Thursday, June 25, 2015

Zen and the art of the backstroke

I recently took up swimming after some injuries prevented me from running regularly. Swimming is a form of exercise (I think) most people have a hard time talking themselves into. At least, I did.

There's the whole having a to wear a swimsuit in public issue, getting your hair wet, shaving your legs, sunblock, and a whole host of problems for women associated with showing most of your skin while looking like a drowned rat. Basically, there's a lot more involved going to the pool than going to a regular gym (sweats, shoes, hat, if you haven't washed your hair in a while, and you are good to go).

I was nervous and reluctant to try swimming for all the reasons listed above so I signed up for swimming lessons. It did the trick and I've begun going to the pool regularly to swim laps. I feel good afterwards and I sleep SO hard after a swim session.

It's still not my favorite form of exercise. Swimming laps is hard to get jazzed about. The freestyle (or crawl) stroke is really difficult for me. Just one lap of 25 meters had me out of breath. But I've been sticking to it. And, I'm learning to focus on the little positives about swimming.

One of the little positives for me is the backstroke as a breather or cooldown. I remember loving the backstroke as a kid. There's something so relaxing about it. For one thing, there's no panicking about breathing. Your nose and mouth are free to breath whenever you like, so that helps. But my favorite thing about it is staring up at the sky and watching the clouds go by. I love it.

There's something so unhurried and elegant about the backstroke. I kinda feel like Esther Williams in a technicolor musical while backstroking.

It's hard to worry about what's going on in your life when you are focused on not ramming your head into the end of the pool while channeling Esther Williams.

If only I could figure out how to do a damn flip turn I think I would do the backstroke for tens of minutes (that's a lot), I enjoy it so much.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My favorite sea creature: the bat ray

My favorite sea critter is the bat ray. When I was in high school I volunteered at a nature interpretive center in Chula Vista. I spent most of my time at the petting pool where there were rays (barbs trimmed) and leopard sharks. The bat rays were always my favorite to watch. They are so serene, elegant and graceful as they glide through the water. And SO soft to the touch. I love seeing them in their natural environment (and my neighborhood). It makes me happy.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Power in Numbers

I have never liked working in groups. My social anxiety, shyness, needing to please and be invisible at the same time made group projects way too stressful for me. So while group therapy had been suggested to me a couple times in the past (thanks HMO healthcare) I was like hell-to-the-no.

Fast forward many years and I have found myself somewhat unwittingly engaging in support group-esque classes. And low and behold- it's kinda helpful. Okay, really helpful.

My first experience with this was with my meditation class. I ended up spending three months with the same group learning about mindfulness meditation. We really got to know each other and opened up a lot about our struggles.

I also signed up for a personal empowerment class only knowing that it was a weekly class that incorporated meditation, healing and intuitive psychics. What I ended up experiencing was, well, group therapy. For real though. Mostly women and one guy from all walks of life and ages...and we all had problems. All sorts of different problems. And all sorts of emotional scars to work through.
And everyone is making progress slogging through those emotional scars and problems. It's pretty cool.

The group dynamic works- if you are open to it. I can't really put my finger on what it is about being in a group setting that has catapulted my recovery. Maybe it's just the support or being around like minded people. Maybe there's some sort of synergistic effect of the learning process as we wrestle with the gremlins in our heads. I do learn from the other's sharing on their progress, ah ha moments, sticky wickets, highs and lows, etc.

I leave these classes feeling better than when I entered. I can't explain why. I just do.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to help a loved one with depression


I usually didn't confide to my mother that I had been going through a bout of depression until I felt that it was lifting. My mother would say to me "why didn't you tell me? I want to help" or "let me know when you are having a hard time." One day when we were having this conversation I told her that not asking for help is a symptom of the depression.

I'm simply not willing or able to ask for help when I need it. There are probably clinical reasons for this that I don't feel competent to attempt to explain. But for me, not being able to ask for help is a sign that I'm in trouble.

So what can you do for a friend or loved one going through a bout of depression?



  • Make the important phone calls that your loved one doesn't have the energy to make. These would making therapy appointments and calling the health insurance company to see where they can seek help. This was one the biggest hurdles for me. To get help, I needed to call my health insurance to see what was covered. It was beyond daunting, confusing and aggravating. If I recall correctly it took me 4-6 phone calls to set up an appointment with a therapist covered by my insurance. And it took me months because after 20 to 30 minutes on the phone I didn't have the energy to make the next call necessary. If your loved one admits that they are suicidal, dial the suicide prevention hotline for them and stay with them on the call. Don't just hand them the number and trust they will call it later.

