#SoThisIsTheNewYear (Finding Purpose and Happiness)

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This is about to get real, deal reader.

I think about death often. My death.

I want to preface this blog entry by writing that I’m not suicidal. If I am anything, I am reflective (although I do think about my funeral and what share of blue my body would turn without oxygen and bloody flow quite often). This death fascination has been especially strong the last couple of weeks, even during my happier moments.

Perhaps I have post-holiday depression. Maybe I need to have my antidepressant increased. I just feel nothing. Two days ago, I sat on the beach in Venice, CA- one of my most favorite places in the world- and I felt nothing. I had a great weekend, exploring, partying and meeting new people. But on that beach, even in moments before, I felt empty. On the plane ride home from Christmas, I sat with my seat leaning back, wishing that the plane would explode during midair. L’appel du vide– I’ve always had that feeling but as each day passes by, the feeling intensifies. I would never kill myself- it would kill my mom- but lately, I don’t feel like my life is worth it. I think about my cousin, Josh, who died two years ago in a terrible accident. He was a really good guy, extremely kind and grateful for his life- why couldn’t have God taken me instead of him?

I have a hard time feeling joy- that lasting moment of happiness that I feel like everyone around me has. They are happy all the time despite whatever they’re going through- they express that happiness physically and emotionally. Their lives aren’t perfect but they love them anyway.  For as long as I can remember, I thought it was my mental illness that kept that feeling away from me. I could never sustain that feeling. Even as a tween, I felt that overall sense of sadness all the time. I slept a lot- good chunks of my day- because of it. In college, one of my professors told me that I’m lazy. I replay that moment over and over in my head. I will never forget Paul’s words. Over Christmas, my father and step-mother called me a narcissist. My previous ex-boyfriend said the same thing. They all said that I don’t think about others and I don’t know my identity; that I chose to be miserable and have had a negative influencer in my life. What they all said they been weighing on my mind, as well as this song which features the lyric, “But people don’t really change.” I think about the times in the past when I tried to change my mindset into thinking happier thoughts or break bad habits. I would do really well for a week or two but then slip back into old ways. I don’t think in a sustainable way. All I do is want to sleep and be sad.

I don’t want to set a New Year’s resolution. Last year, I came up with a simple on: be happy. I was miserable most of it. Right now, I’m on deadline for one of the publications that I write for. I’m writing about spring cleaning your being- getting rid of life’s dead weight. I want to be able to push through this dead weight of my life and be a kinder, more empathetic, happier person by the year’s end. But I’m scared of fucking things up, scared of disappointing others and disappointing myself. I’ve been this way for most of my life- I don’t know what it feels like to be happy most of the time, how to be kinder to myself and others. I’m terrified to step out of my comfort zone. What if I can’t break these bad habits?

I feel like I can be happy when I figure out my purpose in my life. That is something that has been weighing me down. Despite my friends tell me to enjoy being single, I hate it. I’m eager to jump into something when I know that I shouldn’t. I love that feeling of being a girlfriend, though. However, I know that you shouldn’t base your happiness on your title or through another person. I think of how being a girlfriend, and then eventually a wife and a mother (especially being a mom) will give my life meaning. But why do I have to wait for someone to come in my life? Why can’t I find that purpose now? I do good things for my community. I have a great circle of friends who support me. So, how do I let the feeling of lappel du vide morph into something happier?

I’m writing this today with no intentions for you, dear reader, to feel sorry for me. I already feel enough pity for myself. I just want to be real with you and ultimately, myself.  I haven’t been great with being honest about myself and the way that I live my life. Most people read this and think that I’m pretty carefree. I’m not. But I want to be. I really do. So, this is my 2017 journey- to 1) find a reason- a good, solid reason to live, 2) ) figure out exactly who I am and 3) be a better person to others and put myself and their shoes.

Happy 2017, dear reader. Maybe your year be filled with all the good stuff you want and need in your life right now. Join me on this journey, won’t you?

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#TouchMe

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I’m a sucker for cuddling. Holding hands. Giving long hugs. Sitting close on the couch. Kissing. Scientists figured out that human beings need at least five different touch interactions during the day and the lack of that comforting touch can lead to depression and anxiety. Touch gives us humans the sensory input that we crave.

The power of touch is pretty incredible. It’s our primary language of compassion and care. Even when it is non-sexual.Touch instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger. It lifts serotonin levels, elevating your mood. Touch builds trust and a sense of safety. It’s one of the most simple of ways that we continually renew our bonds with those we love- holding our children, caressing our partners. It relaxes muscles and releases tension in the body.

