Saturday, August 6, 2016

One Important Lesson from the Summer

It's funny the things you learn when you least expect it. Unassuming, sometimes life lessons can just appear out of thin air and smack you in the face. Especially from places where you least expect them to come. 

I've always been a fan of young adult literature; I mean, I am an elementary teacher. I love the depth of characters and lessons learned that so many amazing books provide our youngsters with today. And one amazing book that I read this summer taught this adult woman a life lesson that I've been needing to internalize. 

This summer I set out to read books. For me, for relaxation, for my soul. So many summers I try to plan too much--housework, projects, school work, etc. For some reason I think that having the summer off means that I can get everything I've ever wanted to in life done in a matter of three months. That, however, has never worked out for me. My anxiety brain starts screaming at me about a month into summer, "Oh my god! You are NEVER going to get any of this done!" I start panicking that I'm not going to accomplish what I need to accomplish (more likely what I want to) in the three months I am not teaching. 

Each summer I was putting undue stress on myself. I felt like a failure if I wasn't getting all the items checked off my to-do list, and I would feel drained once school started. This summer I decided to do a lot of "me" things to help rejuvenate me for the next school year and to keep my to-do list anxiety checker at bay. This included reading a lot of books.

Checking out stacks of books from the library, I would grab what spoke to me from the shelves. I did have a small to-read list, so I picked those books up too. One of the amazing books I read this summer based on teacher friends' recommendations was Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin.

This young adult book boats a dynamic, young lead character, with whom I fell in love. Eleven-year-old Thyme Owen's family is facing a crisis. Thyme's little brother, Val, has been accepted into a new cancer trail in New York, so their family needs to move cross-country to save her brother. Thyme misses everything about her home: her house, her grandmother, her friends. The city is not a welcoming place to her, and Thyme is certain that her family will be moving back to their old home in a matter of months. As the family starts to see positive changes from Val's treatment, Thyme realizes that her family may be sticking around in New York for good. Confused by her new situation and feelings about moving, Thyme faces new life moments that she is afraid to embrace: a new school, new friends, her first crush, and a grumpy neighbor with a sweet singing bird. She is uncertain if the emotional pull she feels to New York and these new experiences are what she wants in her life. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, hours, days, and months in hopes that her brother can be cured and that her family can find their way back home.

One of my favorite reads, I related so much to this story. Eight years ago my family was in crisis. Granted I wasn't eleven years old, I believe that anyone who's ever been in a battle with cancer can understand Thyme's feelings of not wanting her life to change, yet wanting to do anything you can to help your family member in trouble. 

Eight years ago my dad passed away from a rare form of brain cancer: glioblastoma. When my dad was diagnosed, I knew that our lives would never be the same. In my 20's, I didn't that my life could change in an instant. I knew they could, but I didn't expect it to happen to me. 

After my dad passed, I really struggled understanding my new life without my dad. I didn't expect my dad to be gone before I got married. I never thought my dad would never meet my niece. I never imagined my dad would not see my sister graduate college with a degree in statistics--a math-brained person just like him. This was a life I never imagined, and nothing felt "normal" to me for a long time. 

This summer after reading a passage from Counting Thyme, something clicked with me, and it helped me to accept the fact that my life has changed. 

In New York, Thyme feels awkward in her new surroundings and doesn't feel like she fits in. She isn't fitting in with the "normal" New York kids. When things don't go Thyme's way, she wonders why her life in New York can't just be normal like they were in San Diego. In this instance, Thyme remembers an important lesson her grandmother once shared with her:

Thyme's grandmother's advice is just what I needed to hear. Of course, as an adult, I know there is no normal. I give my students this advice all the time. But I needed to hear it from someone else to allow it to resonate in my heart and soul. 

My dad may not physically be here with me, and my life may be different than it was when he was around, but this is my new normal. 

My life is normal for now, and I'm okay with that. 

Life changes, and it will continue to change. It's okay to have a new normal. You may not like it at first, but you have to embrace the happiness and joy in the moment and expect the unexpected. Of course, I wish my dad were still with me today, but it's okay to embrace my new normal and enjoy life.

Thank you for Thyme, Melanie. 

