Let’s do this together–from a safe distance

Nine years ago, I went to therapy for anxiety and started this blog.

Six years ago, I left my news career.

Those were the two healthiest things I’ve ever done.

This week was the closest to news reporting that I’ve done since. I’ve posted frequent COVID updates. I planned a TV segment on healthy tips for working from home. I wrote a blog post attempting to make home isolation fun. I didn’t think much of being asked to write a blog post on minding mental health during this health emergency. Business as usual. That’s what I do.

Impact

It wasn’t until I was posting it that I felt the magnitude of all that has happened since February 29 when a state of emergency was declared in Washington state. A week ago, I cleared out my desk at the office. When our vice president told us we could take our monitors and any other equipment home, I got it. This isn’t going to be like a snow storm when we work at 60% for a day or two. We were going to be home for a while.

I was on a conference call and someone said, it’s going to be interesting to see what the world is like six months from now. I don’t think we’re going to go back to working the way we did before.

I think he’s right. We probably won’t. Not all of us anyway.

Then events started getting canceled. Restaurants started closing. Everything began to feel changed.

Acceptance

I was keeping busy going for daily walks, cooking meals, checking in on friends, and earning a master’s degree. I thought I was doing everything right.

But talking to therapist Amy Cirbus made me remember that I need to slow down and let myself feel.

“Everyone’s life is disrupted right now,” she told me.

Yeah.

Yeah, it is.

I had a lot more work to do before leaving my “office” today, but I wrote the mental health post. Because it’s the post I needed to read today.

And then I put on a feelings-packed playlist on Spotify and laid on the floor next to my cat. And I let myself feel everything I had been avoiding–just as I had in my journalism days.

Wherever you are in this, we’re all in it together—from a safe distance apart. Sending lots of love to you all.

Making the most of a bad situation

I’m an optimist. I like to view situations as opportunities rather than burdens. Even if I initially kick my feet

I’m on day 5 of social distancing. I’m using the time to develop some healthy habits beginning at home. Some of them I learned five years ago when I worked a remote job. Some I’m beginning now.

Leave the house

At least once a day and interact with other humans I don’t live with. Yes, it can be from six feet away, but I need to get out.

Take a walk

I just did a story with a physical therapist who advised that when working from home, get out for a walk before and after work. It’s a nice way to not only get some physical activity, but also separate work hours from home hours.

Cook at home

Apologies to all the restaurant owners out there. I know business is slow with people social isolating. I will happily contribute to GoFundMe campaigns or buy gift cards for later use, but I’m really not feeling dining out right now. Instead, I’m making it a mission to eat up some of the food that’s been in the freezer or depths of the cupboard for a while.

Avoid consumer news

Instead of watching endless hours of paranoia, I’m going to the sources and reading the CDC site. Please, please know that right now there is a whole lot we do not know. Journalists don’t like that. If anyone with a science-y background is willing to go on record, journalists are going to report what they say. It’s the truth. And I would have done it six years ago, too.

Clean up

Kitchen towels get thrown in the laundry at the end of each day. Glasses and water bottles are getting washed promptly, not reused. Sheets and bath towels more often, too. I’m also decluttering. I do not want to be surrounded by useless stuff.

At the end of the day, I’m grateful that I’m healthy. The people I meet on my morning and evening walks appear to be healthy. We’re all doing the best we can and getting through it together. That’s a lot.

I’ll take the b please

At my house right now, we’re stressed! I’m in my final two classes of my Master of Science, and I feel like the punches keep coming. First, the grand finale project I proposed got denied the day before class started, so I had to start over almost from the beginning. My other class has unclear expectations and surprises around every corner. My skin is all broken out and looking awful. I’m even down a couple pounds on the scale–despite reduced trips to the gym and a diet that consists mainly of multigrain crackers.

Meanwhile, Nick has his own stuff. Even Gatito, the calm feline in the house, seems out of sorts. Most of that can be attributed to the rest of us not delivering his breakfast fast enough or falling asleep without providing adequate amounts of petting and laser playtime.

Last night, I was so overwhelmed. I usually spend about an hour to an hour and a half on classwork three or four evenings a week and then do the bulk on the weekends. This term, I’m averaging 3 or 4 hours per evening. I’ve also taken two PTO days from work to catch up. It’s only week 4 of 16! I had gotten paper No. 1 in good-enough shape that I could turn it in, so I called it a night.

I knew Nick was feeling it too. I gave him a hug and said, “everything is going to be OK.” He hugged me back and said, “It’s going to be better than OK.”

I really appreciated and needed to hear him say that. It is going to be better than OK. He’s going to find his next thing. I’m going to graduate! Gatito will get more attention.

