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What Anxiety Feels Like To Me.

It's not a secret that I struggle with anxiety. I've talked about it here before and I'll talk about it with people if they ask. Sometimes people tell me I'm brave for being so open about it. That always surprises me because I don't think I'm brave at all. I think for so long I lived my life pretending that everything was okay when it wasn't that I just can't do it anymore. It takes too much energy and it's too hard for me to keep things inside, to put up a front and pretend that everything is fine if it's not.

Sometimes I think if I would have known others who were more open about their struggles it wouldn't have taken me so long to come to terms with my own. So I don't think I'm brave, just honest...maybe too much so sometimes.

Today is World Mental Health Day. The world would be a better place if we talked more openly about mental health issues. If we didn't stigmatize them or perpetuate stereotypes and judgement around getting help for them.

So because of Mental Health Day and in the spirit of vulnerability, I wanted to share a bit about my journey with anxiety.

I've know for awhile that anxiety is what causes so many issues with me...it's mostly why I go to counseling, it's why I'm passionate about self-care and it's also why I just don't know what to do with myself sometimes. I've realized it's the root of many health issues I've had throughout my life and it's manifested itself in ways I never would have realized without help.

Not too long ago I felt like no matter what I did I couldn't get it under control.

A few different people asked me if I had ever taken medicine for it. I would say no and change the subject because that freaks me out. I don't like taking medicine if I don't have to and I didn't want to for this. But I decided to ask my counselor about it, confident she would dismiss the idea, say that I was over-exaggerating this "issue" and be done.

That's not what she said.

She said medicine could definitely be an option I explore. She didn't give me the answer I wanted to hear. We talked about my options and then I left and had a mini-meltdown in my car.

I don't know, I guess medicine made it seem like I had a "problem" and I should be strong enough to deal with it. I shouldn't need help. I've lived with this for most my life so I can just keep handling it.

But the problem when you see truth is it's hard to unsee it. This is why we need truth-tellers in our lives. They can help us see what we need.

I couldn't just keep handling my anxiety.

I decided to try different natural things to help with my anxiety. Thankfully, this worked for me. I started feeling better, but also not.

It's one of those things where you don't realize how bad something is until it's better. But I also didn't know how to deal with this new "better" feeling.

Anxiety feels different for everyone, but when I started dealing with it and acknowledging it, I've been able to articulate it better.

Imagine water filling up your body (I know, I know, technically our bodies are made up of water, but stay with me on this...). For me, living with anxiety is like that water inside you is constantly moving. Sometimes it's big waves, sometimes it's just a little choppy, sometimes it's a huge tidal wave, sometimes there's just a little hum of something, but there's always movement.

Sometimes it knocks you off your feet, sometimes it just makes you a little uneasy, sometimes it's calmer for a second but then someone rocks the boat and there is a ripple effect. It's always there.

Along with this movement, my brain is always moving. Taking off into the land of what if's and trying to get my train of thought to stop, but the brakes just went out and there's no turning back. It's like my thoughts are on a hamster wheel and I can't get off. It can all be pretty exhausting.

I was tired of being tired all the time so I did research of what I could do besides go straight to medicine. I tried different things to see what would help.

I started feeling calmer inside. It was so different it messed with me. What do I do now with this buzz of energy gone? It was like the water went still. There weren't even ripples. It threw me off.

I told my counselor how I was feeling and she said, don't fight it.

But the problem was, I didn't feel like myself. This was the only reality I knew. This constant hum of energy, the feel of being on a hamster wheel, staying on high alert and always being prepared for that tidal wave to knock me off my feet.

I eventually settled into this calm and peaceful water. I figured out what works and what doesn't.

I finally think I'm doing great and then I have a panic attack. The thing with anxiety is it doesn't really go away. It also doesn't discriminate when it decides to pay you a visit.

But now, walking towards wholeness with help and in health, I bounce back a little more easily after it comes.

I manage my anxiety better these days - to me that looks like counseling, natural supplements, no caffeine, limiting sugar and lots of good self-care and boundary setting. For others it looks like all those things and medicine. And that's so okay. It looks different for everyone.

We all have stuff, we all have issues, we all have things and lies that take root deep into our being so that when we start doing the hard work of uprooting them, we don't feel like ourselves.

Sometimes it takes awhile for us to allow ourselves to recognize health and wholeness.

It's not a linear path. Sometimes it's two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes we fall, sometimes we take a roundabout way.

So whoever may be reading this, may you be encouraged today that you are not alone.

