- Take a hot bath with lavender and epsom salt.
- Read a book.
- Sing a song out loud. I like this one.
- Tell someone your feelings.
- Punch a pillow or punching bag (seems silly, but it will make you feel better, even if you don’t think you’re angry about anything).
- Let yourself breathe at yoga.
- Affirm yourself: “I matter, I matter, I matter.”
- Bake something.
- Sage cleanse your house.
- Schedule a therapy appointment.
- Take a kickboxing class.
- Drink a cup of tea.
- Have a good cry.
- Try medication.
- Watch a feel-good movie.
- Draw something (doesn’t matter if you’re good at it).
- Knit, knit, knit.
- Try to go for a walk if you can.
- Binge watch Grey’s Anatomy and really cry it out.
- Make a list, any list.
- Make yourself big…spread out, do a power pose, yell or sing loudly.
- Have someone lay on you or next to you.
- Invest in a really heavy quilt. Better yet, make yourself a really heavy quilt.
- Call your best friend.
- Get a massage.
- Affirm yourself: “You are worth it. You are worth it. You are worth it.”
- Listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons.
- Cuddle an animal. Visit a shelter if you don’t have one.
- Make yourself dance it out.
- Pray, even if you don’t believe in anything.
- Journal, journal, journal.
- Make a Pinterest vision board of your dream life/home/vacation.
- Make a collage.
- Take a nap (medicated, if necessary).
- Write a letter to someone you love.
- Laugh, even if you really don’t feel like it.
- Make an emergency phone call to a therapist and pour your heart out.
- Hug someone or something. Hug hard.
- Create a bucket list. Make it 101 things long.
- Get 8 hours of undisturbed sleep.
- Color a page in a coloring book.
- Unsubscribe from all your spam emails.
- Meditate. I love the Headspace app.
- Listen to the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast.
- Do a Duolingo lesson.
- Work on a family tree.
- Make a collage.
- Make a zine.
- Paint your nails or if paint isn’t your thing, just manicure them.
- Search however you want to feel on Pinterest (i.e. “calm,” “happy”) and pin 20 things.
- Journal ten things you’re grateful for.
- Read a book.
- Text five people something encouraging.
- Warm your pajamas in the dryer.
- Write a list of things you love.
- Make tea if it’s cold or drink a cold glass of water if it’s hot.
- Dim the lights in your bathroom (plug in white holiday lights if you can’t) and take a long shower.
- Tidy up the entry way to your home.
- Plant lavender in your yard.
- Close your eyes and visualize your dream life. Or journal about it.
- Scroll through Instagram and comment on every picture that sparks your interest.
- Do your laundry, fold it, and put it away. While it’s washing, get rid of all the clothes you don’t wear, or if you have to do it at the laundromat, use that time to journal or read.
- Make a list of food you love.
- Make a list of blogs you love.
- Start a blog, even if you never make it public.
- Buy a plant for your house.
- Open a Google doc and start planning your dream vacation.
- Explore a used bookstore or your public library. Be soothed by the many books, the many stories.
- Read a magazine or a newspaper from cover to cover.
- Try bullet journaling.
- Adopt a dog or cat if you’re able. If not, adopt a plant. Have another living thing in your house that requires care besides you.
- Create a box of all your favorite self-care items and keep it handy. For me, it’s lavender essential oil, lotion, a Himalayan sea salt candle, epsom salts, dark chocolate, my bullet journal, comfy socks, and a giant fluffy robe.
- Create a safe space in your home: a special couch or chair with a special blanket that you can sit and curl up in.
- Quit all the things that aren’t bringing you joy.
- Go to a thrift store and really look at things. You don’t have to buy anything. Just look.
- Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help.
- Create a morning routine, even if it means getting up earlier. Mine includes: yoga, meditation, reading, writing, and drinking tea or coffee.
