Category Archives: mental health

Sitting with Discomfort. What can we learn by looking at our thoughts?

Embracing one’s brokenness with love. (Made with nightcafe ai image generator.)

After last week’s post, I thought I ought to qualify my neuroses worship. Yeah. It’s good to laugh at ourselves for our most difficult bits. I may laugh at my social anxiety for what a dork I am, but what if I stopped and just observed me being anxious for a few minutes? What might I learn? How could that help?

Well, for a start, I can stop being my thoughts. If we get a charley horse, we don’t shout, “Ah! I am a charley horse!” We say we “have a charley horse.” (Now I’m really curious why this is called a charley horse…OK. Turns out it’s from baseball.) So why do we say, “I am anxious?” Not, “I have anxious thoughts?” HMMMMMM!? Question this we must.

Sorry upfront for speaking the “M” word. Mindfulness has been co-opted by the corporate world to “incentivize” those folks who are overworked, underpaid, and/or without proper health care. Wellness as free pizza day. But that doesn’t negate the actual benefits mindfulness habits can reveal to us.

Mindfulness really only requires one thing. A point of concentration. Think of this as an anchor. We may drift from it, but when we wander, we can always return to that point. Mindfulness in meditation mainly focuses on the breath, observing an object, sense, or repeating a word or sound. It can even be noting the sensations in the body.

But we can practice mindful anything. We can take mindful walks. We may focus on the breath, the sensations of walking, and what we can sense or observe. We simply pay attention to one, or shift between senses. If our minds wander, we keep returning to the anchor.

The point is not to “stop our minds from wandering.” That’s what brains do. So, when we discover our minds have meandered off, note this without judging. Either the wandering or the thought, then return to the anchor. This is what strengthens the mind, helps us keep calm, undistracted, and in the moment.

Anxiety is intrusive, stressful, and spiraling thoughts, often about the future. If we find ourselves anxious about some paperwork or some hypothetical scenario of doom, this is when we note and observe this feeling. If we can continually keep pulling our brains back to our anchor in the present, the more easily we can remain safely and calmly moored.

So, instead of spending our time worrying, the quicker we get that paperwork done. Then no more worry. And if we can look calmly at our hypothetical scenario of doom, we might discover what is really at the root of that feeling. Overtime, we will get familiar with it so it has less and less of a grip over us and our lives. We may even laugh at it in blogs.

As I said, we can do just about anything mindfully. Coloring is fun. Simply keep putting down colors in a way we like. Playing an instrument requires mindfulness because it is time based. Have to maintain the rhythm, which requires being fully present in the moment.

I like yoga, besides the health benefit, it requires concentration on many things at once. The breath, balance, proper form, activating or relaxing certain muscles make me feel like I am juggling my own body. Lots to keep track of. Yoga has the added benefit of letting me feel where I an holding pain or tension in my body, and release it.

Sometimes in yoga — or any mindfulness practice — we may discover an old hurt or wound. We may suddenly find ourselves crying over something we had forgotten, but that has haunted us in some other form like anxiety or depression for years. And that is when we get to know ourselves a lot more.

Mindfulness also provides us with tools to deal with those discoveries. Practices involving self-love, forgiveness, gratitude (sorry “G” word), and compassion all help us put back together the pieces of ourselves that are broken.

Again, we could practice mindful dish washing or toothbrushing. The object is to keep bringing our wandering minds back around to our anchor. Each time we do this, we are working that brain muscle. Each time we get a little stronger, learn a bit more about ourselves. Then we can gently handle what we learn so that we can be calmer, happier, better, and more compassionate people. And we may end up with a new skill.

My yoga practice improves every time I practice. Even when the actual practice goes badly. Especially then. That’s why it’s called practice. [Gah! AI meme.] The same goes for basically anything “you put your mind to.” So pick a thing, any thing. Put aside a little time aside regularly for your thing, see what you learn, and if you can’t learn to laugh just a little more more at your inner dork.

NamastΓ© you legends.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌπŸ™πŸΌπŸ§˜

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How to Make Friends and Actively Avoid People.

