The Hardest Thing In Life

silhouette of woman facing sunset

There are many difficulties and challenges in life.  Generally speaking, they are usually these:

Financial.  Loss of jobs, debt, etc.

Emotional.  The ups and downs in relationships with family and friends, bullies and adversaries.

Physical.  Illnesses.

Death.  The loss of a loved one.

School.  Working hard to get good grades and finish a degree.

Job.  Stressors in the workplace.

But, for me, none of those temporary hardships and painful experiences is as challenging or as tough as living the Christian life.

It’s a lifestyle that is worked on daily.  One of constant striving to repent, changing my thinking and actions.  It can get very exhausting and frustrating.

Being a Christian, living the life of a Christian, isn’t just believing in God and reading the Bible.  Sure, that’s necessary and included, but it requires more from us.

Cooperating with God’s grace so that we are transformed. 

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There’s a saying by St. Athanasius that says “God became man so man can become like God” (paraphrased but the gist is correct).

In order to become like God, (called theosis in Greek explained here), there are tools and practices that help us get there.

In the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith, these tools and practices are:

Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Confession, attending Church services, reading the Bible, books about the Saints, and Other spiritual material, and spiritual mindfulness/warfare.

Image result for public domain pictures of Greek Orthodox Christian Jesus Prayer Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner

All of these practices are like exercises for an athlete training for the Olympics.  With God’s help, we are training our minds, bodies, and souls, in preparation for encountering Him when we depart this life and hopefully enter into His Kingdom.

St. Paul talks about this race we must run until the finish (the end of our earthly lives).  God says that we are saved when we endure until the end.

This transformation of our minds, hearts, and bodies is a life-long journey.

All of this effort is exhausting at times, especially the mental battles via spiritual warfare.  You’re fighting with the enemy’s temptations, and your own ego/pride.

Incidentally, you have to die to live.

We died and rose with Christ in the fount at our baptism.  But being a Christian means I am to do this daily.

We as Christians, are to be continually changing, growing spiritually and holy in Christ God.

This means we are not supposed to be stagnate.

We are not supposed to be the same person we were a year ago, a month ago, a week ago, a day ago.  By our cooperating with God, He is transforming us into holy beings.

Without God, we can do none of this.

In a culture that is all about ME and the EGO, it is a very difficult activity to repent daily and make the effort to cooperate with God’s grace.

It’s much easier to stay the way we are, which isn’t fully human.

Staying as we are is not how God initially made us to be in the beginning before the Fall.

Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, made this transformation of union with God and holiness possible through his incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, reconciling us to God the Father.

Yet, at times, I wonder why I’m doing this because I don’t see my progress. Why am I not changing?  It feels at times like I’m idling, just sitting there in my own sinful mud puddle, flailing about.

feeling-the-effects-of-chronci-stress

A few weeks ago, pondering all of this, I could understand why people become atheists.

The Christian life is tough.

You feel like running in a hamster wheel getting nowhere a lot of the times.  I teeter between hating myself and self-love/arrogance/conceit.

This perpetual battle drains you of any energy or will to want to continue.

But you know you can’t quit.

You want to be with God, you want to love Him, you want to love others.

You can’t quit because you know Him.

monk contemplating with prayer rope

There are still occasions where I’m still trying to fix myself without turning towards Him.  He is in the background instead of the foreground.

“We ourselves cannot get rid of any of our faults. He takes them away from us, one by one.” – Mother Gavrilia

I am corrupted by the culture in which I live, where I want results quickly, if not immediately, and I know intellectually that’s not how it works in the spiritual life, the life of a Christian.

“God works in eternity. Not in the hurry of our temporary life. Everything will happen as and when He wants.” – Mother Gavrilia

But this awareness needs to travel from head to heart to soul.

I get encouragement, love, and guidance from my spiritual father and love and understanding from fellow Orthodox and various Christian friends struggling along with me.  I follow the Orthodox Christian practices listed above.

If it weren’t for the Church, I’d be twisting in the wind with no roots or steady moral compass.

I know this because I was there decades ago before I was a practicing Orthodox Christian.

