20/20 Hindsight

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Isn’t it amazing when you are able to look back on something and see it in perfect clarity versus when you are dealing with something difficult right in front of you and it’s clear as mud? 

We are packing to move and I was faced with a small shelf full of the journals I have kept since I was able to write. 

Even though I was reaching my limit for journeying memory lane for the day, since this room also holds all of my family photographs for my entire life and other sentimental mementos, I couldn’t resist thumbing through a couple of these journals as I piled them into yet another box to reach our new home. 

The first one I opened included my daily life during my senior year of college and first years of graduate school. I often remember this has a tumultuous time since it was full of growth, but I at times forget the details of those days…until I travel back there when reading my old journals.

The passages I read were full of pain, heartbreak, anger, some fun times, and big accomplishments. I usually write more when I’m low or angry, so happy passages are few because when I’m happy there is less to write and I’m too busy living to sit down and account for it. 

In these pages, I saw old patterns that I had over a decade ago that still exist in my life despite therapy, maturity, and meds. 

I heard my world described in my own voice, my past self, a version of me that has morphed into the me of 2017.  I wished I could go back in time and help her. Let her know she’s not alone in her struggles. That life gets better. Yes, tragedy will strike in years to come, but it’s nothing she can’t handle with the proper resources and the grace of God. 

If you could talk to your past self, what would you say? Would those words also apply to your life today? 

💜👩🏻‍🌾

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Who is that writer behind the curtain?

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I have been writing this blog for a little over two years now, anonymously.  I am slowly, but surely, peeking out from behind the curtain by telling select people I know (in person) about my blog, sharing it with individuals on Facebook, and even attending a local bloggers event in my town, last week.

I gave a presentation on my last 10 blogs at the graduation from my success skills class a month ago and felt proud to have my original photography from the blog posts projected onto a huge screen for the dozen or so people gathered there to see.  This leads me to consider posting my first name and/or a photo of myself on my blog and sharing it openly with my Facebook friends as my own.

photoshop

Why?  Because after two years of anonymity, I realize that I’m not helping destigmatize discussing mental health as much as I could while hiding my identity.  Yes, I do still want my privacy and I still don’t want to write with a filter due to worrying that a judgmental person will read my blog and dislike discriminate against me.  That’s where my hesitancy lies.  Stigma.  Ironic, right?

Will I get more followers or views just because people know me and want a peek inside my brain? Will no one really notice or care since blogs are a dime a dozen these days?

Will someone read my inner thoughts and musings and realize they are not alone and even reach out for help?  Not sure, but I’m beginning to think that linking some small part of my identity to my blog will help me be more willing to share it with people who I think could benefit from it.  Thoughts?

-The Heart Gardener

What is your practice? 

Garden of the Mind

wordworth

I have been gardening in containers for 12 years now due to living in rental property the majority of those years. When I started, I was so “green” (pun intended) that I didn’t even know there was a term for this type of gardening.  My first few years of container gardening on my 3rd floor apartment balcony was mostly trial and error…as are many things in our early 20’s.

I finally came into my own gardening when my living space was upgraded to a concrete patio in full sun. The pots got bigger and my green thumb developed! Trial and error continued!

Last year, I became a Master Gardener and got inspired to do lots more with know-how and creativity.  I have volunteered hundreds of hours and learned hundreds of new things about gardening.  Just as yogis practice yoga, I practice gardening.  It is my zen, earth mama time.

The last ten weeks, I have been in a personal development class that has encouraged me to set short and long-term goals, define my motivators, identify key parts of my personality and has encouraged me to adopt the practice of reciting daily affirmations…in the mirror…Stuart Smalley style!  This course has encouraged me to practice these skills so that I may lead a healthier, happier life.

What is your practice?

Yogis “dedicate their practice” or “set their intention” on something specific as a guiding force to focus their breath and energy through their poses.  When I garden, I am able to focus my intention and at times I dedicate my practice when planting something meaningful like my Dad and Grandma’s favorite flowers (pansies & violas).