Morrissey: Social distancing before it was cool.

Everytime Covid seems to be over, I get anxious. Thank Darwin for mutations because this is pretty close to living my best life. But the CDC can shove it. Seriously. Shortening the amount of time you have to isolate for no good and goshdarned reason? I bet it’s a conspiracy to avoid paid sick leave. A conspiracy of whom? You know *looks nervously about* people.

I apologize for including the introvert’s trigger word. “People!” Aaaaaaaaaaaah! Run away! Keep running!

Hello my name is Jessica Mae Lakis, and I actively avoid pe*ple. But I love having friends! I just don’t necessarily want to leave my house. And if I do, can it be outside? I get claustrophobic. And if it’s outside, it had better be about tents, water, nature, and not too many pe*ple. But I do have a couple of knives and a heavy water bottle, two mylar blankets, a way to make fire, and a can of sardines, just in case. I also packed a few books, a journal, art supplies, and cards so we don’t have to talk so much! Ooooo. Is that a fishing rod? Do you think my cat misses me right now? I don’t drink alone! I have a dog. I just wrote her a new song. Wanna hear?

Look, if you know, you know. You’re an introvert. And you’d rather tear your eyeballs out with a spork than make a social commitment, or worse! Keep it! That’s why I mourn Covid, what an awesome excuse. “Oh, I’m sorry but we could potentially kill one another,” became a valid and non-violent excuse for everything. It made the internet the best, easiest, and most cost efficient way to see anybody. What’s up with my toe? Upload picture to patient portal. I need my therapist! Oh hi person I tell my deepest thoughts and feels to via this highly insecure technology. Heck, I even fought a ticket on Zoom.

But, you know I’m human and I need to be loved, etc. So how does a grown human being living in direct contrast with how human beings are meant to live make friends? And enjoy company (on highly specific terms)?

You may say, “get introverted friends.” And I agree. But how does one find these elusive creatures? This is how I’ve managed.

1) Nature: The outdoors are great! But someone may worry about you if you sit by the water too long. Solution? Stick a fishing rod in the water. You can just put a weight at the end. But you are suddenly engaged in a “sport.” And people respect sports. But fishing and camping have made me friends.

I met two of my favorite people camping. Long story short, they heard me say, “curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal,” they watched Stan make fire from a striking stick while lighting a cigarette with a lighter, then a drunk guy got arrested, and we all watched. And they’re a couple, like us. And they fish. I can’t think of better friends! A nerdy couple who leave their houses to be feral, stick a rod in the water and be quiet so as not to scare the fish! Perfection!

2) Groups and forums: Another of my favorite people I found on a Neil DeGrasse Tyson group on the FB. Her profile pic was Data in a sombrero from “Fist Full of Datas.” (Let us open our hymnals to ST:TNG, 6:8.) I’ve become so close to this woman I have never actually met IRL, as it were, that her sister kept in contact with me when she was in hospital. We talk (over the phone!) about living together because we both need a lot of time alone so we could mainly ignore each other.

And, regardless of how niche your thing may be, there is a group or forum or Discord or Reddit Sub just for you! Are you interested in foraging wild edibles in the Shenandoah Valley? There’s a group for that! Mine include the Civilization strategy game franchise. The game begins in 4,000 BC and ends (if there is no other victory condition) in 2050, which is creepy, but not the point. You can play it with others, but as the game’s length and motto “One…more…turn…” suggests, this is a long term commitment to a computer by yourself.

My favorite person I met that way is the girlfriend of Alexander of Macedon and Shaka Zulu. (Little does she know Alex loves me!)

3) Blogs: Forget the performing seals on YouTube! You need to go where no one is cool or makes (much) money from their work. Yeah, I’m talking WordPress! Have you ever read Barack Obama’s writing? It’s stiff. Sorry. He’s not a great writer. He’s an orator. His talent is um conveying…ideas to uh pe*ple…. inspeech uh… in front of… crowds, and… on… television.

