Deeper Thoughts #1: Social Isolation/Otherness

This post is not a “how to” or filled with self-help from a non-professional.  It’s merely my musings on the subject of dealing with moderate social isolation and otherness.

The older I get the more I’m able to understand society and humanity better, though I have no training or education in sociology or psychology. Life is a great teacher if you pay attention to it.

I know that, generally speaking, people are who they are, from infancy onward. I’ve seen it firsthand through myself and now with my daughter. Some of the struggles and issues I had as a child are still with me in my mid-30s. I often wonder if when put on this earth, we are each given an overarching issue that defines our growth in life. I wonder if mine is social isolation and/or otherness.

As a child, I always felt apart from my peers. I have never once in my life felt as though I belonged to any group or social circle. It hasn’t been for lack of trying, and it’s not as though I’m a hermit that doesn’t work or never talks to people. In fact, if you asked people who met me as an acquaintance, they would probably describe me as friendly and sociable. But being friendly is only indicative of how we treat a person in the moment – it has no bearing on long-term social relationships or bonding.

I always had at least a couple of good friends as a child, but it was always incredibly rare for me to bond very much with anyone. I yearned for it actually, but it seemed so elusive for me. Instead of trying to cling to people, I backed off, believing it would make things worse if I seemed needy. By the time I graduated high school, I had one good friend and had never had a boyfriend. I had learned to keep something of a distance between myself and others, for fear of being abandoned, hurt, or tossed aside.

The fact that I grew up and found a great partner in my husband is very surprising to me. As a teenager I was afraid I’d never develop a romantic bond. I think two things in particular are the reasons why I have a great relationship. The first is that as I got older I did grow more confident in talking to others and asserting myself and my needs/wants. Secondly, my husband and I are similar souls and can relate to each other on many levels. I have more in common with him than anyone I’ve ever met. Believe me, I feel very lucky and am grateful for our relationship every day.

But a good marriage is not a substitute for strong social connections and platonic relationships.  Although I am in my mid-30s, I have not had the easiest path to forming relationships with co-workers or other parents.  Case in point: I was married in my last two years of college and didn’t socialize on campus, which was also an hour from my home.  Upon graduation, I worked adjunct at a small college and did not have an office, so after classes, I generally left campus.  I stopped teaching to work at my current job, where there are only two other employees, both of which are 20+ years older than me.  I have had only one child who switched schools last year, and I have never been able to form a connection with other moms. It’s been tough!  And what I have to show for my adult years is the dissolution of friendships from high school and college, while not forming any new friendships due to not really having any interaction with co-workers.

It’s lonely.  There are plenty of times I wish I could grab a coffee one Saturday with a like-minded female.  I live in a small rural community and sadly, there aren’t a lot of social opportunities.  I think things would be easier when I someday work for a different company (who knows exactly when that will be, though) or if I moved to the city.  For now, I often feel isolated.

Ironically, I am quite the introvert.  I don’t mind being alone, and am rarely bored when I’m alone at work or home.  However, I do long for platonic companionship now and then.  After being friendless for years, it does take a toll.  All-in-all I’m a happy, friendly woman who likes meeting new people, but the connections never seem to happen for me.  And if a connection could potentially happen, I’m so gun-shy that I’m afraid to take a leap and ask someone to “be my friend” – I guess this is the equivalent of being too shy to ask a guy on a date.  I think I’m more shy about being around women than I would be around men if I were single.  How odd!

If you are dealing with feeling socially isolated for similar reasons, or maybe because you’re a stay-at-home mom, or because you’re shy, or because a good friend and you recently parted ways, I understand wholeheartedly.  I think someday I will make a few nice connections, but in the meantime, I do feel the sting of a life with no truly close friends.

Comfort and Wisdom with a Side of Encouragement

shadeandlight

Comfort

A phrase I’ve used to comfort myself many, many times in my life: “This, too, shall pass.”

If there is one thing we can count on in life, it is that things are ALWAYS changing, evolving.  If you let it, that thought can be of great comfort.

