It’s okay not to go home again.

abuse, anxiety, personal experiences, relationships

For Thanksgiving, we flew back to my hometown in the Midwest to visit my remaining family–my mother, the aunt who was my legal guardian when I was a child, and another aunt who lives about an hour away from said hometown but visits regularly.

As I told my therapist this afternoon, “I don’t want to say it sucked, but…it sucked.”

I don’t want to get into any of the messy details, but I realized a few things during our brief Thanksgiving trip.

The first is that my grandmother is dead, like, for real-real. My “mom” is dead. Full stop. It’s not that I was pretending otherwise, but being in her house without seeing her there drove the point home in an unexpectedly painful way, and I had to hold it together while I was there because I knew if I lost it, so would everyone else, and then it’d be this whole terrible thing that I was just not equipped to handle.

The second is that it’s not normal to spend the week up to your flight being anxious and trying to brainstorm ways to defuse any potential arguments. It’s not normal to be five minutes from landing in your hometown and freaking out because you have no idea how many fights there will be this time or how bad they’ll get.

The third is that it’s simply not healthy for me to go “home” again. My therapist agreed with this assessment–there really is nothing there for me anymore. I’m 28 and am building my own life, my own family. If anyone wants to visit me, they know where I am. There are several large airports nearby. I never turn my phone off, though I have become more selective about when I answer calls–if I’m emotionally exhausted and have nothing left to give that day, I let the call go to voicemail.

It’s not like I’m unreachable. I just don’t want to make the effort anymore. I’m tired of throwing myself out into the wilds of my family-of-origin and hoping I come back in one piece. I’m tired of having to tell them, “Hey, I flew all the way here, can we all just get along?” I’m tired of having to put a dog into the fight. I’m tired of there even being a fight.

I went back “home,” and all I got was the flu and three days of crippling anxiety and depression.

Readers, it’s okay to set boundaries. If, like me, you’ve finally hit your breaking point, please try not to feel guilty about it. You need to take care of you first. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and life is too short to spend it with people who make you miserable.

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An Audio Post!? 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, authoress in motion, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

Hey readers! I haven’t posted any sort of “There’s a real person in here!” content in a really long time, so here’s a quick clip of me walking you through an even quicker breathing exercise. Click below for the transcript and let me know what you think!

(Side note: I love transcribing stuff because it makes me uncomfortably aware of my verbal tics. Sorry ’bout that.)


The Big Bad Blues, they’re a-comin’

anxiety, Authoress, bipolar disorder, major depression, personal experiences

The Blues are back in town, and unfortunately, I don’t mean the Snooks Eaglin, ramblin’-soul-man-with-a-guitar type. Thanks, winter!

Don’t get me wrong–I am loving the Maryland weather. The winter has been mild, but when it’s 70 degrees one day and 30 the next, oh man, that’s like hitting a brick wall doing 90 miles an hour.

I like to imagine that there’s some kind of a party going on in my brain. I  picture my synapses and neurons and all those delicious chemicals that enter my body in pill form each morning to keep me sane, dancing around in a conga line with lampshades on their heads before passing out with permanent marker on their faces.

The party bit isn’t what troubles me. That feels okay and decidedly un-manic these days. It’s the afterward, that insidious unraveling of the good-times and how they fray bit by bit until all that’s left is the worst kind of loneliness–the loneliness that is you and your brain and nothing else.

There is a vast emptiness that comes with depression. When I decide to stay up after Paul has gone to bed (because our sleep schedules are pretty different–he has day classes, mine are at night), I’m often struck by an aching loneliness. Even though I know he’s fifteen feet away in the bedroom on the other side of the wall from me, a dark antsiness sets in. It’s not because we’re not together, because I can be my own company and take care of myself. It’s how frightening it can be in the quiet of the apartment when the day is done but I’m not tired enough for bed and while my brain isn’t especially active, the emotions hiding just beneath the surface start to make me feel bad for no reason.

Sometimes I get shivers, but on the inside. It’s like having someone reach out from inside your organs and tickle your ribs, disconcerting and uncomfortable. It makes you want to cry for no reason, but then when you try, you find that you can’t. There is no catharsis. There is only waiting and distracting yourself until it calms down or you go completely mad (and sometimes both, by turns).