However, this ongoing inner struggle is a balancing act, of moderation, as always.  And for me, moderation in anything has been difficult most of my life until the past decade or so.

I was the All or Nothing sort.

I would pursue something hard and obsessively, or I’d just quit/drop the activity.  As a result, I’ve had to reign myself in when going overboard and pull myself up when apathetic or despondent.

But discovering this tendency and monitoring myself has only been possible through God’s enlightening my mind and heart, and His help.

God's mercy quote by St. Isaac the Syrian.jpg

Christians find passages in the Scriptures and sayings by the Saints that give them hope and encouragement.

Mother Gavrilia, a nun who died in the early 1990s, is a not-yet-declared Saint, in my opinion.

I read the book about her life many years ago, and it was life-changing.  She changed my whole worldview.  I quoted her twice already in this blog post.

Here’s one of my favorites:

“God often does not desire the act but the intention. It is enough that He sees you are willing to do His command.” – Mother Gavrilia

She is saying making an effort to follow God’s Commandments daily is all He expects from us.

I cherish these words.  It washes away the frustration and weariness of my daily struggles.

“When you know Him, you want to be with Him, be like Him, learn to love Him, all people, and all of His creation.” – Me.

 

 

Too Many Gadgets, Too Little Memory

electronic stuff

We bought a new car in March.  We hadn’t bought a new car since 2005, and before that, 1999.  So, you can imagine how bewildered we were….correction, I was…my husband took it all in without so much as a blink….when the car salesman introduced us to all the gadgets on our new car and how they worked.

To be honest, I was intimidated by it all.  The alert beeps for your blind spot, for warning me when any exterior part of my car was close to touching another car or any other object or person, the annoying humming sound that vibrated me into panic mode if I wandered an inch over the dividing lines on the highway, and all the lit up little icons on the dashboard and little screen.

It was overwhelming at first, but once I drove the car the first time, I relaxed a bit, even if I didn’t know how everything worked outside your regular immediate buttons and such.

It got me thinking about the technological advances over the years and decades since I was a child.  I grew up during my elementary school years with my parents purchasing one of the first VHS recorders.  My growing up years was also the time when TV remote controls came out and cordless telephones.

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Pong, the first video game I remember came out, followed by Atari, for which my parents bought.  Who could forget playing those video games with those ancient joysticks that caused hand and thumb pain within a couple hours?  Good old Atari games like Astroids, Centipede, Pac-Man, Maze Craze, Space Invaders, Frogger, and Pit Fall.

atari video console

In the music realm, boom boxes were in, that were a combination of radio and tape cassette player, with a mic jack and two speakers.  And the Walkman became popular shortly after, I think.

boom box

Dad’s Commodore 64 with its permanent blue screen sat on his desk in my teen years.  When I was sixteen, I used that computer to type up my first novel.

commodore 64 computer screen

I remember when my parents bought me a cell phone around 1993 for me to have in case my car broke down.  It was bulky and weighed a ton.

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And I distinctly remember my first caller ID.  None of my friends or family had one at that time.  It was so cool being able to see who called at that time because I lived in my apartment then and could tell when a guy I liked called, but he didn’t know I knew.  Haha!

Image result for public domain pictures of the first caller IDs from 1993

And then came the CDs, DVDs, desk top computers, etc.  All of those new gadgets were pretty cool.  They didn’t make us too lazy.  But I’d have to say, that’s changed.

I’ve been watching many TED Talks on our addiction to our computers and phones, and also, the gadgets that think for us, like our car’s lights shutting on and off on their own, the doors locking and unlocking on their own, warning lights and beeping sounds to alert us to a danger of a car too close to ours, and the like.

Our cell phones keeping our appointments, waking us up for work in the morning, storing all of our friends and family members’ phone numbers, telling us how many calories the meal is that’s sitting in front of us at lunch or dinner.  You know what I’m talking about.

These are all very convenient, easy, and helpful.  But they also make us lazy and lose our ability to remember/memorize things, such as an appointment date or a friend’s phone number.