The Serenity Prayer is an oldie but a goodie, “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change what I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Look back in your past at all the pain, anxiety, fears, hurts, and struggles you have had.  And then know that not only have you survived it all, you are stronger, wiser, and even happier because of those struggles.

 

Wisdom

Think before you speak, especially during arguments.

Along the same lines, “Before you speak, ask yourself: ‘Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?'”

Be kind to others, because you never know what battles he or she is fighting.

Would your mother and/or father be proud of the things that you say and do when they are not around?

Our children and grandchildren will inherit this earth.  Let us leave it better than we found it so that they can lead happy lives.

The media unrelentingly exploits the negativity in the world.  There is still so much good and love and progress out there that we aren’t shown.  Believe that it is there, look for it in everyday life and you will see it.

 

Encouragement

Look at what you’ve got and make the best of it.  It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

If you want the world to change, you MUST start with yourself.  In other words, be the change you wish to see in the world.

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind – C.S. Lewis

 

Our Lovely, Peaceful Fall Day

lakeSunday, October 9, 2016

8:30 a.m. – Drinking organic coffee we made in our French press (we’re both addicted to it since I bought it about three weeks ago). My husband asks if I would want to go to a lake about a 45 minute drive from home.  I’m on board. We pack up the kid and two dogs and are driving by 10:15.

11:00 a.m. – By this time we’ve made it to the college town that sets on the outskirts of the scenic lake area.  We go to a flea market, a Halloween store where my daughter tries on two costumes, both of which are “too itchy”, and finally stop to eat lunch before heading towards the lake.

1:30 p.m. – Finally arrive at our first stop where we hike for a while with a whiny little girl, one very smart, obedient dog, and one somewhat ditzy dog. I try to keep my sanity as I am interrupted 10-20 times while I take photos.

The sky is clear with just a few wispy clouds.  There is a breeze and it is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  Basically, the weather you’d expect in heaven.  Just perfection.

bugMy daughter is very curious about nature and always, always gets dirty.  I’ve learned to embrace and even enjoy the fact that she loves sticks, leaves, cute bugs, dirt, puddles, and sand.

2:15 p.m. – By this time, we’ve driven to be right on the lake. It’s lovely and the dogs and kiddo are loving being in nature.

scavengingOn the beach, there are things to be inspected by a curious little girl.  But under the trees, in shady spots, there are signs of autumn…

wetleavesI love the way leaves look when they’ve fallen to the ground but not yet decayed.  So beautiful and fragile.

rocksGathering pebbles on the edge of the lake.  I loved collecting rocks as a child.  I think it has to do with some unconscious childhood desire to connect back to the earth.

2:45p.m. – We drive a short distance to our final stop.  While the little one plays on a playground and literally buries her Barbies in the sand, my husband and I sit with two tired dogs under some shade trees.

dogs3:00 p.m. – Feeling genuinely blessed.  I’ve been dealing with ongoing health issues lately (I know, I should join the club, right?) and it is physically and emotionally draining at times, especially when I still work full-time and have a child.  Having days like this recharges me and makes me feel loved and at peace.

shadetrees3:15p.m. – Stop for gas and snacks – the husband has nuts and iced coffee, I have water and a granola bar, and kid has an ice cream sandwich, which is a special treat that she doesn’t get very often. Dogs have lots of fresh, cool water.

4:15p.m. – Husband and I get home and crash together in bed for a nice late afternoon nap.  Little girl plays very quietly (we always cross our fingers that she won’t be too loud – I was pretty vehement before we took a nap for her to play in her room right next to ours very quietly).

6:00p.m. – Little girl and I make homemade vegan chili and cornbread together.  I liked the cornbread but it got a thumbs down from her and husband…not sure why.  Oh, well.  The chili was good.

9:00p.m. – Everyone is settling down for the night: two little dogs, one little girl, and one husband and wife.  Nighty night.

10:30p.m. – Finally get kid to settle down and go to sleep after letting her watch a movie past her bedtime.  It’s OK since today is a holiday and she doesn’t have school.

