Life in the Spectrum – Nature Photography vs. Travel Anxiety

***Originally posted on lifeinthespectrum.com.

black skimmer - IG

It’s no secret that I don’t do well when I have to travel solo. Despite my issues, my company is located out of state, so solo travel lands on my calendar multiple times a year. In order to redirect my nervous energy this past week, I opted for a series of random after workday adventures. A couple of those days included the coolest of activities. Happy hour? Chillin’ with my team at the bars? Dancing the night away?

snowy egret seafood - IG with logoOooooh nooooo. Think cooler. Much much cooler. That’s right.

Nature. Photography.

Aaaaaah yes. Haters gonna hate, but I couldn’t stop the unmitigated badassness that came with lugging around a lens so ridiculous that it made my forearms ache to hold it. As an added bonus, I was able to respond to inquiries from curious passersby who repeatedly asked, “Do you get incredible photos with that camera?” with my sly response of “It’s a hit and miss given that my limited camera knowledge is derived from the patient people at Canon customer support and Google.”

landing - IG

I told you. Mad. Skills. My anxiety faded away as my native nerdiness returned to the forefront. But it made me happy, and it did calm me down. I send heartfelt thank yous to the many California locals who suggested several beautiful places for capturing lovely nature shots and to those who pointed me in the right direction once I arrived.

seal in la jolla - IGKindness is so very powerful. We often don’t realize that the people around us are struggling deeply, and the smallest of benevolent gestures can mean more than we could ever know.

As is the norm, I actually had a wonderful week. Despite a few questionable moments (to be discussed later), I survived relatively unscathed. And now I’m home once more. Back to Texas. Back to my people.

Back to me.

osprey - IG

Big hugs to you all!  Jo

*My instagram ID is @texasbirdnerd for any other nature photo nerds. Find me so I can see your pics, too. Those always make me smile.  🙂

acorn woodpeckers - IG

***I would love to know what you do to take down the stress level when you are feeling overwhelmed. Feel free to tag your relevant posts in the comments, but keep in mind that this is a family show. Please keep it G / PG rated. Sorry, but I don’t need to read any of your PG-13 and above ideas.  😉

Life in the Spectrum – Travel Anxiety Overload – Don’t Panic

***Originally posted on https://lifeinthespectrum.com/.

I could be scheduled for a flight to the moon, and I would be happy as a clam as long as my family was by my side. But the moment I have to take a trip by myself, I’m basically purchasing a first class ticket to Crazyville (because one should never book economy class when flying into insanity).

I blame my kids. I was normal before they came along. Clarification – I was normal-ish specifically with regard to travel (but absolutely nothing else at all). The moment the mini-Jos appeared – boom – separation anxiety mania. Again with the clarification – my separation anxiety, not theirs. My children are annoyingly chill when I’m away. Although my husband vehemently denies it, I firmly believe that he intravenously supplements their diets with a chocolate drip while I’m away. (Lucky kids.) There is also a strong possibility that’s he’s just an amazing father. (Lucky all of us.)

But I have no chocolate I.V. and am therefore significantly less copacetic about the situation. I just worry about… (insert any random / statistically improbable / impossible occurrence that your brain can conjur here). Burglaries (I can walk to the police station from my house), plane crash (stats don’t support that), car crash (my being there won’t change those stats), pool accidents (we have no pool), illness (and on the 8th day God created pediatricians), flash hurricanes preventing me from returning home (yeah so that’s not a thing in the Gulf of Mexico but there was a tropical storm that actually did appear overnight in Houston several years ago – Tropical Storm Allison – huge mess!), or alien invasions (of the off planet kind that will probably necessitate a space wall courtesy of our new space army).

And then there’s the whole general social anxiety thing. I fake it damn well, but I am actually completely overwhelmed when I am out of my personal zone and away from my people. The littlest thing will send me into an internal panic, and I become particularly nervous when I have to go into the office for the first time in months. As an embarrassing example, I typically try to fly in the evening before I need to be there because I dread having a ton of faces turn my way when I walk onto the work floor unexpectedly mid workday. I feel like Norm in that old show “Cheers” when everyone greets me except I have zero comfort with finding myself in the spotlight and wish that I could do a sneaky army crawl and pop up unnoticed behind my computer screens. But even that spotlight doesn’t hold a candle to the discomfort I feel with regard to the hug gauntlet I must traverse if I’m not there before most of the team arrives.

