List of Life-giving

So yesterday was terrible (looking at you, Justice Kennedy) and I had to take a break to color or my sudden, intense stress and anxiety would have made bees fly out of my mouth.

Earlier this week on Facebook, I promised a happier post at the end of this week and today feels like a good day for it.

Here is a short list of things giving me life lately:

-Blair Braverman: Blair and her partner Q are golden-hearted mushers with a mountain full of sled dogs and strong literary resumes. (Blair’s book is here.) She’ll be mushing in the Iditarod next year! My soulpup’s name is Boudica! And right now on Blair’s Twitter, it’s 90% puppies. Here is a recent Twitter thread documenting the afternoon when the two litters of Braverman Mountain sled dog puppies, born a week apart, met for the first time.

United Shades of America: Now in it’s third season on CNN, United Shades focuses each week on a unique community in the US, what’s important to them, and the tensions and conflicts surrounding them. W. Kamau Bell hosts, traveling and asking questions and listening to people who identify as Gullah, Sikh, KKK, indigenous, disabled, imprisoned, Hawaiian, or something else! Tyler and I watch together so we can learn together.

-Tyler’s family: I can’t share them with you, but you’d love it if I could. They’re generous and talented and funny and kind and welcoming. And I am so grateful for them.

Jackaby series: This is Sherlock meets my coworker Darrell Pursiful’s Into the Wonder series. The astute detective with an ugly hat made of yeti’s wool helps his new assist Abigail navigate a murder investigation in a fairytale (think Grimm, not Disney) fantasy version of New York. It’s fun. It’s mysterious. It’s removed from my life and US politics. Huzzah!

The Great British Baking Show: It was sprinkling in my brain the other day and I sighed with relief when I found an episode on PBS (which is such a gift). Within the first 4 minutes, I felt better than I had all day. Everything from the cinematography to the tones of voices to the music soothes and uplifts and enlivens. And it’s interesting!

-Friends: I’ve had the most interesting conversations with my friends lately. We’ve talked about annoying baby naming trends, mental health strategies, cake, arguments with partners, and kambucha. All of them have made me feel better about the world.

-Coloring: As mentioned above, sometimes I have to color to calm down the anxious buzzing in my brain. One of my favorite things to do lately is to draw on my work calendar with highlighters. I design each month with a different theme and color scheme. June was nothing but the sun and its rays until this final week, which I’ve filled with grass and flowers and weeds.

-Cake: Tyler and I went to our cake tasting/consultation this week and hot diggity dog, friends! This is gonna be delicious. Meanwhile, cake is great! If you can, I recommend getting a slice from Publix (did you know they sell cake by the slice?!) or a cupcake from your favorite local spot.

Fear and Marriage Planning: Death

A couple years ago, my friend Molly and I were headed to Nashville to see a touring Broadway show called “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Honestly, I can’t recommend the show, but I’m glad we went to see it because it gave Molly and I about six uninterrupted hours in the car to catch up. We used to meet for lunch once a week, but since she married and moved, we hadn’t been able to stay in regular contact.

After a while, Molly began to confess some honest aspects of marriage that she hadn’t anticipated. We started talking about fears, and I brought up the fear that my future partner (I wasn’t dating anyone at the time) would die. Molly immediately answered, “You can’t think about that. You can’t let yourself.”

Her conviction came from experience, but also from something her mom had once told her: “If you ever get married and something happens to them, you can’t fall apart. You have to keep it together to handle things and take care of your family.”

Although I don’t particularly feel like an adult and I’m told that I won’t ever feel that way, I am aware that part of maturity is the ability to deal with the situations, particularly the bad and sudden and complex ones, that arise. It requires adaptation and leadership. It involves eating less sugar and more greens and having less and less desire to stay up late or go out after work on Friday (even if it’s just to a restaurant). It involves facing violence and loss and disappointment without losing, or letting die, the spark of hope and kindness and joy inside you.

Another part of being an adult is being reliable. As a kid, you don’t always have a lot of food-on-the-table responsibility, but you have homework, studying, friends, sports/activities, and job responsibilities depending on age, time of year, and socio-economic status. When you get to adulthood, or independence, your responsibilities are different because your safety net and goals are different.

And when you have a spouse, perhaps also children, you are part of a team. You can’t collapse on your responsibilities or everyone in your nuclear family will suffer.

