Leaning into the curiosity

The sentence “I don’t know.” is enough to make me break out in hives at times. As a person who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I find my comfort in the stability of a good plan, precise information, and the guarantee of something happening. It’s a rigid way to live but it’s been my reality my entire life. I’ve never really noticed this behavior until I started therapy and realized how my anxiety worked. It took a lot of learning to realize that all my behavior was learned and wired rather than something I was doing to myself or someone else. I no longer had to punish myself for being “too much” or “annoying” or the “chicken-shit”, I am now able to recognize that my flaws are moldable and things can be done that can further improve my interactions with myself and others. Anxiety was never my fault, but it is now my responsibility. The power is in my hands to change my ways and learn how to approach life not resenting my anxiety but using it as a part of my identity. I’ve been given the tools to take my power back and use it to my advantage instead of becoming stifled by my disorder.

I find myself approaching my mental health with a sense of curiosity. The use of “what and how” instead of the “why” has been coming up more frequently. What can I do differently to make this task manageable for my stress levels? What can I do to relax when my nervous system dysregulated? What are my “happy spots” and how can I use them to my advantage in hard times? What is my absolute mental limit before I need to ask for help from someone? Reframing the process into a learning experience versus how to eradicate my flaws eases the pressure of perfection. I don’t have to do all things perfect; I can continue life’s path of trial and error. What doesn’t work doesn’t have to be dissected, it can be learned from, and new processes can be created that can foster a better relationship with myself and my world around me.

It has been eye opening to lean into the curiosity instead of always being at war with myself. It hasn’t been an easy road but it’s a road I’m growing to appreciate because I am becoming in a way that I never have before.

The Unofficial Attitude of Gratitude (2022)

In 2015, I came across a blog challenge presented by Tales from the Motherland, my friend Dawn Quyle Landau. Dawn wrote a post in 10 minutes about 50 things she was grateful for and invited others to participate. While the 50 goal isn’t always achievable in the time span, I’ve always had a lot fun trying it out and doing my part to fill the internet with gratitude versus the not so nice things it can show in a day’s work. I’ve always loved this challenge because it became an annual way to end my year/or begin it by reminding myself about all the good in my life. Last year was the first year, I didn’t participate/see the challenge presented (for obvious reasons) but I wanted to begin 2022 and bring it back around. I don’t have the same scale of community that Dawn has, but I am presenting an open invitation to anybody wants to participate. Feel free to share your post with me on this platform or Twitter. The challenge is to write as many things you’re grateful for in 10 minutes. Good luck and have fun with it! While life is all about balance, I think it’s important to try and drive as much positivity as we can muster especially in today’s crazy world.

Without further ado, here’s my list (not in any order/preference):
1. My Corgi, Penelope – she’s the light of our lives.
2. Being able to see more family this year after a hellish 2020 (hope to see even more in 2022).
3. Marco Polo. This app is a Godsend. My friends and I began weekly chats on Zoom through the height of the pandemic but this app has turned it into daily ones.
4. My wife. She’s my partner in so many ways. I love our life together and I love growing as a couple and as people.
5. My faith. Finding an LGBTQIA+ ministry in a Catholic Church setting has felt like finding a unicorn in real life. I am so lucky.
6. Having a job after all of the chaos of remote life.
7. A place to live.
8. Not losing anyone close to me to this horrible virus when so many people did.
9. Therapy. It took me almost 10 years to finally unpack things but I’m glad that I have been trying and learning.
10. My family both born into and married into.
11. Music/Podcasts – I hate being alone and I’ve spent a lot of time on my own with my wife returning to the office. They’ve kept me company. (Shoutout to Ask Iliza Anything and Drama Queens, my two favorite podcasts)
12. The ability to learn something new daily.
13. Streaming services. Sometimes mindless and time consuming, other times live saving and just the distract you need.
14. Learning that creativity can be more than just my writing.
15. My new found Lego hobby.
16. Coloring books.
17. Starting to speak my mind even when it’s uncomfortable.
18. Colleen Ballinger
19. A good pair of earrings never failing to make me feel sexy.
20. Being able to go back to places I never thought I’d see again.
21. Meditation for calming me down at my worst.
22. Living in a city with so many food options.
23. The drive to continue to learn about myself and never giving up on that journey.
24. A clean house.
25. Video games.
26. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone when necessary and having the support in my life in which to do it.
27. A good blanket
28. Trips to my parents house when I need it or when I need to see them.
29. My co-workers who I went two years without seeing but was able to pick up right where we left off.
30. A good cup of coffee.
31. The Letter Project for showing me how many women are just like me/how I can be of service to more women who need the encouragement.

Thank you for letting me share and I hope that this entry inspires your own list of gratitude. Happy 2022!


