Saturday, April 2, 2016

You Could Be Great

Courage has helped people evolve over time and because of that we've been able to advance ourselves. Without courage we wouldn't try new things and we would be stuck not knowing what we're capable of.

When we talk about courage, we have to mention fear. Fear is one of the most limiting emotions that a human can feel, because it often holds us back from fulfilling our potential. On the other hand, a little bit of fear is also necessary in order to survive and make smarter decisions.

When you're in your comfort zone you feel good, but you don't know what's on the other side of fear or what you can accomplish that you haven't done before once that fear is decreased or eliminated and how much happier you could potentially be.

All of us have comfort zones but how we choose to live with them varies. Some people like to push the envelope while others stay comfortably inside their zones because they don't like feeling fear. How do you feel when it comes to stepping outside of your comfort zone? What are you afraid of?

I'm afraid of a lot of things. I've had a major phobia of bees and wasps for as long as I can remember. My phobia has limited me to the point where I look for wasps before I go outside and follow certain paths to avoid them. I don't like staying outside by myself and at a certain temperature I consider the weather to be "wasp weather." If I even see a wasp flying around outside I'm reluctant to go outside and only go outside if I have to.

In the past I've gone out wearing long clothes in the summertime because it makes me feel safer instead of wearing clothes that expose my skin. All of this is psychological of course, and for most people, they don't think twice before going outside. Over the years this severe phobia has made me realize that I'm letting my fear control my life and I need to take back that control.

The funny thing about this is that I've never actually been stung or had to kill a wasp. The fear I have is based on imaginary situations that have crossed my mind and from the experiences I've had when I was a child witnessing people get stung and watching "My Girl," but either way, the possibility and not knowing how to react in those situations is what makes me so fearful. Internalizing all of that fear has gotten me to this point.

There is a difference between fear that solely makes you afraid and fear that causes adrenaline. A little bit of fear can be good and sometimes even addicting. Negative patterns are addicting as well. If you don't work through fear it can take over your life. Fear that takes over your life can lead to severe anxiety and even depression because having too much fear can decrease your quality of life.

You Could Be Great Part 2

It's important to recognize negative patterns and any fear that is impacting your quality of life so that you can reach your full potential. It's also important to note that in order to overcome fear you must at least be partially willing to accept change and challenge yourself in the process.

Not everything is going to change overnight and it's important to recognize that everything takes time. Start by making small, yet realistic goals you know you can achieve. Below are some common fears and some ways to start overcoming those fears:

I. Public/Social Activities
II. Death
III. Animals or Insects
IV. Needles
V. Just About Everything Else

One of the biggest parts of success in overcoming fear is by being exposed to it or the idea of it over time and becoming more comfortable.

Start by recognizing exactly what you're afraid of and what degree of fear you have.

I. Public/Social Activities like public speaking or taking a dance class are scary for a lot of people, especially if you've never done it before. The best way to take control is to practice and be confident. Once you're confident reciting your speech to yourself or having a solo dance party by yourself try it with a camera, then try it in front of/with close friends you can trust (or strangers if that's less intimidating.) Confidence isn't something that's guaranteed but the more you work at something the easier it gets and the more confident you'll become. Don't be so hard on yourself! It's true that you are your own worst critic. So what if you mess up? In the moment it might hurt or make you want to curl up into a ball but you'll get over it, and you'll learn from your experiences as time goes on. Everything takes time. You might even enjoy it! Utilize the internet to find resources or tips on how to become better in what you're trying to accomplish and recognize that you're not alone.

II. Death is a fear that a lot of people have but it's something that is not often mentioned. Some people are afraid of death itself while others are afraid of leaving behind loved ones or not being prepared. The best way to take control is to make preparations and focus on what you can control, not on what you can't. Death is often a topic that gets pushed aside because people don't like to think about it, but everyone dies eventually. A lot of people worry about not knowing when or how they'll die. There are medical options available to decrease pain and offer relaxation. Otherwise, dying can be extremely quick and relatively painless in various circumstances. The idea is to get as much control and closure as you can while you're still alive so you're as ready as you can be when it's your time to go. One of the best ways to do that is by enjoying your life! It's also best to make sure no one is left at the last minute scrambling and wondering what your wishes are. It's always better to be prepared in advance than it is to want to communicate or do something when it's too late.

III. Animals and insects are another major fear that people have. Whether it's bees and wasps like I previously mentioned or snakes, dogs, or other animals, there are ways to overcome your fear. Exposure therapy is a huge way to get over fear in the form of animals or insects. Start by slowly exposing yourself to drawings or even plastic replicas and then slowly work your way up to viewing images or videos and then eventually being able to be around the animals or insects you're afraid of. (I don't mean go grabbing a beehive or touching a poisonous snake.) Do what you can. When we're afraid our breathing patterns start to change and we can even become physically ill. Doing some form of yoga or meditation may help. If it's a sound that an animal or insect makes you can put on headphones so you won't hear it. Again, baby steps. Don't force yourself to do something you're not ready to do and if you're still struggling, try to find alternative therapies to help you overcome your fear. Be creative!

