Posted in Life Lessons, Mindfulness Matters, Personal Perspective, Uncategorized

Crisis Management

My cat, Tubs, wasn’t acting like himself last week. He was laying under the bed, trying to get in the bathroom door that’s always closed, not eating as much, not moving around as much. I got him to the vet as soon as I realized it wasn’t just a weird phase (because sometimes he does start laying somewhere new or boycott food he suddenly decided he doesn’t like).

His liver was enlarged, so was his pancreas, and they couldn’t be sure what it was. I felt so guilty. I should have gotten him in sooner. I started crying because it was clear his situation at the moment was rather grim. The vet, Dr. Scherman at Roscoe Village Animal Hospital, asked me what I was feeling. I told her about the guilt and she was so reassuring about how cats hide it when they aren’t feeling well and how long it can take to notice minor changes. He needed an ultrasound to figure it out and he couldn’t wait long. She was clear that this wouldn’t be an easy fix and laid out some possibilities. We left with uncertainty and a referral for an ultrasound.

I took him home (thanks for the ride Sam and Alex) for the night to save those overnight fees and brought him to the emergency vet first thing in the morning (thanks for the ride Thom). He was there most of the day. The doctor called. It could be an infection, fatty liver disease, or lymphoma and there’s no real well to tell until we start eliminating things through treatment. She spoke with my regular vet. Instead of staying for observation with a feeding tube I brought him home for the night (cost effective). The next morning I took him back. Dr. Scherman put in a feeding tube and they observed him for a few hours after the procedure. One of the vet techs told me that he sat in on their staff meeting, recovering in a towel in a cat bed and charming everyone. I know everyone thinks their pet is the favorite at the vet’s office, but mine really was 😂.

I watched a few videos on feeding tube training. It’s really nice to have something to refer to. The vet tech and Dr. Scherman both made sure I knew what I was doing, how much to give and how challenging it would be. It has been. Every 3-4 hours I put a large syringe cocktail of wet food, water, medicine into a bowl of warm water to get it the right temperature. I pull Tubs from his hiding spot as gently as I can. I flush with water, follow our feeding chart, and flush again. I observe his reactions to see if I can give him a bit more or if I should ease off. Sometimes the tube clogs. I have to use some water to sort of ‘plunger effect’ the tube. Not fun, but luckily I’m getting the consistency down so it should be smoother as we go. I have to log everything. I decided if I bedazzled the log with sparkles and stickers it would be less sterile, scary, and more enthusiastic, recovery emphasized.

It’s 8AM Sunday morning as I’m writing this. We just had our first feeding of the morning and it went really well. He was a bit more alert today which is encouraging. The hardest part about this gig is going to be cleaning the insertion point. It’s stitched up well and I know what to do, but I can’t get the vet’s wrap back on the same way.

It’s going to be a long road to recovery, but there’s plenty of hope. Thankfully, there’s Care Credit to help me cover the costs. I cannot even begin to convey how wonderful the vets and staff are at Roscoe Village Animal Hospital. They were patient, caring, honest and optimistic. We made small talk (and sang along) to Mamma Mia and talked about their office cats, one of which was comically splayed against the window. Regardless of how tired and worried I was, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh when I saw her face smushed against the glass as I walked in.

As much as I’ve been overwhelmed this week, I have been equally overwhelmed with gratitude. I’ve received so much love and support from those closest to me. Family, friends, even coworkers checking in on him and me. Offering to help where they can. Talking to me over the phone to distract me while I waited for more results. Driving me to and from the vet whenever they were free, taking me with on errands, pulling through a drive through on our way home so I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner. Even a quick text asking how he’s doing or wishing him well made a difference.

Tubs has been my best friend for more than a decade. I can’t say goodbye without giving him a fair shot at recovery.

