Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My crazy ass mind

I have been blogging since 2009. My blog's content, quality and frequency of posts appears to ebb and flow depending on how crazy my mind is being. I say "crazy" with all the love in the world for my mind, but that doesn't mean it isn't crazy just the same. As I type my 79th blog entry, I appreciate and take a moment to reflect on all the crazy I have gotten out of my mind and want to pass along a genuine appreciation for your willingness to scroll through my thoughts, even if it was just once for a moment. I write my blog in the hopes of helping someone have to struggle one less day than I have. When I say "struggle" I am referring to all of the personal growth that has happened since 2009. I know I have learned a lot, but my real hope and dream is to guide others through their own personal journey and be a sounding board for ideas, encouragement and inspiration.

These past six plus years have been a real journey for me. Personally, professionally and spiritually. New things that were manifesting in my body in new ways caused me to want to learn more about Eastern Medicine, Eastern Philosophies and read A LOT! I have spent the past few years  like a sponge. Trying to use my spare time to read about things that sometimes sound crazy at first. To question what I really know and understand about the world around me and really put all my preconceived notions to the wind.

These past six years have really brought me to a pivotal point where I realize more and more each day how much I want to share my experiences to help people. I am so willing to take time to talk to anyone out there about my experiences, my journey, learn about what you are struggling with and see if I may be able to offer some friendly and gentle suggestions and guidance. I know there is nothing worse than feeling like you are not being really fully heard, or understood and or being fearful of taking the next step.

Why did I do all of this? Why do I keep trying new things and learning and asking questions?? Why do I remain so curious and so willing to share?? Because after 4 years in therapy, it just wasn't working any more. Talking about all of challenges, talking about all my anxieties, my worry and my fear. The crippling fear, the crippling anxiety. Talking about it wasn't working.

Since I can remember I have always been fascinated with the unknown. The just beyond reach and understanding. Part of the reason I love an appreciate science and especially astronomy so very much is because there is so much that brilliant minds still cannot understand. String theory, what is dark matter, what is dark energy and why do we only have a solid understanding of about 4% of what makes up the mass of the universe. If every star we see in the sky is another sun that could possible have 8 planets rotating around like ours, what type of things are out there? Is there life? What caused the big bang? How many universes are there? How many dimensions are there? There are so many things I could go on and on about. Much of which sounds like science fiction. It really is crazy. I love living in the space of not knowing. I really do, because it makes me feel like there is so much I should appreciate, genuinely appreciate about what I do actually know and understand.

My body and all of these enhanced manifestations of fear and anxiety that were taking shape in my body,  I did not appreciate and I did not understand, especially at the time. Looking back,  perhaps I would have found a way to appreciate the learning and the struggle, but I did not, at all, at the time. It was awful, it sucked and it honestly made me feel like I was, every day, either going ape shit crazy, or going to die.

For years I was back and forth between feeling crazy and fearing absolute death. I would get a headache and be certain it was a tumor and then obsess about it to the point of actually having constant pain. It is amazing how much our thoughts can really create our reality. There was one time in 2008 that I actually was so certain I had a tumor, as I had a headache that just would not go away that I went to the doctor. She put her hand on my shoulders and told me immediatly that I needed to chill.

You see, what had happened, is that I got myself so worked up, so stressed out that I was beyond the point of Advil working. I was carrying so much tension and stress in my shoulders, neck and back that I was having the type of headache that Advil wouldn't take away. She gave me a week's worth of muscle relaxers, and wallah, my headache went away.

I think this was the first time I realized how much my thoughts really created my reality and just HOW much power they have no only over our moods, but also, how stress and negativity can really actually affect your body. How stress, anxiety and negativity can manifest itself in your body. I am sure I had thought about this on occasion, but looking back, this is the first time it really was too obvious to ignore.

I really wish that in back in 2008 I started the journey I am on today, but the tension headache wasn't enough to make me realizing what I was doing to myself.....yet.

So, the tension headaches came and went and all I took away from that experiences was that I then knew what a tension headache felt like, so at least I didn't think I was dying anymore.

Fast forward to 2011-2012 ish when my IBS was flaring up so much, again, I truly thought there was something more seriously wrong with me. I went to the doctor again, and learned I was allergic to wheat, corn and already knew that I had a hard time with lactose. I met with a nutritionist and really started to talk about the food that made me feel good and the food that made me feel bad. I had another aha moment when I realized that my combination of stress and what I was eating was basically making me sick again.