You know how sometimes in interviews, a person is asked to describe their perfect day? This was pretty close for me.  Although it wasn’t like we were sipping coffee and eating croissants in Paris, it was special and beautiful nonetheless. Happiness comes when you create it.  I hope this post has inspired you to have a beautiful fall season and to try to get outside and enjoy the weather!

Quality Time with Children

playtime

I have only one child and I strive to make as many happy memories of the two of us as possible.  There is something deeply important to me about making memories out of both the simple and even mundane, as well as exciting experiences.  With a mixture of both, I hope to give my daughter a childhood that is fun, memorable, and happy.  I will cherish my memories forever.  These are just some of the things we have done together.

  • We recently went to an afternoon movie together, which is something we do a few times a year.  Sin of sins, I bought movie theater popcorn and pop – which I NEVER do.  I told her, “This is a special treat.”  I know the food was terrible for us, but I also don’t want to be militant about food.   So I relaxed and just had fun with her.  It was great.
  • Occasionally, we will have lunch or dinner together somewhere.  It’s such a simple thing to eat – we do it every day – but spending one-on-one time with a child can make it a memory.
  • There are times when I let her pick out a small toy (typically under $10) just because.  For no reason other than, “I love you.”
  • I typically take her to swim at the YMCA once a week.  I watch her swim and she enjoys saying, “Mommy, watch this!”  It’s something she always looks forward to when I tell her I’m taking her swimming.
  • She loves to play board games.  Her current favorites are Go Fish, Twister, Spot It!, Hedbanz, Clue, and occasionally Candy Land.  This is classic parent-child bonding.
  • When the weather is nice, nothing beats taking a child to the park and just watching them play with abandon. She loves to show me her slide skills or ask me to push her on the swing.
  • Sometimes we do something extra special, like in December when we got dressed up and went to the ballet. It was such a great experience for both of us!
  • Reading books together is simple and wonderful on many levels
  • She also loves taking walks with our dogs or me walking while she rides her bike or scooter

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but just an example of some of the things I love to do with my child.  Sometimes we struggle to take time out of our busy lives to simply share a little one-on-one time with a child, but when we do, and we are actively present in the moment with our child (i.e. not on a phone, the internet, or talking to someone else), it is wonderful for both the child and parent.

What are your favorite ways to spend quality time with your child[ren]?

 

 

How I Feel After Truly Tidying Up My Home

tidyI picked up The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo several weeks ago after hearing its praises sung. I love a tidy house, I love order, I love a clutter-free living space. For me, a tidy home brings greater relaxation and harmony.  Who doesn’t need more of those?!

I thought I was fairly tidy, but after reading Kondo’s book, I knew I wasn’t as tidy as I could be. Her method, which is known as the Kon-Mari method, teaches you to tidy in a very distinct order:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Komono (aka Miscellany)

The way she tells you to decide whether or not to keep something is to ask yourself whether or not an item brings you joy. (As a side note, obviously this would not apply to something practical but necessary, like medications or a toothbrush, but those items would not be included in tidying). If it doesn’t bring you joy, discard it – either trash or donate, as applicable.  I adhered to her method faithfully and here is what happened.

First, I went through all our clothes – all of them.  I had to get real with myself – “Do I really like this?”  “Is this something I enjoy wearing?”  “Is this something I feel confident wearing?” I asked myself these types of questions and it helped me to purge maybe 20% of an already pared down wardrobe.  I did the same for my daughter and my husband took care of his clothes and purged as well.  I organized my drawers by rolling my sweaters and pants so that I can see every item when I open the drawer.  I organized my closet by camisoles, short sleeve, long sleeve, and dresses.  It’s pretty easy to get dressed now, and I don’t miss anything.

Next was books – which is a big deal for me, as I am an avid reader and literature lover.  Still, I forced myself to answer the questions, “Do you really feel drawn to this book?”  “Is this a book you truly love and want to keep?” I got rid of two boxes of books and now my book collection is nice, tidy, and manageable.

