Micro Leaps

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and notice my hands are clenched. I exhale, uncurling my fingers, feeling the muscles loosen. I splay them flat, mashed under the pillow until the ache is gone.

Even in my sleep I can’t let go.

Even in my sleep I am scared and clinging to what little control I have of this world.

I want to stop clenching my fists in my sleep. I want to stop holding those anxieties in my muscles and nerves and bones.

But I can’t just make a decision to be more trusting and faithful. Because faith is a muscle. A muscle I must exercise even on days when I am tired and sore and unmotivated. When I have made mistakes and am afraid of starting back at one. When I am doubting. When I want to give up. When those parts of me are weary and broken.

That is how you build muscle. By ripping yourself apart so you can be stitched back stronger.

Those muscles don’t appear overnight and I won’t be able to move mountains on my first try. I must work myself up to these things. With practice. With patience.

So I’m trying.

Every time I’m faced with a choice, I ask myself if I’m making a decision out of my desire to be in control or out of my desire to relinquish it. What can I say no to? What should I say yes to?

When I choose to do something kind for myself or when I choose to let go of something I am taking these micro leaps toward freedom. They are small and might seem insignificant but they are a snowball rolling down a hill. They are building on each other, coaxing me towards the light, and making me strong.

This week I started experiencing some unexpected nerve pain, possibly left over from the time I had the shingles. It started in my right leg then moved up to my shoulder blade and then down to the bottoms of my feet. Instead of agonizing over my bank account and letting my fear of lack decide that going to the doctor was out of the question I made an appointment to see a doctor and a masseuse.

When my pain worsened at work, I didn’t let my fear of letting people in stop me from being honest with coworkers. I didn’t let my fear of not living up to people’s expectations stop me from leaving early. I gave myself permission to stop fighting against the pain and rest.

Maybe that’s the lesson I’m supposed to learn, that we’re all supposed to learn. Stop fighting. That means no more digging your heels in when you think you’re right or when you feel scared. Don’t keep the illusion of control in a death grip because it is just an illusion. We can plan, we can prepare, but we can’t create perfection.

Letting go doesn’t have to mean jumping out of an airplane with no parachute. It can be tiny, almost imperceptible changes to the way you breathe, the way you sleep, the way you dream, the way you listen, the way you ask, the way you answer. Say no to making decisions out of fear and say yes to making decisions out of faith and you will build that muscle one micro leap at a time. Until it is strong enough to move mountains. Until it is strong enough for you to let go when you know you can’t.

Am I Doing this Right?

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

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A few times over the past nine years I have tried to make writing my full-time gig. Either because of a cross-country move or a change in employment I have waded into the waters of being a full-time Creative a few weeks and a few months at a time. But eventually the uncertainty of how I was going to make enough money to pay my bills became too much and I’d get a “normal” day job with a “normal” paycheck.

The fear and stress would subside. I’d create a routine that made me feel safe, yet unfulfilled. Then that feeling of being unfulfilled would become too much and I’d start the cycle all over again, deciding to give writing full-time another shot or changing jobs to try to free up more time to write.

When I made the commitment to create an 18-month escape plan from my current iteration of reality, as well as the commitment to blog every day of this journey, I had no idea that I was starting this cycle all over again. That is how short my memory is. When the excitement of this journey finally wore off this past week and all I was left with was the anxiety of and pressure to make it happen, I instantly felt trapped. Then I reflected on other times in my life when I’ve felt trapped. Then I reflected on the fact that it’s usually me who is setting these traps.

Shortly after we moved to Dallas I didn’t look for employment for a couple of months because I wanted to finish my third novel. Back then I was still invisible and no one was buying my books. I took on a full-time job working from home so I could still write but it only paid $9 an hour. That wasn’t enough to make ends meet (or so I thought; I’m starting to learn I have a problem thinking I’m living in scarcity when I’m really not) so I found a job working nights and weekends to make up the difference. I was writing about 5k-10k a day, working from 8AM-4PM, and then shelving books at a library from 4:30PM-9PM.

I got sick. Pain from my shingles flared up again. I started getting regular migraines and suffered from vertigo that made it impossible to drive some days. I gained weight, lost weight, and gained it back again. I suffered from terrible insomnia. I saw an Internist and after running a bunch of tests he said my stress levels were off the charts.

Eventually, I found a full-time job that paid enough to cover the sixty hours I’d been working previously. My quality of life improved drastically. But once I settled into this routine it didn’t take long for me to start longing for something else. This is when I decided to become a teacher and to pay for graduate school with the money I was miraculously making from my books.

I keep going back to that decision and thinking about what would have happened if I’d made a different one. If I’d chosen to leap, if I’d chosen writing, where would I be now? Would I have built up an even bigger backlist and made even more money? Enough money to quell my fears and anxiety? Or would I have found myself broke again and worrying myself sick?

Maybe the choice I made was the right decision. Maybe a person like me with terrible anxiety needs more safety nets in place before I leap. Let’s face it, anything in the direction of my fears is a leap.

It’s okay if I have to fight for every inch. As long as I’m fighting.

That’s the difference between who I was then and who I am now. I am still anxious and afraid of the unknown. But I am no longer trying to control every aspect of my life. I am no longer going to put all of that weight and pressure on myself. I have a deadline, a goal in mind. But I’m also giving myself the time to get there at my own pace.

I keep reading about all of these brave and desperate people taking these giant leaps of faith. Quitting their jobs, travelling the world, and making big bold decisions with no idea of the how. It sounds so romantic. Something worth fighting for.

