Thursday, January 21, 2016

Happiness Interrupted

A few minutes after the alarm went off, the sound of four tiny long-clawed paws scurried over to the front door. Lola needed to go outside. It also reminded me that I needed to get her nails cut. The cold air actually felt good. It probably woke me up from the tiny traces of carbon monoxide that somehow seeped in while I was in a deep slumber. Who knows. I don't trust those carbon monoxide detectors anyway, especially when my poorly zoned furnace chimney sits right besides my bedroom window. Nevertheless, the coffee would surely keep me awake for the long haul of the day. Black with a touch of organic maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon -- and my morning is seemingly brighter. I've always dreamt of this life -- this sort of regiment where I make the day's call -- not some mean boss in her fancy office with smiling photos of her family tree plastered every which way. My old structured life felt like a prison. All my creativity was tossed to the side, unless there was a bit of time during the weekend to indulge. There never was. The only vitamin D I absorbed was from the glow of a standard florescent cubicle overhead light -- the kind that made your eyes see double from time to time. I wasn't only stuck living inside a cubicle 8-12 hrs a day, but I was tied up in a curly black cord hooked up from my head to my phone. These days, I have all the freedom in the world: no office, no cubicle, no wires attached to me -- just unadulterated flexibility.

But I got transferred to a new prison: my mind.


First let me just explain that the "writer's life" seems to get a bad rap. We're seen as drifters, or perhaps "unemployed" -- but we're more or less artists (or starving ones). When we work, we get paid. When we don't, we suffer greatly. And sadly, some writers don't get paid at all. Aside from writing, I do freelance video promos for local companies as well as kickstarter foundations to help upcoming actors or authors get funded in starting a new project. Sometimes a simple, (ha, a "simple") project can last anywhere from 3 hours to a 12 hour stretch. Most times, I break it up into two days if there's any sort of wiggle room. Usually, it's a big "I need this yesterday" type of gig -- and I'm okay with that.  And yet I still get a lot of people saying, "It must be nice."

It is.

Sometimes.

Like I said before, I've always dreamt of this life -- a life where I can make my own hours, do the groceries, clean and cook before my wife gets home and have a seemingly "normal" life. But there were things about this type of life I didn't consider: solitude, self-disclipline, a fully stocked liquor cabinet. You get my drift.  It doesn't matter how many video conference calls I'm apart of or if I'm submerged in a long project -- it definitely gets lonely. I miss the chaos of a busy office, where employees would slack off in the midst of all that crazy busyness and chitchat about whatever. For the love of God -- I miss that goddamn water cooler. No amount of technology can replace the physical presence of someone -- that human connection -- face-to-face interaction. As we head into a world that needs less office space and more work-at-home employees due to a cost effective corporate world, some of us may suffer a great deal mentally. And at the same time, there are people incredibly depressed because they feel "stuck" in an office, sometimes not seeing a blink of daylight due to their long hours.

The grass is always greener.

Okay, let's take it a step further: relationships and marriages. There are people out there who are envious over their friends' relationships or marriages. Again with the "Oh it must be nice." But have you taken the time to peek inside their tiny keyholes to realize that all of those big smiling faces you see over on Facebook was one. huge. facade? And granted, while they may be the 'happier than a clam' type of families laughing and giggling after a long game of monopoly -- the majority of family life is pretty much routine, unless you've mastered life itself. In fact, life itself is pretty much routine for most of us.

But we're never happy.

We're constantly searching for that instant gratification type of happiness. The scary thing about instant gratification type of happiness is: it goes away. Then what's left? A pile of bullshit. Depression. Dread. "Whoa is me" dramatic scenes over a bottle of cheap wine. (Ok, that's my story.) But seriously, I've learned (not mastered) that the way to have a stable conscious mentality about the influxes -- the constant ups and downs of life is to have a constant joy.

How Deb! Tell me how!
(Dramatic enough?) 

I can only tell you what works for me when I see myself snowballing into the pit of a depressive episode. Keep in mind that I suffer from anxiety and depression (mostly anxiety) -- so I am speaking from experience and not some idiot who thinks she knows it all. I don't. I'm still trying to figure it all out just like anybody else. But if my experiences and techniques can help someone else -- even just one person -- then my raw (and possibly embarrassing) honesty was worth dishing out on this public platform.

So hear me out if you wish -- my beliefs are strong.

I believe in God. There is a God. This life wasn't meant to spend all your time tiptoeing through the tulips with a glass of chardonnay 24/7 (although I fantasize about that a lot) -- it's meant to kick us in the ass. It's meant to see how strong we really are in this world, until it decides to spit us back out into the Universe, or as I call, "heaven" or "hell". Every single one of us has a cross to bear. And some crosses may look mighty easy to other people, when in fact if they were to take that desired cross, they'd be crying the blues begging God to return their old crosses back. And for those of you who don't know what "the cross" signifies -- it's basically your life -- your "issues" and it symbolizes the cross that Jesus had to carry. To share in Jesus' suffering. So overall: your personal suffering -- your "personal cross to bear".