I took the day off to tend to my mental health. I got an early start on research on paper No. 2. I worked for about an hour and a half before realizing I could just make it to a morning yoga class.

I’m so glad I did. Since just two of us were there, the instructor asked how we were feeling and what we needed. I told her I was so stressed from grad school and could benefit from some grounding and stretching. Luckily, the other yogi was down for a less vigorous class.

I walked out of yoga feeling a million times better. I decided to stop at the bagel shop next door for my favorite honey-almond. Then I got back to my desk and worked. It was like I cleared out all the bad energy I needed to get rid of.

This term has truly been an exercise in pushing away what I don’t need. Nick is good at reminding me of that. For example, I submitted an assignment early and got a B on it. Since I still have time, I could redo it and resubmit for a higher grade or I could just be done with it. I’m choosing to accept my B and spend chill time with my boys instead.

Minding the Winter Blues

This weekend, I was feeling low. Heartbreaking stories led the news cycle and screamed at me from social media. I was feeling cabin fever after a week working from home sick on the couch. I hadn’t been able to maintain my regular gym schedule because I wasn’t feeling well. I was missing my family who I enjoyed so much over Christmas. It was dark and rainy outside.

Usually I like to watch the Seahawks games—especially the Wild Card game. But the thought of spending 3 plus daylight hours on the couch on Sunday made me even more sad.

I was wondering why I felt so bad, but then I remembered an article I wrote in preparation for Blue Monday. If you’re not aware, Blue Monday is a totally imprecise date calculated to be the most depressing of the year. It’s the third Monday of January—when debt might be piled up, weather is unpleasant, holiday festivities are over, etc. It’s less about that particular day being awful and more of a reminder that this time of year is tough. If you’re feeling it, it’s not just you.

With that in mind, I told myself that I needed to be mindful of my mental health. Sitting in our dark home watching football was not going to make me feel good.

So, Nick and I went out. We didn’t have a plan. We just hopped on a bus and headed downtown. We didn’t need to shop for anything. We were fed, so we didn’t need to eat. So we just started walking and talking. We walked up this street and down that. We stopped into Starbucks for one last holiday drink. We ended up walking to South Lake Union under the gray skies, but just a few raindrops. Then we hopped on a bus and headed back home.

I made an effort to cook proper meals and try to get back into a routine. Today I went back to the office and felt better—not physically but mentally. It helped to be back and have problems to solve.

Tomorrow I start my final semester of grad school. I’m excited for that, too. Though I’ve been told the semester is “when you earn your master of science,” I’m ready to go back. It helps me to have things to do this time of year.

I hope you’re all paying attention to what you need. Know that you’re not alone, too. We’re all in this together. Big hugs from afar.

Leave it there

This time of year, it’s easy to think about what we’re losing: long days of sunlight, sleeping with the windows open, fresh berries and lettuce growing just outside.

Fall is a time of change and growth. I’ve been feeling like it’s time for me to do some of both. But it can feel like losing something instead of an opportunity to gain something else. I’m trying to focus more on the latter.

For example, I’ve been feeling that my fitness routine is no longer working for me. Rather than come up with my own workout at the gym, I’ve been skipping entirely. So last weekend, I decided to embrace something else. I bought some studio classes where a trainer tells me what to do and for how long. Now I’m getting workouts in again.

Another big change is the end of my grad school program. I had a call with my advisor today to determine my big, scary final capstone project. Before the call, I was somewhat mourning finishing the program. When I started, I was afraid of the time commitment and pressure of going to school. Something strange happened in the last two years, though. It became something I love. I find my school readings and projects so interesting. I want to do them (well, most of them). And I want my final project to be something I’m equally excited about.

Sure, some things will be left behind, but that’s OK. It leaves room for the new.

Aren’t you a nutritionist?

I’m 2/3 of the way through a master of science in nutrition program and I’m getting questioned about my own diet.

“You’re a nutritionist and you’re eating fries?”

“You eat bagels? I thought you were healthy.”

“You crave chocolate?”

Yeah, knowing a whole lot about human nutrition doesn’t make a person less human. Here is an absolute I learned since starting this program: You can eat what you want. In my opinion, a good nutritionist will work with you to include your favorite foods because if they don’t, what are the odds you would stick with your diet plan?

Exactly.

So yes, I make room for the occasional fries and bagel. I make room for frequent helpings of chocolate. I allow myself to go wild when I’m on vacation.

But I have made a lot of changes to my diet since starting the program (even when I’m on vacation). Here’s what I’ve changed and a quick explanation of why.