I want to be a fighter. I want to be brave. But if it takes me longer to escape my comfort zone, I’m okay with that. Progress is progress. I’m fighting for forward motion not a free fall into nothing. If I leap now and it doesn’t work out, I will use every mistake and bout of bad luck as an excuse to turn and run. If I plan for this leap, if I give myself  a finite amount of time to mentally and financially prepare, I won’t be able to give up at the slightest derailment. Because the slightest derailment will not ruin me.

I don’t know if I’m doing this right or wrong. Maybe the bigger the leap into the unknown, the greater the reward. Or maybe thinking that my journey has to look like it does in movies or the latest self-help New York Time’s bestseller is its own pitfall. The pitfall of pursuing perfection rather than truth. But perfection does not exist and truth is whatever I say it is.

This is my truth: I am trying. I am learning. I am moving in the direction of my dreams. I will stumble but I will not stop. I may be moving slow but I will not stop. I will not stop.

Square One

Mental Health

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If you are an anxious person you might also find that you are an obsessive person. And probably obsessive about the things that make you anxious. That might mean you obsessively try to find solutions to what’s bothering you or maybe you obsessively try to avoid it.

I’ve blogged for 26 consecutive days on the topic of positive mindset and the power of visualization. Obviously, I’m the type of person who becomes obsessive about finding solutions. If I don’t have a problem that needs solving I will find one and if that doesn’t work I will make one.

It’s the only problem I can’t solve.

And yet, for some reason, every time I find myself slipping back into those anxious thoughts I become irritated, then angry, as if it’s a surprise.

I was able to hold my positivity, hopefulness, and high self-esteem in a death grip for approximately twenty days. That was twenty days of blogging, reflecting, listening to audio books every single time I’m in the car, exercising regularly, avoiding emotional eating, starting several DIY projects, not allowing myself to obsess over the amount of money in my bank account, etc.

I built up a lot of momentum very quickly.

This week I crashed. Now I’m trying to figure out why.

Is it because I’ve been back at work for three weeks and being in that familiar routine has stymied my hope for change? Is it because I need to buy a very expensive power tool to actually finish some of the DIY projects I started and my fear of scarcity and lack is preventing me from bringing closure to these activities? Is it because cedar season is hell on earth and I haven’t been able to breathe comfortably through my nose the past several days? Is it because I allowed myself to backslide into the destructive habit of obsessing over my budget?

The more I think about it the more I realize that it is actually all of these things. But…all of these things I just described aren’t especially devastating or even out of the ordinary. These things I just described are normal life.

What does it mean that the difficulties of normal life are enough to derail me? What does it mean about my progress towards enlightenment that I have to even ask such a question?

I think it means that I’m being ridiculous and overdramatic.

Feeling low energy or uninspired or anxious over these last few days does not mean that I’m starting back at square one. The fact that I can have this perspective at all is proof that I’ve made a lot more progress than I realize. Feeling like my old self doesn’t mean I can’t also be my new self. I have not failed until I stop trying. And I’m still trying, every day, to see the good, to do good, and to believe that as long as I am in pursuit of those things everything will be okay. I will be okay.

Letter to the Universe #3

Motivation & Inspiration

Dear Universe,

Thank you for lemon cookies.

Thank you for eclipses.

Thank you for coupons.

Thank you for blue velvet pillow shams.

Thank you for Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Is Anxiety a Gift?

Mental Health

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I’ve written many times about my struggle with anxiety. One of the reasons I’ve been on this whole positive mindset trip is to try to find a way to live with it. To understand my brain and find some methods of controlling it.

Usually, when I sit down to write a blog post, especially one about my mental health, the first draft ends up being way more pathetic and self-centered than I like to come across. Not because I’m trying to hide those negative qualities–we’ve all got them–but because putting that kind of mess out into the universe is not productive.

My intention with this blog is to be transparent but also to leave my readers with a sense of encouragement. So when I write something personal, my rule is to let it sit for a few days, so that I can return to it and ask myself: is this really what I want to say and is this really how I want to say it?

Usually, the answer is no and I rewrite it. I try to do this from a more analytical perspective and less of an emotional one. That means taking a step back and identifying the lesson in whatever’s ailing me, because there’s always a lesson.

One of those recent lessons has been to forgive myself for having an imperfect, hyperactive brain that is obsessed with worst case scenarios. This is how my anxiety often manifests–as worries about the most horrible things you can possibly imagine. But the part of my brain that is capable of creating such sinister visions is also the part of my brain that is capable of feeling another person’s pain so deeply that it overwhelms me. It’s the part of my brain that obsesses over problems and solutions that could change lives if I could just get out of my own head, out of my own way, for five minutes. It’s the part of my brain that makes stories, stories that try in earnest to make readers feel seen and valued.

In my quest to accept my anxiety and all of the ways it manifests in my life I have yet to let go of my fears about my anxiety. I have yet to stop seeing it as the boogeyman under the bed ready to attack at any moment. But part of why I’ve been so afraid of my anxiety is because I’ve only ever focused on the ways in which it inhibits me, when really, that’s not its true purpose.

My sensitivity, my intense thoughtfulness, my ability to deeply empathize with others, yes it all overwhelms me sometimes but it is also a gift. And once I learn to cope with the stress and the responsibility of just…feeling…of being a facilitator of healing and connection, a translator of the human experience, then it will be a gift that I can give to others. And that is not something worth fearing. That’s something worth celebrating.