Love and happiness <3 Holly

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Don't Get Too Comfortable

Anxiety is a funny thing. You think you've got it together, and then BAM! No warning comes with it--no alarm bells, flashing lights, interruptions of regularly scheduled programming. Just a lightning bolt shock through your body. Or a rumbling up from your gut, like a dormant volcano making it's debut after years of stagnancy. It starts and then it fills your entire body. 

To this day, a lot of my anxiety comes on for no reason. I can be sitting on the couch reading a book and get flooded with emotion--unrelenting, anxious rumblings. My heart starts racing. I feel like I can jump right out of my skin. For no apparent reason other than I am just biologically prone to anxiety. My body goes into survival mode for no reason, and it is a very uncontrollable and uncomfortable feeling. 

I have been working on my anxiety for years. I have had anxiety my whole life, but it wasn't until my early 20's that I realized I needed to do something about it. It was affecting my life and how I lived my life. I struggled to talk to new people in college. Back then I'd rather hang out in my dorm by myself, in Bjorn's room by myself, or take a weekend trip home. I felt like the world was imploding on me. Sitting in the dining hall by myself felt like the end of the world. I never felt like there was a place to sit where no one would notice me, so I ate in my room a lot. Sometimes I couldn't eat. My anxiety was so bad that I just couldn't stomach food, and eventually lost a lot of weight, not because of the stress of college, but because my anxiety was out of control. For real. 

"I can be on the couch reading a book and get flooded with emotion--unrelenting, anxious rumblings."


Now that I have strategies under my belt to help myself, I have learned that my anxiety thoughts are irrational. I always knew they were, but it's hard, in the moment, to believe it. The thoughts are so real that it feels like the 6 o'clock news reel replaying my head and I'm the subject of every story. Can this really happen? Is this really happening? Is that what those people are really thinking about me? Is that how I really come off? It's a never-ending cycle of ugliness and untruth that is meant to throw you out of yourself. It throws you out of yourself so far that you have to crawl back on hands and knees and beg for your life back. 

These irrational thoughts--the speeding heart rate, the sweaty palms, the hot flashes, the tunnel vision--are no joke. For me, there is only one way to get rid of them. I have to move. 

When I say I have to move, I have to run up and down stairs, I have to do jumping jacks, I have to jump rope, I have to break a serious sweat. Movement pumps blood throughout my body. It pumps endorphins through my body. Ironically, it brings my anxious heart beat down and replaces it with a moving, active heart beat. A heart beat that feels alive, strong, and confident. It throws my anxiety out the window and allows me to come back down to Earth. 

Recently, I have had some of these moments where I just couldn't get my anxiety to slow down. It registered between 8 and 10 on a scale of 1-10. As a teacher, summer idleness is not an anxious person's friend. One night I had a late night sweat session because I knew I would never get to sleep. I could hardly sit still on the couch, let alone go lie in bed and feign sleep. So at 9:30 at night, I got up, put on a YouTube video, and completed a 60 minute bar session. 

Now that was a needed (but serious) workout. I'm at the point on my journey with anxiety where I know how much I need to move in order to bring myself down. Tonight I could feel my anxiety creeping up, but I caught it early. 15 to 20 minutes of push ups, sit-ups, squats, and weight lifting did the trick. 

Using my chair as my barre for the night.

I used to think getting up and moving was the last thing I wanted to do when I was anxious. I needed to relax. I needed to take a breath. Well, that doesn't work. When you have anxiety, you need to be okay with being uncomfortable. It's okay to feel this way. It's okay to need to get up and move. Even if you're at work and you need to take a lap or two around your building. You have to help yourself help your body. 

If it takes 30 laps up and down your stairs, do it. If it takes a pretend jump rope session in your house or  20 laps around your basement, do it. If you need to power walk around your company's parking lot, do it. You will feel better. Your body will thank you. You'll know when you can stop, just start moving. Once you're on the right track, you'll feel the anxiety start to dissipate and your endorphins starting to take over. It's like a big sigh of relief. Just keep going until you feel it. 

Feeling much better after my workout.

Anxiety isn't comfortable. It is not fleeting. It's hard to come to this realization, but sometimes you just have to pull yourself up, no matter how bad you're feeling, and get moving. 