That’s why you need to go to blogs. That’s where the heroic meme makers, artists, poets, indie cartoonists, and writers hide behind their words, pictures, and pixels. Just don’t try Medium. I did. Those people want to be influencers. Bloggers know we’re not influencing anyone, and that’s how we like it! πŸ˜‰

I recently made a writing accountability buddy that way. She contacted me through my First Contact page and asked me some writing questions. Before I looked at her page, I wrote back my Writing 101 pre-prepared remarks. Then I went to her site. Oh my goodness! Well, first off, she’s been published. And second off, she’s an awesome writer! Just wickedly funny in a Brit-cum-Yankee, mildly off-balance way that oh here go read her blog!

Now we message each other practically every day. And we make pacts that if we do X amount of words, or post a blog, we get to celebrate with stuff like ice cream, chocolate, Payday bars (So salty! So sweet! So peanutty!). I actively sought out wooder ice, so called “Italian Ice” anywhere that isn’t Philly or South Jersey, and found it! All because of her. And she has great advice for writers too.

4) Oldies, but Goodies: These are the folks that were weird introverts with you when you were younger and having a friend was all the difference in the world. I really am down to essentially one at this point, although there are a few others. I truly wish I were closer to (Max! Go message him. Tell him Jess says he wipes his ass with rubles).

But my far and away favorite old friend is descended from Philadelphia sports royalty. Which meant a lot of time at the Vet and maybe the Spectrum (Rocky fought there). But mainly we talked about books. Especially those about a red-haired girl called “Anne with an ‘e’.” We read all of the Anne of Green Gables books. We cried over Matthew’s death. Sighed over Gilbert Blythe, and cried when the actor from the original Canadian series passed. But “carrots” will never just be a vegetable to we two bosom friends and kindred spirits. And we will crack a slate over your head if you think the new show is better! She’s the sweetest of hearts, and a beautiful soul. My goodness I love her. Just like Anne and Diana!

5) Family: No! Don’t scroll away! It’s OK. But you know how your family is, well, family? But there are a few of you who do the rounds on the family roastings? Those! Be friends with them. Usually they’re your cousins. But aunts and uncles will do. And grandparents! They are your natural ally because you share the same, um, is “enemy” too strong? Their children/your parents.

I had a ton of female cousins growing up. And we used to spend summers together playing in “cricks” (not creeks!), catching crayfish, tubing, learning to Moonwalk, watching 120 Minutes with Robert *sigh* Smith, using their Atari, learning cheers. Not to forget all those secret hand-clapping, rope-jumping, cat’s cradling, and fortune telling mysteries that are surely why boys are scared of girls.

They are generally in the same boat as you. Making the gossip rounds. Which is why none of you tell any of the elder generation anything about any of them, and they don’t tell on you! 🀞🏼

Honorable mentions: Creatives. I recently met a local person who *gasp* I could see any day! They’re prolific and talented, but thankfully very busy, and have their own life. If I run into them at a local coffee shop with good wifi, it’s just a pleasant surprise. Facebook weirdos are usually good, unless they go all toxic on you. The kind you stick with because you like them and they have the dankest of meme stashes. People that live kind of close to you, but are from somewhere else are pleasant as well. They often have outsider insights on offer.

So, that’s how this absolutely, unapologetically weird introvert makes friends at the ripe old age of eh3heejdhejxsnaolrf “I remember the 80s” years old! We’re here! We are happy not to hang out. We need a day of rest between speaking to people or leaving our homes! We can accomplish one thing a day, perhaps! We love our beds! And we’re here to stay.

So, you know, I hear Covid numbers are up again. But I have diarrhea (second best excuse). And my cat’s on fire. So I had better go. Actually I’m regularly positive all these people hate me, but are being nice because they feel bad. But, I can handle that. I’ll just sing to my cat, and talk it out with my dog. I have like twenty books to read, shows to watch, movies to see. And I need to order groceries so I don’t have to be in the supermarket with you know…pe*ple!

PS – Stan and I consider adventure as fishing or crabbing with our dog and not speaking except about the momentary needs of the fishing or crabbing. True romance is peeing on a jellyfish owie.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌπŸ€“

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Hot Enough for Ya? My Late Summer Check In.