It is possible to be touch deprived (something that I have been experiencing lately). “Most of us, whatever our relationship status, need more human contact than we’re getting,” said psychologist Matthew Hertenstein, PhD, director of the Touch and Emotion Lab at DePauw University. “Compared with other cultures, we live in a touch-phobic society that’s made affection with anyone but loved ones taboo.”

In the 1960s, psychologist Sidney Jourard observed friends in different parts of the world as they sat in a café together. Sometimes, they hugged. Sometimes, they gave each other a simple high five. Sometimes, something more. In England, Jourard noted that the two friends touched each other zero times within the hour. In the United States, we touched each other twice. In France, the number shot up to 110 times per hour- no wonder the French are considered so sensual, engaging in their sense of touch.

Why are Americans so afraid to touch one another?

We live in such a busy, crowded world. Yet, it’s so easy for many of us to go days, weeks, even months without touching and/or being touched by others. Ask yourself, dear reader, if you are deprived and why you are. I’m not saying to tackle the next random person you see on the street. But maybe the emerging cuddling businesses might be the way to go. Perhaps I should become a professional snuggler…

One is Silver and the Other Gold…

Admitting defeat... Rami Malek plays Elliot, a lonely hacker on USA's "Mr. Robot"

Admitting defeat… Rami Malek plays Elliot, a lonely hacker on USA’s “Mr. Robot”

Have you seen “Mr. Robot?” It’s my favorite new show of 2015. Not only does it dive into hacker culture in a very real way, it also explores loneliness and social anxiety. I deeply identify with the lead character, Elliot, a lonely hacker. Despite being a fictional character, I’ve never identified with anyone- real or make believe- as much as I do with Elliot.

It takes a lot to admit that you’re lonely… which I am. Over the weekend, I sat in my boyfriend’s car and broke down to him, explaining to him how my circle had shrank over the past year and I constantly wonder why it’s harder to make and keep friends the older I get. I understand that people change- I’ve changed a lot over the last couple of months. With that change, friendships fade. There’s too much distance, too much time apart… I understand that people have complex lives, filled with careers and relationships and kids and family and bills. I have some of that, too, but I still have trouble finding someone to lean on who isn’t my partner nor my mother. (And let’s not forget the physical form that loneliness can take.)

I think about the last friend I did make. It was an easy task but mind you, this was three years ago. She just moved into town from California and we were volunteering together at a fun run. I asked her if she wanted to hang out after the race and she said, “yes.” Bam- friend date! YES! When I was a nanny in NYC, my charge would walk up to other little ones out on the playground and they would become instant buddies, if only for an hour. I wish it was still that simple… just walk up to someone and say “hey” (or like this).

Back in my early days of college, I thought making friends was pretty easy. I joined a couple of clubs and met some great people. We weren’t the smartest kids in the room, nor the prettiest or most popular. Perhaps that’s why we all got along. We all had that in common. We were similar in age, in similar points in our lives, just trying to get through school. I was an extrovert then- an X on the MyersBrigg- and still am one today. Now in school and a kiss away from 30, I’m the oldest student in my class. I know what the working world is like. I’ve made adult decisions. I’ve had serious talks about marriage and buying a house. A small part of me still enjoys partying hopping and drinking on a school night but that isn’t the connection I’m looking for in a friend. The same at my job. I’m the youngest employee at most of the jobs I’ve had recently. I’ve worked with a lot of moms who aren’t too keen to grab a quick after-work cocktail or go for a run around the lake near my home. As much as I love babies, I can’t find that connect with mothers either. I’ve tried Meet Up groups, which are great but the more I attend, the more I notice already established cliques that are difficult to break into. Being with established groups flares up my social anxiety, which does keep me at home most nights. Friends on social media don’t count either- you can’t hug them or share a special look.

So, my question for you, dear reader, is how do you make friends? I know that forming quality friendships take time and I’m trying not to be discouraged by the process (even though I’m admittedly extremely jealous of my boyfriend and all his invites to hang out). A new BFF is on the horizon. Until she/he comes, you can find me watching “Mr. Robot” at home with a hard cider in tow. Hopefully, it’s not another cat.

I think it’s really important to have a have a group of strong friends; that are always supportive and always there for you; that love you no matter what…” –Serena Williams (Amen, sister. Can we hang?)