  1. I eat very little red meat. We’re talking about three ounces per month. Why? It’s a known carcinogen and is sustainable at the rate of about 6 ounces per month. Your body and the planet can only handle about one three-ounce patty every other week.
  2. I cut way down on salt. Why? This is the biggest contributor to health-related deaths. Simply put, the salt in a typical American diet is killing you.
  3. I eat more fruits and vegetables. I’ve made it a priority to eat at least 5 servings a day. The reason is my body needs the nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. When I consume them, I leave less room in my belly and time in my break to consume less-nutritious foods.
  4. I distribute protein at every meal. The body likes when it gets protein regularly throughout the day. So, I’ll have some nut butter with breakfast, some beans with lunch, and a little chicken with dinner.
  5. Protein is not the star of my meal anymore. Americans eat too much. The typical macronutrient range should be 10-35 percent protein, 20-35 percent fat, and 45-65 percent carbohydrates. Note that ideally carbs are fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
When in Montréal, I eat bagels daily.

It’s all good

Wine in bed is fine.

Lately, I’ve been called calm a few times. I like it. I used to let myself get so stressed out about work. I even cried in a former manager’s cubicle once because I felt like I couldn’t keep up.

That was pre-therapy.

Life still gets hectic and things can be annoying, but I can usually laugh it off. “Friends, get a load of this,” I’ll tell them followed by whatever silliness occurred that week that is causing everyone to scramble. I just roll my eyes and get my part done.

One time, something frustrating happened—I don’t even remember what it was now—but I told Nick about it. He asked if I was mad.

“I’m just going to stomp my feet and then move on,” I told him.

He watched as I literally stomped my feet.
“That’s a very healthy attitude,” he said.

I agree. Most things are not worth getting upset over or wasting time thinking about. I like to acknowledge that it’s annoying and then get on with my life. No point in bringing work stress home or home stress to the office.

That doesn’t mean I don’t get anxious anymore. I do, but I can get myself out of it pretty well, too. Here’s what I do:

  1. Acknowledge my feelings. Oh, hello anxiety. I see you there. Yes, this situation has me rattled, but I’ve got a ground below supporting me. I’ve got air to breathe. I am OK.
  2. Give myself a moment to react. Stomp my feet, be scared, let my mind wander.
  3. Ask myself what I can do about it. Getting mad and yelling won’t fix it. Crying won’t fix it. What will? Giving money to a cause I care about? Volunteering? Calling a friend? Getting to work? So I do that.
  4. Then I feel empowered. Thanks, anxiety. You made me act.
  5. I’ve noticed that too much alcohol keeps me up at night worrying. I’ve made it a point not to drink more than one glass before bed (maybe I’ll have two, if I get started earlier in the day, like when I’m on vacation).

Sometimes I am 100 percent faking a calm attitude, but it’s become much less challenging in the last three years—to the point where current co-workers are surprised to hear I am anxious by default. I was recently given the assessment medical professionals use to diagnose anxiety. I took it and was pleased to see I no longer fit the criteria for an anxiety diagnosis.

I’d love to hear what works for you when your heart starts racing.

#plantmom?

I volunteered to watch some friends’ cat, but they threw me for a loop when they asked if I’d also water the plants.

I tried not to show my panic while I asked pertinent questions. When? How much? How attached are you to these plants?

Cats I can handle. Baby-sit your kids? I’m good at that. But plants are scary. Houseplants don’t survive their time with me.

So as the #plantmom trend began, I sat back with no intention to participate. I watched as my friend Quyn grew avocados and lemons in her Manhattan apartment. Nice for her, but not my jam, I thought.

Until a local friend mentioned she was growing blueberries in pots. I love blueberries. I began to imagine myself picking blueberries off the bush while sitting on my deck.

I went to the garden store and asked a million questions. I left with two bushes (different varieties for pollination reasons, I was told), a bag of soil, a box of blueberry nutrition, and a cute pink watering can. I went to a discount store for plastic pots because ceramic pots are damn expensive!

My loves: Gatito, Nick and the blueberries

All went well enough that summer. For my $100 investment, I got about a quarter of a pint of blueberries and an introduction to plant life. I enjoyed watching with pride as each new blueberry grew. I savored each one I ate.

Then Seattle’s winter rains came and my pots filled with water. My blueberry shrubs drowned to death. That’s how I learned the first rule of container gardening: Pots should have holes drilled in them.

Harvest time!

When I got over my grief, I decided to try again. It was spring and tulips were popping up in Seattle. I wanted in on the Kool-Aid colored flower action. After a few times of slowly walking by the local garden store and peeking in, I had the courage to walk through the gates. I easily found some tulips for my pots, then got inspired by a bowl of three kinds of lettuce. I love romaine but fear the grocery store versions and the frequent e.coli outbreaks.