My IBS is totally induced by stress. By other things too, but when I am stressed, I can make myself sick on a dime. To the point of where I can almost predict when I will have an upset stomach. Talk about putting energy into the wrong places. So, meeting with the nutritionist and learning about the importance of atmosphere, stress levels and one's ability to actually chew were all things that perhaps sound silly, but I was, once again, happy to hear I wasn't dying and learned that once again, I needed to chill out.

My breaking point for realizing I needed something more than just meditating came in February 2013. My panic and anxiety attacks had reached a fever pitch. A point was reached where I was leaving work in cabs because I was so confident of dropping dead. To the point where I was afraid to hang out with friends, or anyone outside of my apartment. The heart pounding, certainty of passing out, if not death. I have no interest in going back there, ever. I have the utmost respect, empathy and love for anyone dealing with any type of stress manifestations in the body. Sometimes they are stress, sometimes they are chemical, regardless, I have so much love for you, as I have been there.

In February of 2013, as anyone that has read any of my entries knows, I finally went on medication. When I first started Paxil, I didn't feel great. I felt out of it and that was not my goal. I wanted to find a balance between taking what I needed and feeling like me. So, back in 2013 is when I really started turning to more than just meditation. I had already ready most of Gabrielle Bernstein books that were out at that time, I had already started listening to meditation podcasts, but I knew that I needed more. I needed to find ways to find balance within myself.  I need to find ways to redirect stress in my body and find other outlets for all the energy that was flowing through me in really unhelpful and scary ways.

In April of 2013, I started a rather intense acupuncture routine. For about 2 months, I went every week. I was really wanting to get all of my energy and flow in alignment. I worked closely with a wonderful acupuncturist on the Upper East Side who took a lot of time not only treating me, but also explaining to me what he was doing and what he was working on. He always said to me, that the goal of acupuncture is to treat you and not have to see you anymore. I always appreciated that, a goal I could get behind.  I appreciated this philosophy.

After going every week for a good 6-8 weeks, I then started going every other week. If I ever had a really bad day, I would call up and go an extra time. For a good 5-6 months I went every other week. It wasn't cheap, but looking back, it is the best money I could have spent. It gave me a huge appreciation not only for the results, but for the industry. I continue to hope to some day find a way to go back to school for Acupuncture and Eastern Medicine, as it has helped me incredibly.

Today, I find myself going to another acupuncturist near work, since our move to Queens.  I was able to get myself in balance and now I go every 4-6 weeks. I can always tell when it is time for me to go as I start to feel anxious and just "not right." It really is amazing how much better I feel after an acupuncture session. I remain forever grateful to my friend and colleague who suggested acupuncture to me, as it has definitely been a huge part of my journey.

My acupuncture routine started peeking my interest in all things Eastern. Eastern medicine, Eastern philosophies, Eastern beliefs etc. While I had a meditation pillow at home and I had my Mala beads, my guided meditation podcasts, my bell and my incense. I had everything that a good meditator should have, something was still missing.

I am someone who is constantly seeking and quenching information and knowledge. I am always looking to take in and absorb as much as I can from the world around me. As someone who is super sensitive to both positive and negative energy, as someone who has a crazy mind that can go from 0 to 1,000,000 super quick; as someone who can really be affected by someones unkind words, I knew I needed to continue my search for knowledge.

This time, however, I was searching fpr more than just knowledge, I was actually searching for peace of mind.

I first started looking up Buddhism on-line. Again, I have always been fascinated by Eastern traditions and through acupuncture and meditation, I was finally able to see the type of impact that was possible. I found a podcast series on-line called "Audio Dharma" that is actually tapped in California, daily. That is how I started down this most recent journey. Listening to the podcasts while commuting, gave me a real chance to unplug and start to really learn how to calm my mind.

Now, believe me, I still struggle with this daily. I still struggle with my crazy mind each and every day. There are some days when I still have to take a nap, or just zone out watching tv because it keeps the crazy away. I am sure some of you can relate.