Setting a positive intention or dedication when doing anything in life is one step in the right direction for having a positive outcome.  When I garden in a hurry or when I’m in a bad mood, things come out differently.  When I clear my head, take my time, and focus on being intentional as I plant or prune things, they always look better in the end.

Tomorrow, my class ends in a graduation ceremony and I will present the last ten blog photos I have posted to the class and guests…so I need to finish this blog and make presentation skills my “practice” for a bit!

Live & Grow!

Flowers & Frozen Pizza 

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Sometimes the way to a woman’s heart is with flowers and frozen pizza…

Tonight my husband and I were tired after several weeks of traveling on weekends and must-dos which included my previously mentioned doctors appointments. 

We got in an argument after he came home from work since I was in a low place and we were both defensive. Ping pong 🏓 tit-for-tat, non-productive arguments are so frustrating and tiring. 

During this tiff, I told him something that made me feel desperate for affection…that I was hoping he would bring me flowers home today (since we had argued last night at bedtime and he knew I was feeling low today). We finished our tense talk and I withdrew to our bedroom while he went to the grocery store to pick up dinner. 

He returned from the store with flowers and frozen pizza. 

At first, I was embarrassed that I admitted I needed a gesture like flowers from him…then I was a little irritated that they were obligatory flowers…but after we talked I was humbled that he quickly met my need after I expressed it. 

He brought up Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs and we talked about how we often get stuck in a rut just making sure we eat dinner and that the bills are paid, etc. and we forget things like flowers for no reason in order to create and maintain emotional intimacy. 

I hope this infographic above is helpful to you as you figure out how your needs are being met in any relationship you have.  💜👩🏻‍🌾

Growing Gratitude 

Garden of the Mind

When I am struggling with anxiety, this Bible verse has come to mind many times in my life and reminded me to be still…

Psalm 46:10 

Be still and know that I am God…

When I am reminded to be still, I also can calm myself by “knowing” or reminding myself that:

  • God loves me.
  • I am child of God.
  • I have a loving family.
  • My dog is a wonderful companion.
  • I am alive and well.
  • No weapon formed against me shall prosper. (Isaiah 54:17)
  • I have a safe home.
  • I have a dependable vehicle.
  • I am mobile and independent.
  • I have many gifts and talents.
  • I have friends who love me. 
  • I have a heart for helping others.

Wow! After writing those few positive things down to affirm that life isn’t spinning around me in chaos after all or that I’m not failing at everything (the opposite of what my anxious mind tells me) I start to feel lighter and more hopeful…and less anxious. 

Writing lists of gratitude or keeping a gratitude journal has been a trend for many years now. Oprah is a believer in this practice and usually by the time it catches on in self-help/pop psychology it becomes eye-roll worthy when suggested as a method of self-care. Many nod their heads and say “oh yes, I’ll do that one day”…but then life gets busy and one gets caught up in their anxieties all over again and forget to “be still and know.”

If you are struggling with anxiety, stress, busyness, etc. try this exercise below if a list or a daily practice of gratitude journaling is too much:

  • Write down and/or visualize just one positive thing in your life. 
  • Clear out all the other negative thoughts and focus on this one shiny thing. 
  • Feel all the positive feelings that emanante from this positive object, memory, person, or experience. 
  • As other thoughts trickle into your mind, let them pass, wave to them if you need to, but focus on your positive thought. 
  • Meditate on this thought for at least 1 minute, but stay focused on it for as long as you like. 

How did this exercise make you feel? Please share in the comments if it helped you in any way. Do you keep any type of journal? Do you have a habit of expressing gratitude or try to cultivate a thankful heart in other ways? 
💜👩🏻‍🌾

Prescription for Peace 

Garden of the Mind

geese in deep water

Let’s talk about psychiatric medication. 