These are the Big Bad Blues, and it seems they’re back in town.

Sometimes they show up only at night, and only for a day or two. It’s unavoidable; no matter how well-medicated and well-adjusted you are, things are going to slip in through the cracks from time to time. It’s the nature of the beast. My body and my mind are like a drafty house in that way. I take care to shut the doors tight, to put plastic on the windows and check the vulnerable spaces with candle flames to see where there’s a leak, but in the night, little wisps of cold sometimes slip in and wrap around me. If I don’t catch it early and fight back with whatever’s within grabbing distance, I begin to feel as though I’ll never be warm again.

Then there are the ones that come in the late afternoon, just before sunset, when the shadows stretch long and the light begins to turn golden in the before-dark time. The Golden Hour, I’ve always called it, but it doesn’t mean anything good. I have about a thousand theories as to why this time of day gets me down harder than anything else, but I’m not sure what I’ll do with that information once I figure it out or how the insight will make me feel better. For now, all I can do is turn my head away and get through it until it passes and the calming near-dark comes.

When I start to feel like this late at night, I slip quietly into bed and read for a while. The proximity to someone I love who loves me back is comforting, and whatever book I’m currently reading relaxes and distracts me. When I get to feeling low, distraction seems to be the only thing that can snap me out of it. I spend a lot of my time hanging out by myself in the apartment with the cats and my textbooks, but having something to do keeps me sane. It’s the nothingness that’ll get you, and it will get you every single time.

I’m pleased to report that I woke up today (albeit much later than I wanted) feeling just fine. At present, I’m working on reading ahead a week or two for my classes, though I’ll inevitably forget to cross it off in my planner and then go back to it on the appropriate week and wonder if a mysterious ghost-highlighter has gotten hold of my books. It’s actually a good source of humor and plus, it’s always a relief to realize that you have less homework than you thought.

And I know I’ve been promising-promising-promising that series, which at this rate will be out by sometime next year. (I kid! I need to make some sort of research schedule for each day, though, because I am spectacularly unmotivated and there always seems to be some other thing that grabs my attention.)

Until next time, readers, stay safe and lovely.

 

News Day Tuesday: Election Anxiety

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, Uncategorized

Good afternoon, readers! It’s that time of week again!

First of all, for those of you who don’t follow the Facebook page for The Dissociated Press (and if that’s the case, why not?), I have some exciting news to share: Last night, I found out that I’ve been accepted to Johns Hopkins’ Master of Science program for Counseling Psychology! I’ll be starting in the spring.

Now, on to the main event for this week: election anxiety. I’m sure most of us have felt it at one time or another, and for many, it’s probably coming to a head right about now. Today’s article comes from K5 in western Washington state.

Bernice Imei Hsu, a registered nurse and licensed mental health counselor, stated that around 85% of her new patients come in to discuss anxiety related to this year’s presidential election. Some of the clients began presenting with these concerns as early as May of this year.

Hsu has some great tips for helping with election anxiety:

Hsu first assesses how well her clients can handle conflict and change. She then helps them come up with a plan for how they might react to election results.

She asks clients to identify people in their lives who can help them discuss their anxieties and needs. She also encourages clients to practice “relentless self-care.”

“Maybe they need to take a little break, maybe they need to turn down the volume a bit of their social media feeds, stop screaming in all caps, or reading other people scream in all caps, turn it down, tone it down, and take care of themselves,” Hsu said.

The first time I voted in a presidential election was in 2008, and I remember being incredibly anxious. That anxiety was even worse in 2012. This time, I’m feeling oddly calm about it, though I think that’s because I’m in a better place mentally and have already set up some fun activities for tonight to keep my mind off the results (even though I’ll inevitably end up watching them roll in).

I have coloring and cross stitch on the list, as well as my ever-expanding Netflix queue, which is always a good distraction. I’ve realized that while I can vote, I ultimately can’t do anything about the results and that it’s better not to waste my energy worrying excessively about it. Whatever happens is what happens; I find this point of view very calming.

What about you, readers? Do you get election jitters? How do you combat them?