I asked the staff some questions, and they gave me the confidence that I could, in fact, grow my own lettuce on my deck.

“Harvest it and it will grow back,” the garden expert explained. “When you give it room, it will fill in.”

The city girl in me was astonished. I pluck it, eat it, and it just grows back? What kind of magic, sustainable product was this? When I run out of store-bought lettuce, I have to go back to the store for more.

My little pot didn’t yield quite enough to feed my salad habit, so I went back for more. I also bought catnip so my cat could have a treat when we sit out on the deck together.

Now I’m hooked. Growing my own food is as rewarding as it is delicious. Today I stopped and bought two blueberry plants, a dwarf lemon tree, and mint. I got inspired by the staff at Urban Earth when I wrote this article (shameless plug).

I hope the cat-sitter isn’t afraid to water my plant babies when I go on vacation!

No pressure

This past year, I was working full time on a new team. I was chugging my way through graduate class after graduate class. I also wrote an article for Self magazine, which had been a dream of mine. That article led to an appearance on NBC Nightly News.

I spent Valentine’s Day working. By roses.

I loved it! Creating stories that are meaningful brings me so much joy. It’s the part of my job that I’d happily do until 2 a.m. without realizing it’s so late.

After the Self article was published, I started a list of other stories I wanted to write. The researching and writing part is super fun for me. The pitching and business side is super stressful to me, but I made a new year’s resolution to get 50 rejections this year and I was determined to earn each one. Of course, the hope is that if I get rejections, some are also getting picked up.

Then I went for my annual check-up and my doctor noticed some thyroid oddness. It’s super common, she said. That gland in the neck is very sensitive, she told me. Even slightly elevated stress can throw it out of whack.

As we were chatting, I told her that I remembered seeing a quote while scrolling through Instagram that something along the lines of “What if your hobby could just be for fun instead of a side hustle?”

That post made me pause. Yeah, what if? What if I wrote for the love of writing instead of to earn extra cash? I have a full-time job that pays me all I need to live. I even write a ton for school and those projects bring me joy. What if I stopped putting pressure on myself to sell?

So, I scratched out that new year’s resolution. I decided I wasn’t going to pressure myself to freelance—at least while I’m in school. If a great idea comes up and I decide to pitch that, cool, but it would be out of love, not out of a sense of duty.

On my spring break, Nick and I went to Hawaii. I packed my laptop in case I felt inspired to sit on the patio and write. My brain felt so overloaded from work and a tough semester at school that I didn’t even pull my laptop out until the last day of the trip. And that was OK! I enjoyed experiencing Maui. Had I pressured myself to spend my week writing, I might have skipped the drive to see a turtle migration and a dolphin dancing around while I was eating dinner. I might have missed leisurely swims in the quiet garden pool. Nick and I might not have played an impromptu game of shuffleboard on the lawn or had one more mai tai. Maybe I wouldn’t have paid attention to the sweet juices from fresh pineapple slices rolling down my chin. I might not have appreciated the crisp taro chips I ate each afternoon.

The break helped me power through one more class and now I’m on week 3 of summer break. Again, I thought I’d be writing constantly, but I’ve been enjoying summer instead. I spent a week in Minnesota with my family, took my paddleboard out several times, finally cleared out my storage unit, and even helped a friend with some house projects.

The next article will come—probably when I least expect it.

For the love of a like

Back when Facebook was still cool, I posted a photo that a workout buddy took of me after an early morning workout. We used to meet up at 5 a.m. to run nearly 3 miles, stopping 4-5 times to do strength exercises. So, you can imagine the end result wasn’t glamorous, but sometimes the sunrise in the background was. But there I was, smiling happily and looking content as I laid on a floating dock after the run. It’s my favorite place to do a little stretching and core work before heading home.

It should be turned the other way, but I like it this way

The response from my friends was heartwarming. “You radiate happiness” was my favorite comment.

I decided long ago that I didn’t want my internet presence to be fake. I wasn’t going to stage or post perfect photos. I wasn’t going to shy away from talking about the real stuff. As my niece told me recently, “Everyone has a butt, even you.”

We all have real stuff to deal with. Personally, I find it easier if I can talk it out with someone else who’s been there and doesn’t mind talking about it. Everyone has a butt.

I found the article We’re Overspending for the Love of a Like interesting. 77% of millennials have purchased things to show off on Instagram. They were willing to spend $137 to achieve the perfect post.

I do confess to spending a few bucks on a pineapple for this Instagram pic in Hawaii. So I guess I’d have to check yes along with the 77%.