If you don’t know me by now….

I don’t know why I chose today to write about this, but that doesn’t really matter. I want to write about having anxiety, and the struggles I have had with it over the past several years. Let me start by saying up until 2007, I never had anxiety. I may have felt anxious during a moment in life, but never experienced the daily, ongoing fear of how I felt physically and mentally. I remember being at the airport in Las Vegas trying to catch a plane for Spokane for my sister-in-law’s wedding. It happened to be a day when yet another terrorist attack overseas had clogged all security gates in the U.S. When I say there were hundreds of us weaving through s security line throughout the entire airport, I am not exaggerating. As we finally reached the point of passing through security, there was a gate call for our flight. Immediately I went into a panic attack: huge wave of dizziness, hot flash, cold flash, tingling at all extremeties…WTF?? I had no idea what this was and could barely explain it to anyone much less T. He was running for the gate! All I could do was keep walking and try not to fall over. The feelings subsided once we were seated, but the seed was planted. What was that? And will it come back?

After returning to the Little Apple life resumed as normal. Or so I thought. I went to the dr’s office for a routine check up and he was “concerned” about my blood pressure. After taking me off of birth control, allergy meds, and caffeine, he was convinced I needed medication. I think in hindsight I needed a vacation! As an athlete, overacheiver, perfectionist, and overall someone who 100% believed I was okay, being prescribed blood pressure medication was a death sentence. I suddenly moved like I was an 80 year old man. I was so afraid of making myself “excited” that it turned into a way of life: not fully embracing any of my true emotions whether they were happy, sad, confrontational, or not. I was afraid, and still am at times, of having a heart attack. I would sit at work with sweaty palms. All day. Everything that I used to love to do–getting my hair cut, play sports, shopping, even drinking–was no longer enjoyable. I was concerned 24/7 that I was in danger. Even though I was eventually cleared from the medication and my dr’s have told me time and again it’s anxiety, it lingers. Maybe having a dad who had quadruple by-pass surgery secretly haunts me as well? I don’t know.

Over the years I have experienced one life-changing event after another: moving, new job, making new friends, hating job, leaving good friends, moving, starting new job, making more new friends. (If you read any article about “managing stress” the top items in the stressful life events column include moving, marriage, new job, loss of job, illness, and death of a loved one.) This last go around, as I work through the laying off of a boss and my own feelings about staying at the job, I am faced with the fear of losing extra income that would be awesome for paying off bills, saving money, and building a nest egg for a possible family. The fear of  losing that comfort and possibility is so great that I instead turn toward worrying about my health to avoid the pain. Is the fear rational? Well, we will not have to claim bankruptcy of course. But the idea of putting off any strides towards having a family makes me sad, which circles back to my health because I have this belief that only young healthy women have kids. Turning 35 is not old I know, yet the irrational fearful anxious side of me thinks I might as well be turning 90!

So why I am writing about this? Because I have told this story to myself in my head 100 times over and it needs to be let go of. It is freeing to admit to yourself–and I mean truly admit to yourself– and others for that matter, when you are going through something that is hard. I know on the so-close-I-can-touch-it other side of anxiety, life is amazing. It has its ups and downs, but otherwise it’s pretty great. I am taking all of the care in the world to ease these feelings, but that doesn’t mean doing only relaxation yoga all of the time. It means having those tough conversations with T, confronting fears over and and over until they are no longer significant, and finding that peace on the other side of the pain. I know it’s there, and I am hell bent on getting it.

The lineup for this week includes a check up with the dr about a nagging rash (even though I DREAD the dr’s office I know this is something that is needed for my own peace of mind), a meeting with a therapist from work about managing the change in our office, completing tasks in my workbook, rest and relaxation yoga, and a healthy time for prayer and reflection. And of course some time with the big orange cat. 🙂 I will close with this call and response from yesterday’s yoga class:

Love in front of me.
Love behind me.
Love to the left of me.
Love to the right of me.
Love above me.
Love below me.
Love unto me.
Love unto all those around me.

Peace in front of me.
Peace behind me.
Peace to the left of me.
Peace to the right of me.
Peace above me.
Peace below me.
Peace unto me.
Peace unto all those around me.

Light in front of me.
Light behind me.
Light to the left of me.
Light to the right of me.
Light above me.
Light below me.
Light unto me.
Light unto all those around me.