Love and happiness <3 Holly

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Today I Ran

I have never been a runner. I have never wanted to run. I have never even had the slightest urge to try. It is funny to me now that I reflect on my aversion to running because I have always been a dancer. I danced my whole life for hours on end: heart racing, breaths quick, side cramps, and muscles sore. Dancing is no joke; it is a serious cardio workout. I was even in Colorguard as a high-schooler, running around a football field during a 12 minute half-time show. Now that was also serious cardio. 

I don't know why I despised running so much, even though I had never really done it. 

One memory comes to mind that could explain part of my distaste for running: 

I was in 5th grade gym class, running the dreaded mile. I have had asthma my whole life, always induced by strenuous exercise (especially outside in the heat). I remember it was spring--the weather was pretty warm. The Cincinnati humidity was setting in and the sun was high in the sky. My gym teacher was never my favorite teacher. My gym teacher scared me. She did not like the face that I needed to leave gym class almost every day to use my inhaler, and she let me know it.

The day we ran the mile it was humid, muggy, and hot. I got about halfway through the mile and could feel my lungs starting to constrict. I started wheezing and stopped cold while the other kids continued to run past me. Once I felt like I could move again, I began to walk towards the gym door. I needed my inhaler in the nurse's office. As I walked holding my chest, my gym teacher yelled from across the field, "You better not think of stopping! Your grade is on the line. I am not stopping the timer!" With teary eyes I continued into the gym door. "The timer's running. You better get back out here and finish." As I pulled the door shut, I continued to the nurse's office feeling embarrassed and as small as a mouse. 

That was my experience with running. It continued through 6th grade until I moved to the middle school. I honestly never thought of trying to run after that. It's silly, but things stick with you. 

But today I ran. 

I have been toying with the idea for a week or so, and today I decided to try. It doesn't hurt to try, right? So my dog, Remy, and I went out and walked/jogged for 2.5 miles. I didn't completely enjoy it. And I didn't completely hate it. Remy felt the same way. The first time is always the hardest, but I don't plan on giving up. 

I'm going to keep it up and see how I do the next few weeks. Of course, I am not giving up my dance classes or Zumba. That's just more "me." But I like being able to just go and get out of the house with Remy. 

At first, I felt silly. I worried that I looked ridiculous running. I told Bjorn last night that I didn't think I knew how to run. I worried that I would double over halfway through and stop breathing. But, who am I kidding. I know my body. I know what I can do and what I can't do. I took my inhaler, rubbed some En-R-Gee essential oil on my wrist, drank some water, and went. Today I stopped making excuses and tried something new. 

And tonight I feel accomplished and a little sore, but I am proud of myself for kicking myself in the pants and just going for it. And so is Remy. 

Love and happiness <3 Holly

Monday, March 14, 2016

You Never Know What They're Going to Say

Today one of my 6th graders asked me one of the strangest questions I've ever been asked by a student. It's funny because I guess this question isn't strange per se: one you'd ask your husband or wife, your parents, your best friend. But to be asked this by a 6th grader? 

The 6th grader who I'm speaking of is intelligent, thoughtful, and going places. As we were working on his fictional writing piece and talking about his organization, he dropped it on me. I was taking notes about his ideas for the future parts of his story, making sure to add a note about adding a lot of detail to "show" his readers what's happening in the story. His fingers stopped pecking at the keys on his computer, and he paused. I thought he was waiting for me to say something. I looked up, he took a breath, furrowed his eyebrows, and he asked,

 Ms. Gilbert,

I was taken off guard. I, with my own furrowed brow, stopped a second to see if anything popped into my mind. Usually I can come up with an answer to appease my students' questions and interests. This time, however, I was dumbstruck. I could not, for the life of me, think of an answer. 

For a few moments, we sat in silence. He could tell that I was thinking, and I truly was. Sure, I could spout off things that give me anxiety: flying (big-time), losing someone I love, getting seriously ill, not loving what I do, feeling the darkness of depression again, but none of these things  called out to me as my greatest fear. I decided not to spout off any old answer to my student. I looked at him and answered, "That's a good question. Let me think about that one." He nodded in understanding. 