As I keep referring to my crazy mind, I feel like I should explain what I mean. The mind that tells you you are fat, ugly, not worthy, not good enough. The mind that won't let you sleep because you are thinking about the million and one things you need to do tomorrow, next month, next year. The mind that makes you realize how much you don't know and cannot decide what you want for dinner. The mind that has you questions where you will go to college, who you will marry, if you will have kids, when you will die, how you will die. The mind that just keeps going and going. The mind that is a real bitch when you are on vacation, when you are trying to relax and it totally swoops in and hijacks your good mood or your relaxing day or entire week on the beach. The mind that can turn a great day into an awful day just because of one person's comments, or one team's loss, or one argument or fight.

I realized that if I ever, ever, ever wanted to have any real happiness that came from within me versus relying on things outside of me or being based on superficial and external factors (house, car, partner, dog, career, money, success, etc) that I needed to find a way to change my experience, and ultimately change the way my mind works.

Easier said than done, right?? I think what I have appreciated most about Buddhism and what I continue to carry with me is really acknowledging the power of our mind and more specifically our thoughts. Our crazy minds, that as I mentioned above, can make a good day a bad day, regardless of reality. Becoming a more mindful person and finding ways to acknowledge and catch myself when my crazy mind is sneaking up. Finding a way to catch myself in the "divine moments or divine instants" as Gabby refers to them as. Moments when I am able to catch myself, take a breath, and change my mind. Is it really worth thinking this way? Am I willing to shift my perspective about this? Do I want to allow this one instant to impact my entire day in a negative way? Is there a way for me to shift how I feel about this?

Again, easier said than done. But, I find that the more I am mindful of myself, my surroundings, the more I become mindful of the crazy chatter and crazy thoughts that go on. The more I become mindful of these things, the more often I am able to stop myself from going to crazy town. Or at least not stay there so long. The more I am able to say, "so, they cut me off in traffic, maybe they had somewhere they needed to be more than me", or "oh well, I missed the train, let me take these next 5 minutes to read a book. listen to a podcast, or just enjoy the moment." The more and more you are able to release yourself from these negative feelings or stressful emotions, the lighter and happier you will feel all around.

The less crap you can carry around in your head, the more time and space you make for yourself to really enjoy life. Again, I know all of this is so much easier said than done. I know we are all busy, I know life is hard and I know we all go through a lot, every day. I know it is often really easy to just stay angry, bitter, frustrated and stressed. But, if it is making you sick, making you unhappy, please just give yourself 2 minutes a day of meditation. Give yourself 2 minutes a day of taking a slow deep breath in through your nostrils, hold for a few seconds and then a big slow deep breath back out through your nostrils. Take 2 minutes a day, maybe it is when you wake up and before you go to bed, to try and take some time for you.

I think the best advice I ever got about meditation was from the Kadampa Meditation Center here in NYC. You see, in addition to my podcasts, I also recently learned that there is a Meditation Center just a few blocks from work. It is amazing when you ask the universe for what you need, it can sometimes finally show itself--even when it was actually there all along. The meditation center hadn't just manifested, but I was open to receiving information and open to learning and a quick Google search let me know, there was one right by my office. So, I started going to the lunchtime meditation sessions they offer and most recently attended a Saturday workshop on meditation and Buddhist practices. While I was there, I also purchased a lot of books about Buddhist philosophy, etc.

Regardless, the most helpful advice I ever received about meditation is to not have any expectations. Don't feel like you and your Type A self need to be the best meditators ever. Don't feel like you should expect a certain experience or to feel a certain way. It has taken you years (lifetimes) to get where you are today. One week of meditating may not part the seas for you. Just enjoy the few minutes to yourself. Enjoy that you literally have nothing to do in those moments. If it helps even repeat a mantra, if that helps , or try to focus on your breath. Your mantra can be "I am love" or " We are all one" or "I am ready to receive" it can be something super simple. Don't make it complicated.

If you find your mind wandering during those two minutes, return to your mantra. You can even time it out. Perhaps you inhale on "I am" and exhale on "love". Find a way to stay focused if you are having a hard time. When you find your crazy ass mind acting up, what I have found to be helpful is either returning to the mantra, or picturing my thoughts to be like clouds. They are there, but they just kind of float by. Don't judge yourself for having them, don't attach yourself to them, just kind of have them float by. Or, if that doesn't work, you can pretend your are floating in the water and you are watching the waves and ripples pass over you. Again, you don't need to follow them, but they are just kind of there. The biggest thing for me has really been not having huge expectations for each session and then not judging myself and getting frustrated if that session "didn't go as I planned." Most often I find I just need to adjust my expectations.