Wishes vs. Needs

So by now it is not new information that I enjoyed living in Philly, and it came from the initial despair that was my lost identity at a crazy, crazy workplace. When leaving, I remember this epic going away lunch with some special women of CCP. We sat in a colleague’s office for hours, sharing lunch and laughing and crying and just being real with each other. It was such a memorable experience; one that left us all exhausted mentally and physically. I came home and wrote in my journal that night that I would never find a group like that to belong to…

Today at work we were hit with some pretty unsettling news: the director position was being eliminated from our center so my boss was laid off. It was terrible. No warning, nothing. I was in shock. What the hell does this mean for my own job? My own security? All these concerns and anxieties came flooding to me and I thought for a moment I would throw up in the conference room. I called T and he was of course stoic and supportive and listened to my rant. When I went back inside, one of the family therapy faculty members was in the conference room hosting an impromptu counseling session since we had been left with nothing but our raw emotions after our boss drove away. I cried. My co-workers cried. And Dr. Jen as she is known to everyone just listened and supported us and emphasized the importance of doing what we needed to do, as opposed to what had to be done. (Not the first time I have heard that advice thanks to a loving sister and amazing friends.)

So here I am several days later, and many reflective conversations later with mom, co-worker, T, and self, and it came to my mind an awareness that this didn’t happen without God putting the support in place that I needed to get through this. When leaving Philly I had the sinking feeling that I would never have the same experience of being loved and supported by fellow women, and found myself wishing/searching for a similar situation in my new place called home. I wished for a place to lean on other women and feel empowered and supported by them. It hit me today–in the absence of our two male faculty members–that I was sitting with four amazing women. While my relationships with them are still forming and growing in their own way, they are here waiting to be nurtured and explored.  As T once wisely said when I was lamenting about how all I wanted to was to be with my husband and cats in our house, “how can you wish for something that you already have?”

It continues to be a roller coaster week but my co-workers and I have enjoyed light moments when we find them. And what better way to start a morning than to receive an email from another faculty member that reads:
“I remain very grateful for both of you –sent to me and my teammate– and pray that if I can be helpful to you in some way, that you will let me know.”


Losing (and finding!) My Religion

As I have written in earlier posts I have an intention to find/reclaim/get closer to my religious or spiritual side. Growing up Catholic and attending private schools all the way through college, it seemed easy to stay “connected” so to speak. Whether it was sitting in religion class, saying a prayer before a volleyball match, going on retreats, or attending mass with peers, my relationship with God was obvious and it was a constant. Many homes and states later I lost that connection, that consistency, and so to use the words of my friend here in Kansas City, I am “church shopping.” It sounds a little silly and definitely not sacred or religious, but it is very important. Being raised Catholic was obviously not by choice since I was so young, but I never protested it (except of course the scary references to the devil and all that yucky suffering)  so it was all I knew. Now as an adult I have the choice and I am both excited and hesitant about the idea.

Yesterday my two friends invited me to try out a new church with them and I gladly joined them. It was a Presbyterian church located about 10 minutes away from my house. For those not familiar with Presbyterian vs. Catholic beliefs, check out this handy site: http://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=79.  If you Google this question, a ton of information will be presented to you so choose to read at your leisure. For the purpose of this entry, the fundamental differences that stick out in my mind include the following: Catholics allow for priests and councils to make laws and rules according to their interpretation of Scripture; Presbyterians live by the Word alone and work on understanding it daily. Presbyterians do not pray to Mary. Why? Because the Bible does not say it needs to be done; God alone is the figurehead in charge. And finally, Catholics show their devotion to God through the traditions laid out before them by the priests and Pope and others in charge; Presbyterians only worship God by the ways outlined in the Bible. (Remember the evidence Ren gives in the movie Footloose to get the council to approve the dance? “David danced before the Lord with all his might….leaping and dancing before the Lord.”)

So on Sunday morning I found myself walking into a beautiful little church, welcomed by volunteers who man the doors and hand out programs to everyone. There were lots of smiles and warm feelings, much different I have to say then any “welcome” I may have experienced at a new Catholic church. The service was exactly an hour long and it included an opening hymn, a reading from the Bible, a sermon, prayers/intentions, peace-offering, and two closing hymns. My favorite part was the prayer/intention mostly because it was an extended private time, with eyes closed, heads bowed, and real mindfulness happening. In a Catholic mass there would have been a lot of reciting and a reading of pre-determined intentions which are not bad, but also not as personal on some days as you might want/need them to be. At the end of the service, everyone offered each other peace and then headed into the basement for coffee and doughnuts. We picked up our friend’s son from the nursery and drove off to brunch to debrief instead.