Quick story to show my point...

A young man was at the end of his rope. Seeing no way out, he dropped to his knees in prayer. "Lord, I can't go on," he said. "I have too heavy of a cross to bear." The Lord replied, "My son, if you can't bear its weight, just place your cross inside this room. Then, open that other door and pick out any cross you wish." The man was filled with relief. "Thank you, Lord," he sighed, and he did as he was told. Upon entering the other door, he saw many crosses, some so large the tops were not visible. Then, he spotted a tiny cross leaning against a far wall. "I'd like that one, Lord," he whispered. And the Lord replied, "My son, that is the cross you just brought in."

I'm still sidetracking here, so bear with me.

You may look at me and say, "Humph, she's got it made staying at home doing freelance work and being married to an amazing woman."  And yeah, I do feel pretty lucky if my mind is in a good place. But step inside my mind when I'm suffering a depressive episode. Feel the dread, the sadness, the self-deprecation monologue that goes through my mind from time to time. Come inside my bedroom as I'm suffering from an anxiety attack, breathing in and out of a paper bag because I'm hyperventilating. Come watch me get hauled out by an ambulance because I think I'm having a heart attack with my heart pumping out over 200 beats per minute. Come stay with me in the ER for over 8 hrs of testing to only find out that the results are not only perfect --in fact, they are better than the doctor's numbers. Watch me get frustrated when the doctor says, "Wow, your blood pressure, cholesterol and EKG look better than mine," and then give me this look that says, "It's all in your head."

It is all in my head.

But it is very real, just as depression is. Psychosomatic physical pain is real. It sounds mentally induced, which it is -- but it is a disorder of the proper functioning of our mental vs. physical pain.

Have you ever heard of the "broken heart syndrome?"


Broken heart syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, can strike even if you’re healthy. (Tako tsubo, by the way, are octopus traps that resemble the pot-like shape of the stricken heart.) Women are more likely than men to experience the sudden, intense chest pain — the reaction to a surge of stress hormones — that can be caused by an emotionally stressful event. It could be the death of a loved one or even a divorce, breakup or physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection. It could even happen after a good shock (like winning the lottery.) Broken heart syndrome may be misdiagnosed as a heart attack because the symptoms and test results are similar. In fact, tests show dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substances that are typical of a heart attack. But unlike a heart attack, there’s no evidence of blocked heart arteries in broken heart syndrome. In broken heart syndrome, a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the rest of your heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions. Researchers are just starting to learn the causes, and how to diagnose and treat it. The bad news: Broken heart syndrome can lead to severe, short-term heart muscle failure. The good news: Broken heart syndrome is usually treatable. Most people who experience it make a full recovery within weeks, and they’re at low risk for it happening again (although in rare cases in can be fatal).

I experienced this three years ago when my dad passed away. It happened about six months into my grieving period (which is normal) -- and I started getting horrible chest pains, to where my heart definitely responded to what I was experiencing. I'll never forget one morning being in my kitchen and grabbing a glass of water. I sat on the stool next to the counter trying to just wake up. I started getting these these horrific chest pains that just blew me right off my stool. I was on the floor holding my chest with these jabbing pains that wouldn't let up. When the ambulance came, they gave me a little beta tablet of nitrate to place under my tongue in order to see if I was having a real heart attack. They took my vitals and everything was just wrong. The EMT guy looked at me and asked, "Is the pain going away?" And I was relieved that it was. "Yeah, it's gone." But not relieved when he yelled into his radio, "Not good! She responded to the nitrate! It's her heart!" I had to stay in the hospital for a few days. The EMT guy who helped me was the same guy who had to bring my father out of his house for the very last time.

"I was there. I was the guy who came to get your father. You watched me carry him away. You're having grieving pains. Trust me." he said, while rubbing my arm. So now I truly knew the meaning of what it means to have a broken heart. I even remember years ago while going through a horrible breakup, my chest hurt that radiated down into my arms. Sometimes, I'm afraid to love that hard ever again. At times, I try to distance myself from those I truly care about in fear that I'll die from sadness. Everyone survives though, right? I mean, everyone has gone through a breakup or a loss of a loved one. But how many people fully recover? How many people truly get over that one love that got away or that one person who meant the world to them who passed away? So it can happen to a familia type of love or an intimate kind. It can happen from separating in life or separating by death. Love knows no boundaries once it's taken away in whatever circumstance.

