Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Childlike Wonder

There's something inside all of us that makes us beg for our inner child to come out. It can come in the form of a temporary excitement, like a holiday, especially Christmas, or even reliving your own child's life events. There's something comforting about being in that "space" if you will. I don't have any kids, so I don't get many opportunities to relive my childhood. I've been "adulting" too long. And not that it's a bad thing, because looking back, I had the best childhood. But now that I'm all grown up, I kind of miss all the fun as a kid and all the childlike wonder and seeing things in awe. It all kind of faded out in the distance as I grew up into reality -- into a world of 'cmon, be realistic' type of mindset. Having a child at least gives a parent an outlet to be a kid again.

My wife is a total kid. That's why I love her. I don't know how she does it, but she just loves to go to kid events. I roll my eyes as she begs me to do these God awful things with her, like attending fairs, and just recently, The Great Jack O'Lantern Pumpkin Blaze. For an agoraphobic to be in the midst of thousands of people (and screaming little children) is not my idea of fun. I'm not trying to be a "Debbie Downer", but I'm one of those types of people that'll give you the stink eye if your kid is crying and screaming in a restaurant. And now that I was on their territory (so to speak) -- I couldn't complain about screaming kids. I had to become one with them. So as we started to form a long line to hand in our tickets to get into this event, my anxiety was creeping in with each scream, cry and tantrum a child gave off because they were getting impatient. Double strollers, kids losing their parents in the pitch dark and parents screaming at their kids to behave -- it was a scene that I have always dreaded. 

When we finally entered the dark stone path leading up to all the pumpkin sculptures and scenery, it was hard to stop and take pictures. Some kid would plow into you while other children plowed into them, causing this strange and clumsy domino effect. Then, the road narrowed into this uphill climb with no lights guide us -- just a candle in a lantern every so often as we passed by a pumpkin cemetery scene. Then the line got stuck -- in the pitch dark! So I felt my heart race as my mind said, "Well what if there was an emergency -- how would we get out?' Most agoraphobics need to have a "way out".  All the thoughts started racing until I heard this little girl in front of me, she had to have been about four of five years old. She said, "Look at the stars, mommy," with her little tiny voice.  As I looked up, there were a million bright stars that lit up the entire sky. It even lit up the path we were on. It was so magical. I was more impressed with the sky than I was with the art work that we could barely see. 

Thing is, she was more impressed by God's creation than she was with a manmade carved out pumpkin patches full of zombies and dinosaurs. The whole time, this little girl was just looking up at the sky, not noticing the lit up and scary pumpkin faces. Somehow, she made me forget about my own anxiety, which made me look up into the sky, reminding me that God was with us. I believe angels come in many different forms. This little girl was indeed, my angel. 

The line started to move slowly, as we were herded in like cattle. I didn't mind though. My agoraphobia was gone. I was enjoying the crisp fall air, and I was actually admiring and appreciating all the work that went into these hand carved pumpkins and scary sceneries. The property itself was surrounded in old stone paths and beautiful hills of greenery -- it was so magical. I began to see things wth a childlike wonder. I got excited over different sculptures and a house that was lit up in different colors with jack o'lanterns that sat on every ledge. 

I also heard my mind say, "This is not a means to get from here to there, it is to enjoy the NOW which is all you have. Stop suffering." And I did. I stopped suffering through it, and started to enjoy every moment. We then came to a huge tent that probably held about 300 people in it. Madelene and I had to hold hands so that we wouldn't lose one another. Again, you're talking about a severely agoraphobic person who does not like to be in the midst crowds. But somehow, it made me feel connected. It made me feel like I was one with all of them. We were all at this event together, enjoying everything it had to offer. The energy of the entire event was so incredibly positive and upbeat. Even the workers were excited to be there. The people who guided you to park were dancing as they led you into your lot. 

I could've complained the whole time and let the negative thoughts seep in. Instead, I saw a different way of looking at something that would've typically put me into panic mode. I did it in fear, and when I didn't resist, it didn't persist. The fear left me -- left me with a childlike wonder -- left me with a warm and calm feeling that yes, I can do this again. 

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!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Maybe

Change is inevitable. Every so often, you'll feel the shift of the universe, whether it pans out good or not. Either way, it's meant to be all for the good. Some people feel they've been dealt a bad hand, when in fact, it probably saved them a massive amount of heartache in the long run. Who knows, right? But I refuse to remain a victim of circumstances. I'm tired of people whining about how their life didn't turn out the way they expected it to. Whose life did? I mean, if you really ask someone what they used to dream of as a kid -- what they wanted to be when they grew up -- most likely, you will get a completely different scenario than the life they are living today. And that's OK. I think subconsciously, since most of our dreams took a strange twist of fate, we either feel resentful or very lucky, depending.