At this moment, sitting on my couch typing this post, I honestly do not know how to answer my student's question. In years past, I would have had many answers:

Graduating college
Finding a job that I love

Starting a New Job
Being accepted for who I am 
Being respected professionally

Buying a House
My Dad Getting Diagnosed with Cancer
Losing my house
My dad dying
Living a life without my dad

My Dad Passed Away
My OCD Kicks into High Gear
My family falling apart
Not being a good fiance, sister, daughter, friend
Not keeping it together for my family
Being less than "perfect"
My dogs dying
My house catching on fire
Losing everything
Never feeling happy again
Never feeling calm or peaceful ever again

Reality kicks in--my dad is gone
Never feeling normal again
Never being "me" again
Never feeling happy again
Losing another loved one
Getting cancer

And the list could go on. Today I worry every once in awhile about some of these things. They are more like a short blip on my mind's radar and then they pass. I still struggle with knowing how to live without my dad: 

I can't call him to celebrate a new job. 
I can't call him to ask how to do my students' math homework.
I can't hear his belly laugh, beginning deep within his body.
I can't feel his hugs.
I can't hear his voice.
He couldn't walk me down the aisle. 
He will never meet my niece. 

Even though I miss my dad and always will, I know he's with me every day. I know I will see him again. I know he wants me to live the fullest life that I can. These eight years without him have passed, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, but they have passed. I have survived. My family has survived. It wasn't easy, but we've made it through. I've made it through.

I don't think there was a moment where I chose to live life fearlessly. I honestly don't think I realized I felt this way until today at the moment when my student asked me my greatest fear. Sometimes you go through things and sometimes you go through a lot of things that change your perspective on life. And I think that mine has definitely changed. 

I know that when things happen, my life may change. Sometimes it's good and wanted, and sometimes it's unwanted change. No matter what happens, I persevere and push on. Eventually I will come out the other side. Will I be the same person? Maybe not, but it's okay. This is the run of life: things happen and I will figure out how to live the best life I can anyways. I try to be the best version of myself because that's who I am, and that's what I want my life to be. I know I have people by my side to see me through and shower me with the love I need to come out with the pieces glued back together.

I think the change happened when I realized that I can get through anything. Going through the things I have in my life helped me to see that I am strong; I am brave; I am unstoppable. I have faith, love, and strength on my side. 

I have faith that I will come through okay. I may be battered and bruised, but there's no life lived without scars. I have love that will never leave my side. True love. A lifetime of love that's going nowhere. I have strength that's tried and true. My spirit can never be broken. 

So the long and short of it: I don't have a greatest fear. When you have been through life, around, and back again, you realize that fear is nothing but an emotion meant to keep you from life. To keep you from living. To keep you from believing that no matter what, you can make it. 

Live fearlessly.

Love and happiness <3 Holly

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

10 Things That Have Made Me Happy

To kick-start this year off right, I'm going to share 10 things that have made me happy throughout the past few months and into the New Year! I feel like this type of post is a great way to look back at what I'm grateful for and what I is great in my life. In general, this type of post just gives me the warm fuzzies! Sometimes you just need some warm fuzzies ;)

This has been a new school year of first for me--my first new job in 10 years, new students, finding the "me time" that I've been needing, and getting back to my old self. I have loved starting a new professional journey, meeting new people and students, and challenging myself to make a change. I have also been working on losing weight to feel like my old self. I've done some new, fun things for myself, and have taken some more time for me lately. I even started eating as a vegan. So many things have happened these past few months!

Overall, I'd say these past few months have been successful. Here are a few of my favorite happy moments:

1. Eating (mostly) Vegan

This new journey of mine has been a fun one. I am completely enjoying eating (mostly) vegan. Most of the time, I am eating plant-based, whole foods. I feel AMAZING! I have not eaten meat since the beginning of October. I have had some cheese (hence the mostly vegan); I ate pizza once or twice. I also ate honey sometimes.

In the last month, however, I have been not using honey and have been eating mostly vegan cheese. I have decided that I will still enjoy the occasional seafood or fish dish if Bjorn and I got out to dinner. I have also decided that I DO NOT want to eat meat. I just can't do it. I don't want to do it. I haven't craved it at all. And I think, right now, it's a good decision for me. I have always been a person who questioned eating meat and was never a huge meat lover. I am very set in my decision not to eat animals for their meat, and I feel really good about it.