- Create a night routine, even if it means going to bed earlier. Mine includes: tidying the house and dimming all the lights, walking the dog, taking a long, hot shower with holiday lights on, putting on lotion, doing some journaling, listing three things I’m grateful for from the day, planning for the next day, and reading a book until I fall asleep.
- Make a list of all the places you’d like to travel to.
- Make a list of small things that make you happy.
- Lay in the sunshine. If it’s winter/gray out, invest in a vitamin D bulb.
- Do a feelings check-in: start writing about your feelings and don’t stop until you’ve written three 8.5 x 11 pages. You’ll be surprised by what you find.
- Take a long solo hike, or if that terrifies you, hike with a friend.
- Pursue a hobby. What did you want to do when you were a little kid? Go do that thing.
- Do a digital detox – whether it’s one hour or one week or one month, it’s good for you.
- Give up caffeine and/or alcohol.
- Say no so you can say yes. If you’re having a hard time saying no to something, make a list of all the things you’re really saying yes to when you say no (i.e. saying no to an unhealthy relationship means saying yes to yourself, to free time, to improved relationships with others, etc).
- Make a list of things you want to forgive yourself for and then forgive yourself for them. Do a ceremonial burning of the list if you must.
- Write a love letter to yourself.
- Take some vitamins, especially if you live in a state with seasons (get that Vitamin D in winter, do it).
- Drink some soothing tea.
- Listen to nature sounds (just Youtube search for “nature sounds”).
- List some boundaries for yourself (for relationships, for works, for whatever you’re struggling with). One of my boundaries for both is walking away anytime feedback feels destructive rather than constructive.
- Get your finances in order. I love this book and this website.
- Join a support group.
- Have a movie night, alone or with friends.
- Clear everything off your desktop (literal or electronic).
- Make your bed.
- Cross one thing off your to-do list.
- Try out an app that inspires happiness and care, like Happify.
- Make your own list of self-care ideas that work for you. And then share that list with me.
2017: a year of healing + curiosity.
- Finish a second draft of Miles of Sparks.
Visit a city you’ve never been to.
- Continue looking into graduate school.
- Bake cookies for someone.
- Deep clean your house.
Do the 30 Day Minimalist Challenge.
- Read 60 books.
- Have a potluck dinner party.
- Submit work somewhere at least once.
- Go skinny dipping.
- Create a recipe zine.
- Pick flowers.
- Make homemade pickles.
- Have someone over for tea.
- Increase proficiency in Spanish, Russian, and Polish.
Rent a movie from the library and have a movie night.
- Learn one song on harmonica.
- Ride your bike somewhere for fun.
- Exchange writing with someone.
- Go to a yoga class.
Make a gift for someone.
- Deep clean your car.
- Visit Uncle Terry.
- Organize and print photos.
Write down three short-term goals, three one-year goals, three five-year goals, and three ten-year goals.
- Ride the Rapid.
- Go to an open mic night.
- Wash windows and clean mirrors.
- Clean blinds.
- Clean out purse.
- Update resume and keep it on website.
- Plant perennials.
- Find an accountant and prep your taxes early.
Clean out your desk and dresser.
- Switch to a credit union for banking.
- Ride on a motorcycle.
- Make an affirmative prayer zine.
Do a master collecting from all your journals ever.
- Make a rag rug for Mugs.
- Watch a sunset on a lake.
- Re-read the Harry Potter series.
- Do the Spending Fast for the whole year.
- Find a pen pal. Write long letters.
- Go to the beach and lay in the sun.
Attend a brunch party.
- Finish one knitting project.
- Go for a long hike by yourself.
- Host a game night.
- Take Giselle for a weekend.
- Bring a week’s worth of freezer meals to someone.
- Make candles.
- Make a self care box and deliver it to someone who needs it.
- Go on a camping trip.
Get a massage.
- Create a book of things found in books.
- Take a painting class. 
- Take a pottery class. 
- Go canoeing or kayaking 
- See a play, opera, or other theatrical production .
- See the Atlantic Ocean .
- Get a watch .
- Get an alarm clock .