As I sit outside working today, I'm watching the beautiful leaves of summer fall off from the trees, too weak to hold on any longer. It's not that they're weak per se, they just surrendered to what's meant to be. No resistance. Beautiful colors paint the landscape, orange, yellow, red, brown -- God's canvas. Today is probably one of the last 80 degree days we'll have before we see the beautiful white snow start to fall, and feel the bitter cold kick in once again. I'm grateful to even be outside right now. Change comes with circumstances. Fall turns into cold, eventually turning into snow, as well as flowers blooming come springtime....followed by warm summer nights and hot summer days. Everything changes, whether you view it as bad or good. That's up to you.

But what if it didn't make any difference on how the world around us changes? Here's a little story I like to use by John Suler. It's a zen story to make people realize that God is in control, if we give up the reigns.

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "Maybe," the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "Maybe," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "Maybe," answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer.

Many people regret their past, or they have resentment still in their heart from a past relationship or event. The situation was unfortunate, right? Or would it be, "maybe"? So everything that comes my way that is either good or bad, I answer it with a "maybe". And if I hadn't experienced all the past heartbreaks or unfortunate circumstances, I wouldn't have learned anything, nor have strengthened my ability to handle a next round of unfortunate situations. I believe God gives us strength and endurance -- to share in His suffering -- to stand up to the test so that we can overcome anything. But many people ask why would God let so many people suffer, whether emotionally or physically? Isn't that bad?

Maybe.

Nobody knows anything. There's an old saying by Haruki Murakami, that says, "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Try telling that to someone who witnessed her father screaming in pain in hospice before he left this world. He begged me to hold his hand while waiting for his morphine. We never held hands before...it was that kind of pain. Try telling that to my mother who lost her husband and had to go through rounds and rounds of painful chemo and radiation herself right after his death. So when it says, "suffering is optional" -- I kind of wonder what that truly means. We all suffer, but I think what this quote truly means, is to take our suffering and use it for our strength; use it for our endurance of great testing, and many more to come. Life is but a fleeting moment in God's eyes, and to us, it's all of eternity, so it seems.

And if life is "so short", whey do we choose to stay with people who don't uplift or give us the love we truly need and crave? Why do some people choose to stay with abusive spouses, or live a life full of unhappiness? Why can't we all change to the situations and circumstances that we "want"? Or is it more of what we "need" to get by in this world? And there are many reasons for the "need" part, beyond just companionship unfortunately, whether emotional, physical, financial, or other. We have reasons why we have either stayed with someone that wasn't good for us, or we are still in relationships with people who aren't nurturing our souls.

And that's so important.

If you're with someone who is nurturing, loving, compassionate and understanding -- to me, you are wealthy. If you can say that your spouse is your best friend in the whole world, you have it all. I think all of us throw the term "happiness" around like an old dirty volleyball. It's much more than that.

"Are you happy?"

"Yeah, sure, why do you ask?"

I actually felt the sting of modern times recently, when I realized both my wife and I were in bed, both glued to our smartphones with the TV blaring in the background. Two hours had passed without a single word exchanged. We could have talked about our day or anything at all, but we found ourselves caught up in our own interests. She was tuned into her political websites and I was sifting around my Twitter feed, hoping to find some insight, somewhere. I thought to myself, "Wow, I never thought I'd see the day." And I'm not pointing fingers at her, because I kept scrolling through my phone myself, between Twitter and texting some friends. It was like a zombified moment of insanity. This wasn't limited to just one incident either. And I know many other couples who do the same.

You know what I'd rather be doing if we both can't sleep? Sipping hot chocolate with her by a fire before we go to bed, talking about everything and anything. I wanna sit outside and watch the stars out on our deck, even if we don't say anything at all. I want cuddle while watching a funny movie before we go to sleep. Sometimes we're up for hours. Why waste it on our phones? It's truly unrealistic in today's world.

Maybe.

So it is my decision to accept everything that crosses my path, and "maybe" it'll be good, and "maybe" it'll be bad. But overall, this is what life is: a random plethora of events that lead you one way or the other. You can't predict which way is better when you're presented with a fork in the road. There is no right or wrong, there's just fate. Many ask, "What could I have done differently?" Nothing. Nothing at all. Accept what is, and do your best at this present moment, which is all we ever have. Forgive your past, stop overthinking the future and make friends with the present moment. It's funny, because sometimes we totally know what we want, but God knows that those hopeful plans of ours aren't in our best interest sometimes. Some things shouldn't be, even if it feels amazing.

"Maybe."

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!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

5 Ways to Reduce Anxiety & Depression From My Own Experience

Have you ever been so riddled with anxiety, that you can barely decide on what to do next, whether it be a new project, first tasks at work or just picking a hobby on a Saturday afternoon? Even the most simplest things seem so incredibly complicated. I guess one of the signs of depression is indecisiveness and the inability to focus or finish a task. I've learned from experience that after an anxiety attack, I slip into a strange fatigue-like state, and I am assuming that's the depression part of it all. I'm not "sad" per se -- I'm just blah and I find myself pulling back from the world. Sometimes my friends think that I'm upset with them or that I no longer want to spend time with them. But it's so far from the truth. My mind can only handle very little interaction at that time. But it does pass. This is what keeps me sane. Some episodes last longer than others. The one thing that I have learned is: it's OK to have your down moments and become a part time recluse if that's what you need. It's OK to cry. It's OK to rest after a panic attack. What most people don't realize (as well as myself at first), is that anxiety doesn't always necessarily strike right at the peak of your most stressful moments. Because usually, when you have to help someone or rectify a very intense situation -- your mind goes into self-preservation mode. It's usually a week or longer when the panic strikes -- when your mind is at ease and then all of the thoughts come flooding in. This is what I learned from my experience. Everybody's different though. But this is why many people say, "But I don't know why I'm stressing out so badly right now!" Maybe it isn't about "now". And remember, if you are not "in the now", and you are living in the past, then that equals depression. When you are living in the future -- that equals anxiety. But how many of us can say that we can consistently live in the present. It is one hard task!