News Day Tuesday: Ohio State Mental Health Triage

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, News Day Tuesday, therapy

Good afternoon, readers! Today, we’re tackling the concept of mental health triage for university students. Ohio State University has reported a 43% jump in the last five years in the number of students seeking mental health care. Needless to say, that’s huge.

The question of how much academic demands contribute to anxiety levels among the student body is a complicated one. Parenting styles have definitely changed over the last decade or so–I’m 27 and when I was young, “helicopter parenting” really wasn’t a thing. My peers and I were allowed to walk alone to and from school and play outside unsupervised, often late into the after-dark hours. My family placed relatively few restrictions on how I spent my free time; reading and viewing choices were left up to my own discretion, with the assumption that I would make good choices for myself. As a result, I didn’t have much trouble adapting to the freedom that comes with college life, though I did live at home for the first two years of my undergraduate program.

As a non-parent, I can’t speak personally to what parenting styles are in vogue these days. However, it seems that (for very valid reasons) parents have become much more cautious and protective. This naturally leads to students feeling anxiety over the unprecedented freedom that comes with college and living away from home for the first time. Tuition and student loans are also enormously stressful–I know I’m not the only one who had a bit of a freak-out upon receiving that first scary bill after the post-graduation grace period ended. The overall “climate” of university life, combined with the myriad of complicated developmental changes adolescents and young adults have to navigate, creates a perfect storm for the emergence of mental health issues.

This brings us back to the subject at hand: mental health triage. It’s an intriguing concept and one that’s particularly timely; with so many patients in need being turned away from psychiatric wards due to lack of beds, it’s clear that we need to figure out a way to prioritize who needs what kind of help, and how urgently they need it.

Ohio State’s triage consists of determining whether students require more intensive one-on-one therapy or more general group-based therapy and seminars. The university offers a workshop called “Beating Anxiety,” which is something that I’d love to see implemented at more schools, particularly as part of the standard first-year curriculum. During my first year of undergrad, I saw many of my peers struggle with taking full responsibility for every aspect of their lives. It can be overwhelming to navigate roommates and coursework as well as meeting daily needs for the first time. Add to that a work-study job or two to supplement financial aid, and it’s not hard to see why so many students are stressed.

Another aspect of Ohio State’s program that I love is the “Recess” event:

On a grassy lawn, there are tents where students can make balloon animals, blow bubbles and play with therapy dogs and a large colorful parachute. The event is designed to help students relieve stress and to introduce students to counseling center services and staff in a fun way.

– Students Flood College Mental Health Centers, The Wall Street Journal

You can read more about the impressive range of resources offered to students at Ohio State here.

Readers who have a college background, what kinds of programs do you think are most valuable? What was/is available to you?


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News Day Tuesday: Childhood Mental Illness

News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships, stigma

Good afternoon, readers! This week, I’m featuring an article from NPR related to the early detection of mental illness in children. Child psychologist Rahil Briggs states that half of all children show signs of mental illness before age 14.

On a personal note, I began experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder around age seven or eight. My mother had gone to prison when I was six years old, and I went twice a month to visit her at the correctional facility that was several hours from my home. By this point, nightmares were a common occurrence–I’d had them regularly since age five–so my guardian and other relatives didn’t think much of it when the frequency increased slightly after these visits began. There was some talk of finding a therapist for me, but the idea was abandoned.

One of the earliest memories I have of PTSD-related symptoms was one night when I was attempting to play chess with my aunt in the basement of my grandmother’s home, where I lived for the majority of my childhood and adolescence. I began to feel odd, detached from my own body and my surroundings. I remember saying to my aunt, “Do you ever feel like you’re in a dream?” because that was the only way I could describe it at the time.

She had no idea what I was talking about and gave me a strange look, a reaction for which I can’t exactly blame her–if I weren’t “in the know” about the symptoms of PTSD, I would have found such a statement very strange.

As a child, I was generally calm and reserved, but I did occasionally “act out.” I would get panicky and anxious, a tiny ball of pent-up energy and what I can only describe as rage at nothing in particular. That energy had nowhere to go, so it was directed inward, causing lasting damage before finally exploding outward. I would storm around the house in a dark mood, only to erupt moments later in a fit of crying so intense I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

My family was helpless to help me because they didn’t understand–or perhaps didn’t want to accept–the reality of what was happening to me. Bipolar disorder, which has spread throughout the family tree like Spanish moss, was beginning to wreak havoc on my still-developing brain.