For me personally, I've found it the most helpful to start by going to places outside where I felt the most comfortable and slowly increasing the length of time I'm outside. If I get too afraid I close my eyes and put on headphones and when I feel like that's too much I go back inside. I also got a dog last year and I found that by focusing on her I don't focus on my fear as much. As silly as it may sound, I also repeat "breathe"  and "you're okay" to myself because I found that I actually hold my breath sometimes when I'm afraid and then my body tenses up and that makes it even worse.

"Positive reinforcement is really important. If you're telling yourself negative things that will only increase your fear. Learn how to recognize negative patterns and then break the patterns before they start."

IV. Needles are something that almost everyone in their life at some point has been afraid of. It's natural to be afraid of something that can cause pain. Our brains are pre-wired to think pain = bad and our nerves interact with our brain and tell us how to react to situations that can cause pain. For example, if you touch a hot stove your nerve endings and brain interact and let you know that the stove is hot and therefore it causes pain when you touch it. Naturally, once we learn that stoves can burn us we typically try to avoid or minimize our exposure to the heat and that decreases our chances of getting burnt. The more often something bad happens, the more often we expect it to happen again, so we start learning to recognize those patterns and eventually that leads to avoiding or fearing the actions or things that could potentially lead to us getting hurt.

Needles are an example of that kind of fear. If you have bad veins and someone keeps missing you're more likely to have a bad association with needles than someone who has good veins and good experiences with lab draws. If you know something is about to happen it can also increase fear. It's important to do what you can to control your experience. This could mean drinking more water to make it easier to draw labs or squeezing someone's hand with the opposite arm so you don't focus on any pain. It could even mean closing your eyes and looking away or repeating something to yourself over and over until it's done. Chance has a lot to do with fear of needles but it's important to remind yourself that the pain you experience is only temporary or that a certain test result you get from having your blood drawn could help you feel better. There's always a chance that it could hurt, but there's always a chance that it might not.

"Don't always let past experiences dictate the way you view the present or future."

V. Just about everything else falls under the same guidelines as the topics above.

In short, the way to expand your comfort zone is to challenge yourself and in challenging yourself you'll become better at facing your fears and ultimately reaching your full potential. The larger your comfort zone becomes the more opportunities you'll have. It's a full circle.

Remember to stay confident, break negative patterns of fear before they begin, adjust your body to match your thoughts and stay positive. Take your time and utilize resources to find tips and other experiences to help you. Try something new like yoga or meditating or explore alternative therapies like hypnotherapy or acupuncture. Do what you can to stay in control but don't try to control what you can't. Don't wait for everything to be perfect because it's not going to be, just do your best and forget the rest. If all else fails and you still need help, reach out to someone like a licensed therapist that can personally help you achieve your goals through different types of therapy or even medication. The most important thing is to try. Exposure and experience come together. If you don't try, you'll never know what you're capable of or how much better you might feel. Remember that even if you feel good in your comfort zone, you'll never know how much better you could be once you conquer your fears and alleviate your stress and anxiety. You don't have to settle for good, you could be great.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

System Restore

When we think of a system restore it usually takes place in the form of an electronic device.

When something is wrong with a device we go back to the last settings that worked or we start all over from scratch. As people, if something is wrong we usually just keep going and hope that everything will eventually work out.

I usually tend to immediately internalize negativity, complain about it and then try to let it go. As a result, a lot of the negative feelings or experiences I've had in the past tend to not be completely resolved and they end up affecting my current thoughts and feelings which negatively impacts me further. I bottle everything up. Rarely do I allow myself to feel vulnerable enough to show people how I'm really feeling.

I've been asking myself what went wrong instead of asking when things changed. Since I've discovered the answer recently it's already affecting my mindset.

Everything changed in 2011. I graduated high school and a lot of things changed in my life. I hoped to go off to college, make new friends, get a job.. the kind of things just about any teenager would dream about.

2011 didn't go how I expected it to. I barely graduated and when I hoped to go to college it quickly became clear that I didn't have the financial resources to get there and my health wasn't stable enough. Instead of making new friends, all of my friends moved away and started their own lives.

I went through a lot of personal stuff feeling alone and I realize now how much it's affecting me. By 2014 I found it harder to stay positive because I was doing the same things day to day and stuck in a routine that I cared nothing about - I wasn't doing anything I truly enjoyed anymore, I was just sort of drifting along until one day I hoped it would be worth it. My health further declined and I felt like my dreams were being taken from me.