There are ten thousand people en route to my desk (give or take about ten thousand people), and I feel obligated to hug them all. It started years ago with a small group of people and has since grown to comical proportions as the team has become very large. Ironically I actually am a total hugger and genuinely love my team members, so it’s not the actual hug part of the show that unnerves me. I just have no interest in perfunctory hugs for the whole work floor and get seriously weirded out when I feel like everyone is watching (which in reality is not actually happening). In addition I am acutely aware that some people don’t like to be hugged ever but then they will look weird, too, if they don’t join in on the team lovin’ so bring it on in here big guy! Eck.

As I have made it to town already, I should be there early enough to evade the excessive team P.D.A. lovefest. There will be a hug here and there, but I will be able to skip out on the over-thinking of my emotions and whatever additional emotional story I create in my mind for the non-huggers. Crisis aversion TBA.

The world will keep spinning. It will be fine. I will be fine. And so will my kids and my husband. We always are.

Hugs to all! Jo

**I will update you on my wacky Jo work trip tales because they always happen regardless of my plans to the contrary. They work out every time, but I never seem to have bland travels. If you have any funny travel tales of your own, I would love to read them. Feel free to tag me and post a link to it the comments on https://lifeinthespectrum.com/. 🙂

Does Social Media Intensify Loneliness and Mental Health Problems?

***Originally posted on lifeinthespectrum.com.

crabs1 - bandw ish

People are more lonely today than ever before. We have all heard this, but how is that even possible? We can send a message to someone on the other side of the planet and receive an immediate response. We electronically befriend and befollow (???) those whom we have not seen in decades. Our connections include people from high school and college, our jobs and our neighborhoods, a long wait at the grocery store checkout – basically anyone we know. Or kinda know.

Our having these connections does not mean that we receive honest insight into all of the significant parts of their days. Based on what we see online, most people are in romantic relationships, have children who excel at school, and take many exotic vacations with pedicured feet.

Those shiny updates may be legitimate, but they are by no means the full story.

We keep quiet about our most significant hurts. The dark realities are tough to face, and we often feel deeply embarrassed by them. The last thing we want to do is put them on public display.

That guarded approach is true for 99% of the public social media profiles you see. You may see an odd rough day post here and there, but the serious issues won’t make the cut. And that is a huge problem.

Because we are bombarded with endless fluff, we don’t see the dirt and devastation. We aren’t aware of the physical or emotional abuse that is rife around us. We don’t realize that so many incredible children are struggling desperately just to advance to the next grade. We have no clue that innumerable people we know are drowning in their feelings of low self-worth an hopelessness. And we don’t know that the perpetually cheerful neighbor a few doors down is battling suicidal thoughts behind the smiles.

More often that not, having a social media connection is akin to maintaining a surface acquaintance. That’s okay, but you need real interactions, too. Actual conversations. Shared meals. Genuine human contact.

People aren’t lonely because they don’t know anyone else. They are lonely because they don’t share themselves deeply nor do they directly support others in that capacity. We don’t thrive if we stay in endless hiding. As always, you don’t need to air your dirty laundry out for the world to see. God gave us politicians to fill that role, so consider that part taken. But you can take a quick break from technology so you can have an actual conversation that doesn’t involve YouTube at mealtime. You can get together with a true friend for coffee and trade emotional war stories. You can make a hands-free call in the car to catch up with a family member on the way home from work. You can turn off the mindless games and read a book that will boost your brain instead.

Our minds are rebelling against us because they are bored from a lack of stimulation, but we are also missing out on key requirement of our design. We have an inherent need for human interaction, and no amount of tech can replace that. The more we continue to exclude direct contact with other people, the more we isolate ourselves, and our societal mental health deterioration is a serious reflection of this problem.

Get out of your shell, and take a little time every day to step away from the tech. If you aren’t there yet, at least use it to make a call to a person who matters in your life. If calling isn’t your thing, write something worth reading. Something memorable. Something real. Just make sure that you are doing the thinking – not your tech.

Social media has its benefits, but never forget that the real story is behind the scenes. You have to get past the veil in order to see the truth of others, and you have to let people in so you won’t be alone in yours.

If you don’t feel like you can speak candidly with anyone in your personal life, consider taking up blogging and writing with a sincere voice. The community of friends I have met here is unlike any other, and they have taught me to be braver, more open, and more real than I ever imagined I could be.