Childhood mental illness is a tricky subject. It’s hard to recognize, and it’s terrifying, both for the sufferer and the child’s loved ones. It can strike anyone at any time, regardless of socioeconomic class or education level or how strong the family’s ties are. Therefore, it’s especially important for parents to remember and impress upon their children that it is an illness like any other and is not a moral or character judgment. It is not evidence of parental failings or proof that the child has not been loved enough. It simply is, and the earlier it is detected, the earlier treatment and healing can begin.

Did you start showing signs of mental illness in childhood, readers? How did your family/caregivers react?


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Recovery is a verb: It’s what you do!

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, call for submissions, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships, three hopeful thoughts, Uncategorized

I’m not going to lie–moving to Baltimore has been a bit of an adjustment for me. The whole new city, new places, new people thing doesn’t faze me, partly because I’m here with someone I love and care for deeply and can lean on, and partly because I was so desperate to get away from the Midwest, to start fresh and re-invent myself again.

The part that’s scary is not having much of a support system yet. I’ll admit it; I’m frightened because right now I don’t know many people and the ones I’ve met (and like immensely!) are my fella’s classmates. I’m in that awkward transitional phase where an introvert suddenly has to start over and find friends in the area to hang out with, and as someone who’s generally a homebody, it’s tough. It’s especially hard right now because I’m taking a gap semester to adjust, work on the blog and CTL, and find a grad school down here to continue my work toward a Master’s in Counseling Psychology. What that translates into is a lot of long days where I have to figure out what to do with myself.

I’ve had a rough few days. It always seems to hit around this time of year–I love autumn and it’s always been my favorite season, but as someone with relatively severe bipolar disorder, my brain chemistry doesn’t like the changing of the seasons so much. I’m hopeful that this year it won’t be so bad, as I’ve heard the seasons are a lot milder here in the Southeast. Still, I came to the realization last night that I need to change my meds a little bit, which is nothing unusual for me. (I have some beef with the texture of my uncoated lamotrigine tabs, which makes snapping them in half to add a half-dose for nighttime a little unpleasant texturally-speaking, but that seems pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.)

Important side note and disclaimer: I don’t recommend anyone tweaking their meds without the express permission and guidance of a psychiatrist–luckily, mine helped me develop a seasons guide to use in situations like this, where I’m unable to get in to see a doctor to make adjustments. I’m still within the prescribed dose range and am only doing this to get myself through until I’m able to start seeing a psychiatrist down here.

The other night, I finally opened up. My last relationship–a five-year marriage–was somewhat disastrous and left a ton of emotional damage. As some of you may remember, I was out of work for thirteen months because I was simply too ill to hold down a job with regular hours, and staying inside most of the time with little to do means I got a lot worse before I started getting better. I don’t want to become a dependent. I don’t want to be needy. I want to be a partner, a strong woman who is capable of supporting herself and living her own life and not feeling sad and lonely and, perhaps worst of all, soul-crushingly bored when I’m alone during the day.

To counter this, I’ve been making myself a little “schedule” for each day, just little things I can do to keep myself busy so that at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It helps a little; I don’t feel as melancholy and like I wasted the day. But it’s still very much a process. Recovery is not something you either have or you don’t. It’s not like you either are or aren’t “recovered.”

Each of us has natural ups and downs in life, regardless of how well-medicated we are. We can take our pills every day and go to therapy and exercise and be social and do everything right, and we will still have low periods. It’s the nature of the illness. It doesn’t mean that we’ve failed on any level or that, as I believed for years, that we’re unsuitable partners, sons, daughters, friends. It just means that we have an illness and we’re doing everything we can to fight it. Despite our best intentions, it is always going to be there, and I’ve found that accepting that fact has it a lot easier to live with.