It’s been interesting to see my personal progress throughout this. I used to struggle with asking for help. I used to struggle with being in doctor’s offices. I used to get angry. I used to break down. I used to dwell in ‘I can’t do it.’ This time, that was never an option. I put one foot in front of the other and relied on my support system. I used a variety of skills I’ve been learning in therapy. Anytime I was tempted to fortune tell or catastrophize I turned my mind. Instead of saying ‘what if’ I said ‘let’s see.’ In the waiting room, I practiced ‘half-smiling and willing hands’ (to do this you open your palms up and half-smile, it feels a bit ridiculous, but it works). I balanced emotion with reason whenever I could. I avoided any all or nothing thinking. I saught distractions like a book, a video game, a TV show.

Yesterday, I finally left the house after a feeding to go to sushi with friends. It was exactly what I needed (not just the food, the laughter, the company). It was fun, but occasionally my thoughts drifted to the ‘what ifs’ that could be happening while I was gone. My friends understood and luckily, he seemed stable when I got back.

Tubs is hiding under the bed right now resting. It’s his chosen place of comfort during this time and I’m trying to respect it, though, sometimes if he’s alert I’ll gently place him on the bed so I can pet him and talk to him for a while. He starts kneading the towel and leaning against me and my heart melts.

In a few hours, I’ll give him his next feeding and then again a few hours after that and a few hours after that and so on. I’m drafting an email for work to see how we can proceed because I can’t exactly be in the office right now. The feeding process only takes 5-10 minutes and since I’m a writer I’m hopeful they’ll let me work from home while he recovers. My coworkers and bosses have been so understanding thus far, so I’m sure there won’t be an issue.

I’m writing this because it helps me process. I’m also writing it so everyone knows what’s going on, but as more of a story and less of a ‘my cat is sick please send positive vibes’ (although those are more than welcome). Thank you for reading .

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Posted in Life Lessons, Mindfulness Matters

How Do You Practice Gratitude?

When I think of practicing gratitude, my first thought is, “Well, I guess I’m grateful for what I have,” but that’s not what it means. Practicing isn’t generally being grateful, it’s about actively finding and building gratitude for things (people, places, animals, moments, etc.) in your life.

A good place to start learning about gratitude practice is this article from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC aka a cool research center devoted to the scientific understanding of happiness and altruism). When you’re done with that, check out this article that goes over four different ways to practice gratitude. It isn’t a one size fits all kind of thing so if something isn’t working it’s worth it to try something else.

I’m currently practicing ‘counting my blessings.’ GGSC suggests spending 5-10 minutes writing out three things in detail on a daily basis. I might grow to that eventually, but instead these first few weeks I’ve been boiling it down to 2-3 minutes writing down a few words (ex: getting out of class early, pizza lunch at work, taking the long way home).

It’s funny, lately I find myself appreciating things more in the present. On my walk a few days ago, the same walk I do several times a week, I saw a yellow bird and spent a few moments watching it. I thought to myself how grateful I was for my stillness and for the return of nature and wildlife after an endless winter. I felt happy, calm, and hopeful.

If you’re not sold on the benefits of gratitude practices, check out more of the research:

  • Read this piece on TIME that goes over 7 incredible health benefits of gratitude.
  • Harvard is also hip to the gratitude jive.

Both of these were posted close to Thanksgiving. It’s interesting how we seem to reserve gratitude for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Father/Mother’s day, birthdays etc. I don’t see anything wrong with addressing specific gratitude on these days, but it’s so worthwhile to incorporate gratitude into your daily life.

Posted in Free Time Fun, Life Lessons

New Year: Reflections and Hopes

There’s no way to avoid it. 2018 is quickly approaching. Not only are we still recovering from the holidays, we’re dealing with the stress of reflecting on the year that’s passed and the pressure that can come with hopes for the new year that’s on the horizon.

Instead of waiting for the new year to begin my resolutions I started some of them in December. I started a strict paleo diet that I am going to do my best to hold onto in the new year. After only a few weeks the new diet has resolved the majority of my stomach troubles which I am incredibly grateful for. I’m lucky enough to have a close friend, Carly, who went paleo as well and the buddy system is so helpful and encouraging.