I don’t even know my family member’s cell numbers, except my husband’s.  I don’t know my sister’s or my mother’s by heart.  That is truly pathetic.  When I was a teen up through my thirties, I could dial a number no more than twice, and it would be stuck in my memory from then on.  Because I don’t have to remember these numbers since they’re stored in my phone, they aren’t memorized.

Now, I realize when one gets older, a little help in the memory department is needed, but our brain’s memory can be boosted by walking or doing jigsaw puzzles, for example.

So, I ignore focusing solely on the camera on the small screen in my car and physically look behind me when backing up, and make sure I still look toward the blind spot before moving into another lane.  I manually lock my car doors when I get into my car most especially in parking lots.  I think it’s the safe thing to do for us women going grocery shopping and other places by ourselves.

I don’t think we can rely so much on computers.  They do malfunction at times, have glitches, and can be hacked.  Obviously, you can guess I’m not one of those people who is anxiously awaiting buying or traveling in a driverless car.  I think I’ll skip that, thank you very much!

In my psychology course I took a couple of years ago at my university, I learned the twenty-first century sedentary lifestyle is not normal or healthy for the human body and mind.  We are meant to move and move around often, and use our minds critically.  If we’re not careful, we’ll become like the folks in the Pixar movie, WALL-E.  Was that not a glimpse into the future, or what?

WALL-E pic 2

We have to find ways to exercise these days.  Join a gym.  Join an exercise class.  Buy exercise equipment.  Pencil in jogging several times a week.  When in the generations before this age, people walked or rode their bikes to work, worked outside, walked to stores, opened their cars’ hatchbacks, manually rolled up and down their cars’ windows, lifted their garage doors, and got up to turn off their TVs.

Since being a sloth is too familiar to me, I struggle to get up the energy, and it’s even harder because of my time spent on the computer for too many hours a day.  It is my goal to keep doing things that jog my memory, such as walking and doing jigsaw puzzles, and doing what I said above with regards to my car.  I even started doing tai chi two weeks ago.  It brings me stress relief and serenity.  Do you do anything to keep your mind working and body in motion to counter today’s sedentary lifestyle?

 

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Anxiety Bores Impatience

silhouette of woman for anxiety blog post

When I was twenty-two, I was diagnosed with general anxiety with periodic panic attacks.

Anxiety and panic, for me, are two different things.  Panic attacks hit me in my head first, causing dizziness, followed by quickened heart rate, some perspiring, fear, and the like.  With anxiety, it starts in the chest and causes helplessness, an impending sense of doom, as well as quickened heart rate.

Everyone who suffers from anxiety or panic attacks may share in some of the symptoms, but experiences them a bit differently and also has different triggers that set them off.

Mine is TIME.

I remember in my early twenties explaining this visual of my trigger of time as a rodent running on a wheel, getting nowhere while time and the world churned ahead without me.  I desperately wanted to catch up but was helpless to in the moments of panic attacks.

mouse on wheel

When I had my first panic attack at age twenty, it felt like my head was going to spin right off my body, my heart raced, and I feared loss of mind and control.  And as panic sufferers know, we become worried about it happening again, which perpetuates the panic feelings.

Eventually, after having a handful of full-blown panic attacks, I learned to be aware of when one was coming on, and talking to myself (in my head, not out loud) about it in a reasonable manner.

talking out of anxiety and panic

At that time in my early twenties, for four years, I was on an anti-anxiety medication for my anxiety and a tranquilizer for panic attacks.  Both medications did the job of curbing my anxiety and panic attacks.  After getting off the medication, my system seemed improved.

Since this time (over twenty years ago), I’ve faired pretty well, but since the onslaught of peri-menopause, my anxiety and panic attacks have been kicked up a notch, causing some disruption in my life.

At the end of June, I did some stupid things because of my anxiety, like mistakenly canceling my debit card.

I looked over my husband’s and my checking account and discovered a debit card purchase for a DVD from an unknown company.  Worried and panic-stricken thinking  somebody had gotten my card number, I went online and disputed the purchase.  Immediately after I did that, my card was canceled.

It was at that moment I remembered the amount of the purchase and realized I did purchase this DVD.  It was just that the company name didn’t match the place I ordered from.

silencing inner critic

Peri-menopausal fog brain mixed with anxiety is a recipe for chaos.