- Get a typewriter .
- Start a retirement account .
- Go on a road trip.
- Swim in Lake Michigan .
- Have a DIY spa night with Olivia.
Send a thank you card for something unexpected.
- Take a digital detox.
- Have a cocktail party with friends in the backyard.
- Make a family tree.
- Go strawberry picking.
- Go to an art opening.
Go to a museum.
- Take a weekend writing trip to the seaside.
- Plant lavender underneath the porch.
- Do this 21 Day Self-Care Challenge.
- Complete this self-reflection for 2016.
- Do these journal prompts.
- Install a shelf in living room.
- Create a gallery wall of locally made art.
Create Level 10 Life goals.
- Listen to live music at least once.
- Create a paw ornament for Mugs.
- Make a collage.
- Buy all your groceries for the week at the farmer’s market.
- Have a picnic at Reed’s Lake. Bring a book to read.
- Make a list of things that make you happy.
Do this 7 day self-care challenge. Clean out your junk drawers.
- Calculate how much money you’ll need to save for retirement.
- Create a portfolio of your work.
- Ask previous mentors/employers for a reference letter to keep on hand.
- Do morning pages for 30 days.
- Practice ayuverdic dinacharya for one week.
- Take stock of the things you’ve done.
- Spend an evening writing and sipping tea.
- Let something go.
- Eat vegetarian for a month.
- Finish this list
I’ve tried to be very open about that fact that I was recently hospitalized for anxiety.
I try not to be embarrassed by it.
But even as I type out those sentences, I feel myself shrinking, wishing I could make the font smaller, put asterisks around things to make them seem nonchalant, like I do when I text on my phone.
*I was recently hospitalized.* *shrugs* NBD.
We live in a time when people are more anxious than ever. At least 18% of adults over 18 suffer from anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. I say “at least” because there are many people who suffer and go un-diagnosed; people like me, who don’t want to be labeled and shunned, so they refuse to see a therapist or ask for help.
I’d venture to say that many more than 18% of adults in this country experience anxiety. Look at the world we live in. Everything is digital, nothing is tangible. Politics are a hot and terrifying mess. We’re all feeling lost and disconnected.
My friend and current intern extraordinaire Mariah wrote a piece about fighting the stigma around mental health and shared it today on Facebook, inspiring me to write this post. Mariah is a junior in college, and look at her, being all brave and articulate about this tricky subject. I wish I could say “I am living with anxiety and depression and I am not afraid of it” like she does. What a badass.
But here’s the thing: I’m definitely afraid of it.
I’m afraid of my anxiety, of its crushing weight, of its constant voice. I’m afraid I’ll “end up” an anxious, depressed person no one wants to be around; a terrible mother; a disappointment to my partner, my family, and myself. Mostly myself.
I recently started seeing a therapist and she is okay. Sometimes I hate going. I hate saying that I’m going. It makes me feel awful to say I’m seeing a therapist, although when I tell my friends, I’m always surprised (and frankly, delighted) to learn that they have therapists, too. Or sad that they don’t. Or I feel bad that I’m fortunate enough that I can see a therapist when so many other people can’t.
I do feel better when I go. The therapist – my therapist – says that I need to try to be more selfish and think about what I really want. This idea seems extremely impossible to me. I’ve spent my life taking care of, and looking out for, other people. I’m such a people-pleaser that I’m trying to do it, this being selfish thing, just to make my therapist happy.
When I think about making choices based on what I want, I’m usually at a loss. What do I want? and then, immediately, How does that affect so and so? Can I afford that? What if I do that and I don’t like it? What if I’m not good at it? What if I do it and people think I’m stupid? What if I plan that and no one comes? What if so-and-so dies? What if I get sick? What if I do it and it’s awful and everyone hates me?