Much love to you always.  Jo

Life in the Spectrum – Breaking the Silence About Mental Health Struggles

***Originally posted on Life in the Spectrum.

I keep quiet about the pain because if I reveal the truth, people will judge me. I fear the stigma that will exist once someone sees the me – the real me. I don’t want other people to view me differently, to recognize how dark my shadows can run, to know how lost and alone I often feel. I say I’m fine when I’m not, and I put on the smile. But behind the mask of happiness that I wear on the surface, I have spent years struggling with mental health challenges.

The irony of this whole charade is that I now know that countless people around me and around all of us are just pretending that they are okay, too, even when they are clawing to just hold on. Every single time that I write about depression, multiple individuals post comments or send me messages telling me how they feel the same way but don’t talk about it.

We stay silent in an effort to maintain a facade that allows us to assimilate with society. We want to blend into a world full of people, but those same people are playing that “fake it till you make it” game, too. I’m not suggesting that you display every colorful detail of your life for all to see. More to the point – don’t do that. Big time no to that. Your whole story should not be the world’s business. But you should be able to be honest with people whom you trust. You need a genuine support network, and I guarantee you that they need you more than they are saying, too.

I don’t typically delve into my personal experiences with depression, anxiety, or OCD nor do I discuss my sadness regarding people who lose their lives to suicide or my own survival stories. The nightmare stories of my personal mental health challenges aren’t conversations I would ever have at work nor would I bring those topics up casually or at random with anyone else. I am selective about my audience for those kinds of discussions. Admittedly in this moment my selective audience consists of the entire internet, but the odds are high that you can relate to my words if you are still reading. In truth, the odds are high that almost everyone can relate.

Life can be a seriously rough ride at times, and we don’t always know how to react or even how to feel. We don’t receive a “How to be a Human the Right Way” when we are born, but we spend our lives trying to figure out what that even means. There’s no set answer, life is not black and white, and every person you know has struggled with mental health in one form or another at some point in his or her life.

We need to accept that it is okay to not be okay all the time. We can’t keep pretending like nothing is wrong when we need help. We have to speak up, and we need to be honest with each other. The day you reveal your struggles to others is the day that you will discover that you are anything but alone in this.

So even though I do fear the stigma, the judgement, and the misunderstandings, I know that I can’t live my life hiding the person I really am – good or bad, dark or light. I fall down, but I get back up, too. I sometimes feel like I’m drowning, but I know that I will find my way back to the surface again. My lowest points have been the most revealing moments in my life, and while I would not wish those experiences on anyone else, I wouldn’t eradicate them from my personal history either.

Own all parts of your journey. Learn from the falls whenever you find your way back to your feet once more. Search for the meaning in the madness and the calm in the storm. Discover that brave voice within you, and speak up when you can. And if you can’t find a safe place to speak your truth, I’m always happy to listen. Others have been lighthouses to me in my darkest times. I would love to be yours in return.

Much love to you. Jo

***Before you even ask, I promise you that I really am all good. Like everyone else, I go through waves of feeling like I’m crashing and burning, but I’m not in that place now. Nevertheless I have been there more times than I can count. When we feel that way, we need to find the courage to seek help. Figure out who you want in your inner circle and let those people into your world – all of it. You will be surprised once you learn how many others are struggling in silence as well. You need them, but they need you, too. Be brave and speak up. Always.

https://lifeinthespectrum.com/2018/06/30/breaking-the-silence-about-mental-health-struggles/.

Life in the Spectrum – Depression is Not Black and White

Originally posted on lifeinthespectrum.com.

chickadee - soft (greys)

The use of black and white filters can be striking in the world of photography, but in the world of depression, black and white is nowhere to be found. Everything is shaded with countless shades of grey. I have spent decades attempting to figure out the right way to handle this or respond to that. Hoping to learn how to be more likable and more normal. Searching for a better approach to maintaining fulfilling relationships. Trying desperately to just be okay.

However it isn’t that cut and dry. Life is unpredictable and has a fierce habit of jerking the emotional rug out from under us when we least expect it. And when that happens, we hit the ground. Hard.

For someone with depression, an emotional takedown can be utterly debilitating. Maybe your energy drains to nonexistence and you find yourself unable to move or leave your bed. Perhaps you become enraged and begin to actively push away anyone who cares enough to try to offer support. Some people physically hurt themselves or try to anesthetize the pain away with alcohol or drugs. Others lose hope, give in to the pain and the lies their minds tell them, and give up altogether.