If you cannot do two minutes, start with 30 seconds, move onto a minute, then two, then five, then ten. Do what you can!

Once you get pretty good at the minute or two of just following your breath and using a short mantra, you can even start increasing the length and when you breath in think of breathing in happiness, joy in the form of white  light and when you breath out, envision thick black smoke. Think of all the stress, all the anxiety, all the bad experiences you have had that day, and just see yourself as breathing them out as thick black smoke. In with the happy, white light and out with the stressful black smoke.

Our minds are powerful and our minds can really have a lot of control over our days, our perceptions of the world and our perceptions of each other. There isn't a better gift you can give yourself than peace of mind. I still work on this daily and I still fail at it all the time. That doesn't mean I don't keep trying. There are so many little things you can do, which when it becomes a more routine and regular practice you can really make a world of difference for you, your loved ones and your world.

It continues to be an on-going journey for me. I continue to find new things that help me and learn about new things that I want to try. I am always happy to talk about any of my experiences and only feel like it is right to share what has worked for me. Everyone is different and while it would be so much easier if we all came with instruction manuals to let us know how we can feel our best, we didnt, so I continue to search and try.

While I could go on and on about this forever, I thought it may be helpful to end this post with some things you may want to try and if you are struggling with your crazy ass mind these days:

Gabrielle Bernstein: Has been a lifesaver for me. I have read all of her books and was able to recently see her talk her in NYC. Her books all have really useful, insightful and tangible suggestions you can take with you to start to work on yourself and your mind. Her most recent book, "Miracles Now" contains 108 very useful things you can easily do in your life to help calm your mind and enhance your soul

Audio Dharma: Podcasts that are posted daily from California. The podcasts offer Buddhist teachings, meditation suggestions, etc. All of been extremely interesting and helpful

Meditation Oasis: Puts out nothing but guided meditations. They range from 10 to 30 ish minutes. They have a ton of them that range on their focus and intention

Acupuncture: I cannot say enough about the positive impact that acupuncture has had on me, my anxiety, my soul, etc.

Meditation: Whether it be via my podcasts, or going to lunchtime meditation at the Kadampa Meditation Center here in the city, it has proven to be hugely beneficial to me. The more I practice, the better I get about letting go of my crazy mind and the more gentle I am with myself

Practicing Mindfulness: Goes hand in hand with meditation, but the idea of really becoming more in the moment, aware and being present in life. Being able to catch yourself in the divine moments and instants so you can decide to start again, think again, change your perspective, etc.

Therapy: I would never say "no" to therapy. I was in therapy for a good four years and I think there is a lot I was able to work through in therapy, it just didn't get me all the way. These past 6+ years have been figuring out the balance

Medication: While I am not sure everyone wants to see this as an option, for me it has been a real important part of allowing me to do and get to the point where I was "ok enough" to explore my other options. I continue to be grateful for Paxil.

Diet: This is one area that I continue to struggle with. I know that when I eat certain foods it triggers my anxiety. Especially bread and dairy. I know this. I know I should eat healthier, because I always feel better when I do, still not so good at this. I often return to my default of emotional eating, something I continue to work on

Exercise: Another area I know I need to keep working on. There is nothing better than fresh air. I know that when I am outside, walking around, hiking and in nature, I feel a sense of peace I don't feel anywhere else. Need to find ways to continue to work on this. Having a dog has worked wonders on needing to be outside.

Get a dog:   I genuinely believe that lil' Gus has decreased my stress and increased my levels of happiness. He is a natural stress reliever, that is for sure

Things I want to try:

Tapping: I hear tapping is supposed to be great for chronic pain, arthritis and stress and anxiety. There are YouTube videos and daily tapping routines you can put in place. I have yet to try, but I hear great things about it

Reiki/Energy Healing: Again, I know of some folks who are Reiki teachers and have become Reiki certified, energy healers, etc. Again, I have never tried, but I have heard of some great results from these as well

What can be so exhausting and frustrating is that you may try all of these and realize that it wasn't until you got to the last thing that you found something that actually helped or worked for you. Similarly, you may try all of these and never find a combination that works for you. I am no expert in any of these things, all I can do is speak from my own personal experience and share what has worked and helped me along my own personal journey.

I just send so much love and light to each of you and really hope that we all find ways to find the balance, sense of peace, happiness and love that we desire.



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