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!

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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. 💜👩🏻‍🌾

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. 

Chasing Happiness

Garden of the Mind

What is happiness?

According to Merriam-Webster, “…happiness is a state of well-being and contentment: joy.  It is a pleasurable or satisfying experience…”

I often feel that I lose my contentment with life when I purposefully search for the elusive feeling of “happiness.”  I guess you could also say that it makes me unhappy to try to be happy!

Sometimes finding happiness, or feeling content with life, seems as if it arrives as spring sometimes does.  One day I notice that the chill is gone from the air and new green and spring flowers are appearing.  New birds have appeared to migrate through our backyard…and even though it happens every year…it still is a bit of a surprise and it sneaks up on me at times.  When I am in a wintry place like depression or anxiety, I stumble upon happiness and contentment in a similar way to a change of season. One day, I wake up and my mood is slightly better and I feel more positive, calm, and grateful for what I have.

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Does this day come randomly or by chance? Sometimes it seems that way!  Just as a change of season from winter to spring brings a few days at a time of beautiful sunny warm weather in late winter/early spring and I think “Spring is here! Get the sandals out!” …only to wake up the next day to pull my sweatshirts and blankets out again.

Coming out from a depressive episode works in a similar way, for me.  I explained this to my psychiatrist and she helped me understand that this is normal and that it was a good sign even to have a mood swing type of day where it might be half “good” and half “bad.”  It means that the depression is lifting and eventually days will be mostly “good” again.

In the last two years, I have focused on self-care, goal setting, a little organization, consistent boundary-enforcement and positive coping strategies to help me improve my mood stability, relationships, and overall outlook on life.  Exciting stuff, right?!

I have spent many hours in therapy working through my “stuff” and it has been just that, work!  I have read self-help articles, worked on my communication style, and learned how to graciously say no to things that were not growing me or helping me live as my best self.  Who is she?  I am working daily to find her and figure that out.  Some days, the “work” on myself is just getting out of bed, eating regularly, and getting dressed.  Sometimes, that’s all I have in me to be my best self…and I’m learning that that is OK.  This in itself has been a hard lesson to learn since I have been prided myself on being an overachiever most of my life.  Fear of other people’s negative opinion of my productivity (or lack thereof) is something I’m dealing with currently.  Hello, my name is Heart Gardener, and I’m a recovering people-pleaser.

Have you every heard someone use the phrase “Happiness is a choice”?  I believe there’s even a book entitled this.  It makes me sigh deeply when I hear these types of phrases as I have struggled most of my life to be happy and content.  This particular phrase makes happiness sound easy! But as many of us know, finding lasting happiness is hard!

The chemicals in my brain and the negative behavioral patterns I developed as a child and young adult often have an effect on my ability to see the world with rose colored glasses. Instead, I am prone to catastrophizing, ruminating on the negative, generally keeping tension in my muscles, and not taking care of myself by not drinking enough water or exercising regularly.

I had someone tell me this week that their friend was depressed and his doctor prescribed him a daily walk.  Mmkay… That might work for many people.  In fact, that was what my first therapist advised me to do at 15 years old when I was first treated for depression and anxiety though talk therapy.  I replied to my friend with some information on my experience with depression: that ny the time I realize it has arrived, it is often difficult for me to leave my house or sometimes my recliner on “bad” days, so a walk per day isn’t an easy fix treatment for me during those times. 

As I have said before, when I’m that depressed, my first priority is to focus on self-care in order to make it through the day/week and eventually get out of the pit. Usually my most basic self-care routine involves making sure I shower daily and talk to at least one person other than my husband.  Sometimes that’s all I can handle for a day…and as I said… I’m learning that “whatever I do is enough.” Even as I type that I am allowing it to seep down deep to the roots of my heart’s garden. Whatever I do is enough.

Another technique when battling depression that I have used before, is writing a list of things, people, places, etc. for which I am grateful.  I list everything from a good cup of coffee to my supportive husband.  It helps me realize that today is not so bad.  That the depression is just making the garden of my mind have storm clouds overhead and storm clouds, just as seasons, do pass.  They might leave some debris in their path, but clean up and restoration is possible.

I hope the photos in this post bring you some joy whether you are experiencing mental health challenges or not.  I love spring and took these photos two years ago just walking around my neighborhood as I was exiting my typical seasonal winter depression.  I was so relieved to see that spring was returning that day.  Beautiful nature makes me happy.  The things that “spark joy” for us are everywhere and sometimes you just have to step outside your own thoughts or maybe your front door to experience it.