I’m trying to make friends with my brain again. I’m trying to make friends with the ugly voice in the back of my mind that tells me I’m not enough. It’s the same one that brings up such tiny, insignificant things from decades ago and nags me about how these events, most of which I had little control over, make me bad or less-than in some way. I talk to the negative thoughts. I tell them to shut up if I’m feeling peevish or overwhelmed, but I also try to be sympathetic. I try to rationalize with the parts of me that are still trying to drag me down.

I still externalize what I’m feeling and pretend I’m a therapist and my client is me-but-not-me, a person who has the exact same concerns and emotions and neuroses that I do. If I separate myself from the negative feelings and thoughts, it’s easier to cope. I feel a sense of power over the thoughts. I counter them with the A-B-C-D-E method of learned optimism, which, thankfully, is effective more often than not.

And most of all, I am still working hard to be kind to myself every day. When I’m feeling bad, I try to remind myself of everything I’ve accomplished so far in spite of these huge obstacles and the weight I’m still carrying around.

On a happier note, I found out that Johns Hopkins offers free counseling to students as well as family members and significant others, so I’ve put in an appointment request for short-term counseling to get me through until my Medicaid (ugh) paperwork is finished and I can find a long-term therapist and psychiatrist again.

In the meantime, I’m trying to practice good self-care and take pride and enjoyment in the little things in life, whether it’s nailing a tough piano piece or simply tidying up the apartment. I don’t want to go back to my life being all about pain. I want to keep moving forward, to keep doing more. I have huge goals for myself in life, and I refuse to let this illness keep me from accomplishing them. My stubbornness has kept me alive for 27 years, and I need to harness that and use it as a recovery tool.

Where are you in your recovery, readers? Do you have any helpful tips to share?

As always, stay safe and lovely and well. I’ll see you all again next Tuesday for another exciting News Day! And keep those submissions coming–I want as many unique voices and stories on the blog as possible!

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News Day Tuesday: New drug for PTSD!

a cure for what ails you, medication, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

News on mental illness (aside from the usual stories about police brutality and the fact that mental illness physically alters your brain) has been somewhat scarce lately, readers. However, I did manage to scare up an article about a new drug for PTSD called TNX 102 SL, which is absorbed sublingually (under the tongue, like lorazepam and other anti-anxiety meds) and reportedly helps with some of the more disruptive symptoms of PTSD, like arousal/startle response, anxiety, and negative thoughts.

The drug is related to a muscle relaxant called Flexeril. I’ve heard of muscle relaxants being used to treat startle response in the past, but I’ve never tried anything of the sort before. I typically rely on lorazepam to control acute symptoms, like when I’m out in a crowded public space and begin to feel the good old irritability and hypersensitivity to sound kick in.

I’m pretty excited that new treatments are even being tested for PTSD, honestly. The startle response is definitely the worst symptom for me–any sudden noise, no matter how small, can provoke an ear-piercing shriek and a huge bump in my heart rate. And because I have chronic pelvic pain that’s partially caused by trigger points, the instinctive tensing makes the pain multiply, which makes me more miserable, and it becomes this whole endless cycle that’s really hard to break.

I’m also hopeful that some new treatments that help with sleep but don’t leave me a groggy mess the next day will pop up. I sleep very lightly now and have a hard time falling asleep. I usually use either lorazepam (if the insomnia’s not too bad, though I need at least two milligrams to get a good night’s rest) or quetiapine/Seroquel if I’m really sleep-deprived. However, even though those drugs work in the short-term, I end up sleeping way longer than intended and am basically a zombie the next day.

Readers, what do you think of this drug, given what limited information we have so far? Would you try it? What do you use to cope, either medically or psychologically?

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Anxiety blues.

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, medication, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships

The last few days, I feel like I’ve fallen down a sort of anxiety-hole, and it’s really bugging me.

Yesterday was wonderful–we went to Canton and had delicious pie with a friend of Paul’s from college and her lovely fiancee, then took a walk in a nearby park. There was a hiccup where he snuck up on me and startled me a bit, which in addition to a ton of people being around (it was, after all, a beautiful day) kind of made my PTSD-radar go “ping!” I think that’s what set it off.

When we got home, I had a minor annoyance/setback when I learned that my venlafaxine, which I’m almost out of, was ready–but my new insurance, for some reason, was still pending and the Rx was pretty far out of my price range. After waiting in a crowded pharmacy for close to an hour, my brain didn’t take the news particularly well and my anxiety went up a few more notches.