This week I noticed a lot more people at my gym. It’s something I joke about every year and I’m sure I’m not the only one who notices. Thousands of well meaning people promise themselves that this is the year that they’re going to get “fit” and for the first few months of the new year the gyms are a lot busier. Mid-February most of the crowd has thinned because the excitement of the new year has worn off and keeping such a vague commitment can be tough. There isn’t one way to be “fit” and if you aren’t doing something that works for you it’s hard to establish a habit and easy to lose motivation.

I’m one of those people, or at least was. This year instead of setting a weight goal I’ve set feats that I’d like to accomplish. Sure, I’d like to be ‘skinny’ and I do have a goal weight in mind, but for fitness to work for me I can’t stress the number on the scale. I get obsessed with it and feel defeated so quickly. Instead in 2018 I want to complete a half marathon and I’m considering signing up for the Half Tough Mudder as well (if you’ve done it any tips would be appreciated!).

More importantly, this year I’m going to strive to be kinder and more considerate of others. 2017 was brutal for me. I faced a lot of hard truths that I had been avoiding. I sought out treatment realizing that I could not handle my mental illness on my own any longer. Now I’m regularly seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist that I actually respect and listen to. I created this blog and poured my heart into being honest and open about my experiences and interests.

There’s been a lot of introspection this year which is great, but it’s so important to me that the people in my life know that I care for them and am here for them as well which is why that’s a big hope for me in 2018. I’m going to do my best to continue working on myself, but make more room to nourish the relationships that mean so much to me. I hope to spend more time with friends, finally remember some birthdays, and become a better listener.

There are a few more hopes I have for the new year, but I’m keeping those to myself. I’m writing a letter to the universe asking for support in my ventures in 2018. It may seem silly, but it works for Keltie Knight and Christina Perry, so why not give it a shot?

 

Posted in Life Lessons

Holiday Survival Guide

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… and for many it’s also the most stressful. The intent of gathering with friends and family is to celebrate and spread happiness, but often we lose the meaning and end up stuck on the logistics of gift giving and the strain of dealing with difficult personalities.

So, how do you cope and keep yourself from having a breakdown when you burn the casserole and Uncle Jim brings up politics at dinner? I turned to the wealth of knowledge that the internet provides for answers.

Mental Health Today has a great article written by Patty E. Fleener M.S.W. on How To Survive The Holidays with a ton of helpful advice. Brief highlights for me are their suggestions to:

  • “Be careful of “shoulds” – it is better to do what is most helpful for you and your family. If a situation looks especially difficult over the holidays, don’t get involved if possible.”
  • “There is no right or wrong way to handle the day. “
  • “Stop putting unreasonable pressure on yourself to be happy during the holidays. When you have legitimate reasons for being happy, acknowledge them and be gentle with yourself.”

I have a habit of getting stuck on what a family oriented holiday should be, how I should feel, and what I should do. This is problematic because I end up putting pressure on myself to perform family verses experiencing it. Wherever you end up whether it be with your family, your partner’s family, in a soup kitchen, on a trip, or at home alone there is no right way to celebrate.

Even Kesha can relate to the holiday mental health struggle! In a recent essay for TIME she wrote, “Around the holidays, I often feel like I’m supposed to be everywhere, with everyone — all with the added guilt that it’s the season of giving.” To combat this societal pressure and maintain her mental health she constantly reminds herself, “It’s not selfish to take time for yourself.” When you make it a priority to take time for yourself, “you will actually be much better company for those around you.”

Be kind to others, be kind to yourselves, and let’s leave the stress and pressure of getting the holidays right behind us.

Posted in Life Lessons

Elusive Panacea & Tragedy

Today’s post is in response to WordPress’s Daily Prompt: Panacea.

All humans can agree that our world is full of difficulty and disease, but the concept of something that would cure all of our ailments and mend all of our troubles seems like the beginning of science fiction novel where the reader will immediately begin wondering: what’s the catch?  If there were a solution that fixed everything, wouldn’t we have found it by now?