May you remember that everyone has struggles - we're just not always great at talking about them.

May you find peace and freedom.

May you take the two steps forward after the two steps back.

May you rise again.

May you allow these truths to take deep root in your soul:

You can do hard things.

You do not have to pretend to be someone you're not.

You are not alone.

May you find the courage today to walk towards health and wholeness for yourself.

I'll be here cheering you on.

The Day I Demanded God Show Up.

Not too long ago, I was going through a hard season. When I re-read my journal from then or think back on it, my chest gets tight and sometimes tears still come to my eyes. During that time I was lost, confused and I distinctly remember the moment I felt like my spirit just broke. I had no idea what to do with myself. My journal specifically says, "I am a shadow of myself. I am a puddle of a person that has no shape, no direction and people are just walking over me and looking right through me."

The feelings were deep, raw and heavy.

One morning when I woke up, I just couldn't do it anymore. You know when things aren't right in your world and you have those couple of seconds when you wake up and you feel okay...until reality comes crashing in. I was over that being my story every single morning.

I remember laying in my bed and saying something like this to God, "I know you're there. I know you've been there this whole time. But I need to SEE you. I need to see SOMETHING that makes sense. You may be present, but you're definitely not making that presence known. Show up in my room, write something in the sky, have a random person stop me in the street to give me a message, it can be crazy, I don't care what it is, but I NEED an answer or something, anything."

Demanding, I know.  I was desperate. Writing that down gave me a little twinge of "You maybe shouldn't speak to God that way", but a long time ago I gave up on the idea that there's a right way to talk to God.

God can handle our demands, our anger, our sorrow and whatever else we say or feel.

After I made my demands and God said, I do not negotiate with terrorists...I went on with my day.

Later that day I graciously received a response. It happened through the most random circumstance, but when it did, I just knew what it was. It wasn't anything flashy. It was more like a whisper across my soul. I didn't understand it at first because surely, this could not be the right answer.

I don't know about you, but that's usually how God talks to me. In whispers. That day expressing myself, making my demands and then moving on gave space for me to hear those whispers.

He whispered across my soul and it stopped me in my tracks. Peace filled my whole self and it was such a contradiction to what I had been feeling, I knew it was God giving me an answer. I don't know how to explain it except that I felt lighter and free.

So I did what any normal person would do, I thought, "No...that's not really what I meant when I said I needed an answer." I told a few close friends about it, confident that they would say you're right that's not the answer. They didn't. Thank you Jesus for wise family and friends. When you know God is telling you something (especially when you were demanding it in the first place) and then the people who know you best confirm it, you should probably listen.

Acting upon that whisper that I heard wasn't easy. It was actually one of the hardest things I've ever done, but it was right. It actually didn't make a lot of sense from the outside looking in, but it was the next right thing for me.

I think that's what we need to realize more in life. Sometimes what we need to do is just the next right thing. There was a lot of unknowns and confusion in my life, but all I knew was the next right thing.

I kept that as my motto during that time. Just the next right thing. Okay, now the next.

Your next right thing may not fit with your life plan or what you thought your life would look like. It may not make sense, it may be hard, but if it's right, it's right.

To me, God shows up in whispers and through the wisdom of my friends and family. Sometimes it takes being broken, being a shadow of yourself and having the boldness to just express what you need to fully understand and see what God wants you to see. For you to see the next right thing.

We have to create the space so we can see. So we can hear.

We have to have the willingness to be bold and to trust that while our next step may not make sense, if it's the next right thing, it's the right thing.

May you have the courage today to do the next right thing for you.

May you make space for the whispers.

May you open your eyes to what God intends for you to see.

May you have the boldness to speak to God about how you really feel.

May you let go of what you need to let go of so that you can grab what's next.

May you find peace in your searching.

May you find relief from your burdens.

May you find light among your shadows.

May you remember and trust that God will show up.

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We Can't Turn Away.

Have you seen the video of two little boys whose brother was just killed by a bomb in Syria? It's heart-breaking. It's gut-wrenching. No one should have to experience that. I sobbed as I watched it.

Eugene Cho shared this video and said, "Human pain. I want to turn away but can't. We can't. It's so very complicated and messy but we can't turn away from the real human pain. To do so...would make us less human."

For a long time I used to turn away. I hate to admit it, but even now there's times where I just can't watch. Or I just can't hear about another bad thing. Or I just can't see another injustice happen. What a privilege I have to choose to not feel pain.