I genuinely understand the indescribable heaviness you feel when you are facing that dark night of the soul. I promise that I truly do. But I also know that no matter how dark it is in that moment – even if that moment feels like it has gone on and on – it does not stay like that. It always get better. Ironically it will go back to crappy again, too, but the good news is that the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth. As always, just remember to wait it out whenever that happens.

The truth is that this is how life goes for everyone. You don’t need to be a card-carrying member of the mental health diagnosis club to feel like an outsider, to believe that you are lost, or to be in a place of tremendous sadness or hurt.

We may focus on our weaknesses, but the heaviest of times often reveal our greatest strengths, too. If you can’t get out of bed today, that’s okay. The weight of that kind of emotional exhaustion can be suffocating, but the world will keep spinning for now. But get out of bed tomorrow.

If you are being offered genuine help from someone who loves and wants to be there for you, open the door instead of slamming it closed.

Avoid trying to mask to pain with alcohol or drugs. I get that it feels good in the moment, but those will tear you down on so many levels. The numbness won’t last, and you are left with a deeper emotional hole with every further attempt to hide from your life.

Open up to others in your life who will help you find your footing again, and seek professional help.

Above all, don’t ever give in to the pain, and don’t ever lose hope.

I don’t believe on any level that suicide is an indication of cowardice. Rather I see it as an act of absolute desperation and total confusion. People who take their lives become tremendously lost regarding what seems real versus what actually is real. They can recognize the absolute truth that every new day holds a promise of something better. Now I’ll admit that that doesn’t mean that the better whatever will come along today. But then again, it definitely could. If not, that greatly improves the odds for an even better tomorrow, so it makes practical sense to keep sticking around.

Although it might simplify our days, a world of black and white would be tedious and dull. We may perceive endless shades of grey in our lives, but we are also blessed with an endless array of other colors to brighten our days. Don’t forget to notice them in their innumerable forms, and don’t ever hide your own colors, your brilliance, or your beauty in an effort to blend in or be normal. You are so much better than normal, and you are so much more than mere black and white.

Much love to you always.  Jo

chickadee - soft (color)
Life is more beautiful with a splash of color.

Turning Your Problems into Your Purpose

lovelyWe all have stories. Painful memories. Hurtful parts of our lives that we don’t share.

So often we feel like we are alone in these experiences. We deem ourselves broken beyond repair and remain silent to avoid judgement and further distress. The idea of highlighting these events is unthinkable. We just want to forget them and find a way to wipe the slate clean.

But what if the part of your life that seemed to knock you off track was actually the very thing that set you on your path? What if the toughest of times were designed to shape us rather than to shatter us?

If we can hold on through the roughest of times, we will be able to see the light in the darkness. You will find that the madness has meaning and that we are never alone in our journey. We are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves, and every sliver of this grand design has a purpose.

This past summer I unexpectedly found myself discussing severe depression, crippling anxiety, and the struggles that go hand in hand with them. I hadn’t planned on covering those topics. Many people who have known me for years would never have a clue about that part of my life, and while I don’t even begin to pretend that I live in perpetual joy free of worry, it has been years since I struggled deeply with the absolute terror and debilitating effects of those disorders. However I write about them now because I have realized that most people who are in that place are too embarrassed or ashamed to share it. I did not realize how rampant the problem was until I wrote a personal post about my experience with depression as a child. I was stunned by the number of calls and messages I received in response. Happy confident problem-free people all around me whom I had known for years were drowning in their pain and isolation.

Mental health is a taboo subject. It doesn’t make for great table conversation at parties or PTA meetings. People don’t tell you their name and then add their diagnosis, nor do they discuss when their children are battling these problems. This deafening silence has led countless people believe that they are the only ones struggling. They lose hope, and too often, they give up before they are able to see the light once more.

Don’t ever let fear and hopelessness defeat you. The darkness will dissipate, life will get better, and you will be most certainly stronger for it. There is a purpose in all of our lives. We are called to be so much more than we think we can be, and we impact innumerable people around us.

What is your purpose? What events in your journey have broken you? Or maybe the real question is what events have forged you into the person you are divinely designed to be? Can you make it past being a victim of your disorder / circumstances / life experiences and become a survivor? If you can survive, can you go even further and move into thriving? And if you can thrive, can you help others who have walked a similar path to do the same?

