Forget About Life for a While

This past week has been especially difficult on an emotional level for me (and millions of others), with the political turmoil and our extremely divided nation. Plus, the ongoing pandemic. I live in southern California, where positive Covid numbers and hospitalizations continue to increase. There’s no date in sight for the end of the shutdown.

A few days ago, I was at my computer paying bills. I did something I’ve rarely done the past few months while working. I put on my favorite Spotify playlist. I love music, so I have no idea why I haven’t listened to it much lately in my office. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so overloaded with information, I’ve just wanted it quiet.

Anyway, the first song to play was “Sittin’ Pretty” by Florida Georgia Line. It took me back to the long, lazy days of summer.

Pretty as a peach
As a postcard picture of a West Coast beach
So pretty if I had to bet
This is pretty much as good as it gets

Ah, summer… Backyard barbecues with loads of family and friends chatting and laughing together. Fourth of July fireworks lighting up the black velvet sky. Lounging by the pool reading a book. Gardening and picking tomatoes, with my pup Duke by my side. Walking hand-in-hand along the beach with my husband. Licking a melting ice cream cone and munching on my favorite summer fruits — peaches, watermelon, cherries, and plums. Carefree hot days. Summer nights glittering with twinkle lights and tiki torches.

While listening to “Sittin’ Pretty,” something happened that I totally didn’t expect. I felt enveloped by warm sunshine, like a weighted blanket comforting me. I took some deep breaths and let my mind drift. I basked in the memories of summers before 2020, feeling completely and utterly refreshed.

I allowed myself to take a mental break and forget about life for a while.

Which reminds me of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”:

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been comin’ to see
To forget about life for a while

This experience has made me realize how much I’m craving peace and tranquility. Normalcy. Who knows when that’ll come. But despite these days of unrest, worry, and uncertainty, I need to make positive changes for my mental health.

Music can help me do that. Not that it’ll cure the problems in our world, but it offers a much-needed respite from it all. Music reminds me that this period of time won’t last forever. We will get through this. It WILL get better.

In the meantime, I’m going to make a point of turning on my Spotify playlist much more often.

New Year’s Refresh and Reveal: From Anonymous to the REAL Me!

I’m so excited to finally write this post. I’m not big on New Year resolutions, but this is definitely something I’ll be able to check off my list.

When I started this blog six years ago, I knew I wanted to write about mental health in general and specifically, my journey to recovery from panic disorder and agoraphobia. Like many other blogs centered on mental illness, I chose to be anonymous.

Over the years, I’ve become more open about my issues. Now I’m a mental health advocate, something I wasn’t necessarily striving for when I started my blog. But that’s what has evolved — by writing about it here and on other mental health-related websites, including NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), The Mighty, and Thrive Global. I’m also a speaker for NAMI’s in-school mental health awareness program, Ending the Silence. I talk to middle grade and high school students about the symptoms of mental illness and what to do if they notice those signs in themselves or a friend.

All of my writing in regards to mental health has been under the pseudonym Jenny Marie. I’ve always known that one day I’d change that. I just wasn’t sure when.

And now, I’m ready.

Going forward, I’ll go by my real name (drum roll)…

Jeni Driscoll

Eeks!!! It’s hard to explain, but it feels so strange (and a bit scary!) to reveal that. Plus, I’ve never posted pictures of myself!

It’s like opening the curtain, letting people get a glimpse of the real Jeni. I feel vulnerable. But it’s not like I’m a different person or haven’t been authentic in my past writing. I’ve been true to my real self through ALL of it. Every single post I’ve penned is filled with my own thoughts and experiences. My life. Just different names.

I was away from the blog for much of 2020, but am happy to be back! I’ve had fun giving my site a little update, like changing the header background to olive branches. I chose them because they symbolize peace.

As with different seasons of life, my direction pivoted this past year. Partly because of the global pandemic and partly because I chose to focus on other endeavors.

Last year I completed a manuscript for a middle grade contemporary fiction book about a girl with anxiety and panic attacks. I’m currently querying agents, hoping to find just the right one to champion my book.

Sometimes we all need fresh starts. What better time than now, after making it through the extremely difficult and challenging year of 2020.

My wish and prayer for all of us is a healthy, peaceful New Year.

Take care,


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Self Care on My Morning Walk

This morning I was out walking our dog, Duke, by myself. This is rare because my husband usually joins us, which I love. But today it was just Duke and me. I didn’t have my phone so that meant no music, no talking. That left me to daydream, letting random thoughts swirl through my mind. It felt like I hadn’t done that in a long time.

At first I started thinking/worrying about health issues my mom has been having. And how the pandemic has so negatively affected our businesses. The bills I need to pay when I get home. How I need to research how to stop a puppy from jumping on people. And on and on, reflecting on things that make me unsettled, sad, or nervous.