But every time I make that choice I feel myself resort into myself a little bit more. I step a little bit farther away from humanity. Like Eugene says, I become a little less human.

Just because we don't see or acknowledge something doesn't mean it's not there. And that's the problem. When we turn away or refuse to see, we ignore people. Human souls who are hurting and situations that are not okay.

One of the most memorable scenes from a movie for me is in Hotel Rwanda. It's about the genocide of the Tutsi people that occurred.

There's an American journalist there filming and the Rwandan man tells him that he's glad he's filming so the world can see what's happening and intervene. The journalist looks at him and basically says, is it still worth showing even if no one intervenes? The Rwandan replies, who would not intervene after witnessing such atrocities? And the journalist says this:

I think if people see this footage they'll say, "oh my God that's horrible," and then go on eating their dinners.

I will never forget how I felt after I heard him say that. My stomach recoiled and I shook my head because I know it's true.

When we are steeped in privilege, it's too easy to turn away.

I am in no way a proponent of shoveling on guilt or exploiting other's pain to make someone feel a certain way. But we can't ignore the pain.

As an extremely empathetic and highly sensitive person  I am never short on feelings. Other's feelings and emotions have a way of clinging to me and seeping into my soul if I let them. There's a reason I have always wanted to avoid painful things or the "bad" type of feelings.

But we can't. Like Eugene says, it makes us less human. When we turn away and refuse to see, we're snipping that cord of connection that could be there to connect a girl in America to a little boy in Syria.

When we refuse to acknowledge black men being gunned down by police, we're taking a step into our comfort zone and safety net and refusing to see.

That's what privilege does to us. Whether it's the privilege afforded to us because of our skin color, where we were born, our economic level or our gender...it blocks our ability to see. Not until we acknowledge it's there and take a step outside of our comfort zone and limited perspective will we truly see.

We can't be fully connected to each other and to humanity if we refuse to acknowledge each other's pain.

We can't be fully connected to each other and to humanity if we diminish other's lived experiences with comments like, "yeah, that's horrible" and "that sucks, but it's all the way across the world."

We can't be fully connected to each other if we don't listen. If we don't hear each other's stories and hear what it's like to have a lived experience that doesn't look like our own.

We can't be fully connected to each other if we do not SEE each other.

The same God that made me, made you and that same God made a little Syrian boy...we all deserve the right to life, the right to live, the right to be affirmed and to be seen.

While I sit here and say don't turn away, allow yourself to be fully human by acknowledging and feeling other's pain, and see how we're all connected I wish I had more concrete answers.

I do know it's not okay. I do know I can't turn away from other's pain. I do know that is starts with seeing. It starts with acknowledging other's lived experiences.

We may look, but are we truly seeing?

Turn Away from Pain

For the dreamers.

A few weeks ago I took a step to turn a dream I've had for awhile into reality. After I took that step, I felt like I should have had a band playing some kind of celebration song or a group of people singing hip hip hooray or something. Doesn't my big moment like this deserve all the pomp and circumstance?

andy celebrate

Instead I hung up the phone as the cursor on the blank screen of my computer blinked back at me, reminding me that grants won't write themselves.

I used to think I wasn't much of a dreamer. I guess I was living in denial of the fact that I spend most of my time in my own head. I constantly live in this tension of my dreams for my life and where I may be going and where I am right now. It's a delicate balance.

I've also always been someone who is guilty of wishing my life away. I get really excited about things that I want to do and I want them to happen right now.

I am totally an instant gratification person.

This makes it hard when I have an idea or a dream because I want it to happen as soon as I think of it. And then when it doesn't, I often dismiss it or move on to something else...I'm not always the most patient person.

I'm realizing big dreams come to fruition and ideas are realized when we're willing to take those faithful steps. When we're willing to do the work. Unfortunately, magic wands don't exist and instant gratification doesn't build much character.

It's easy to get caught up in the big shining moments, to only think about when your dream actually comes true or your idea is fully realized, but I think the real beauty comes in the small moments before that.

Those moments that lead us to our big dream. The moments that lead us to accomplishing something we've worked really hard at. The moments we look back on and see how that little faithful step and that little decision all worked together to get us here.

I'm not great at appreciating those small moments.

But when I look back on my life and the times I have been patient, where I've been able to see those small moments and faithful steps, that's where I see so much beauty. It's where I see myself come alive, where I see myself inching towards wholeness.

Sometimes in the waiting is when the real transformation happens. Usually it's the process of doing something that makes it worth it. What dreams are worth dreaming or goals worth attaining if it didn't take some work or sacrifice? Would we appreciate it as much?