Contentment, meet Fulfillment…

Garden of the Mind

2011-through-early-2012-743

Being content and fulfilled is another seemingly lofty goal that I have had for the last decade or so.  The quote on my photo above reminds us that we can be content now. Today.  Even if everything’s not perfect.  As a recovering perfectionist, I understand that this can be a very difficult practice to adopt into one’s life:

Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have. – unknown

I have improved in recent times, but still today, if I’m not careful, I can assign high expectations to the next milestone of life as if it could be the oasis in the desert of whatever life stage I am currently experiencing.

A quote from one of my all-time favorite movies, written by Richard Linklater, describes this common human experience:

dazed

Richard Linklater

I loved the movie Dazed and Confused so much as a high school kid because it so accurately depicted our common urge to rush through childhood because we thought that the freedom of adulthood was going to be way better than this dependent child thing.

As many angst-filled adolescents, in high school, I was wishing for college freedom.  Spreading my wings and becoming a college grad would bring me contentment and fulfillment, right?

Wrong. While approaching college graduation, contentment was delayed while I focused on starting graduate school ASAP.  Sure, I paused for about 2 months and basked in my accomplishment (and the sun at my cushy lifeguard job).

I was definitely content those two months.  However, as content as I was that summer, I was not yet fulfilled because I was in a state of countdown once again – to graduate school so that I could fulfill my lifelong goal of attaining a master’s degree.  Surely that would leave to contentment and fulfillment, right?

Yes and no.  There were times, after achieving that lifelong goal, when I felt content and fulfilled in many areas of my life.  But, at the same time, I felt discontent and unfulfilled because I was wishing for a mate.  I didn’t think that I could feel fulfilled or content until I found “the one.”  In my mind, meeting and marrying him was what would bring me eternal contentment and fulfillment.

Do you see how I always think I’m, as Linklater says, reading the preamble to my own life…waiting for it to start?

Even as I’m now happily married, the life goals have turned into having kids, buying our dream home, etc.  To this day, Contentment and Fulfillment only visit me periodically.  They haven’t decided to move in and stay a while…or maybe it’s that I haven’t accepted them as part of my life?

I hear this country song called, “You’re Gonna Miss This” on the radio sometimes which as lyrics sound like something my Dad would say to me about this feeling of chasing happiness and rushing through today to get to tomorrow.  See below:

trace-adkins

Trace Adkins, You’re Gonna Miss This

 

Thankfully, in the last few years, I have taken song lyrics like this and others to heart and have learned more about being mindful of the present moment in order to notice my own contentment and fulfillment.

I’m learning that there is contentment and fulfillment in big and small things every day.  We just have to take time to notice them.

Days get busy and over-scheduled.  Life’s demands tug us in many directions.  Everyone wants a piece of us sometimes.  And yes, we have to give a lot of ourselves away, as we should.  But, as we give ourselves away, we must remember that self-care comes before everything else in order to stay healthy and balanced.  At least, this is true for me.

One of my favorite songwriters, Paul Simon, echoes my repetitive search for contentment and fulfillment in his song, “Slip Slidin’ Away.”  He tells us that “the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away,” which to me, has translated to: the closer we get to the next major milestone in life, the more life we have behind us…and while life passes by, moments of contentment and fulfillment may be missed while we are searching or hoping for happiness…instead of being mindful of what there is to be grateful for today…what’s right in front of us…even if today is imperfect…because life will always be imperfect.  I’m learning that imperfections make our lives unique and sometimes even beautiful.

In this same song, Simon describes a woman who “became a wife (and tells us that) these were the very words she uses to describe her life”:

slipslidingaway_edited-1-copy

Paul Simon, Slip Slidin Away

I have sung these lyrics many times, seeing myself as the woman who “became a wife” thinking that marriage would be happily ever after.  I know that when I’m depressed or anxious I’m the woman who lies in bed of thinks of things that might have been.  In those moments and all others, I strive to remind myself to focus on what is going right today…like a day with no rain.

 

Therapize Me! 

Garden of the Mind

Anyone who has had more than 5 conversations with me in the last couple years knows that I am a supporter of therapy for all!  I believe that everyone, at some point in their life can benefit from therapy. It’s an investment in yourself and your future. No one should have to stay silent or whisper about going to therapy, yet still many do because they fear they will be seen by others as weak, damaged or worse. 