The other day I was thinking about what I love and the last time I was truly happy. I realized that music is a huge source of my happiness and there's nothing I enjoy more than connecting with people and appreciating music. I miss the days I used to learn from livestreams and create my own songs, recording hours at a time for fun on the bathroom floor of my old house. I wasn't focused on progress, I was just stuck in the moment of feeling whatever it is I needed to feel at the time.

I consider music to be extremely personal to me so I don't like to write or perform around anyone I'm related to, and in fact I won't. I lost my safe space when we moved and haven't found a place where I feel safe enough to write when anyone is around, so I quit writing and I quit recording. An online community of friends started living offline and my creative outlet and essentially everything that saved me from giving up before was lost again. I didn't know how to be happy by myself without feeling validation from the attention of certain people.

When I thought about the past, I realized that a part of me died in those years. I lost a huge part of what made me, me. I didn't know who I was anymore or who I even wanted to be. I just skated by and did what I had to do to keep going.

Now I'm at the point in my life where I need growth. I can no longer sit still and do nothing, I need to
be accomplishing something. I'm discovering new things about myself everyday and what I like and don't like. I have my own opinions and share them willingly when appropriate (and sometimes when not.) I still depend on other people for my happiness but I'm learning how to be happy on my own again. I'm slowly learning how to allow myself to feel again and how to express myself in positive ways. I'm doing what I enjoy doing and finding my way home in a place that doesn't feel much like home.

I think sometimes everyone could use a system restore. We're so often focused on the future or the past that we forget that our present happiness matters too. There's a sort of peak settling point and instead of doing what we want to do we do what we need to do to get by. I guess the best lesson I've learned lately is to take little pieces from the past to enhance the present and hopefully improve the future. It's okay to stop and find that restore point once in a while so we can get back in touch with what works and keep moving forward.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Princess Molly

Molly the Cuddle Monster
As you might know (or maybe not,) I adopted a dog at a shelter several months ago. Her name is Molly and she's a beautiful Shih Tzu/Maltese mix. I decided that since she's changed my life and I'm now obsessed with her I should write a blog post all about her.

My little fur monster came into my life on September 9th, 2015. When we walked back to go see her she quietly stood in her kennel just looking at us while the other dogs barked and some even growled. We took her outside and she ran happily around the grass and came up to us to smell us and let us pet her. We led her to a bench where she happily greeted us and then we took her inside to a small area where we got to spend some time with her one on one. She was sweet and liked to hang out with us so I went through with the adoption paperwork after asking several questions. She was microchipped and after a quick trip to PetSmart I picked up some supplies for her homecoming (bowls, food, toys, treats, collar, leash.)

On the way home she slept on my lap in the passenger seat and only seemed nervous when my mom stopped at a gas station and got out. When we got home she hopped out and happily sniffed the grass in our yard and I gave her a tour of the house. I left her on her leash for a little while so she could get acquainted and I brought her blanket in.

Since that day we've gone through a lot of ups and downs together. She's my best friend. I already love her more than I ever thought I could. She's trained really well even though she still gets confused sometimes. I love waking up and knowing that she's right there waiting for me. I love being able to take care of her. It's so nice that no matter what kind of mood I'm in she'll always be there. She jumps in my lap and curls up into a ball, so I'm happy she is comfortable here.

It's been more difficult than I thought having to leave her to go to the hospital. I didn't anticipate being admitted so often, so it's been hard on me to leave her behind. I feel bad that I haven't been there as often as I would've liked, but I'm glad I have people to take care of her when I'm gone.

It's been a blast getting to play with her and go for walks with her. She loves the snow and hates rain. It's cute watching her chase after snowballs and pounce on them after I throw them. She loves chasing her squeaky toys and tennis balls around the house. Everyday is a new adventure with her and it's so fun to get to see her learn about the world and explore new things.

Princess Molly post hair cut
She's so smart and seems to know what certain actions or words mean, though she still has selective hearing and doesn't like to let go of her toys. She's also very snoopy and loves shredding paper or getting into trash, so it's been interesting to learn how to protect her the best I can.

Most of all, she has a big heart and really seems to care. If I have coughing attacks or if I'm getting sick sometimes she'll come check on me or lie down next to me. Sometimes she'll hop on my internal organs and knock the wind out of me to lick my face, which isn't always delightful but I like having her around. She drags my hand to her so she can lick me. She rolls over for belly rubs and sighs. She yawns and stretches. She enthusiastically gets me up after naps. She looks at me for guidance. She has diva moments where she has to get every ounce of attention and sometimes she can be possessive, but overall she is so beautiful and loving. I'm so happy I found Molly and I hope I can be as good to her as she's been to me. I feel lucky to have found her and I'm glad I get to call her my Princess Molly.