Over the last few years, I have had many conversations with friends and family about various mental health diagnoses of ourselves and loved ones (both confirmed and speculation) and only a few times medication has been part of the discussion.  Most of the time when mental health is discussed, I hear the story of how someone becomes diagnosed due to a breakdown or Stage 3 or 4 symptoms and then that’s the end of the story.

When medication is part of the story, it’s often spoken about in a negative way:

“You can’t just pop a pill to be happy.”

“She was all doped up on all kinds of meds.”

“He self-medicated with drugs and alcohol.”

“The medicine prescribed just made things worse.”

“I felt like a zombie.”

“Someone could have punched me in the face and I would have smiled and thanked them.”

“Mental illness is spiritual warfare, so medication is not the answer.”

 

Mine is a somewhat classic story, in that medication was not part of it until I had been struggling with mental illness for many years. 

I first experienced anxiety as a young child, which evolved to an anxiety disorder and depression as a teen.  I attended talk therapy sessions from 14 until I moved away to college and from those four years of therapy I mainly learned that talking about feelings and a 20 minute walk daily should ward off depression and anxiety.  No medications were suggested as I was coping and seemed resilient.

During college, my anxiety increased and I began to develop OCD and have panic attacks. At 21, I was prescribed my first antidepressant after I had a silent, nearly undetectable panic attack in my new internal medicine doctor’s office.  I had become practiced at hiding my anxiety in public since I had no idea it was a medical condition and had a name.  I tried hard to hide my symptoms and feelings because I thought I was just mentally weak.

The doctor prescribing me the antidepressant did not give me any referral to a therapist, or psychiatrist, or make any follow up appointments with me to manage this medication, unfortunately.  I took the low dose antidepressant for a few months while living alone at college, but later stopped it on my own when I was feeling better. (Rookie mistake! Always talk to a doctor when changing your meds).

About a year later, I went to my student counseling center, on my own accord, and signed up 15 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat the OCD and anxiety.  These sessions made a tremendous impact on my functioning and mood.  No meds were required at this point in my life.

Fast forward to today and I have been taking medication for panic disorder regularly for about seven years.  I attend talk therapy regularly and have regular check ups with my psychiatrist.  I love to read articles that help me tweak certain areas of my life relating to mental health and relationships.

In the last two years, I have become well-versed in self-care. I believe that caring for myself through managing stress is key when living with any mental health issue.  I am continuously working on becoming more comfortable with my diagnoses and am beginning to find the courage to speak more openly about my experiences in order to fight mental health stigma.

Mainly regarding my anti-anxiety medication, I have had to use self-talk to teach myself that I am not just “popping a pill” to make me happy, but that there are times that I truly need this life improving medication.

I am grateful that I have been able to receive the necessary pharmaceutical treatment for my anxiety disorder.  While cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was life-changing, so was the relief of being able to alter my fight-or-flight response chemically with a medication, as needed.

I am not a doctor, so this is a disclaimer to please consult a psychiatrist or doctor when making medication or any healthcare decision.  

I felt the need to share my personal experience here so that it might be helpful to someone reading this who has been taught to have a negative attitude toward medication or doesn’t realize that other options such as CBT are out there.  

Whatever self-help tactic you choose, I hope that you receive the help and support you need so that you can life a happy and healthy life.   

Midnight Mindfulness

Garden of the Mind


I read lots of self-help articles when I’m in bed with insomnia that help me sometimes. Some of these articles have experts who explain that that living in the present moment leads to an increased sense of contentment.  I am working on mindfulness and figuring out if it works for managing anxiety and overall contentment.
Last week, my therapist walked me through a mindfulness technique during our session:

  • We chose a point in the room to focus on.
  • We took slow deep breaths in for the count of eight
  • held the breath for the count of eight
  • and then released the breath for the count of eight 
  • remember to breathe from the diaphragm-not shallow breaths in the chest alone
  • Repeat 8-10 times or just as many as you need unless your mind calms. 