I hope that in my lifetime, it will be as stigma-free to tell someone that you have a therapy appointment as it is a dentist or hair appointment. 
Therapy with a trained professional is in the same category of self-care, for me, as getting my teeth cleaned. It’s usually uncomfortable at first, but once I find a good hygienist and doctor and get used to the process I leave feeling better than when it started.

Just as when you are finding a new hair stylist sometimes finding the right therapist takes a while. If you’ve tried therapy before and it didn’t “work” or you didn’t like it find a new therapist. They are not one size fits all. 
When someone wants to change their physical form, some hire a physical trainer to improve their physical fitness, teach them proper exercise techniques, motivate and hold them accountable. Going to therapy or counseling works in a similar way. It’s like hiring a “mind trainer” or taking behavior modification classes. 

You improve your mental health through learning positive communication and coping skills while having an objective non-judgemental person listen and help you sort through things that need venting or processing. 

I used to say that therapy was the one time I could sit and talk about myself for whole hour and not feel selfish, guilty or second-guess everything I said. 

I have been going to therapy through good times and bad for 20 years.  I wrote a post on an old blog describing all of my therapists and the therapy I received under their care. I will add that to this post soon. Until then, enjoy this article from Psychology Today and if you haven’t already find a therapist if you would like to see what all the fuss is about! 💜🌷

Find a therapist near you.
Therapy for all!

The D Word

Garden of the Mind

Watching someone struggle with depression or anxiety while being in denial about having it is like watching someone with the flu deny they are sick. They have many of the symptoms and they are not themselves, while they say things like: it’s not that bad, they don’t need to see a doctor, it will pass, etc. 

It’s easy to point out the speck in a loved one’s eye while ignoring the plank in your own isn’t it? 

I am often quick to notice and diagnose others’ mental health struggles, but usually slow to admit my own when it comes to the D word. I live with anxiety most of the year and deal with it pretty well, but when D comes to pay me a visit…I usually don’t realize it was here until it’s gone. 
This is what I’ve been dealing with recently as I enter a period of (seasonal?) depression. (Sigh) There. I said it. I admit that I am feeling depressed. 

It’s probably the most common time of year to be depressed…January.  Songs have been written about it:

In the bleak midwinter…

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray…

So I’m not surprised really that here it is January, the month that also includes the anniversary of my father’s death and other family tragedies, that I am sitting on my front porch typing away about depression while I’m wading ankle deep in it. I know this month is usually a difficult one for me for these reasons and more. 

I prepared for winter before it arrived  like a chipmunk does, storing up nuggets of sustainable joy by planning ahead with tangible things such as special lightbulbs to mimic sunlight and setting up an area inside to tend and overwinter plants. I planted pansies and violas outside and redecorated my Gnome garden with a sign that says “Happy Everythjng!” so I would both be reminded to be grateful for life when I get down and to also have reason to step out onto the patio on days when I want to stay inside and hide. 


I memorized mantras and made a Pinterest board with coping strategies and uplifting quotes. I downloaded two apps to help me track my mood and help me relax and breath and meditate. I took my meds. I focused on self care.

But D still knocked on my door, my brain chemicals shifted and Depression entered my life again. 

There were triggers that preceded D’s appearance on my doorstep, sure.  I will keep them private for now. My therapist has helped me through the details and the plan for coping and moving forward. 

But that’s the rational brain talking…depression is irrational at times.  It tells me that no one likes me. Not even my mother or my husband or my best friend of 20 years. It tells me I’m damaged and dysfunctional. It tells me that this is how my life will be forever. 

I know these are all lies, but it still hurts to hear your own voice using such hurtful language against yourself. 

And then there’s the crying and the anger and the irritability and the tension and the panic attacks…(sigh)…and the physical exhaustion from all the mental ping pong of it all! 🏓 I’m tired. But the irony is I can’t sleep because…insomnia. 

Depressing to even read about, right?!

Tell me readers, that I’m not alone in this. My social support network has taken some hits over the last couple years, so even strangers on the internet showing some love could help me to know that someone has been here and someone reads this and cares. Neediness doesn’t look good on me so I hate to even ask for moral support here…but I need it.  I need a hand or two to hold to help me get through this. 

💜🌷