My not-so-triumphant return to NYC.

The height of the pandemic left a lot of stores, restaurants, and recreational places closed. The hustle of New York City had come to a screeching halt leaving its residents scrambling on what to do next. Just like the rest of the world, we were forced to work and live in our houses on a 24/7/365 basis, and we were clueless for how long any of it would last. Making the best of the uncertainty, my wife and I decided to fill our weekends with as much as outdoor time as we could. Living and working in our four walls was more than enough during the week so the weekends needed to be broken up with fresh air and getting out of the house in the safest way we could find. It became a weekend ritual to walk the property of our local cemetery. It was kind of morbid looking back on it, but I was grateful to be in the sun and grass and trees at the time getting my mind off the present moment and developing a deep appreciation for nature that I’ve never had before.

The cemetery itself stands on acres of land that stretches throughout the neighborhood. You could walk through it and be on a completely opposite end of the neighborhood by the time you finished. It was great exercise but also amazing views of Manhattan in certain areas as well. When Covid felt bleak and my life as I once knew it felt as if it wouldn’t return being there and seeing that view provided a lot of comfort. The city skyline felt like something to shoot for, to look forward to and it was a much-needed reminder of sanity when everything felt rightfully insane.

This past September started my return to my so-called “normal life”. I went on vacation for the first time in five years in September. We flew to Disney World for our delayed honeymoon and stayed for a week’s time. Upon our return, I was asked back to work on a hybrid schedule. All this is way more overwhelming than I expected it to be. I dreamt of this day and yet I was so nervous to return to the hustle of the city life. The fear of the unknown was overwhelming to embrace. Who was safe? Who wasn’t? Will I get sick? A million questions flooded my mind. I began to feel guilty about questioning all of it. I was getting what I wanted for so long, what I had prayed for yet I was so paralyzed by the fear of the obvious unknown in front of me. I had this whole vision in my head of my triumphant return to New York City where I would rejoin my beautiful city and relish in everything that I missed so much. When my expectations weren’t met it sucked, and I was devastated and left drowning in a whole new pool of anxiety and all the symptoms that came with it. It was a hard lesson to learn in managing my expectations. We plan and God laughs, or at least my God does. Returning to Manhattan and all the of the life that came with it wasn’t how I imagined it to be yet I’m still doing it even if I feel like a baby deer learning to walk most days.

I’ve hesistated to write a lot about my feelings as of late. I don’t want to appear self-deprecating but I also don’t want people to feel like they’re alone in their struggles. We are all rejoining a world full of uncertainities and question marks. We’re being told that the pandemic is “over” and now we’re meant to go about our business like the world still isn’t sporting a giant band-aid over itself. It’s scary, overwhelming, but it’s something we’re all collectively facing so it feels almost remiss not to speak my mind on how what I’m going through. I want to end this piece with it does get better, it has gotten better. Every day presents a new change and my anxiety is never permanent. It’s a state of flow that I’m now hyperaware of which is both helpful and a little jarring. Life is weird but it’s just a matter of getting through one moment at a time.

Feelin’ 32.

On Sunday, May 23rd, I enter my 32nd trip around the sun. I love my birthday to begin with, but this year has me particularly reflective. Life inside of a pandemic has been a tricky one. My mental health has flopped around like a fish out of water, my time with family and friends was grossly limited and life in general was just uncertain overall. I celebrated my birthday last year in a very limited way and it bummed out. While I appreciated the absolute best efforts of my wife and my brother and my sister in law, I found myself with a serious case of the blues. I love people, that’s something that this pandemic confirmed for me so being without all my people on my special day made things a little heavier than I would have hoped they would be.

This time last year, I had already been away from my parents for three months, there wasn’t really a direction to when this pandemic would end, and no one really knew how to continue a daily life. Were we supposed to hunker down and stay totally inside? Could we see people we knew were safe? Should we see people at all? There were so many questions with very few answers. The end looked like it would never come but here I am a year later and there has been glimmers of hope that have left me grateful for time and perspective. While we are far from out of the woods, we now have vaccines available and much better testing protocols. My entire immediate family has been completely vaccinated, which provides me with the ability and utmost happiness to say that I will be spending my 32nd birthday with all my people once more! Huzzah!

I enter this upcoming weekend with much gratitude for the ability to do this and sheer excitement to have plans to look forward to. There have been a lot of growing pains in the last year and there are still more to come but I am learning to love myself in ways I never thought were possible. Compassion and patience have not been my strongest suits but I hope to approach everyday in my 32nd year with those two things in mind and a grateful heart to have the time back that was lost in the hellish year of the global pandemic.

What now?

