Persistence Pays

what you focus on grows

Several weeks ago, I read something on a blog that has stuck with me. I think of it every single day. It’s these five simple words:

What you focus on grows.

And the blogger? The beautiful Miriam, of Out an’ About. She’s so lovely! I connected with her soon after I started my blog. Miriam lives in Australia and is an inspirational travel writer and photographer. Every time I read one of her posts, I’m filled with positivity and motivation. (She has no idea I’m writing this!)

Anyway, those words — what you focus on grows — are appropriate in my life right now.

Lately, I feel like I’m being pulled in different directions — a major renovation project for our business, various deadlines including taxes, etc.  All of which are urgent matters and must take precedence over “fun/personal/do-what-I-want-to-do-things.”

I’ve had to switch my priorities. But I know it’s temporary. Like they say, “This too shall pass.”

Soon I’ll be able to move on and do what I love (blog and write, read for pleasure, take extra-long walks, work on my self-care routine, etc.)

I’ve realized that no matter what task I’m faced with — whether I’m excited about it or not — when I focus on it, it grows. In return, I’m filled with a sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done.

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Goals and dreams don’t magically happen. It takes hard work and discipline. We must put effort and energy into what we want in this world.

It pays to be persistent.

This isn’t merely about checking items off the to-do list. It’s also choosing how to live our lives. Miriam says it beautifully:

“We can choose to focus on what is good in our world or we can hold on to worries so tightly that they consume us. Let them go and things tend to unfold naturally. Focus on the positives and life will be better.”

It felt great to sit at my computer and write a blog post again, it’s been a while. But now I need to switch gears and focus on making dinner for my husband.

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It Isn’t Easy to Be Vulnerable

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I can’t get something out of my mind and I want to share it here with you.

I often write about my experiences as a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)’s in-school mental health awareness campaign, Ending the Silence. I visit high schools and talk to students about the signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend.

Two weeks ago, my co-presenter and I went to a local school and presented four Ending the Silence programs to 140 freshmen.

The kids always leave an impact on us, but this time it was especially insightful.

A little background… following the presentation, we have a question and answer session. Some classes are really quiet and it’s hard to get the teens to participate. I totally get it. Anxiety, depression, bipolar, OCD, PTSD, eating disorders, and suicide are not easy topics to open up about. Especially in front of peers.

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But that day, we had questions like these:

What do you do if you think an adult you know has a mental illness, but they refuse to listen to you, as you’re just a kid? How do you make them to go to the doctor for help?

How did you try to kill yourself? (directed to my co-presenter, who speaks very openly about her depression, OCD, PTSD, and suicide attempt)

How do you know if you really have depression? Because all teenagers are anxious or depressed. Aren’t they?

I often wonder if the kids ask questions from personal experience or if they’re simply curious. I never know what impact our words have on them. I never know who we’re going to reach.

When the presentation is over, a few students usually stay to talk with my co-presenter and me. I know it’s hard for them to do that. Some don’t want their friends to see that they’re going up to talk to us. Some are too embarrassed. It takes courage to talk about problems — especially mental health issues.

It’s scary to be vulnerable.

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I’ll never forget the three who opened up to us that day two weeks ago.

There was a girl I noticed when I was in front of the class speaking. I can’t pinpoint why, but maybe because she looked like she was paying careful attention to what we said. She asked several questions during the Q&A, mostly about how to handle an adult with a mental illness. She walked up to my co-presenter and burst into tears. I didn’t hear what she said. I found out later that the girl’s dad has a mental illness and is abusing her.

At the same time my co-presenter was helping her, another girl came up to me. Her hands shook and tears streamed down her face, as she told me about her family situation. She said she has anxiety and panic attacks, and had a panic attack while I was speaking. She wanted to leave, but didn’t because she thought it’d be rude. I assured her it wouldn’t have been, and I completely understand. (I’m recovered from panic disorder and agoraphobia). We discussed how to talk about her problem with her mom, so she can get medical help. She gave me a big hug before she left.

Another girl came up to us, visibly shaking as she told us about her severe anxiety and panic attacks. She paced and it was hard for her to look us in the eye. She said her mom has anxiety too. They both haven’t seen a doctor because her mom says they don’t have enough money. We came up with some ways for her to bring up a conversation about mental health with her mom, and try to find a way to get help.

I never would’ve guessed that those teens are going through such serious, challenging times. It doesn’t show on their faces, on the surface.

That’s why I give the students this gentle reminder: Be kind. You never know what someone else is going through. Be there for each other.

It’s okay not to be okay.

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Just a Thought…

Amen to that! No matter what the day holds for me, it’s a blessing. Some days are more productive than others, some are just plain better than others. But no matter what, there’s good in every single day — even if I have to look a little harder for it.