I called the bank the next day, and a new card was sent out for two-day delivery.

If I’d just waited and thought calmly for about five more minutes, I’m positive I would have remembered the amount and the place from which I purchased the DVD.

This was the day Whole Foods opened in my area, and I wanted to be there for the opening (I know, that alone is nuts).  Obviously I didn’t have my debit card, but I did have my checkbook.  That was a mistake because they didn’t take checks, so I had to run home and fetch my credit card that I’ve been desperately trying to pay down.

I could have just waited until the next day when my new debit card arrived and gone to Whole Foods then and not gone through all of this.  But NO, I was anxious to go RIGHT NOW!  If I didn’t go then, think of all the things I’d miss seeing on Opening Day!

scolding myself

Every time my anxiety hits, I become impatient and pushy.  After the incident, I’d hate my actions and how I irritated my family members.  Imagine this anxious impatience…it feels like a tornado of confusion, frustration, fear, and anger sweeping through you.  At least it does for me.

depressed-silhouette-woman

After experiencing this impatience three days in a row, I broke down in tears of frustration and anger, really strongly disliking myself for my stupid actions and idiocy.

Where did my brain go?

The next few days and weeks I sat analyzing my actions and behavior. I finally saw this pattern of impatience and that it was actually tied to my anxiety.

It only took me 28 years to figure this out.

gif of duh or rolling eyes

In any case, this was a breakthrough for me, a relief.  I’d finally figured out what I was doing and why I was doing it.

But how was I going to stop doing it?

Anxiety pounces on me unexpectedly a lot of the time.  The behavior and havoc almost always play out before I am aware of it.

Friends who suffer from anxiety and/or panic attacks, how do you experience them?  How do you deal with them?

Being a person who tries to follow Christ, making an effort to be Christ-like daily, even though I fail most of the time, my anxiety causes me to forget to ask Him for help when I’m going through this.  Too many times, I try to control these attacks all on my own.

give your burden at the Lord's feet

This is the crux of my problem.

But I suppose I had to discover what I was doing before I could reach this point.

So, now that I know this, I am making the effort and becoming more aware to ask God to help me through these instances of impatience and anxiety.

I’m not really a fan of praying for patience, because…well…then your patience is tested, and I fail 99% of the time.

BUT…

In reality, it’s through those tests of my patience, that I am provided the chances to be patient and make it become more of a habit, and therefore, become more of who I want to be, which is a better, calmer, loving person with a closer relationship to Christ.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been able to apply patience to at least three occasions, by talking to myself, as a type of mental coach, and through God’s help.

Here’s to a new path toward a less anxiety-ridden life.

mountain path towards light

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The Final Countdown: 13 Weeks To Go!

light tunnel 2

Friends, I recovered from senioritis last month and am now seeing the bright light at the end of the tunnel.  The finish line is in the distance but visible!

13 WEEKS LEFT OF UNIVERSITY!  

I’m currently half way through my Wellness IDS course.  Then onto my last course:  Advanced Creative Writing.  I can barely wait for that class. It’s back to my core and major. 🙂

October 28th is the last day of my final course.  Following that will be graduation.

And then it’s several hours of freedom a day to concentrate fully on my fiction writing!

I leave you with this fun song via youtube from the Broadway musical of which I’ve seen twice in my life called Starlight Express.

 

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Writing: Harmful & Therapeutic to Your Health

writing in notebook a story

As a writer, I tend to sit a lot, which isn’t exactly healthy.  However, I do walk every now and then, and I found out that writing and walking are a natural marriage of mind and body.

But to be honest, I don’t walk enough…two or three times a week for twenty minutes per day the majority of the time.  Ideally, five days a week for twenty to thirty minutes is my unattained goal thus far.

Incidentally, along with discovering the marriage of writing and walking, I discovered some fascinating information on this topic.  Many famous writers walked a lot.  Authors such as Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and William Wordsworth.  Of course, if you think about it, walking was much more commonplace for getting around back in Dickens’ et. al’s eras.  They benefited before studies were done on what walking does for writers.

walking sneakers

Other than getting some good exercise, other positive things happen when we trek around our neighborhood or local park.  In a study done by England’s Cambridge University of more than 334,000 Europeans, it discovered a brisk walk twenty minutes a day might be sufficient to decrease a person’s risk of premature death.  In addition, walking aids in stress reduction and alleviates symptoms of depression (Bianchi).