Then my mind switched to something I love: my writing. I’ve completed a manuscript for a contemporary middle grade fiction book and am querying to find an agent. While it can be a long, frustrating process, not to mention a ton of work and so hard to get those rejections, it’s also exciting and fun for me. I’m busy researching agents, reading books in my category, and making a game plan for my next steps.

Anyway, as quickly as the writing thoughts came, I pushed them out of my head. I had a strange feeling of guilt, like I needed to spend more time thinking about the important things I need to (or wish I could) fix in my life, like health and business issues. It was like I was being overindulgent or selfish by letting myself enjoy something just for ME.

Then the words “self care” popped into my head. Yes, of course. I reminded myself to listen and pay attention to those words. Self care. Self love. I’m important. I deserve this time. And I can use it however I want, letting my mind wander and dream.

So I did.

As my white lab pup and I walked under shade trees, I took deep breaths and focused on being mindful. I noticed the perfect, warm, fall day and the soft breeze. The quiet, except for Duke’s light panting sounds. Peaceful thoughts came and went.

It felt, well… delicious.

Before I knew it, we were walking up the street to our house. Not only did I log a bunch of steps on my fitbit, I cleared my mind. I’m refreshed and ready to tackle those bills. And maybe even find my dream agent.

Plus, I have a pooped-out pup.

My New Love

Meet… DUKE! Our new bundle of joy, filling our home with a ton of love and lots of laughs. To be perfectly honest, exhaustion too. But that comes with the playful puppy stage, and I’m soaking it all in. Now at eleven weeks, he’s growing so fast. Soon I won’t be able to hold him like I can now.

Duke is a bright light, a wonderful distraction from this anxious, frustrating, uncertain world we’re living in. He came to us at just the right time.

For the past couple of years, my husband and I talked about getting a dog, since our beloved Buddy died in August 2017. We started looking seriously last October. We searched high and low, researching all of our options. We didn’t have our hearts set on getting a dog from a breeder. But this opportunity came along and seemed, well, perfect. We felt it deep inside, that THIS was finally it.

We knew we wanted a boy, and we knew we wanted to call him Duke. We named him after Duke’s Beach House in Maui, a super special place to our family.

Duke, an English lab, was born in the middle of May. It would be eight weeks before we’d bring him home. In the meantime, we busied ourselves preparing for a new pup; reading books on how to crate train a dog, which food to use, which chew toys to buy for a teething puppy.

After the litter was born (seven boys and three girls), the breeder would post pictures and videos. Each pup wore a different colored collar. One of the males who had on a red collar (eventually our Duke) was always at the top of our list. When the pups were about four weeks old, we were watching a video in which a woman said to red-collar pup, “Good boy, Duke.” I looked at my husband and said, “Did she just call him Duke?”

When we needed to make our choice, it was between Duke and one other pup. My husband, daughters, and I wanted to make SURE we were doing the right thing, taking home the perfect dog for our family.

I told my husband, “God is probably saying to us, ‘What do you mean you aren’t sure? I’ve given you the clearest sign! Choose DUKE!'”

Absolutely. No need to second-guess anything.

Two weeks later, we picked up our sweet “little polar bear.” Life has changed in the most lovely, delightful way.

Thank goodness both of our adult daughters (now working from home at their apartments) were able to stay at our house the first two weeks we had Duke. They got in some great bonding time with their “brother” and helped out more than I can say.

Everyone told me that having a puppy is like having a baby. This is really pretty accurate. I can’t tell you how excited I was when Duke finally slept through the night! BUT… he’s still waking up at 5:30am, starving and ready to play. Needless to say, I am NOT.

But I’ve learned to take advantage of my early hours, sneaking in some deep stretches and yoga at the crack of dawn. My new schedule (and my tired eyes) have forced me to slow down, which is a good thing. I’m not hard on myself when I’m not as productive as I think I should be. I tell myself I’m doing the best I can, and everything else can wait.

And those lazy days of summer? It’s been years, but I’m finally experiencing them again. Sure, part of it is because of the Covid-19 shutdown. But much of it is being home to keep a watchful eye on our curious pup. One of my favorite parts of the day is sitting in the shade with Duke in his backyard playpen while he sleeps. I read a book or magazine and sip an iced coffee. It feels indulgent.

Oops, time to go. Duke needs to go outside. I don’t want to clean up another mess on the carpet.

Why I Haven’t Felt Like Writing During COVID-19

I honestly thought I’d be blogging a ton since COVID-19 began. Writing is therapeutic to me, so it makes sense that I’d be penning my emotions as quickly as they’ve been changing—every day, sometimes every hour.

But I haven’t been in the mood to write. I know it’s not a big deal, it really doesn’t matter. But then why does it bother me? Why do I feel guilty for not being able to gush my thoughts out during this global pandemic?