Animals are healing.

Funny, many people rely on their dogs to relieve their anxiety. There are some people who make their dogs into service dogs for various reasons. One of my friends has a service dog for her anxiety. For me, that's not possible. My cute little chihuahua mix would drive me absolutely crazy. When I take her to the park or just out for a ride with me, she's absolutely loca. However, at night, my dog will know five minutes before I get a myoclonic seizure from anxiety. She jumps off the bed, waits for the attack to be done and over with, and then she lays right besides me, almost spooning me until I fall asleep. She comforts me in different ways. But to have her 'out and about' with me -- no. I'd need a few glasses of vino for that trip. But if you have a well behaved dog who is calming for you -- that may be the solution. Animals are sentinel animals and they can tell when you're upset, feeling anxious and even when you're happy. I remember one morning I was holding back tears, and my dog stopped right in her tracks and just stared at me like, "What's wrong???"  She jumped on my lap and licked my face. That alone made me feel better. She just knew.

Never be ashamed to ask for help. 

I've been with the same therapist for a couple of years now. She literally saved my life. I think I'm one of the fortunate ones, because she genuinely has this nurturing and compassionate heart for people. She'll stop right in her tracks to help you even while she has her own things going on. Not that I expect that -- but I feel very lucky and oddly "safe" with her. I never feel safe. This past week I have been suffering with panic attacks where I can't get a full breath in. I try yawning and yawning just so I can breathe (sounds weird) and it freaks me out. I'm not sure why this has been happening either. So I contacted my therapist and made an appointment. But unfortunately, I had another panic attack right before I left to go to her office. She literally dropped what she was doing and drove to my house and did some yoga with me. She taught me some new coping skills for my anxiety. If you can find somebody you click with -- and remember -- they're all human so you have to give them a chance, then you will start seeing the results. You'll be surprised at how relieved you'll feel. Even my dog was even peaceful after she petted her. After she left my home, I felt so incredibly calm and peaceful. It felt like she dropped a horse tranquilizer into my water. (Hmm.) I then realized -- wow -- I can breathe again.

The stigma of mental illness.

A friend of mine was worried that all of her anxiety and depression would make her look "crazy". That is so far off the mark since it's so incredibly normal. We have to bypass or remove the stigma of mental illness. And I used to get offended when somebody would refer to my anxiety to "mental illness" -- but that's exactly what it is: dysfunction of the mind. That's why they call it anxiety disorder. It's nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, it may enable you to connect with others on a much deeper level. Anxiety comes in many forms. It can even come in forms of rage, anger or even withdrawal. It doesn't have to be the classic case which I have -- pounding heart, shortness of breath, hypochondriacal thoughts of something medically wrong -- it can manifest in other ways. The most talented artists and musicians usually have mental illness themselves. In their most depressed state, they usually create their best work, whether it be music, painting or poetry, etc.

Reconnect with your Source: God. 

I make it a point to connect with God on a daily basis. I have my two hour meditation and prayer time in the morning, and sometimes an hour at night. If I miss a session or more than a day --- I am completely lost. The peace I get from drawing closer to God is unlike anything I've ever experienced before. In fact, I think it's the most important thing in the entire world (for me at least). There are many atheists who claim that it's all but chemical reactions taking place in our brain, producing a euphoric sense of happiness. So what if it is? Who cares. It works for me and many others. But I have to say that I have witnessed God's presence in my life (call me crazy or whatever) and I will never forget that. I wrote the story in my book I published a decade ago. So I believe because I have seen. In John 20:29 it states, blessed are those who believe without seeing.

Jump into nature. 

I truly believe this is so healing. There's something about being outdoors -- just being around nature that makes your soul feel alive. I am fortunate enough to have such an amazing view from my deck, but it's more than that. I have been spending some of my time in parks or just hanging around the nearby lake. Some believe the best way to connect with God is to be in nature. So basically, these are all things that have helped me with my anxiety and depression. I usually come out with one of these types of posts so that I can share with others who suffer like myself. I also believe that we choose to either be happy or depressed. Even if you are dragging ass and don't feel like doing anything -- get up -- take a hot shower and get out there. And if you can't, then be HAPPY where you are at this very moment. Make the best of what you have "in the now" -- in this moment, because that's all we truly ever have.

Enjoy the weekend! Smile more. Laugh harder. Love one another.

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!