And ONTO my point:

It took me to get to the ripe age of 40 (okay, 41) to realize that life is going to throw us quite a few curve balls. Life is also going to hand us a great deal of joy too. But in the midst of all of the suffering and happiness -- we need to have a constant joy. I've learned that if we appreciate the present moment, or "the now" -- we can learn to adapt to whatever comes flying our way. It's to understand that the past and the future are all illusions. I know, they were real to you and for me, but the past is gone. It magically disappeared -- but our minds dredge it back up again. The past equals depression. The future equals anxiety. Everyone wants to know what their future holds because they have so much anxiety about it, or anxiously awaiting to hear the "good" news. You won't ever hear a psychic telling a bad fortune about someone's future because they'll risk their future business. Would you go back to a psychic who told you that you were gonna die in two years? No.


If I am conscious enough (and this is gonna sound strange) -- I can get out of my head. I can actually enjoy every bit of presence I'm in. As soon as my mind starts giving me that one way conversation that everything's gonna go to shit --I "LOOK" at my mind -- I catch it talking. When I do that, my mind freaks out and STOPS. I learned this through Eckhart Tolle's teachings. There are two forces within us: our Being (our soul) and our mind. Our mind is our worst enemy. That's why you sometimes hear the phrase, "battlefield of the mind" -- there are a few titles with that name too to certain books and songs. When you practice "catching" your mind yapping on 'n on -- you can stop the madness that stems from your anxiety and depression. Practice!!! But when I don't practice enough, I lose it and then I let the anxiety and depression sink back in again. It's a vicious circle. Buy the book, "The Power of Now" -- this book pretty much saved my life. I saw the world much differently and I'm still trying to keep this a constant practice. If you're Christian -- don't worry. It talks a lot about Jesus' teachings as well as the teachings of Buddhism. There's no "set" religious theme here. It's about you and your mind. Because "you" are your soul -- not your physical mind.

I discovered simple joys in life. I remember last year when I first read that book and walking out into zero degree weather in a beautiful winter wonderland with my dog. The sun hit my face and instantly warmed me up. There were crystalized prisms of rainbows within the snowy path we were walking on. The silence was beautiful -- enough to catch me off guard when a hawk came flying down so close, that we were able to see the full length of his wingspan. I think, perhaps it was the most beautiful moment I've ever seen. It may seem mundane or silly, but I took in that very moment and that moment, I will never forget. I also remember my father saying, "If I ever come back to visit you -- I'll come back as a hawk." So for me, it was a visitation from my dad. But you can have these unforgettable moments because you are consciously aware of "the now" and the present time. Mundane things become beautiful -- almost euphoric. Things like, the sound of coffee pouring, catching a beautiful sunrise, your dog staring at you lovingly -- and you think -- this is so beautiful! When you're immersed in your mind, in your head -- those little things disappear. You think about what you coulda' had and what you shoulda' had. You overthink your future and "what if" this doesn't happen or "what if" that happens? You fill your entire time up with anxiety-provoking thoughts. Your mind won the battle.


I want to point out another thing: nothing in this world is going to satisfy you completely. A relationship does not make you complete. A job shouldn't define who you are. Your physical appearance is so minuscule to the "bigger picture" that only God can see. Your purpose in life is not to have the perfect job, the perfect mate, the perfect body the perfect whatever you think is "perfect" -- because the reality is: we are supposed to find the perfections in all of the imperfections of this world. Your world is what you make it: it can be ugly or it can be beautiful. It's your choice if you are conscious enough to realize that our mind can set forth physical transformations in us as well as around us. And hey -- I'm still trying to get to that euphoric sense of enlightenment, but it takes a whole lotta' practice. At least I know that when I do practice this type of mindset -- things around me are beautiful, EVEN IF I am sitting in the ER for 8 hrs with a "fake" heart attack. The struggles are what makes us appreciate life more, even the mundane and seemingly boring events of life.

If your anxiety and/or depression comes from the judgments of other people, just remember that when people criticize you, it's mostly due to a psychological projection of how they see themselves. There's a saying that goes, "We hate in others of what we see in ourselves sometimes." So to rid of their guilt of whatever flaw they think they have, they'll pin it on you instead. (These are some cases.) Why would someone want to criticize you if they are happy with themselves? Wouldn't they want to edify and lift your spirits up? When I'm happy, I want everyone around me happy too. And sometimes, when I'm feeling like a miserable piece of crap -- sometimes misery loves company. Think about it. When people hurt one another, it's a huge sign that they are miserable themselves. Nothing "good" can come out of a person who only holds misery and dread. If they are not happy with themselves, they will not be happy for you. It's psychology 101. But there's a slippery slope with that -- you can have a "people pleaser" who will treat you like gold and "yes" you to death because they're so desperately trying to seek approval from anyone. That's different, yet it's still coming from a negative place of self-deprecation.

I'm not a psychologist, nor pretend to be one. I'm a patient who has a lot of experience in dealing with this type of stuff from the other side of the couch.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us--they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. --Romans 5:3-5

For more of Deb's articles, please visit: www.debrapasquella.com or join her on Facebook and Twitter. Check out her cooking blog for some of her famous recipes!