My one friend was not impressed. She said she needed a more inspirational sermon. (Topic was “radical hospitality” and how we might entertain the idea of helping strangers in need.) The other friend secretly likes to church shop so she stayed neutral and would probably return again. I was intrigued. On the one side, there was something very personal and warm about this new setting. Maybe it was the absence of traditional Catholic symbols–crosses, Christ’s suffering, dimly lit pews–or maybe it was the opening hymn of America The Beautiful that set the tone, but I didn’t mind this new space. The other part of me, the part that was raised Catholic and is still coaxed into going to mass with my dad whenever I am home, wasn’t sure. Am I rebelling? Is there anything wrong with liking another way of worship? Of course not but my goodness Catholic guilt runs deep.

Not sure where our next church-shopping adventure will take us, but I will remain open to the possibilities. In the meantime, I will live and love as my heart desires…

Why We Dread Job Reviews

A few years ago I was in a supervisory position and had the responsibility of conducting employee evaluations for several staff members. Perhaps this group of women was the exception, but I had never seen people become so stressed out over a very straight-forward, short, and relatively harmless process that usually ended in some kind of raise thanks to the system that was put in place by our director. I thought I had accessed each employee very fairly, even generous in some areas, so it surprised me when I received a notice in my mailbox that one of my employees was formally protesting her review. While her review was not glowing, it was not terrible either. I had identified very specific areas of improvement that were simple in my mind and wouldn’t be an issue beyond our initial discussion. Well, 4 months and 5 facilitated meetings later, my assessment of her performance stood and she was an unhappy camper. I was bewildered. Not so much by the protesting process, but the shear denial of her own actions despite numerous examples and documentation. Even when the facilitator looked her in the eyes, with email in hand, and asked her point-blank if she had turned in this assignment late, she insisted that in fact it was on time. The time stamp was 11:30p.m.  Wow. I suddenly realized the extent of the dishonesty with herself, and in turn, how it prevented her from ever making improvement. I think there is a saying about how you can’t solve a problem until you know that one exists?

I bring this up because yesterday before my part-time shift ended at BR, my manager called me in to conduct my performance evaluation. Part of me was laughing because I have never worked at BR long enough to get an evaluation, and the other part was secretly happy to have one so I could step off the sales floor and have my manager tell me (or my ego rather) how good I was doing. We started out with the rankings of core skills and I consistently “met expectations” across the board. Okay that was good to know. Then we moved on to various aspects of meeting monthly goals of BR cards, sales per hour, etc. and my manager said, “Aimee, when you’re on, you’re ON. And when you’re off, that’s it. We would look for more consistency in the future.” In my head I found myself saying, you and me both!…who would have thought that a job review, at a place where I didn’t care much for beyond the discount, would be so reflective of my past year living in this new space?? As he continued, I was lost in my own thoughts as I recounted those awesome days when I was “on:” I had probably worked out that morning or did something positive for myself before getting ready for work, I had gotten a good night’s sleep, T was probably in a good place too, we were feeling settled, and it all translated into a positive attitude and great day at work. On the flip side, on the days when I was “off,” it totally sucked: I had probably slept poorly the night before due to over thinking on some other issue, I was down on myself for not having found a real job, T and I may have had an upsetting therapy session, we were on separate pages about something, you get the idea. This translated into a craptastic day of course when I didn’t want to talk to anyone, much less exert any energy on a job that had no meaning to me. On one hand I applaud myself for not pretending to be any other way except how I was on those days, yet I also yearn for that consistency in my life of positive, awesome days.

At the end of our discussion my manager asked me if I had any questions or concerns and I said no; I 100% agreed with his evaluation. I signed the paper and left, but when I got home I started thinking about the last critical step of any evaluation which is goal setting for the future. If I were to plan goals for my future, with the intent of being more consistent, they would include the following:

1. To treat myself and the people who I love in my life with respect.
2. To invest wholly into ways of fulfillment and maintenance of my well-being through meditation, diet, and exercise.
3. To thoroughly question and examine a situation that “scares” me until it is no longer scary, just unfamiliar.

Until next year’s performance evaluation…