Some of that panic is normal. Some of it is not. I grew up in poverty and experienced a lot of trauma as a child and young adult. I recently found and read this study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in the United States based on 15 years of research. According to the study, children who experience poverty have a significantly higher risk of both physical and psychological illness. In fact, 1 in 6 children who are raised in poverty develop mental health disorders. 1 in 6! The article goes on to be more terrifying:
Another thing about these mental disorders that result from childhood poverty and stress is that they can thrust the individual back to poverty. After all, such problems can affect the person’s intellect, the chances of getting a job, and function effectively in a social and occupational environment.
I don’t want that to be me. I don’t want my anxiety to “thrust me back to poverty.” Anxiety about that makes my anxiety worse. Thinking about how I’m only making my anxiety worse makes my anxiety worse. Saying the phrase “my anxiety” makes me feel privileged and that gives me anxiety.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” the nurse at the hospital said to me knowingly as I was hyperventilating about being at the hospital because I couldn’t stop having panic attacks, and then hyperventilating because I was hyperventilating. I remember thinking “OBVIOUSLY.”
What I wanted to know then was: how the hell do you make it stop? It’s a vicious cycle, yes, but how do I get out of it? Is it possible to conquer anxiety? Can I win at this?
Here are some things I’ve learned since then that I wish someone had been able to tell me during that miserable weekend (and the occasional miserable days I’ve had since):
Some ways to conquer anxiety:
- Write, write, write. Write in a notebook. Write a blog. Text a friend. Type in a Word document. Let it pour.
- Be vulnerable. Try to share with people if you can. The more people you tell the better you’ll feel. Send a mass text if you have to.
- Take time off if you need it. Work will be there, or there will be new work eventually. Family and friends will forgive you for missing coffee, or even Christmas/insert holiday-of-your-choice.
- Have someone lay on top of you. Seems real extreme, works real well. If you don’t have anyone to do this for you, pile all the blankets in your house on your body. Try books if that’s not heavy enough.
- Ask for help. I was most anxious, recently, because of a sudden move that felt really devastating – and I physically was not able to do much that weekend. Asking for help with packing boxes and moving across town was so hard, but as things got done, my anxiety lessened. At some, you have to ask yourself: what’s easier, asking for help, or dying a panic attack-induced death?
- Don’t put a price on it. It’s better to wrack up debt in therapy bills/ER visits/medication/a moving company if you need it than to die. My experience is that most hospitals/therapists will work with you if you don’t have insurance or don’t have great insurance.
- Say a mental or verbal “fuck you“ to anyone who judges anything you do. Someone recently told me this and the tenacity that comes from cursing has really helped me. When you say it (in your head or out loud), say it with the words underlined. Really mean it.
I know these ideas won’t work for everyone. I remembering trying to Google “how to stop having a panic attack” while I couldn’t stop having panic attacks and being really pissed at all the suggestions. Just breathe! and Think positive thoughts! Sometimes you really just can’t. Sometimes it’s hard to keep trying.
I don’t have any words of encouragement for that, other than that I think sometimes anxiety, depression, and loneliness are journeys we have to take alone, and that often people survive their journey. Not always. I think I can do it, but I’m not naive enough to say “Everyone can conquer anxiety! We can all do it together!” because I know too many people who have lost their battle. This stuff is heavy, this stuff is hard. I’m grateful for a space to be open about it today.
With thanks and vulnerability,
- Submit at least one piece of work for publication each month [
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12] Print a collection of poems.
- Take a painting class.
- Take a sculpting/pottery class.
- Travel out of the country.
- Go canoeing or kayaking .
- Go horseback riding .
- Get wet in a waterfall .
Read twelve books.
- Yes Please by Amy Phoeler
- Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell
- Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling
- The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
- Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity by Julia Cameron
- Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
- State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
- The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed
- The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert
- The Spender’s Guide to Debt Free Living by Anna Newell Jones
- See a play, opera, or other theatrical production.
- See the Atlantic Ocean.
- Have only one credit card.
- Go skinny dipping.
- Buy a watch and an alarm clock.
- Sleep in a hammock.
- Get a professional massage.
- Start a collection of records.