I think panacea is an idealistic illusion. It’s something that everyone would want, but would require sacrifices we would not be willing to make. I imagine that the necessary sacrifice would be our individuality. It’s both what makes us human and what prevents us from reaching a panacea.

The tragedy that happened in Texas this Sunday killing more than two dozen is something that could have been prevented. If you’d like to debate that fact please do so elsewhere, I won’t be engaging in that conversation.

I’d instead like to focus on one of the reasons why these events keep recurring in America while other countries like Australia effectively ended mass shootings decades ago.

When it comes to reforming gun laws many Americans immediately think of something being taken away from them. Beyond that initial fear they are paranoid about what the government will do after reforming gun laws: the possibility of more of their ‘freedoms’ being ‘violated’. The concern for life is immediately eclipsed by our need for individualism and we fall back into the same pattern: tragedy > outcry for gun reform > outrage at possibility of gun reform > no reform > tragedy.

We’re trapped in this stubborn cycle and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. I know I’m not alone in feeling so hopeless and helpless. What can we do about it? I can’t lie, I’m normally not one to call my representative directly unless all the information is laid out for me (after writing this I looked it up, it is SO easy through Call Your Rep). I have tried to boycott companies before, but have gotten lazy. I found a list of companies that support the NRA for boycotting, but most of them aren’t relevant to me.

What can we do about it? We can stop fighting each other on social media. The change we need isn’t going to be coming from the comments section of a news article or from an insightful post shared to your followers. We aren’t getting any closer to a solution when we rip one another apart. Instead of sharing your fury online, share it with your representative or share it with the companies you support. Leave your social media for funny memes, cute pictures, and compassion.

Will we ever find a panacea? No, but we can always do better.

 

Posted in Free Time Fun, Life Lessons

How to Get Shit Done When You’re Depressed

I do not want to do ANYTHING when I am depressed. The alarm clock in the morning is a startling reminder of another monotonous day that I did not ask for, but am forced to suffer through in order to remain a loosely functioning human being. I spend the entire day fantasizing about being back in bed under the covers, surrounded by cats, staring blankly at the wall. I dread the moment when my eyes close and it begins all over again.

It’s times like these I can give myself credit for continuing to shower regularly. Seriously. When my entire body and mind are weighted with this miserable fog the simplest of things become major successes: getting out of bed, completing chores, and making it to class are just a few.

So, what happens with bigger things like event commitments, social gatherings and creative projects? Cancelled and stalled. And guess what failing there does? Deepens the depression. It’s a vicious cycle. My therapist has been challenging me to go through with things. She encourages me to acknowledge the physical pain/mental fog and keep moving forward despite it. I was resistant to this, how would it work? What if I go and am more miserable than I was before? How can I be around people when I feel so broken?

I now know why she wanted me to do this: going through with it makes me feel so strong. Yes I am miserable. Yes I would rather be in bed. Yes the first thought that crossed my mind when I woke up was death. Yes everything sucks and probably will still suck tomorrow…. BUT THAT DIDN’T STOP ME!

On Halloween I wrestled with the Chicago MudQueens! Tonight I am going to see The Used at Aragon Ballroom. Tomorrow morning I’ll be doing yoga and attending a free wellness seminar on the Mag Mile. Sunday I’m gathering with a group of dear friends for our annual Friendsgiving. If you had asked me about these events two weeks ago I would not have been excited. I would have felt overwhelmed, anxious and stressed. It felt like too much, but it doesn’t anymore.

Not only does my strength and confidence grow with each plan I make and keep, but I can experience these moments of blissful relief from the heaviness that comes with depression. There are moments where I am filled with incredible peace, happiness, and gratitude. I’m in awe of how simultaneously I can experience soul crushing sadness and heartwarming joy.