Walking also clears the mind and actually leads to creative thinking.  A Stanford University study asked participants to do mental tasks, such as producing analogies to convey complex ideas, that are common in creativity tests.  The results showed that 81% to 100% of the participants formed creative ideas walking compared to sitting (Andrews).

Now, about writing.  I found that writing is a way to help heal from traumas and also releases emotional stress and eases anxiety.

A study by Spera, Buhrfeind, and Pennebaker shows expressive writing, which means scrawling down your feelings on paper, improves mood, well-being, and decreases stress levels.

Expressive writing can be used to write in a daily gratitude journal, a journal for recording emotionally stressful events, or through the created and written situations of characters’ lives in your novel.  For example, a study was done on engineers that had been laid off recently and were separated into three groups:

1) A control group with no writing,

2) A group assigned to write about time management, and

3) A group to expressively write about the raw feelings of losing their jobs.

Both writing groups did this twenty minutes a day for five days, in which they also elucidated the emotional difficulties of job hunting, “relationship problems, financial stressors, the immediate experience of being fired, losing their coworkers, and feeling rejected” (Grant).

The results were stunning.  Three months later, the control group with the exception of five percent, were still seeking employment.  Twenty-six percent of the expressive writing groups obtained new jobs.  These groups also reported consuming less alcohol.  Eight months later, the control group still struggled to acquire a job with less than nineteen percent finding full-time work, whereas, fifty-two percent of the expressive writing groups had new jobs (Grant).

writing

In writing her novel, author Jessica Lourey states, “Little by little, I was carving out new space for thoughts that were not about death or depression.”  She adds regarding Dr. Pennebaker’s study, “Two elements above all else increase therapeutic value of writing: creating a coherent narrative and shifting perspective…Writers call them plot and point of view” (Lourey).  Therefore, expressive writing heals.

So, writing and walking are good things, right?  Well…  Walking certainly is good for a person as noted above.  Writing is good for easing and healing emotional issues.  But sitting most of the day writing, staring at a computer screen, and not taking breaks can actually cause major health problems.

Like many office workers, serious, dedicated writers likely sit six or more hours a day.  Physically, sitting for many hours a day elevates the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death.  This includes people who exercise regularly.  Dr. David Alter from the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute states, “Even if you do a half an hour or an hour of exercise every day, it doesn’t give us the reassurance that sitting for the other twenty-three hours is okay.  In fact, it’s not” (CBS News).

In a study by CBS News, prolonged sitting increased the risk of cardiovascular disease by 14%.  The risk of cancer increased by 13%, and the risk of diabetes skyrocketed to 91%.  With sedentariness, the heart is not getting its exercise, and blood sugar isn’t moving well through our cells (CBS News).

Mentally, sitting in an environment with no social interaction or outside fresh air and sunlight causes depression for many writers.  A couple of famous writers who had or currently have depression are F. Scott Fitzgerald and J.K. Rowling.

A study out of Australia of close to 9,000 women in their fifties discovered those who sat seven hours a day and did not exercise were three times more likely to have depressive symptoms, than for those who sat less than four hours daily and exercised regularly.

feeling-the-effects-of-chronci-stress

Incidentally, depression drains a person’s energy, which causes less of a desire to be active (Andrews). Sitting for several hours a day also affects a person’s wellbeing because of lack of social interaction. Connecting with family and friends reduces isolation and loneliness (Mann).

Writers also face emotional challenges such as dealing with perpetual rejections from publishers, editors, and the like.  This also at times includes their peers. A clinical psychiatrist, Dr. Alan Manevitz, states, “A large part of a writer’s success depends on how other people think of him” (Mann).

The majority of writers work by themselves and are isolated from companionship and sunlight, and coupled with unhealthy sleeping patterns if they write into the night, are a concoction for depression (Mann).