This book also motivated me to round up every single piece of paper in our home and either toss or keep.  I could not believe how many old bank statements, bills, and useless miscellany were cluttering drawers and boxes in my home.  It was very satisfying to file the papers all in a pretty box I found at Target, which is where I put all our important documents.  Now everything is in one place.

Finally, I went through all the rest – the miscellany, or komono – “junk drawers”, kitchen cabinets, and every other thing that hadn’t already been organized.  By this point it was easy to get rid of items that did not spark happiness.

I finished decluttering our home a few weeks ago, and I love the results.  There is more room, there is a system for items that come in the house.  It is easier to find things and easier to put things away.  Areas are less cluttered and more organized.

In short, our home is less cluttered and I for one am happier for it.  And we don’t miss any of the material things we tossed or donated.

Have you read this book?  Have you ever thought of decluttering your home?

 

Thoughts on Living Life for What Really Matters

Brianna_&_Dennis_MP-81

My husband and I – Photo Credit

I looked inward recently and realized I’ve been too absorbed in material things – primarily beauty products.  I love lipstick, but it ISN’T life, you know?  It never will be.  People and experiences and peace…they are things of life.  I’ve been spending too much money on things the past few months, again, mostly beauty products.  When I step back, I realize – I don’t need these things.  I need very simple things.

This is a simple list of non-things that are very important to me.

Dates with my husband at least twice a month – something as significant as a concert or going to the city, or as simple as dinner alone at a romantic cafe.

Giving my child at least a few minutes of my undivided attention – This lets her know I hear her – I am listening to what she is saying.  And then I give feedback or respond to her.

Giving my child proper discipline – My child needs to know I love her, but she needs to learn discipline and right from wrong.  I try to always practice “follow through” – if I tell her something will happen if she does or doesn’t do X or Y, then I follow through with the consequence.  I hope this helps her learn valuable lessons.

Making time for myself an absolute priority – I don’t want my well to run dry – when I feel like it’s getting low, I get cranky and irritable, which isn’t fair to me or anyone else! Examples of things that I enjoy just for myself are reading, watching YouTube videos, doing my nails, taking walks, and even naps!

Finding zen  in thankless tasks – I could let myself get irritated due to the dozens of menial but necessary tasks that I do daily. They are tasks that often go completely unnoticed and unappreciated.  Putting laundry away, taking care of the dogs, cleaning up small messes, making dinner, washing dishes – you get the idea.  However, I like being useful and having the strength and health to take care of my home and family.  Also, these are things I would do even if I lived alone, which is a big thing to remember. I often remind myself to find peace in simple, thankless tasks.

Practicing gratitude for something in my life everyday – As someone who struggles with anxiety almost daily, I have found that anxiety helps me experience more gratitude.  When something is going well, or something made me smile, I feel very grateful.  Sometimes it’s something as simple as being grateful for heat in my home to keep me warm, or cabinets full of good food. I’m grateful for the ability to take trips and vacations and have weekends away. I’m grateful for a healthy daughter.  I’m grateful for lots of things, and I’m always looking around seeing more and more to be thankful for in my life.

What are the experiences and joys that matter most in your life?

Why I’m Passionate About ASMR to Relax & Soothe Anxiety

This is how I can often be found – earbuds in ears.  But I’m not usually listening to music – it’s typically ASMR videos on YouTube to which I am happily listening.  If you would have asked me what ASMR was a year ago, I would not have had a clue.  Now, it is a daily part of my life.  Once I discovered what ASMR is, there was no turning back.

ASMR – which is short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response –  is typically described as a “phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or cognitive stimuli” (from the ASMR Wikipedia page here).  Or, in my own words, ASMR for me is feeling tingly sensations in my head, and often, over my entire body, that are triggered by things like soft speaking, finger tapping, soft crinkly noises, and occasionally, even watching slow hand movements.  Though the topic is often brought up, for myself and many, many others, ASMR is not sexual in nature at all.  For me, ASMR is a tool to bring deep relaxation, to soothe anxiety, and help with insomnia.  I have used ASMR videos for all three of those things with fantastic results.