This was not the first time I had been taught a similar technique for managing anxiety. I needed a refresher since it had been about 6 years since my last lesson. 

My therapist told me to use this exercise to become more mindful and we would talk more about mindfulness in our next session. 

Mindfulness. What is it exactly? 

 

How do you practice mindfulness in your life? Please comment. I’d love to hear from you. 💜👩🏻‍🌾

Fruits of the Spirit 

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One of my favorite Christian songs is Heartbeat of Heaven by Steven Curtis Chapman. I have very few Bible passages committed to memory, but the “fruits of the spirit” mentioned in this song have lived in my mind for over 20 years and serve as the root of who I strive to become as a spirit having this human experience. 

Loving, joyful, peaceful, patient

Kind and good and full of faith

Self-controlled and gentle

Oh the heart of heaven beats this way

-Steven Curtis Chapman 

Regardless of one’s religious or spiritual beliefs, most of us can agree that these nine fruits are character traits that we all should strive to exemplify. I’ve seen shades of these qualities described as tenents of other religions as well, so Christianity isn’t alone in prizing these as a goal to work toward in personal and/or spiritual development. 

I was inspired to write about the fruits of the spirit after I learned about growing fruit trees. As I listened to the lecture on the subject, I thought about some interesting parallels between literal fruit development and how we develop fruits of the spirit:

  1. Trees in general should not be staked in order to stand upright. Allowing a tree to blow in the wind, as a sapling, encourages the roots to grow deeper and stronger and create a more stable base for the tree so that as it grows it will be able to support its new growth and not topple over with the first strong wind.
  2. The soil, site, spacing and care of fruit trees must be right in order to produce fruit.
  3. Fruit usually doesn’t appear in the first year or so after planting.
  4. Pests and disease must be prevented since many pests and diseases can ruin an entire crop or not be managed once the disease sets in. Prevention is key. 
  • The winds of life my blow us around, but know that this will only make us stronger as long as we are learning to live without being dependent on someone or something to get us through the stressful times. 
  • If we are trying to grow in a situation that is not conducive to producing fruit, we may never reach our full fruit-bearing potential.
  • The fruits of the spirit may take years to appear consistently in our actions. We are all works-in-progress.
  • Self-care is key for being able to embody the fruits of the spirit. If we do not show ourselves love, patience, etc. how can we expect to show others these things? Also, Self-control and others are much easier when we are rested, healthy, etc. 

Which fruit are you trying to grow? I’d love to hear from you! 💜👩🏻‍🌾

Preventing Panic

Garden of the Body


I have several health care appointments over the next two weeks. Most are for annual or quarterly exams and one is my therapist. 

I was very anxious about today’s appointment because it was with a new doctor. New people, places, and things are, at times, anxiety provoking for me and since I have bouts of “white coat” anxiety a new doctor ups the freak-out-factor. 

A few things that help me manage anxiety when I have a new person, place, or thing to deal with:

  • Plan ahead and be sure to allow plenty of time to get dressed, travel, park and have food and drink before, etc. to limit anxiety related to feeling rushed or having a blood sugar issue
  • Call ahead and ask questions (if possible) about the new place – especially questions that are raising concerns that are provoking anxiety. If a phone call is too much, try email, looking at their webpage, etc.
  • As necessary, take my anxiety medication about an hour before the new experience
  • Arrange for a moral support person to go with me. 

Here’s how I applied and slacked on these strategies today:

I didn’t plan ahead in order to eat at home before my appointment, so we had to grab drive through on the way…not my best preparedness, but I didn’t enter the appointment hungry or thirsty. I took care of a basic need and completed that self-care task to ensure that the anxiety was kept to a minimum. 

I had a few questions and concerns on the drive to the new doctor, so while my husband drove, I called the office and asked those questions and got comforting answers. Anxiety gague is lowering steadily!