I had taken a couple of lorazepam throughout the day, which I normally don’t have to do, and while I was nice and chilled out by that evening, I woke up this afternoon (after fourteen hours of sleep, which is highly unusual these days) feeling groggy and depressed.

Days like these, I feel the old blues and hopelessness creeping back in. I am in a gorgeous city and a new apartment with someone I love, yet I still get sad and anxious. I’ve come to realize that it’s part of the illnesses and that these things will be with me for the rest of my life. I suppose I’ve taken the good days for granted, so this one blindsided me a little.

I took another nap, woke up, finished my Theories paper, and am feeling quite a bit better. Still, it’s something I’m going to mention to my new psychiatrist (once I find one in the area, haha). The lorazepam does wonders for me in terms of calming my anxiety and the irritability that comes with it, but I often feel a little down the day after taking it and I’m wondering if there are other things I could try.

Needless to say, I also have to find a therapist to help me with quite a few things–after all, I just went through a huge move and am dealing with all sorts of new feelings and worries about being so far from home for the first time in my life.

What helps you unwind, readers? How do you shake off the blues?

The illusion of control.

a cure for what ails you, anxiety

Last night was, admittedly, a little rough for me. I’m getting over a nasty cold, which always plays hell with my moods, but the day as a whole went pretty well. But around bedtime, I sort of…crumbled. Those old feelings of guilt and worry and nonspecific “bad” began to surface and I lost it for a while.

It should come as no surprise, especially to long-time readers of this blog, that I tend to be a worrier. But here’s the kicker–I don’t worry about bad things happening to me; rather, I worry incessantly about bad things happening to the people I care about.

So, after allowing myself an hour or so to cry and attempt to calm down on my own (I’m finding that the Cross Stitch World app on Facebook is particularly calming) to no avail, I took some lorazepam and settled in for some good old-fashioned Googling. It took a while to find what I was looking for, mostly because I was too jittery and anxious to think clearly enough to come up with the proper search terms, but once I did (“anxiety about bad things happening to loved ones” was particularly fruitful), I stumbled upon a treasure trove of forum posts written by people just like me. And they all had one thing in common: early loss of a loved one, usually a parent, very early in life.

Without revealing too much out of respect for her privacy, my mother was absent from my life from the time I was six years old until I was nineteen. We had contact through letters and the occasional phone call, but the sense of loss I felt was intense. Instead, I was raised by one aunt, my grandmother, and my grandmother’s sister.

I was particularly close to my great-aunt, Muriel (whose name I took as my middle name during my recent name change), and she passed away in 2010 after a long struggle with dementia and congestive heart failure. She moved in with us when I was fourteen after she had a valve replacement and her mental state began to decline; therefore, I witnessed the brutality of dementia over the next six years, when she was moved into a nursing home following my grandmother’s stroke.

I had never lost anyone so close to me in such a final way before. And because of the PTSD, I have an extremely hard time getting close to others on a meaningful, truly intimate level. I’ve discovered that this is the root of my excessive worry.

After giving myself ample time to process what I had read on the forums, comforted by the knowledge that I’m not alone in my struggle, I checked out a few Buddhist-oriented websites that also came up during my search. Most of what I read dealt with giving up the “illusion of control,” something that didn’t particularly make me feel better but did provide some good food for thought. As someone living with C-PTSD, I don’t do well with the unknown because the main reason I’ve survived as long as I have is because I am constantly planning five, six, seven steps in advance. I need to have a plan. I need to know what is going to happen and if I don’t, extreme discomfort sets in. If this discomfort is ignored, it builds into outright anxiety and, well, I end up in situations like the one I was in last night.

The good news about all of this is that I’ve made a note to myself to be more mindful and to really try to stay “in the moment” and enjoy the present instead of worrying so much about the future. I have also identified one of the main things I need to address in therapy–I’m currently in-between therapists since I’m moving in about a month and a half, but plan on finding one as soon as we’re in the Baltimore area.

Readers, can any of you relate? What has worked for you, either in terms of distraction or realizations?