Expressing my feelings in writing is an overwhelming task that I just haven’t wanted to tackle.

In mid-March, when this got all-too real and we were on lockdown, I was paralyzed by fear and uncertainty, barely able to process what was going on. Maybe my history of anxiety and panic disorder made it worse. Or maybe this is what everyone was feeling.

I kept thinking how strange it was that the entire world was totally united by this ravaging disease.

When a community goes through a disaster (such as my city of Thousand Oaks, CA did during a mass shooting and devastating wildfires), the rest of society feels terrible about it. People you don’t even know are praying for you and your town.

But this is so different. Every single person in the world has been affected by the pandemic. Not in my wildest dreams would I ever believe that our lives would abruptly halt.

Life as we know it, ceased to exist.

Drastic measures—like quarantine, social distancing, and wearing masks—have helped us save each other from this deadly virus. Which truly is, a beautiful thing. Staying home, not just for our own health and safety, but for the health and lives of people we don’t even know.

I’ve finally figured out why I haven’t wanted to write about the virus. Writing is too personal. I’ve looked for ways to escape reality, not delve into it.

So instead, I’ve chosen things that feed my soul, that are good for my mental health. Like…

  • Revising a manuscript. I know, this is writing. BUT, it’s middle grade fiction and is a wonderful escape from reality
  • Yoga in my family room or back yard
  • Video chatting with friends
  • Cooking with my daughters
  • Playing board games with my family
  • Taking lots of hikes in the mountains (until the state and national parks were closed), walking in the neighborhood
  • Riding our exercise bike
  • Deep breathing and meditating
  • Painting my nails
  • Gardening
  • Reading books and magazines
  • Painting my daughter’s bedroom, which motivated me to now paint our master bathroom
  • Decluttering. I’ve done a bit, much more ahead

I’m doing my best to cope. It’s amazing how many emotions have been swirling around, different from day to day. Scared, frustrated, angry, sad, and stressed.

But I’ve also found joy and happiness in this “new normal.” For the most part, life is simpler, quieter, less frazzled. Time to slow down and appreciate life.

I know I’m not alone. We’re in this together and we WILL get through it. And you know what? I do feel better that I’ve written this down.

Take care, and stay safe and healthy,


Uncharted Territory

I know I’m in the company of millions when I say my life has been turned upside down. I’m uncertain, anxious, vulnerable, and scared.

Less than a week ago, I knew coronavirus was serious, affecting far too many people across the world. My niece, her husband, and their new baby are stationed in Italy, a country hit so hard by this disease.

But I was going about my life normally, hoping that COVID-19 would somehow just go away. I was excited about attending a wedding the next week, a family birthday party, and hopeful that my husband and I would still be able to take my mom on a Hawaiian vacation at the end of March.

Then last Wednesday, it got real. Everything changed.

It started that afternoon, when my co-presenter with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) called to tell me our Ending the Silence presentations were cancelled. We were supposed to be at a local high school early the next morning to speak to close to 600 students about mental health and mental illness. But the school district was practicing strict rules on “social distancing,” a term I hadn’t heard much about until that day. A large presentation in the auditorium was not going to happen.

That night, President Trump spoke. And it hit me. COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. Our lives are about to change. Drastically.

And here we are.

Panicked. Terrified. Wondering when life will ever get back to normal. Or if it ever will.

I saw this photo on social media, taken on the 101 freeway in my city of Thousand Oaks, CA

Every day I remind myself that this is totally out of my control. I can’t change it. All I can do is try to stay healthy and positive, which at times is super challenging. Some days it feels like my stomach is tied in knots and I wake in the middle of the night, unable to fall back to sleep.

But I’ve decided to take charge as much as I can. For instance, with the extra time I have at home, I’m getting more organized and caught up on bills and paperwork. I have plans to declutter soon (which I’ve been meaning to do for years, but never have the time).

I’m exercising more, which is great for both my physical and mental health. I’ve been riding our stationary bike (which is downstairs and has been sitting empty for much too long), taking long walks in the mountains, and doing yoga at home with my husband (we love Yoga with Adriene).

I’m connecting more with friends and family via phone calls, texts, and small get-togethers. This past Saturday night, my husband and I went to a friend’s house for dinner. It was just the four of us, eating, catching up, laughing, and playing games. It felt amazing to slip away from reality for a few hours.

I go through moments when I think, “Okay, I got this.” To: “I hate this, I’m so worried about EVERYTHING.” Including my parents, who live near us. My mom is 84 and my dad is 91. They know, and I know, that they are most at risk for the virus.

But again, I have no control over this.

Day by day. Week by week. Month by month. We will get through this.

Take care, everyone! I truly hope you are well.