I've been loving fresh veggies, beans, and fruit. I crave them when I am hungry and they are what really satisfy me. And that's me and my (mostly) vegan, sometimes vegetarian, sometimes pescetarian diet.

Strawberry Nice-Cream

Eggs with Zucchini and Onion

2. Taking Time for Me

It's been a long time since I have been able to come home, relax, and do something that I want to do. A lot of things just piled on top of each other needing to be finished (and never got done), which only perpetuated the problem. 

This fall has been a time that I focused on reducing my own stress and taking more time to find the things I love again--and do them! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading a lot of books, watching movies with Bjorn, playing with my pups, and taking a nap if I feel like it. And it has been wonderful.

I even took my first dance class in a long time, and it felt amazing! It's such a great mental and physical workout. It keeps my heart healthy and my anxiety in check. I've felt brave going to new classes on my own and just being. It's been one of the my favorite things I've done in the past few months.

My current read

3. Spending Time with my Family

If one of my sisters, my sister-in-laws, or my mom calls and asks to do something, I have loved just having more time to just say "yes" on a whim and do something. Last Saturday, my sisters, my niece, and I spent an impromptu day at Target, Max and Erma's, and Old Navy. It was so much fun!

Hanging out with Rach on my birthday

Girls Day with my sisters and my niece!

4. My Niece and Nephew

Look at these faces...

Need I say more? <3

5. Learning New Things

I have the longest list of things I want to learn more about or learn to do. I want to learn Japanese, learn more about aromatherapy, to tile my bathroom, refinish my cabinets, and the list could go on. 

This fall I taught myself how to arm knit. I made my sister-in-laws and mother-in-law scarves for Christmas and am currently making boot cuffs! It has been such a long time since I've learned something new!

Arm knitting scarves!

Making mugs for gifts and a giveaway in the bookshop

6. My Health

Over the past year and a half, I found my way through depression. My anxiety is currently is check. I'm working on the migraines (as always), and I decided it was time to seriously do something about the weight I gained over the past year and a half. I don't feel like myself, and I want to again. I've had fun going to Zumba, dance class, and recently, barre. I feel motivated, and I'm excited about getting back to my old self. 

7. Planning Fun, New Adventures

I recently found out that I can get a professional discount on some local classes offered, so I have decided to take Japanese this spring! Yay! I'm so excited! I also plan on learning more about photography--need to figure out a plan for that one. And I also want to continue writing. And I'm finally going to have Bjorn teach me how to play ukulele. 

8. Helping Myself Naturally

I have been using essential oils for the last 14 months and loving every minute. I especially love finding new, natural ways to use them in my life. I recently made myself some homemade dryer balls. This way I don't have to use dryer sheets with yucky chemicals in my laundry anymore! I'm going to add a few drops of one of my favorite blends, Purification, before I add them to the dryer. Purification is a fresh, clean scent. It will make my clothes smell awesome!

9. Being Myself

As a new person in a new place, it's hard for me to open up and be myself. I am a truly shy person by nature. My anxiety also keeps me from feeling comfortable around new people and in social situations. I am starting to feel comfortable being myself and starting to find my place in my new job. I've made some new friends at work. I also am getting to know my students and really care for them and their families. My students, as always, show me that it's okay to start anew and create new relationships. 

Paperweight on of my students made me out of clay :)

10. Love

I have so much love in my life: my husband, my family, my friends, and my puppies. The last few years, it has been hard to love myself being in a depression and having so many changes happen to my body. I don't look like my old self and that has been extremely hard for me. I've never had trouble with my weight, but I just can't seem to shed the extra pounds this time. I am continuously working on it and working on loving myself for the me I am at this moment in time. 

Loving my hair blow dried. I usually wake up to late to blow dry it! Ha!

I may be a few sizes bigger. My stomach may not be as flat, 
but I am embracing who I am at this moment. 

To read my last "10 Things That Make Me Happy" Post, click here
To read my 32 Things That Make Me Happy Link Up, click here

What has been making you happy lately?