I'm not sure we would.

This year has been one of appreciating the small moments, discerning the next step and taking it...even if it's just inch by inch. It's been a year of trusting in the waiting space and being patient. It's been a year of learning to do the work and remembering most things worth doing aren't usually easy.

So here's to me and here's to you - dreamers, goal-setters, idea generators:

May we dream big dreams and have grand ideas.

May we stay faithful in the small moments as those are the puzzle pieces that create the bigger picture.

May be realize sometimes the right progress isn't always taken in leaps and bounds, but inch by inch.

May we have the courage to take that step and know that sometimes all we can do is the next right thing.

May we trust the time of waiting, knowing it has significance.

May we remember that we can do hard things and sometimes we just need to do the work.

Dream your dreams, set those goals, have your ideas.

Because the world needs more dreamers.

Be a dreamer that has the courage to do the work, to cherish the small moments and don't forget it's totally okay to celebrate when you see those dreams come true.

May we not forget to celebrate even the small moments.

abby dancing

(I'm always available to do a happy dance for you and all the bold, big or small steps you take towards your dream...GIF by the talented Dan Wilson)

9 Things I Learned This Summer

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When you're an adult, summer doesn't really mean what it did when you're a kid...no break from school (unless you're a teacher), no care-free nothing-to-do days or trips to summer camp. I have not transitioned well into the summers of adulthood...I miss the long breaks, the change in schedule and I hate being hot. And it's hotter than hades in Nashville. I am basically the grinch of summer. I know it's so many people's favorite season, but I don't share those feelings.

grinch

Anyway...my dislike of summer is not the point of the post. The point is to share what I've learned in this oh so wonderful season of summer. An author I love, Emily P. Freeman, does a series each month about what she's learned and she invites others to do the same. This time we cover the whole summer season, rather than just the month.

So without further ado (and to help me focus on things besides how it's possible to sweat so much in one day or how I re-evaluate my decision to not go into teaching so I could get summer off), here is what I learned this summer.

9 Things I Learned This Summer

1. I actually do love Gilmore Girls. This show used to annoy me when I was in high school and I would watch it sometimes, but I never understood what the big deal was. I understand now. Forgive my unbelief fellow Gilmore Girl lovers.

gilmore girls

2. Life is better when your car has air conditioning. I've spent the last two summers with no air in my car because it was too expensive to fix. I like to think it toughened me up and made me be able to handle the heat better, but when your roommate looks at you in all seriousness and says, "you really need to get your air fixed this summer, you'll be a better human" you take her advice. Now I just revel in the cold air that comes out of the vents.

pochahantus

 

3. Hamilton. Need I even say more? Yes, I have jumped on the bandwagon and am obsessed. If you don't know why it's the best just watch the video. Broadway, history, incredible music, The Schuyler Sisters, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., debates are actually rap battles, I mean...need I go on? If you haven't heard or seen anything about Hamilton, begin watching at the 2:00 mark below and you can thank me later.

[embed]https://youtu.be/5Y5KuohVJMQ[/embed]

4. It's okay to turn your brain off for a season. The last few months I had all of these plans of things to write, books to read, podcasts to listen to, but I just couldn't. When I'm not able to do these things, things that usually bring me life, it means I need to rest and turn my brain off for awhile. The season lasted longer than I was expecting, but it was just what I needed.

andy

5. Time with friends and family is priceless. One thing I DO love about summer is it usually means more opportunity to see friends and family. Jenn and I took a trip to the West Coast where I got to see my family too, my Zambian teammates came to stay with me, we had our 2nd Annual Friendcation and I was able to spend some time at home in Michigan. 40856

6. I LOVE kickboxing! I have never loved working out, but I've finally found something that I enjoy doing. It's the hardest workout I've ever done, but I actually enjoy it. Mostly because it makes my brain shut off for a whole hour, it's a good workout, it's fun and you don't even have to wear shoes.

kickboxing

7. Canned salmon can have all the bones in it. I tried to be an adult and power through de-boning the salmon, but after gagging multiple times I decided to stop. I don't do well with food that too closely resembles a live animal. This was a result of my whole30 journey.

i don't like it

8. It is possible to stay home every night just to watch TV because...THE OLYMPICS. It's been even better because a group of friends have basically been here every night watching with me.

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9. GIFs are my new love language.

elf

What have you learned this summer? I would love to know! Leave a comment. :)

leslie dancing