Therapy… Three Times a Day

I’m halfway through this book where the author is quite frank about her therapy appointments, going to her weekly session to talk about her relationship issues (she eventually breaks up with the guy). In her most recent album, “The London Sessions,” Mary J. Blige sings about seeing her therapist three times a day (she too, like the author, doesn’t need a man). I’ve been seeing a therapist on and off for the last couple of years and am a firm believer that everyone should go see a therapist every once in a while… even if you think you’re mentally sound.

Sure, mental health is a scary thing to talk about- there is that stigma that only crazy people need to see a shrink. But seeing a therapist doesn’t mean you are depressed or weak. Think of therapy as regular maintenance for your emotional sanity. It’s like keeping your car tuned up. Just because you change your oil doesn’t mean anything is wrong with your car.

No one is mentally perfect (even though most of us think we are). Therapy can help sort out the smallest of problems, as well as large ones. The manfriend and I have been seriously talking about our future- the whole shebang with marriage, kids, finances. Steve brought up the good idea of premarital counseling. We have a lot of decisions to make and to talk about when it comes to the big stuff and we hope that our bond is strengthen by some thoughtful sessions.

People are complex and we often need to blow off steam. “People go to therapy to cope with disorders, relationships, stress, grief but also, to figure out who they are and learn to live life to the fullest,” said Ryan Howes Ph.D, a clinical psychologist. “There’s no shame in wanting a better life.”

Have you, dear reader, seen a therapist recently?

WOOSAH!

My brain goes a mile a minute, as well as my emotions. I like to compare my brain to the streets of San Francisco; they go up and down, sideways, winding back and forth. But then… WOOSAH. The streets are flat and still, looking more like sandy, flat beach rather than a noisy and packed metropolis.

Thank you, mindfulness.

Mindfulness: the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. In therapy, mindfulness is a state you can achieve when you empty your head of worries and anxieties and completely focus on the present moment. You are active and open in the present. There are many times at work where I need to take a mental break. I get off my computer, take a walk and WOOSAH– I focus on my breathing or the clouds or the water I’m sipping. Woosah-ing allows me to become aware of my surroundings. I feel the air escape my nostrils. I note the kiss of sunshine on the clouds. I feel the water touching the different parts of mouth.

The thing about mindfulness is that it’s nonjudgmental. I can be having a terrible day- the manfriend and I started the morning with an argument; the cat threw up on the shoes I was planning to wear; my bike got a flat tire; my boss yelled at me for taking too long to finish a project; blah blah blah. I recognize that I’m having a bad day and all the feelings inside: frustration, anger, hopelessness- all these words that have a negative connotation. I accept the presence of the emotions without names nor judgments and let them go.

Also with practicing mindfulness, it’s hard to get wrapped up in worries about the future and regrets of your past. I feel like it has helped me become a better friend, as I listen more intently and focus on the person’s features, like the way their mouth moves or how their eyes reflect the light. And the more I practice, the better I get at being mindful.

How do you practice mindfulness and being in the moment, dear reader?

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When Things are Crappy…

This is me- yup, I eat while I sob.

Today was one of those days. I woke up feeling like garbage, falling off the wrong side of the bed.  After a morning staff meeting, I became overwhelmed with all the things I have to accomplish in a short amount of time. A weekend at the lake I was really looking forward to was canceled. I embarrassed myself in class later in the afternoon and after a chat with my advisor and even though I’m in my last class of my college career, my GPA isn’t high enough to graduate this Spring and won’t be unless I ace an additional two classes.

I have a lot of days like today, days that feel like the world is ending even though I know it isn’t. My depression and anxiety intensify everything and I will admit- most things in life get me down. But then I remember that I’m just having a moment. I give myself a few minutes to cry (and call my mom) and I pick myself back up. I remind myself that I’m okay and then, try to come up with solutions or tasks that make me feel better- how do I flip that switch?