That news alone can depress a person who enjoys writing.  But there are ways to counter these dire outcomes.  We can start by standing up for one to three minutes each half hour or so of sitting throughout the day (CBS News).

Apparently, many corporations have purchased standing desks.  Some employees have reported feeling more balanced energy-wise by working at standing desks than when they’d been sitting at desks.  Getting used to standing at their desks did take time and adjustment, but it seems to be proving helpful to their wellness (CBS News).

standing desk

I started taking one to three-minute standing breaks yesterday, and I already felt a difference, and it was a positive one.  My energy level was better, and my mind was more focused and clear.

New story ideas and character dialogue switch on while I’m walking, and walking out in the sunlight and listening to the birds and looking at nature around me boosts my mood and energy.  Spending quality time with family and friends is something I’m trying to do more.  A good balance of social connection and alone time is needed for my introverted self.

With periodic breaks and a regular walking routine, we writers can improve not only our health, but our creativity.

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Works Cited
Andrews, Linda Wasmer. “To Become a Better Writer, Be a Frequent Walker.”  Psychology Today.  28 March 2016.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201603/become-better-writer-be-frequent-walker.  Accessed 19 July 2018.
Andrews, Linda Wasmer.  “What Sitting Does to Your Psyche.”  Psychology Today.  20 March 2014.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201403/what-sitting-does-your-psyche.  Accessed 19 July 2018.
Bianchi, Nicole.  “Want to Become a Better Writer?  Go For a Walk.”  Nicholebianchi.com. 15 June 2016. https://nicolebianchi.com/better-writer-daily-walk/.  Accessed 12 July 2018.
Grant, Adam.  “The Power of the Pen:  How to Boost Happiness, Health, and Productivity.” Linkedin.com.  28 May 2013. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20130528121344-69244073-the-power-of-the-pen-can-writing-make-us-happier-healthier-and-more-productive/. Accessed 12 July 2018.
Lourey, Jessica.  “The Therapeutic Benefits of Writing a Novel:  Research suggests that writing fiction can be a powerful healing tool.”  Psychology Today.  9 June 2017.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/discover-your-truth/201706/the-therapeutic-benefits-writing-novel.  Accessed 12 July 2018.
Mann, Denise.  “Why Writers Are Prone To Depression.”  Everyday Health. https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/why-writers-are-prone-to-depression-6709.aspx. Accessed 19 July 2018.
“Too much sitting raises risk of death, even if you exercise.”  CBS News.  20 January 2015. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/too-much-sitting-raises-risk-of-death-even-if-you-exercise/. Accessed 19 July 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Wheels in a Bountiful Era

big wheel from the 1970s love

Growing up in the 1970s was a fun time.  Aside from my daily attempts in creating various flying apparatuses, I had this amazing machine that took me everywhere with the pumping of its pedals.  It only had an emergency brake, but it was employed when it was absolutely necessary, which was never.  Its colors were a daring yellow, patriotic blue, and powerful red.  The machine had an adjustable seat, and for decoration, streamers sprouted from its handles.

This powerful, glorious machine was called a Big Wheel because the front and back wheels were…well…BIG.  They ran over anything in their path, flattening these things as thin as tracing paper.

Many mornings if I wasn’t scraping my metal-wheeled roller skates (I got the rubber wheels later) across the asphalt at six a.m. (you know the neighbors loved that), I’d hop on my power vehicle and pedal down the side walk (or pavement, depending on where we were living at the time), ready to ride the day away.

If anyone tried to harass me by chasing after me via foot or bike, I’d take off on my trusty Big Wheel, squealing out of the vicinity, sparks snapping off my back monster wheels, a dusty cloud floating in my wake.  Blind from the dust and stunned by the super sonic speed of my Big Wheel, my bullies were left to wallow in defeat.

Years later when I no longer could fully fit in the seat of my beloved machine, I’d clasp its worn handles, place one sneaker on its seat, and push with the other, transforming it into a type of stylish and speedy scooter.  Alas, eventually, my trusty transport had to retire and live with its buddies in the hallowed halls of Big Wheel Memories…memories that stay with me forever.

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