As it is with many of my topics “doing it anyway” is not news. Psych Central has a great post that goes over some helpful Strategies For Getting Things Done When You’re Depressed. The one that resonated the most with me is to make decisions for yourself, not to make decisions around your depression. If you’re looking for a longer read on this topic check out Get It Done While You’re Depressed by Julie Fast.


P.S. Thank you to my talented friend Danielle McKay for spending a few hours of her Saturday night covering the basement at Reggie’s with plastic wrap and painting my face. Didn’t it look amazing?!

Posted in Life Lessons

Am I Doing Friendship Right?

Without exception every single day in our digital age we need to interact with other human beings. Most times the people we interact with aren’t even the one’s we care about. When we finally get to those we love we need to listen, respond, follow up, make plans, keep plans, check in…. it can be daunting. I constantly find myself asking the question: Am I doing this right? 

I frequently worry that I’m not doing enough and the reality is that I’m probably not. I’m an introvert by nature so it’s difficult enough for me to approach people in general, let alone keep up with the delicate process of building and keeping a healthy relationship. I forget to call, respond to texts, make plans, or worst of all if I’m feeling extra anxious or depressed I’ll cancel plans last minute. Should I just face the fact that I’m a bad friend?

Often I wholeheartedly agree that I am a bad friend, but today I’m going to take a stab at playing devil’s advocate: maybe I experience friendship in a nontraditional way. Don’t get me wrong, most of the behaviors described in the last paragraph are destructive and have/will continue to damage relationships. And I can understand why.

At least once a year I go through an outgoing phase where I make tons of plans and try to connect with lots of people. Inevitably I am faced with last minute cancellations and unanswered calls or texts. I try my best not to be hurt, but I am and in that moment I understand exactly how I make others feel when I cancel plans or fail to return messages. It sucks, but things happen and sometimes plans fall through or people get distracted.

Maybe sometimes we’re all bad friends, so instead of focusing on my failings I can focus on how I can be a better friend, but how does one go about leveling up in friendship? I know that I’m a broken record, but it seems the answer lies once again with mindfulness. Sophie Dembling asks some good questions in her post for Psychology Today:

“What is our role in creating intimacy in our relationships? And what roadblocks might we put in our own way? In what ways do you feel you “can’t” contribute more to the relationship?”

Dembling’s questions should get you started on a good path. Instead of evaluating relationships in your life piece by piece, start thinking about relationships as a whole, the elements involved and how they function.

Another reason we fail to connect with our friends is because we are just too busy. Life moves at hyperspeed now and sometimes there isn’t enough time to take a breath, let alone remember to reach out. The tips in this Fast Company  article are clear and seem easy enough to implement, particularly practicing random acts of kindness.

I’ve thought about bringing the Pen Pal tradition back with friends it’s harder to meet up with so we still have a space to connect that isn’t as easy to tune out of like social media or texting. Will I ever get to it? Maybe, maybe not, but at least I’m trying!

If you’re curious if you might be a bad friend check out this article from Vincent Nygen that goes over eight different warning signs.


This is a side note on how grateful I am for the friends that I do have. Yesterday was hell for me. My mood plummeted and I couldn’t seem to stop crying and pull myself out of it. I was insecure about all the relationships in my life, questioning everything I have ever done… I was so ready to call it quits. My bestie texted me later that day to tell me she was there for me and it brightened me up enough to make it through. I don’t know what I would do with that woman, but once the appreciation wore off the insecurity that I don’t reciprocate enough and don’t deserve her friendship began to consume me again.The dark cloud of doubt, sadness and insecurity threatened to stick with me today, but another observant friend was determined to snap me out of it and she succeeded:

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I’m 100% sure I do not deserve this awesomeness and it’s so tempting for me to feel guilty that she went out of her way for me when I’m not worth it, but I keep telling my brain that is not the way to receive this support and love. I am so grateful and glad to have her in my life. I am excited to see how our friendship will evolve over the next few decades and will do my best to spoil her and the other friends in my life with my own random acts of kindness ❤.