- Dive off something.
Get glasses repaired or get new ones. Travel to 3 new cities in America.
- Start a recipe book.
- Send someone flowers.
Look into graduate school.
- Buy a power tool.
- Sign up for yoga classes (and go to them).
- See a band you love live.
- Sleep under the stars.
- Read a book by Edith Wharton.
- Stay at a bed and breakfast.
- Go wine tasting .
- Make homemade ice cream.
- Make homemade pickles.
- Complete a cross stitch project.
- Have a tea party .
- Learn how to knit socks with heels.
- Learn how to knit mittens.
- Volunteer and give money to one charity a month.
- Schedule time for self every day (during which you can write, read, nap, blog, do any things that’s not working, etc).
- No phone before 10AM or after 10PM.
Get a landline telephone.
- Get a typewriter.
- Schedule a friend date once a week.
- Start a retirement account.
Get health insurance. Put money in a savings account each paycheck. Send letters every month. Write and self-publish a small book or zine. Host a Galentine’s Day Party. Read “The Art of Tidying Up.”
- Get a tattoo.
- Learn how to poach an egg properly.
Study Russian or Polish. Take a friendship trip. Take a workshop (in tarot reading or something unexpected). Visit the Grand Rapids Art Museum. See a movie at Wealthy Theatre.
- See a movie at the UICA.
Visit the Grand Rapids Public Library.
- Go for a long hike.
- Swim in Lake Michigan.
- Buy a proper fitting bathing suit that makes you feel wonderful.
- Buy pajamas for every night of the week that are beautiful.
Invest in beautiful undergarments. Buy a pair of jeans that make you feel comfortable. Purchase something from every small business on South Division.
- Plant perennials.
Read your work out loud somewhere at least twice. Spend a weekend at The Cove. Go antiquing and buy something you really love, regardless of the price.
- Make candles.
Hand-make everyone’s holiday gifts.
- Bring someone lasagna when they need it.
- Make a family tree.
Take photographs with something other than your phoneand print them.
- Buy an espresso machine and make lattes at home.
- See a movie alone.
Go out to eat alone.
- Go a week without watching any television.
Set up abetter recycling/trash/compost system.
- Get newspapers and read them.
Create a filing system that works.
- Make a blanket.
Keep an address book.
- Go dancing.
- Ride on a ferry.
Finish reading Wabi Sabi book.
- Install peg rail above kitchen sink for pots & pans storage.
- Learn how to play harmonica.
- Go on a date with Giselle once a month.
Be more selfish.
- Go ice skating.
Bike to work.
- Find a pen pal.
Get to know your neighbors. Connect with other writers on a regular basis; exchange writing.
- Eat more slowly and never have your phone out while eating.
Write more in journal.
- Buy twelve brand new books for yourself. (1)
- Take a small business class.
- Finish this list.
“writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”
-Charles Bukowski, The Last Night of the Earth Poems
Confession: I’ve been struggling with writer’s block for about two years now.
It’s not that I haven’t written, obviously. I write. But every word is a struggle. I’m constantly second-guessing myself. The mean words of ex-bosses, boyfriends, and college peers lingering…”why do you use so many parenthesis/dashes/ellipses?” “did you not see that typo?” “why are you so melodramatic?” I have nothing to say. I dread sitting at my desk. I lug my laptop over to the couch instead, clicking the bookmarked icon for Netflix instead of opening a folder with bad, half-hearted writing that I should edit, but will definitely not look at for weeks, even months.
There was once a time – around age eleven or twelve – that I used to write all day. Literally. In the summertime, I would roll out of bed and straight into the chair in front my desk, my ancient PC whirring as I wrote for hours without breaks or food. After about six hours, I would stumble downstairs, eat some cereal, use the bathroom, and then I was right back at it. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about my writing. Beautiful fiction and raw poetry flowed from my hands and heart.
Now, just writing the two paragraphs above produced a glass of wine on my left and an empty beer bottle on my right. I’ve looked at my cell phone about 600 times.