The magnificent desolation of the marshes on the Harriet Tubman Trail to Freedom.

Europeans get it. Working in August is inhuman. Today is the first day I got back from walking my dog that we didn’t both need to lay somewhere cool and eat ice cubes for a few hours. Instead it was lovely, overcast, breezy, and a chilly 78 degrees!

In order to keep my mind from wandering to the theme song to Lawrence of Arabia during the last month of brain baking heat, I have been practicing walking meditations I find on Spotify. I really enjoy them. And I’m more patient with the heat, Abbey, and myself. I take more in. Engage with Miss Abbey more. I remember to stand up straight.

We generally walk a few blocks to a marina where there is a breeze. There are some water spigots. But otherwise it’s a tease. Water water everywhere, but I can’t jump in! And neither can my dog. But she can count “her” ducks. Make sure they’re all there. Watch over the people fishing.

Summer is usually my best time of year for about every reason. By the end of winter, “olive” is a pleasant way to say I look jaundiced. But put me out in the Sun for fifteen minutes on the first nice day, and I’m well on my way being pulled out of line at airport security.

I am here for my flight.

My hair also starts having fun. Soon I have hair that would fit in on any street corner where Do-wop is being sung. My natural olive oil starts flowing in my veins. I feel healthy again.

Missed pickling this year. But holy hair!

For me, in summer, I take long walks. Play in water. Swim in water. Sit in boats on water. Pull stuff out of the water that I consider eating. (I’ve made my own crayfish that way!) Find cool stuff that is near water. Drink water. I even actively smell water. I should become a dowser.

This summer has been a big change. Some of it is where I now live. It’s technically and kind of actually is the South. One degree below the Mason-Dixon line, and people hunt muskrat in the marshes…to eat. Silly me thought it was crab bait the first time I saw these flayed monstrosities in a local seafood market.

There is also every sort of water bird, bald eagles, turtles, wee water snakes, fish, and crabbing!
Turtle friend.
Crabbing with Stan and Abbey.
Little crabby fellow.
At the nearby produce place, making friends.
Goat friend.

Earlier in the season we got lucky with some great fishing, and even spent some time at the little beaches fishing and getting stung by jellyfish. I had forgotten how much that hurts. And Stan refused to pee on my leg to make the ouchie stop. Romance is dead.

But things slowed down recently because HEAT! Walk out the door at eight in the morning and it’s 97 degrees kind of hot. But I’ve been using the time to think about my writing, plan out the new house better, and become less paranoid and more relaxed again.

After last year’s summer of the insane harassing neighbors, and doing time in a hotel room full of fleas: I needed this. I’ve been doing a lot of work on me. Journalling, meditating, yoga (of course), reading about trauma recovery and about writing has all been inspirational and helped me feel more me than perhaps I ever have.

I also set up my luxurious pool! It’s 8 ft x 3.5 ft. I love it. I retired the 1964 Guild my Dad bought long ago. It’s beautiful, but now she deserves to be prettied up and displayed. I do love playing her replacement. It’s made guitar fun for me again. Music is not my forte, but it’s lovely to play on a summer evening. And playing is very mindful, in the moment thing. So if I feel anxious, I grab it and play.

Overall, it’s been a good summer so far despite the heat. I even finally got Covid, which let me listen to the entire audiobook of I, Claudius. (For the record, Livia is a great character, but in reality she was a powerful and wise woman, and co-ruler with Augustus during Rome’s rise to a stable, well run empire. Just sayin.)

Finally, I am looking forward to the better fishing and crabbing at Summer’s end. And the cheaper camp sites, Abbey being allowed on all the beaches. We’re even getting our little skiff legal and ready to take out now. I suppose though all my American guilt at not laboring at all hours and in all climes was simply resistance to learning that Summer is when we “set” out on the porch, drink sun tea, and give ourselves a break before Autumn’s rush.

It was tough, but someone had to do it. πŸ˜‰

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌπŸ¦†πŸŒ…πŸΊπŸ’πŸŸπŸ¦€πŸ§˜

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