In the wake of Molly’s words, I thought of friends of friends whose spouses have committed suicide, been injured or killed, or grown very sick. I understood that being in love and having children are vastly different kinds of love and are also extremely intense. So to lose a person on your team, or for that person to be in tremendous pain, must be proportionally painful and disorienting.

Molly followed up her mother’s words by telling me that she can’t let herself think about anything happening to her husband. It upsets her to think about seriously, to imagine, and so she can’t let her mind go there. Emotion rose in her voice as she explained; even this much discussion was difficult for her.

Last year, as Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Irma came through Macon, I found myself at home alone about ten miles from Tyler, who was also at home alone. He lives in a second floor apartment, and the house where I live has a basement. Thinking of tornados, I deemed my house to be the safer place to be, but I still wished I could be where he was. I had a dog to care for and it wasn’t safe to be on the roads, so I stayed put, but the ferocity of my desire to be where Tyler was surprised me.

I reached my hand out, swishing it through these waters.

For the first time I didn’t care about being in the logically safest place as much as I cared about being where he was. I would rather have been in his apartment with him, knowing he was safe or facing danger with him, than being safe at my house and not know every moment if he was okay.

I watched the radar until the power went out, then I forced myself to save my phone battery and his by not texting him constantly for updates. (I also didn’t want to be annoying.)

That week was lonely. Because of road conditions, I spent a couple days at home with only the dog, candles, and the overcast sky. I checked on and was checked on by my neighbors, but I had no other personal contact. I didn’t see Tyler for two days, and sitting across from him at the restaurant where we met up during his lunch break (my office didn’t regain power until later that day), I felt the charge of built-up stress shaking my limbs and voice. And I felt relieved. I wanted nothing more than to go to his apartment and lay down on his couch with him and sleep. To know he was safe. To feel safe wherever he was. To not be alone (and in the dark) anymore.

As I drive to work each morning, I glance at the interstate Tyler takes to work. When there are backups—and often when there aren’t—I pray for his safe passage to and from work. But even that I can’t think too much about. Last night as I waved goodbye to him from my driveway, I couldn’t let myself imagine his journey, safe or otherwise. I took an extra, long hug and smiled and did not think, did not think about his night drive or the construction zones in the morning or the lonely walk back to my own door.

I kept to Molly’s example and put my fears from my mind before they spun into a monster requiring sweat and blood and sleeplessness to slay. And then I put them from my mind again. And again. Until I finally fell asleep.

Wedding Planning (and Mental Health) Tips

Last week, a friend who recently got engaged asked me how I remained so calmly attentive while planning our wedding. “Teach me your ways,” she said.

This week, two high-profile celebrities, a designer/business entrepreneur and a chef/TV host who made the world better in their own ways, died by suicide.

So here are some major things I do to help manage my anxiety in a constantly humming, high-stress, at times overwhelming season of life. And if today is hard for you, I hope this list might give you some ideas of things that might help you to feel better.

1. Don’t idolize calm. Not only calm, anyway. I oscillate between feeling calmly capable, impatiently excited, and frantically stressed. If I don’t get enough sleep or food, I’m grumpily pessimistic. Just because you see me in a serene moment, or I’m intentionally projecting calm, doesn’t mean I didn’t spend most of the day in one of the less fun emotions. And such moods are just as real, just as natural, as the cheery ones. You don’t have to be happy all the time just because you’re engaged or your life is going well by the world’s standards. You’re still a person. You’ll allowed to feel all the same emotions you felt before, including frustration, fear, anxiety, sadness, and more. Calm is not the ideal. Healthy is.

2. Build a soothing nightly routine. For me, this is a 3-step ritual. Step 1: Take a shower or bath (more on that below). Step 2: Write down the events of the day in a 5-year journal (1 line a day). In doing so, I’m acknowledging what happened that day but also closing the book on it and setting it aside. Step 3: Read a chapter in the Bible. I was already reading the Psalms when I got engaged, and followed that book with Proverbs and now Isaiah. When I read a chapter, I’m nourishing my soul. I’m engaging my mind with something outside myself, and on Someone who can give perspective on my life and struggles and experiences.