  • Don't just offer open ended or vague help. I know most people are afraid of being pushy but be specific in your offer of support. For example, the offer of "let me know if you ever need to talk" is well intentioned but your loved one will probably not take you up on it. Something that might be more helpful would be to set up a recurring activity that they might enjoy. Things like going for a bike ride every other Saturday or a weekly movie night or going to a comic book store once a month or church on Sundays. Make a standing date that gives you both something to look forward to.

  • Come over and just watch tv. Usually people in the throes of depression are fatigued and don't have a lot of energy to burn. So low energy activities like a netflix night might get a more enthusiastic response.

  • Don't take unreturned phone calls personally. Keep trying and don't let your loved one feel bad about not calling you back

  • Remind them of the things that make life worth living for them

  • Tell them emphatically that another good day is coming and it will be worth it

  • Use logical reasoning with your loved one.  When I was most severely depressed, my feelings were lying to me but the rational side of my brain was still functioning. I understood that while life seemed endlessly hopeless, it was still preciously short. That logic could be used on me to, say, go to a concert of a band I liked by reasoning that they may not tour in our town again for a long time, or ever if they break up!

If you have any other tips and suggestions on how to support a friend or loved one with depression, please leave it in the comments section.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Transition to my Eat, Pray, Love

I work for a grant program that had its funding cut. We've known about the money running out for nearly three years now. My boss has spent this time pretending that more funding was coming any day now, but it hasn't. When he finally attempted to address the elephant in the room about myself and my co-worker who's funding source has not been renewed, it was done so shady and so much to cover his ass that I thought to myself "I am sooo done here." Truth be told, I've been unhappy at this job for many years. I've been too scared and too comfortable to leave though. I'm scared I won't find another job that I am comfortable at. I know I won't find a job that pays as well for as little as I work with the flexibility I have and co-workers I like. It just doesn't happen for most people, ya know?

But, I'm done. Even though my boss says I could stay if I wanted, I feel stuck in this job and am unhappy. I'm gonna squeeze out as much as possible out of my benefits and vacation hours until the remaining money is exhausted, but I can't wait to get out of here.

I'm going to spend the next 3 months defining what my "Eat, pray, love" is gonna look like and then spend the next 3-6 months doing it. I'm in the "figuring it out" phase now to see what's going to work for me. And also getting support from the strangest of people and places. I randomly went to a party and ran into an acquaintance that I haven't seen in a long time. She was a lawyer working god awful hours the last time I saw her. But right now she is doing exactly what I want to do. She's taking a break a from work. She encouraged me and reassured me that this is what I need to do for myself and that I wouldn't regret it. At least she hasn't. Running into her felt like a sign.

It's a big decision to make though, you know. I've been thinking about this for months but I just have so much fear of the unknown. I actually had break down in mindfulness meditation class from the stress of the decision. Luckily my teacher is awesome and talked me off the ledge by the pretty quickly, albeit publicly in front of the class (there's only 5 of us). It was so helpful and so weird and so exactly what I needed at that moment.

Meditation is staying in the rotation for my mental health and it's a practice that needs some cultivation. So there's the "pray" component of eat, pray love- no ashrams for me though. And actually "eat" can be crossed out as I've never been a foodie. Love may get a shot at staying in the rotation, but it's not official yet.

So... Eat, Pray, Love (?) could turn into Meditate, Volunteer, Write, Feed Stray Animals. The main point of this post is to declare that I'm taking a sabbatical. It's official.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Emotional fallout to change

I have two friends who have lost over 70 lbs in the past year. Each one shared with me independently that at a certain point they experienced an emotional crisis with the change to their bodies. There was a period of mourning. There was a feeling of loss, not just of the weight but their "old selves." And then needing to make friends with their new selves and get comfortable with their new bodies.

I just put two and two together and realized that I have been experiencing something similar. I'm doing these good things for my health, questioning long held beliefs about myself, and checking back into life. So why do I feel kinda lonely and out of sorts? The more I meditate, the quieter it is in my home which actually feels disquieting to me. Backwards, right?

It's like I don't know who I am anymore. Breaking long held habits leaves a void. And while I am replacing those bad habit with healthier new ones, it feels weird and uncomfortable and like, who hell is this person that stopped watching tv and now meditates. Do I even know her?

I know it was similar with my friends who lost weight. They were like, I'm kicking ass at being disciplined and working hard and losing a ton of weight, so why am I sad?

I know it's just growing pains of a major transition and I will get to a place where I no longer feel out of sorts. These healthier more mindful habits will become my new normal. There will be pitfalls and psychological boobie traps that come with making major changes. It takes inner strength to stay the course and follow your metamorphosis through to completion.

And it's okay to mourn the "old you." It's one of the pitfalls. Just be sure to dust yourself off and give yourself a mental high  five for climbing out of that booby-trapped hole.