Distraction has a lot to do with it. When I was twelve, we didn’t even have internet (at least not at my house, in rural Michigan). We might have had call-waiting. I definitely didn’t know what a cell phone was, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how maybe I was better for it. I used to read a lot. Now I look at Instagram and think about getting an iPhone so I, too, can have 10,000 followers (and that is really a modest goal). I think comparing myself to people on the Internet takes about 30% of my time. Another 30% is spent watching Netflix because I feel bad and helpless about how I waste my time. And additional 39-40%% is spent at work. That leaves 1% (sometimes) to do the things I love (like writing) and making things (books, ugly knitted hats for my friends’ children).
My brain is hard-wired for interaction now. I need to look at Instagram and Facebook or I feel lost and out of the loop. I can’t be the only one. I thought that not blogging these past few months would help me do some real writing, but instead I just looked at other people’s blogs and felt bad about my own. I spent more time on Facebook, and even Pinterest (which has become really terrible with these “suggested pins”…get it together Pinterest, you were once my true love). I mean, I haven’t become completely worthless – I’ve created some artist books, worked on a few poems I hesitantly say have merit, and spent time with the people I love – but I’ve lost a lot of the joy I felt when I was twelve.
Being a millennial has something to do with it. There are too many opportunities, options, and distractions. It’s hard to be creative. When I look at the friends I have who are my age, and whose creative work I admire, they all have one thing in common – they don’t really care about social media or the Internet. Most of them are too poor to afford Internet for their studio apartments, but I also think they recognize that being constantly connected to other people is bad for your creativity.
What do you think?
P.S. This blog finally brought to you by Great Divide Colette and a pinot noir so cheap that I am embarrassed to name it.
The last few weeks (months?) I’ve spent a lot of time offline. It has been lonely, hopeful, wonderful. Here’s what I’ve been doing:
Taking the long way home when I walk the dog. (Seeing the warm red sidewalks in the sunrise.)
Getting letters from my littlest love.
Getting up early, drinking cappucinos in the sun. Working on pro-bono projects.
Finally reading all the books I’ve bought in used bookstores recently, preferably on slow Sunday afternoons, when the light is best in my tiny apartment.
Exploring Colorado in March, examining tree bark, petrified wood, and the way the river sounds at night when I’m sleeping under the stars.
And spending time with the one who brings me succulents for Valentine’s Day, and vintage postcards, artist books, and beef jerky when he comes home from vacation.
What’s been keeping you inspired lately?
You may have noticed that http://www.thislittlespace.com has a new home page.
I’m thrilled to finally share this update with all of you – it’s been over a month in the works. I’ve spent a lot of time recently really evaluating what it is I’m doing. Most twenty-somethings go through this right? I think turning twenty-four this month made something click in my brain; a little voice said “you’re past the hard part – now it’s time for the real work, the real fun, the real joy.”
I’m both proud and exceedingly nervous to share Little Space Communications – providing passionate and creative grant & award writing and messaging, as well as a variety of other services, to nonprofits and small, locally-owned businesses. I’m hoping to be fully launched in about 3 months! This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but also the easiest. I love writing for nonprofits, and as the daughter of two small business owners, my heart is full of pride and compassion for the work small businesses do. Writing in a compelling and creative way is easy when the cause is there, the mission is sound, and the work being done is beautiful. I can’t wait to start partnering and collaborating!
I’m perhaps more proud and nervous to also share a new home for some of my creative writing, and the creative projects I’ve been working on with Tim Albon, a multimedia artist here in Denver that runs a small book press and workshop called Dead Cowboy Industries (and also takes me on dates sometimes). Our first full-length artist book is now available for sale here.
I really appreciate all of the support, advice, and ears I bent in making these decisions and in re-designing my website. I hope you’ll continue reading my blog (I promise it will still be mostly about living in little spaces, cats, and adventure-having) and chatting with me via comments, emails, and on social media.
I love you guys.