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RIP Kobe, Gianna, John, Keri, Alyssa, Sarah, Payton, Christina, Ara

Like millions of others, I’m shocked and absolutely devastated about the crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna (Gigi), and seven other beautiful souls.

The helicopter crashed in Calabasas, a town 20 minutes away from us. They were headed to Kobe’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, CA, the city where we live.

I’ve lived in Southern CA my entire life and have been a Lakers fan ever since I can remember. And of course, a Kobe fan. I’ve always thought it was awesome that Kobe played his entire 20-year NBA career in Los Angeles.

Kobe is of course a legend in the sports world, winning five NBA titles and countless awards. But his passion and pride was being a father. Family was the most important thing.

We’re a big basketball family. My husband played in high school and college, and both our daughters played through high school. My husband coached several of their teams. We loved being super involved in youth basketball, travel teams, and tournaments.

This tragedy is heartbreaking on so many levels. While I personally don’t know any of those lost, I can’t stop thinking of their families. I can’t even imagine Kobe’s wife, Vanessa. Losing her husband is horrific enough. But then to also lose her 13-year-old daughter. No words.

Nine lives lost much too soon. God bless them all.

Kobe and Gigi shared the special bond of basketball. Thought to be the one to carry on her dad’s legacy, Kobe nicknamed Gigi “Mambacita.”

Father and daughter now together in Heaven.

“Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep on rolling.” ~Kobe Bryant

No Likes? No Worries.

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A few weeks ago, my daughter asked if I’d heard about Instagram’s plan to hide ‘likes’ from posts. I hadn’t, but was intrigued. My first thought: social media taking steps to improve mental health? Big thumbs up. Especially how it could affect teens and young adults.

Instagram, owned by Facebook, started testing hiding likes this past April in Canada. The test went to other countries in the summer, and recently to some users in the United States. The way it works is that the user sees likes on posted photos or videos, but the count is hidden from the public.

Have you ever wanted to delete a post because it wasn’t receiving enough likes? I have, and it wasn’t a good feeling. Ultimately, I left it up because it was important to me, and I realized it didn’t matter how many people ‘liked’ it.

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But it’s easy to imagine how a low number of likes can make someone (particularly an adolescent) feel embarrassed and unpopular. This could lead to low self-esteem, bad body image, or feeling unworthy because your selfie isn’t cute enough, your picture isn’t pretty enough — or worse — your life isn’t good enough.

As the testing was rolled out just this year, it’s too soon to know how it’s going to affect mental health. And there’s another part I’m wondering about. The business aspect of the app, how social marketing influencers will deal with this, as their business is dependent on the number of followers and likes.

It was encouraging to read this quote by Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri: “We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being and health.”

While hiding likes on Instagram won’t be an instant cure for improved mental health, at least it’s a positive step in the right direction.

I LIKE that.

We ALL Have Mental Health: Let’s Talk About It

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It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week and tomorrow, October 10, is World Mental Health Day.

So let’s talk about it!

Yesterday I had a wonderful opportunity to speak to a group of elementary, middle school, and high school counselors about mental illness. I’m a presenter for Ending the Silence, a mental health awareness program by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

An area we focused on is the importance of awareness not only among students, but parents and school staff as well. It takes a village. The mental health conversation must be open.

One of the middle school counselors told me something that at first, surprised me. She said the number of students she sees for social and emotional issues (anxiety, depression, etc.) FAR surpass those she counsels for academic reasons. Years ago, it was the exact opposite. And this is middle grade.

I suppose this really isn’t so surprising. It seems as if each generation is more stressed than the previous one. Millennials are known as the anxious generation. Gen Z (ages 15-21) has reported the worst mental health of any generation, according to the APA. Some of the reasons? Social media, gun violence, political climate, immigration, sexual harassment.

I’m passionate about spreading awareness to young people. The more that people talk about mental illness, the weaker the stigma is. The hope is that stigma will lessen with each future generation.

May is Mental Health Awareness month! Let’s all reduce the stigma of anxiety disorders! How? By talking about yours and not being scared to get or ask for help! We are so passionate about the subject that we have a FEARLESS collection of treasures that GiveBack to a local organization helping people with anxiety disorders!

Adolescents need to know they are not alone, that others feel the same pressures. That it’s okay to admit they’re not okay, and it’s absolutely fine (and healthy) to talk about it. They need to know there’s medical help available. The sooner they get help, the better.

When I speak to students during Ending the Silence, we discuss the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice the symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk about anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, eating disorders, and suicide.

Suicide is the focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day. According to the World Health Organization:

Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide.

The conversation on mental health and mental illness needs to be open. Talk about it. Share. Know that you are NOT alone. There is help available. There is hope.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Lifeline at (800)273-8255. Or text HOME to 741741.

Speak out. Together, we can end stigma.