So… Today was one of those days. I woke up feeling like garbage, falling off the wrong side of the bed. But I still got ready for the day. I curled my hair, giving it cute beach waves and felt pretty. After a morning staff meeting, I became overwhelmed with all the things I have to accomplish in a short amount of time. I took a deep breath, cranked up some Becky G and got to work, pumping myself up with thoughts of accomplishment. A weekend at the lake I was really looking forward to was canceled. Now, I have more time for myself. I’m going to make myself a lasagna and curl up in bed with lots of  blankets and the fourth season of “Buffy.” I embarrassed myself in class later in the afternoon and after a chat with my advisor and even though I’m in my last class of my college career, my GPA isn’t high enough to graduate this spring and won’t be unless I ace an additional two classes. I made an appointment with the General Studies advisor about switching my major/degree so I can graduate with a GS degree in May (not every big editor has a journalism degree). And I’m going to end this shitty day on a high note- I’m going to go to the  gym to kickbox my problems away (yay endorphins!) and grab Pho for dinner with a good friend. And then, I’ll shake it out to Pharrell in the comfort of my bedroom… sans pants.

I hope YOU had a good day, dear reader… And remembered to boogie.

Things sometimes suck- you just have to dance it out!

Things sometimes suck- you just have to dance it out!

Being Good To Yourself

With yesterday being a holiday, I stayed home from work and did absolutely nothing: I laid in bed all day, reading Veteran’s Day memorial posts and watching Tom Hardy movies (it’s all about his lips- sorry, boyfriend). Five o’clock rolled around and I began to feel bad that I let my day “go to waste.” I only put on clothes to grab lunch and feed the neighborhood feline. I recently started typing out my to-do lists (since I’m always losing post-it notes) and all the things I told myself on Monday that I would accomplish on Tuesday… well, they didn’t happen. The mental fists sprung up and I began beating myself up.

I used to think that being good to yourself meant that you were lazy, letting yourself slide all the time. I realize now it simply means giving yourself a break. That’s what I did yesterday- I was giving myself a day long break. You can still work hard but you can also still have fun. You can still relax and take it easy. We work eight hours a day, with hectic lives outside our place of employment-we have school, children, dreams to look after and sometimes, we just need that physical and mental break in order to clear our heads and keep our sanity in check. It’s in times like that where we need to remind ourselves to stop being so hard and give ourselves more credit… Give yourself the time to enjoy the day and the comfort of your bed and blanket and your snuggle buddy- and stop the stress with trying to be perfect. As much as I want to do and have everything (the career, the social life, the grades, a decent sleeping schedule, etc.), I realize that I will never have it all- no one does. There is always so sort of sacrifice to be made. Being good to yourself is realizing that- you can never have it all so take what you can get (especially if it’s an extra four hours of sleep).

At the same time, though, I think about being good to yourself is deeper than giving yourself that occasional break. It’s about treating yourself well. Time off to mediate. Not feeling awful for canceling plans with friends (just don’t do it all the time). When I think about treating myself well, I think about going to the gym and the rush of endorphins I feel. Or how I feel after finishing up a homework assignment. Or my feelings while making the effort to bike across town for a therapy session. Or simply brushing my teeth- because having a squeaky clean mouth feels GOOD. I focus on the good feelings. I believe that is what we need to look at- the good, positive feelings that stimulate our bodies and minds. Being good to ourselves is about the good vibes we create for ourselves- vibes without all the stress and pressure from the outside world, just what feels good to us. Only we can decide what feels good and what works for us, I say, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, do what makes you happy and feels good.

So, dear reader… Take it easy. Stop being so hard on yourself. Give yourself more credit.

You deserve it.

This is me telling you to BE GOOD TO YOURSELF!

This is me telling you to BE GOOD TO YOURSELF!

The Wonderful World of ASMR

I have trouble sleeping, both falling asleep and staying asleep. With my anxiety and the recent influx of nightmares I’ve been having (zombies are not real, Andi. Zombies are NOT real), bedtime is not longer my favorite time of the day. Until a couple months ago, I would lie in bed and let my head race. I’d try listening to music or watch an old episode of “Will and Grace” but both never seemed to help. I don’t know what I was doing on YouTube that I discovered my first ASMR video- it was of a young Russian woman, whispering gently about her jewelry. I watched the video for five minutes before failing asleep.

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a little hard to describe. It is a positive reaction one experiences in response to a certain sound you hear. Think about a cat’s purr and how relaxing it sounds. You dive deeper into its melody and vibration and makes you feel warm and comforted- that is ASMR. The sole purpose of ASMR is to relax people. Ideally, ASMR videos are meant to give the viewer a relaxing tingle at the back of their head or spine (not everyone experiences that sensation, though). ASMR videos usually involve whispering, relaxing hand movements, smacking of the lips, nail tapping, scratching on hard surfaces such as tables or books and brushing sounds.