3. Hot baths. It sounds frivolous or stereotypical but for me it’s 1000% true. Hot baths can calm you and help your body unclinch from all the stress you’re carrying around. Showering and taking baths are kind of like intentional sensory deprivation: you’re warm and comfortable, the room isn’t busy or loud, you choose the smells and sensations (bubbles, bath bombs, bath pillows, etc) that you experience. Leave your phone OUTSIDE, preferably where you can’t hear it buzz or ding. Read or listen to music, or listen to nothing. I like to give myself 30 min to an hour to enjoy my bath, so I’m not constantly checking the clock or wondering how much time has gone by.

4. Mystery novels. Usually, I read cheesy romances when I’m stressed. It’s my go-to genre in TV watching, too. But lately, they just aren’t as much fun, and I find my mind wandering to my to-do lists. Mysteries, however, are engaging enough to distract my brain from all the people I need to call, all the emails I need to send, and all the kitchen mixers I need to research. They’re easy to put down and pick back up when I have the time. They also tend to be short, so finishing an audiobook a week and a paperback every two weeks makes me feel accomplished. We may still be struggling to get the guest list under 250 people, but I finished two books last week, and I feel good about that.

5. Post-it notes. I keep 2 colors by my bed. One is for daily goals (pink). The other is for weekly goals (green). I cross things off when I get them done. If I don’t get everything done in a day or a week, I just throw the post it away and write a new one. If something distracts me while I’m journaling or reading before bed, I write it down and move on. It’s a quick aside and I’m not letting myself stay distracted by it. Again, acknowledge, then put aside until a better time to deal with it.

6. Take care of yourself. I get way grumpier if I don’t eat well and on time. I get way more stressed if I’m tired. Take naps. Eat green stuff. Go home early and read. Take a bath and go to bed. Drink a glass of water. Go for a long walk or a run. Play with the dog. Watch a funny movie or a mystery and put your phone out of reach. Sit in the sunshine. Make a hair or massage or pedicure appointment and let yourself enjoy it. When you’re taking care of yourself, you’re better able to deal with the stress and anxiety and pressure. You’ll make better decisions and you’ll handle sudden problems better. Your well-being is more important than any of the details of your wedding day.

7. Take breaks. Take breaks from planning. Take breaks even from talking about planning. At the beginning of our engagement, I intentionally tried to only do and talk wedding stuff with Tyler during the week. Weekends were for fun things like visiting friends, having lunch with family, and watching baseball games. If someone else brought up the wedding, we could talk about it. If Tyler wanted to run an idea past me, he would. But I saved all my plans and phone calls, and as many meetings and requests as possible, for weekdays. Eventually, that model broke down and we had to use the weekends. Now its even more important that we take breaks to focus on other aspects of our lives and relationships. Even just a meal without wedding talk can be incredibly helpful.

8. Let go. Let go of stuff. You’re going to be blending your living space and things and time with someone else. It’s a good idea to simplify, even to cull, so you’ll have more time and space and freedom. I’m currently knee-deep in a great book cull. Yarn will follow. I’ve cleaned out my winter closet and am going to clean out my summer closet as the season wanes. Also, let go of obligations that don’t align with what you want and need right now. That will mean saying no to good and cool things, even though you don’t want to. Letting go also gives you permission to cut out things that were never good for you.

As much as you can, let go of others’ expectations for you. Someone is going to get upset with you for something that you didn’t even see coming. It’s going to be stressful. Handle it in the way that’s best for you as a couple. That might mean placating or acquiescing because family is forever and you don’t want to alienate your friends over something that isn’t a make-or-break deal to you but is to them. It may also mean trusting the people who really love you to keep loving you, even when they disagree with or feel hurt by your decision.

9. This is fun. You get to pick out new clothes! You get to figure our your favorite flowers! You get to plan a big trip with your favorite person! So many old friends reach out to you! And a registry is the biggest, most expensive Christmas list you’ll make your whole life! Put another, less bridal way, you experience good things because of this season of life. Remind yourself of those good things. Make a list if you need to. Remember them especially when things don’t feel good.

10. Marriage plan as well as wedding plan. Try to make good habits now that you can keep up later. In the end, your wedding day is just one day. And so is today. Work on your communication. Make a budget. Cook together. Learn way more about your future in-laws. Learn way more about your parents. Don’t give up your hobbies and other interests. Don’t give up your friends. Make buddies with other engaged and newly married couples. Attend pre-marital counseling. Tyler and I consider counseling to be preventative care for our mental health (especially mine) and pre-marital counseling to be preventative for the health of our marriage.