Having my husband go to the appointment with me and even sit in on my visit with the doctor was a great support.  Sometimes the 30 minutes waiting (sometimes under a paper gown) for the doctor to come into the exam room is the worst part of the exam, so having him there today to talk to me and even make me laugh while waiting helped ease the tension so much. 
I took my anxiety meds about an hour before the appointment – another great reason for husband to come with – to drive.

A huge part of self-care is keeping yourself healthy and while regular doctor check ups are not as much fun as other more pampering self-care techniques such as getting a spa treatment, they are a necessary part of a holistic approach to self-care. 

Thankfully, my appointment went much better than I expected (imagine that!) and my husband and I enjoyed the rest of the sunny spring afternoon together. 

💜👩🏻‍🌾

Boundaries: keeping your heart’s garden “pest” free 

Garden of the Mind

When we think of our mind, body and spirit as gardens that need tending, one important part of keeping everything living and growing healthfully is to keep out pests. 

In the garden, I would spray pesticide around and on a beloved camellia tree to keep it healthy and pest free. A similar strategy is used when we consider creating boundaries with “pests” in our lives. If these pests are allowed to have free reign in our heart’s garden, we will never be able to live and grow to be our best selves. We will constantly have issues with our overall health as a result of having no boundaries.

We sometimes have a spider problem in our home and we spray the exterior thresholds so that they will stay outside and not make it inside. This threshold line of spray is a boundary that keeps our family safe. 

Boundaries are not for others, they are for us! 
Boundaries with people work in the same way. They are invisible at times just as the pesticide spray, so those boundaries require verbal reinforcement. If those boundaries are not respected, then a less permeable boundary needs to be in place to keep the toxic behavior at a safe distance.
Setting up and enforcing healthy boundaries with people is one of the best self-care techniques out there.
Toxic people will often test our boundaries or disregard our boundaries.  They may cut off contact with us once the boundary is consistently enforced.  Be aware that often, once a toxic person loses control of us due to our new, healthy boundaries they may resort to character assassination or try to influence the way other people see us.

If we are living with authenticity, grace, and kindness toward others, we carry the antidote for this toxic behavior.

An article I read today, mentioned how toxic people are “always the victim” so be prepared for them to manipulate people and situations you have in common to make others view them as the victim and you as the problem.

Don’t be afraid of the consequences of limiting a toxic person’s access to your life.  This can be hard for many people-pleasers, especially when the toxic person is a close friend or relative.  I speak from experience, as a recovering people-pleaser, that my fear has come from not wanting to hurt anyone even if they are hurting me.

Almost two years ago I set up a new boundary with a family member.  At the time, I didn’t even realize I had that courage in me, but it has turned out to be the best learning experience for how to stand up for myself and teach others that they can be a kind, loving person while protecting themselves from toxic people.  

We have to be kind and loving to ourselves before we can truly be kind and loving to anyone else.

While this separation from someone I have known my entire life who shares my genetic code and family history has been difficult at times, the surprising part of the silence that has ensued between us is that it has brought so much peace into my life.  I didn’t realize until I put on my boundary earplugs how much static our relationship brought into my life.

It’s a tricky thing learning to love a toxic person and their family from behind your boundary.

At times, I have questioned how is this possible since my primary love language is words of affirmation.  How can I show love to someone with whom I have chosen to severely limit communication?

I imagine I would be in a similar circumstance if my primary love language was physical touch and she had been physically abusive to me. It would be clear that I should have certain physical boundaries in place so that I could protect myself, right?

When words and manipulation are the weapons a toxic person uses to inflict harm, where should boundary lines be drawn?

When, if ever, should they be relaxed?  Does this mean I will never hear her voice again?  

These are all thoughts that make my stomach turn sometimes as they are sad and anxiety-ridden.  It hurts to have to push someone away for self-preservation when there is love there.  The relationship dynamics may be dysfunctional or twisted, but there is attachment, history, and emotion to consider.

I had never disconnected from anyone in this way before and while I grieve the relationship, I also have felt free from its chains.