It’s been six months since my last appearance here and truthfully, I didn’t think I’d ever get the urge to come back and continue to tell my story. October 2020 felt like the end to a burden that I had been facing for a long time. The physicality of anxiety plagued me for longer than anyone knew and now that I had the tools to get past it, I felt healed! A lot of my journey in my mental health had been about completely eradicating the issues. I took on my mental health in the way one would take on their physical health; sleep, rest, and do what you’re told, and you’ll feel better. I did that and the desired result came. I felt better, I was no longer terrified to move and function; I had everything that I thought I wanted out of the work I had done in my CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) therapy. What could possibly go wrong?

November 2020 began a journey into acceptance. An acceptance that this journey was no longer something I could fight away or wish away. My mental health would need to be tended to with the same love and consistency that I had shown for my physical health. Stress began to pile on and I had a setback that hit me like a freight train. I had a very disturbing dream which I now know was an intrusive thought. These disturbing thoughts and fears began to surface while waking and I was thrown back into the spiral that I thought I had escaped. The details of the dream and thoughts are something that I don’t feel comfortable sharing online. If you’ve had this type of thing happen, I’m sure you can assume that the gravity of these thoughts can be very jarring for anyone whether they have experience with this or not. I was forced to come face to face with the mental portion of my journey that I had long been avoiding. I lived my life very one-dimensional. If there was a problem, it was meant to be fixed and moved on from, but this wasn’t going to work out that way. 

CBT had taken me as far as it could. There was only so much I could rationalize before I had to go deeper. Emotions that I had been avoiding needed to be dealt with. A change in therapist was necessary. I found someone who specialized in psychodynamic and relational approaches. At first, I had no clue what that would mean for my new journey through therapy. It all seemed new and scary. I had done CBT so many times in years passed without really touching on the actual feelings and emotions that I was carrying (directly in my body I might add). Through this new approach, I was able to dig further and start to grow beyond just rationalization and realize that every emotion and feeling had its purpose and it was something I no longer needed to be afraid of feeling. There are no good or bad emotions/feelings, they just are. Each one holding its own individual message for me to listen to and embrace as needed. Am I perfect at this now? Absolutely not. I’m still struggling with the fact that I will always have some form of anxiety. I would love nothing more than to wish it away and never have to deal with it again. However, just like my physical health that I spent so many years obsessing over, I am going to have to give this the same level of care (maybe not obsession). 

So what now?

Well, I am down to seeing a therapist one time a week. It’s a new schedule and one I’m still getting used to. I am slowly realizing that sometimes putting down the self-help books, putting aside the therapy homework and just living for each day as it comes is needed. The bigger acceptance is, we’re all works in progress and I will never achieve some pinpointed level of perfection where work will no longer be needed. Change is good and it’s taken me 31 years to come to terms with it. I have spent the last year in fight or flight and I’m hoping to wind down to a place where I can still work on myself but take my life back to some of the passions I set aside to face this journey head on. I miss writing, I missed this blog, I have a novel that’s sitting in the vault that I’d love to get back to. I think the fresh perspective of not having my emotions on level 100 will take me back to the safety of writing again. Writing has always been my way of handling things. I would either take the time to write the words my brain was too shy to say, or I would create the worlds that my brain would daydream about. I am a creative being and I am very excited to play around with that again. 

As for the fate of this blog, I really can’t say what a definite timeline would look like for posting. I’m leaning toward more letting this go and letting it serve as an archive of my journey but I also know how inspiration works and sometimes keeping my mouth shut is utterly impossible. I want to help others. It’s another passion of mine and after the experiences I’ve had in the last year, I want to use my new voice and hopefully reach people who don’t feel like they have their own. I am blessed with health insurance for therapy, I am blessed with a steady income, and most of all I’m blessed with a steady support system to nudge me along when I need it. I know that it’s not everyone’s fate and I hope that by sharing my story, I can reach as many people as I can. Being inside of your thoughts isn’t always a creative means. Sometimes it’s downright scary and if I can pay it forward by being a source of comfort in some way, I want to. Next to writing, helping others is something that I love to do. I’ve gotten myself into some new non-profit work this year that I’m very thankful for. I’ve begun writing letters for The Letter Project, a faith-based nonprofit organization that writes letters to women of all ages whose family members or themselves ask for extra encouragement. I’ve written letters to people in the U.S. and beyond and I have received my own bundle of encouragement that I will cherish forever. I am also participating in a local community program where I will have virtual (for the time being) visits with a senior citizen very soon. I want to be of service to others in any way that I can and I am very excited to be a part of this program and hopefully forged a bond with someone who can use the friend just like I could at times in my life. 

To those who got to the bottom of this post, I thank you. Anyone who’s ever taken the time to read what I have to say is very special to me and I hope that I can continue to tell my story in some way and share with you all down the road. Please feel free to leave a comment on how you’re doing. I’d love to hear from you.