Yes. Without question. You absolutely can.

You are not your past. You are not the mistakes of other, their false judgements, the misunderstandings, or the unkind words they have been spoken to you. You are not your diagnosis. But you can take all of these and use them to help you become something bigger and better and spectacular beyond measure.

You don’t have to be perfect to change the lives of others in amazing ways. You simply have to be open to this world of endless possibilities, be willing to conjur up a little faith, and be strong enough to find a way to be brave in the face of your fears.

Own your problems, find your purpose, and always always always be brave.

Love and light to you – Jo

Conjure

Stifle the Judgement and Recognize Childhood Anxiety

When you believe that you are the reigning panic attack champion of your familial crew, you are faced with a tough reality when you recognize that your child also struggles with extreme anxiety challenges. My concern has been growing as I have watched my child stumble through her schooling with increasing regularity over the past few months. Her grades have slipped, and while she still does fairly well on average, she just seems disconnected.

I do not believe that the mass education system is an ideal fit for a large portion of the children in today’s classrooms, and for a great many, it’s more about surviving than thriving. This is not a new problem. Nevertheless I maintain a strong commitment to the belief that people will match your expectations of them. I push my children to lose the excuses and work hard. I am not looking for perfection, but I won’t accept sloth or apathy either.

So when I received an email letting me know that my daughter had achieved a seriously underwhelming 45 (out of 100) on a grade, I was significantly less than thrilled. I quickly moved from confused into angry. By the time I picked her up from school and could ask her about the grade, I had made it all the way to furious.

me – “How in the world did you make a 45? Aren’t your grades important to you?”

her – Silence. Eyes glazed over while staring blankly out of the car window.

me (fuming and in total disbelief at her indifference) – “Look at me when I am speaking to you! Don’t you understand how one grade like this will affect your average? Doesn’t this bother you at all?”

her (facing me and responding in a sad quiet tone) – “I do care, but the teacher said that it’s too late to turn my paper in now.”

me (steam coming out of my ears and as I frothed at the mouth) – “You didn’t turn it in!?!?  You actually know that you didn’t do the assignment at all? So really you should have received a zero and that 45 was a gift? Did you forget to do the work or did you just blow it off?”

her – “No, Mom. I wrote a paper about some rocks we collected, but I couldn’t find the last page when I was supposed to turn it in. I told her that I was missing the page when she asked everyone for their papers, and she said that she didn’t know what to tell me.”

me (about to get a serious parenting wake up call) – “So what did you do with the rest of the paper that you still had?”

She looked away again and gave a little shrug of her shoulders.

me (instantly realizing what had really happened and feeling like I was on the receiving end of a well-earned gut punch) “You threw the entire paper away because you were missing that one paper.”

She nodded.

And in that moment, I felt my heart twist and break. I finally saw her and understood what had occurred. Her problem had not been one of indifference but rather her inability to see past the panic. She had been so distraught about missing one page in a report that she couldn’t think about potential solutions like asking for partial credit or requesting the opportunity to rewrite that individual page. Her mind chose the path of least resistance – shut this problem down by discarding it.

Her challenge was her extreme anxiety. Mine was my complete inability to recognize her struggle before applying my own assumptions and misjudgements. She had needed support, but I had gone on the attack instead.

I face anxiety struggles constantly, yet I still forget how debilitating the most innocuous of moments can become when panic attacks hit. You couldn’t pay me all of the money in the world to convince me to spend one year of my life as a kid in school again, but I watch my children head there every day and think nothing of it.

All children face challenges, but those who deal with anxiety disorders experience them at an exponential level. Some wear their emotions on their sleeves as they cry, rage, or have panic attacks. Others appear entirely indifferent and unaffected despite the turmoil within. There are always clues to be found, but these hints are quickly obscured when misunderstandings and snap judgements enter the scene. When that happens, the hurt grows and opportunities to learn and heal vanish.

We push our children because we worry about them. We become angry when they stumble because we want them to succeed. In our efforts to help them to avoid various hardships, we create others to take their place. We seek to train them on the intricacies of life, yet we miss the most basic of lessons that they constantly offer us. We have to ask more questions, dig deeper into their stories, and stifle the judgements if we truly want to understand what is happening in their worlds. As parents, we believe that we are our children’s greatest teachers, but the real truth is that they are ours.

Love and light always – Jo

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/stifle/”>Stifle</a&gt;

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