One of the easiest ways to describe ASMR to someone who is unfamiliar with it is to think about being at the hair salon.  Do you enjoy the way it feels when someone gently shampoos you hair?  Do you like the feeling of your hair being softly brushed?  Do certain types of touch or sounds give you pleasant feelings or goosebumps?  This is ASMR.  Not everyone experiences ASMR, but for those who do, it is a wonderful discovery.  This is one of the first videos I watched to learn more about ASMR.

For me, ASMR is another form of meditation.  I often enjoy listening to ASMR at work if I’m doing certain tasks, to help me relax. This is an example of a video I would listen to at the office.  If I’m having a bout of anxiety, certain ASMR videos are excellent for helping to calm me – like this one.  And if I’m having trouble falling asleep, I love listening to videos like this.

I can understand how this all seems pretty odd and unorthodox – sure, it is – but it works wonders for me, and for that, I am happy to spread the word.  I am an anxious person by nature.  I very often have an overactive imagination, deal with insomnia at times, and get anxiety.  People that deal with these things will probably agree that you often look for ways to help deal with these issues.  When you find something that helps, you hold on to it!

Often, there are people who do not experience the tingly sensations, but enjoy listening to ASMR purely to relax.  I think that’s great, too.  It’s not for everyone, but for those that it works for, it is truly a gift.

There is not really any scientific research or data to substantiate ASMR (not yet, anyway) – but that’s OK.  I reap the benefits with less stress, more relaxation, and another way to ease anxiety.  And it’s free!

This is a list of some of my favorite ASMR artists in no particular order, with links to their YouTube pages.  This is not an exhaustive list – I’m always discovering new artists that I like – there are quite a few.  As with anything, some ASMR artists are phenomenal, and some are just OK – you have to find what clicks for you.

Gentle Whispering (she is definitely one of the greats)

Olivia’s Kissper ASMR

Brittany ASMR

AccidentallyGraceful ASMR

Chocolat ASMR

ALBinWhisperland

Fairy Char ASMR

ASMR Massage Psychetruth

DonnaASMR

ASMR Angel

Do you have any experience with these sensations?  Have you ever watched ASMR videos for relaxation?

 

Why Mindfulness Is One of the Most Important Practices

thoughts

I get it – mindfulness has been a trendy buzzword lately…but with good reason.

For me, when I speak of this term, I’m refering to mindfulness in the sense of being present with the thoughts that are going on in my mind – being aware that I am having the thoughts and listening to them.  It means thinking about my negative thoughts and creating habits that keep negative self-talk to an absolute minimum.

I have listened to negative self-talk in my head for most of my life.  The thoughts have ranged from normal thoughts such as “Why did I do that stupid thing?” to much worse.  These negative thoughts have brought me down so many times in my life.  On other occasions, my negative thoughts have absolutely crippled me in both mind and body.

Recognizing and acknowledging the negative, paranoid, and compulsive thoughts in my mind is the first and most crucial step in releasing myself from the thoughts.  Once I “catch” myself in the act, I try to reflect on what my negative thoughts were about.  I don’t try to ignore them, because that only gives them strength.  I “sit” with them and logically ask myself if the thoughts are true.  Nearly 100% of the time, my negative thoughts are merely created by my mind at a weak moment.  I remind myself that worrying about a “potential” outcome only hurts me.  Constantly replaying “what if’s” only paralyzes my mind.

I love the quote, “Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere.”

For the past year, I’ve been working my mindfulness like a muscle.  I have to work at it to maintain it.  I have to be consistent and willing to change the thought processes that plague me.  Thoughts can be negative or positive, regardless of the situation.  I’d say 99% of the time, there is a way to put a positive spin on things.

When I have negative thoughts, I have an inner dialogue with myself.  The true me that isn’t negative and paranoid says, “You know these feelings and negative thoughts aren’t true” or “Stop worrying about what you cannot control” or simply, “Everything is OK.”

I try to listen to the negative thought, dispel it with rationality, and then replace it with a positive thought.  It takes time, effort, patience, and consistency, but it has helped me in my journey.

Do you have any experiences with being mindful of your thoughts?