Everyone’s tingles vary and their reactions are different. For me, the sounds of tapping and paper shuffling are the most comforting (maybe it’s because I’m a writer). I love the sound of a sweet whisper and am especially fond of role-play videos (ASMR artists make up different scenarios from cutting hair to pretending to be a witch). I don’t necessarily get tingles- the feeling I get is this warm almost-blanket feeling. I experience this big bear hug that covers me, clearing the bees buzzing in my head and letting me feel relaxation for the first time all day. Then I can finally sleep.

ASMR is bit controversial as it has not been researched much. Honestly, I rather admit to watching porn than ASMR videos. I try to explain the power of watching someone fold towels but I think they look at me like I have a weird fetish. I tell people to think of hearing your favorite sounds over and over again and how relaxing it can be. People love hearing James Earl Jones’ voice- that deep calmness- or Bob Ross exclaim how happy his little tree is. That’s what ASMR is to me- a piece of audible heaven.

I don’t mean to sound like a crazy sales person trying to sell you a used car at the auto dealer but ASMR works. It has done wonders for me. If you are like me, dear reader, heavy with anxiety and sleeping problems, I recommend checking out some ASMR videos and find a content creator who works for you. They can only help. Happy sleeping and relaxation!

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SpringBok is one of the many great ASMR content creators- she’s amazing!

October is National Depression Awareness Month

Gonna keep this one short: Depression is awful and many people around the world suffer from it (including me). I’m a big mental health advocate and it still surprises me how little our world talks about disorders like depression, anxiety and mania. I believe the only way you can learn is to dive deep and ask the big questions. The more we learn, the better we understand- especially when it comes to treatment and how to help friends.

If you don’t know about depression (how it affects the brain and the body, long-term effects, etc.), do your research. To those who are suffering, hang in there. We’re battling this war together- and I do believe we will win.

And if you rather advocate for another cause this month, October is also National Poetry Month (why don’t you read some Shel Silverstein to an elementary school class?) and Breast Cancer Awareness Month (support the cause and wear pink!).

Anxiety Girl

Anxiety girl (this is me)!

Anxiety girl (this is me)!

1:32am. I’m sitting on my living room couch, trying to differentiate the sounds of the white noise outside from the buzzing inside my brain. It’s another sleepless night with my anxiety, another night that I am unfortunately used to.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults in the United States (about 18% of U.S. population). Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. I am one  of those women. I have always had some sort of anxiety. Through out my life, it comes and goes in great waves, with certain times of the year being more concerning than others.

My anxiety causes me to stay up nights and lose much focus and motivation during the daylight hours. I spend hours and hours analyzing every single thing in my life and in the world around me. Every other month or so, I have an anxiety attack. The last one I had, two weeks ago, stemmed from a whole slew of things (responsibilities at work; my schedule with school and the upcoming holidays; distance I’ve been experiencing with certain friends; the 15 pounds I gained over the summer; my low bank account; upcoming events like the Reno SlutWalk and my high school reunion, etc.). These worries left me feeling paralyzed. I needed to get up for work but I couldn’t move my body. I felt so stuck and cried for a good 10 minutes before I managed to drag my body into the shower. A week later, I had another when I woke up with herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) on my left eyelid (which I get when extremely stressed), that left me more anxious. I had a weekend of fun things planned but instead, since the virus festers and spreads when I get any sunlight, I canceled my plans and stayed inside… which left me feeling more upset and uneasy, lonely and disgusted with myself. It’s the never-ending cycle with this one…

I sometimes think about the kind of person I would be if I didn’t have my anxiety. I think about how I would have longer hair, as I pull out my hair during tense moments (or even moments of boredom or a mental fog). I don’t think I would binge on food and use sweets and salty treats to subdue my emotions and negativity thinking (here’s looking at you, tummy and hip stretch marks). But I do what I can. I watch ASMR videos on YouTube that help me sleep throughout the night. I recently bought a gym membership and I push myself HARD; so hard that most of my muscles throb with pain by the time I leave. That pain leaves me feeling accomplished and let me focus through out the day on becoming mentally strong and building muscles (even though I can barely make it up the stairs). I go back and forth about going on medication (this week, I’m thinking about going on it). But above all else, I remember to be gentle with myself- I let myself go through the motions, dive deep in my problems and swim on through to the other side, ending up “Life isn’t that Bad” Bay. I dry myself off and start smiling again.

If you, dear reader, suffer from anxiety, especially in the way I do, my heart goes out to you. I hope that you can find the tools to heal and just know that you are not alone.