Friday, January 17, 2014

the power of suggestion.

The last few months of the year are hectic for most people, so I wasn't surprised that I spent the last quarter of 2013 more anxious that usual. The holidays were certainly a part of it; tack on some new babies (my perfect niece!), a couple of showers, and a wedding weekend to the usual shenanigans and it was understandable that the storm inside of me had started to brew. 

Since I've dealt with varying degrees of anxiety pretty much my entire life, I've had to also learn how to manage it – with yoga, medicine, therapy and lots of deep breaths. And sometimes wine.

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While staying steadfast with my usual remedies, which helps, I still felt on edge. My therapist said I needed more sleep.  Then she suggested that I start keeping a gratitude journal. 

"Is that that thing Oprah does?," I said, not particularly thrilled. 

"Yes!," she said enthusiastically, as if that would get me on board.  “Every day, you should write down something that you’re grateful for – something that gives you joy.” 

I nodded and smiled indicating that I understood what she meant, but walked out of her office with absolutely no intention of following through with the journal.

Full disclosure: I only do about half of the things my therapist suggests.  Our appointments are full of good suggestions for healthy living – sometimes that’s all we talk about. If I followed through on all her suggestions, I would have no time for work or food or yoga or TV. And they’re just suggestions – which is polite, but also annoying. I respond better to angry demands.

Sometimes I want to yell to her from the couch, “ENOUGH WITH THE SUGGESTIONS! JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO TO MAKE MY LIFE BETTER!”

If my therapist told me the journal was homework and she would be checking to see that I completed it, no problem. I’d gratitude journal all day long if I knew someone was checking my work.

That doesn't happen - she, like any "good" therapist, talks me through issues and helps me come to conclusions/solutions myself. And then I pay her. If I didn’t feel considerably better after our sessions, I would think therapy is a huge scam.

My childlike reluctance to follow her helpful suggestions aside, keeping a gratitude journal seemed a bit trite. Too cliche. Not for me.

On the other hand, that Oprah seems to know a thing or two about living well, so maybe there is something to this gratitude journal. I promised my therapist I would give the journal some serious consideration.

And I did. For about an hour.

Then November came, and by Thanksgiving, reading everyone's "thankful" posts on Facebook had started to annoy me (my heart is black), and so I gave myself permission to again dismiss the idea of keeping a journal.

After all, can’t I feel thankful for things both big and small without writing them down?

Then one day, with my anxiety still sky-high, I overheard my coworker and friend Jackie talking about a game she plays with her family at the dinner table every night – each person takes a turn telling the others the best and worst parts of their day.

I loved the idea, as both a conversation starter and a replacement for the gratitude journal. 

So, combining my therapist’s (and Oprah's) suggestion and my co-worker’s dinner table game, I decided to move forward with my own kind of game – one that reminds me a lot of the 3-part game called Bed, Wed, Dead, only a lot less dirty and controversial.    

At the end of the day, I try to reflect and write down the best part of my day, the worst part of my day, and something that I'm grateful for.

12/3/2013

Best – my hilarious conversation with Kyle about her pregnancy footwear which has only included Croc flip flops and UGGs.
Worst -- sitting in an hour of traffic on the way home from the doctor (Sidebar: STOP SCHEDULING DOCTOR'S APPOINTMENTS AT 4PM).
Grateful - for the man in line at the post office who let me borrow his pen.

12/10/2013

Best – finishing my work review.
Worst – doing my work review.
Grateful – that I will never be farther away from next year’s work review than I am right now.


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1/8/2014
(A particularly dramatic day.)

Best – finding peace at yoga class. 
Worst – having my peacefulness disrupted after tripping in my living room while carrying grocery bags, skinning my knee and spilling all of my grape tomatoes on the floor.
Worst - no one – including my landlords who live right next door and definitely heard me crashing to the ground - called to check to see if I was ok.
Worst - Jacob did not show me enough sympathy for my injuries. 
Grateful - I didn't die when I fell and spilled the groceries.

Despite him coming up short after the grocery fall, I let/made Jacob get in on the game too.  
12/2/2013

Best - remembering how to find the guitar shop without looking at my GPS (um, ok? Boys are weird.)
Worst – stepping out of my car directly into a puddle on the street.
Grateful – for beer in my fridge (A simple guy, that JJ).

Aside from inspiring humorous anecdotes (one day the thing for which I was most grateful was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), keeping a “BWG” journal has done what my therapist suggested it would by helping me get some of the anxiety-producing thoughts in my head, out on paper.
  
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The results have surprised me.

Just like a thermos keeps cold things cold and hot things hot, (how does it know?), this practice has been strangely effective at helping me remember all of the blessings in my life and the best parts of my day, while also forcing me to acknowledge and then let go of the unpleasant ones.    

I have stayed more present and have felt, even if just for the five minutes it takes me to complete a day’s entry, less anxious and more at peace.  And talk about perspective - for several days in a row, the worst thing that happened to me was worrying about stuff happening to me.    

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So why, then, all of my anxiety? 

Well, I still don't know.  I may never understand why I have it; why on a random Tuesday at work, I can feel like I'm about to deliver a speech to 10,000 strangers, which is the best way that I know how to describe what my anxiety feels like. If history is any indication, though, I’m probably stuck with it for life, so finding ways to cope is the only way I can think to keep on keeping on.

Feeling edgy is the symptom.  Staying present, feeling (and expressing) gratitude, recognizing joyful moments throughout the day and breathing through the bad ones and then surrendering them to the universe - they are the cure. 

And if keeping a gratitude journal helps me stay mindful of all those things, well then, Oprah, that's game I'm more than happy to play.  

Thanks for the suggestion.  

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