe person can participate.

Lots of therapy was needed in order for me to understand my diagnosis of trauma, PTSD and the resulting anxiety and depression.  Once I allowed myself to open up to my therapist, the pieces of this mind-puzzle all started to make sense.  Instead of feeling like a freak show living inside a normal looking person, I began to understand and accept myself.  Gradually, I was able to build my own reservoir of self-sufficency through practicing mindfulness, meditation and self-compassion.

My husband left this morning for a long business trip and I was able to say goodbye without any of the old fear and anxiety creeping up. My two feet felt solidly planted on the ground. I feel strong and capable. And I feel proud of myself for navigating a very difficult course.

If you suffer from anxiety, depression, trauma or PTSD like I DO, or know someone who is struggling with these issues, I hope the articles below will help you learn more about these issues and how mindfulness, meditation & self compassion can soothe the symptoms.

3 Ways Mindfulness Decreases Depression

Link Between Self Compassion & Anxiety Reduction

Why Don’t PTSD Survivors Feel Safe