My husband and I have had colds and the flu for most of this month. He came down with it New Year’s Eve, and I got sick mid January. Despite antibiotics, lots of sleep, and lots of liquids, it’s been tough to get rid of. We’ve been saying to each other, “I’m so tired of being tired.” And “I’m so sick of feeling sick.”

But through it all, we’ve tried to be positive and focus on the small improvements. Thankfully, we’re both doing much better.

It feels so good to feel good!

Make today amazing!!

Jenny

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Spreading Mental Health Awareness: One Teen at a Time

some things take time

I wish I would’ve known about mental health conditions when I was a teenager. If I had, I may have told someone about my frightening and strange panic attack symptoms. I could’ve received medical help much earlier than I did.

But I was embarrassed and didn’t want to be different. To me, it wasn’t an option to tell anyone. I dealt with it in silence for 20 years.

That’s the main reason I’m so passionate about speaking to youth about mental health. I want them to know that it’s okay not to be okay. Mental illness doesn’t mean you’re weak. You shouldn’t feel ashamed. It isn’t anyone’s fault. There is help available. You are not alone.

I volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as a speaker for “Ending the Silence,” an in-school mental health awareness program. Yesterday I presented to about 70 high school seniors.

During the presentations, my co-presenter and I explain the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk openly about anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, bipolar, eating disorders, and suicide.

Yesterday I told the teens that when my doctor first diagnosed me with panic disorder and agoraphobia, I was actually happy. Not happy that I had it, but relieved that I finally knew what it was.

There’s an actual name for my terrifying symptoms!? Other people feel like this? (Yes, millions!) And there’s treatment for me? (YES!!)

It felt like I was validated. Those awful panic sensations I’d hidden for so long were REAL. I had a disorder in the brain and needed treatment. It wasn’t possible for me to “get over it” or “just calm down,”  phrases I often reprimanded myself with.

That was the first step in my recovery.

Have patience with yourself. No one is perfect!

When I present “Ending the Silence,” I keep in mind that I never know who I’m going to reach. But there are kids who need to be hearing what I have to say.

Yesterday after the presentation, several teens came up to my co-presenter and me. One student said her younger brother attempted suicide last year and she’s having a hard time with it. Another girl said her boyfriend gets panic attacks and she wants to know how to help him. She said his family doesn’t want to admit he has a mental health condition. The teens thanked us for listening and giving our input. Even though they still didn’t have a clear-cut path to fix their problems, they said it felt good to let it out and talk to someone who understands.

Which brings me back to the point… you never know what people are going through.

When I speak to the students and look out into the sea of faces, I often wonder what they’re thinking. And who I’m reaching that day. I’ll never really know.

But all I can do is keep trying.

End the Silence.

The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers - Buddha Doodles

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Make It Happen

be proud this year

I’m just now winding down from the hustle and bustle of the holidays. It was great, with lots of wonderful time spent with family and friends, tons of delicious food, and so much joy.

As I wrote that — so much joy — my thoughts went to the families of the mass shooting victims killed in a country bar in my city. And those who lost their homes in the fires here. My heart aches for them, and for so many others in this world, who did not have a joyful Christmas season.

There were countless times I thought about them over the past month. It felt like it grounded me, a painful reminder of what truly is important in life.

It’s been a rough beginning to the new year. My husband came down with the flu on New Year’s Eve and it’s totally knocked him out. We’re hopeful he’ll feel better this week.

With the beginning of the new year, I’m (somewhat) refreshed and ready to tackle new projects and opportunities. Even though I don’t make New Year’s resolutions — instead, I make goals throughout the year — it’s a perfect time to reflect on what I want to continue doing and what I want to improve on.

I’m focusing on being more mindful, soaking in and cherishing all the good times and difficult times too. To really be present and savor each precious moment. And, even if it’s on a small scale, I want to make a difference in this world. Practice and use the gifts I have and share them with others. This may mean as a wife, mother, friend, or mental health advocate.

I want to make things happen.

you have the power

For instance, instead of saying to a friend, “One day we should get together/have lunch/coffee/go for a hike, a movie/etc.,” I want to initiate it, take action and DO it. Not just leave it at “we should.

Last year, I started to work on that very thing — to make an honest effort to connect more with family and friends.

My parents live close by and I see them often. My husband and I have them over for dinner most Sunday nights, and I treasure our conversations and laughter. My mom is 82 and my dad is 90.

I don’t want to regret not doing something with them that I’ve been wanting to do. I’m happy to say I took action on one of those things this past holiday season.

My dad’s mom was Polish. One of my favorite childhood memories is eating her cookies that my sisters and I called “twisters.” They’re light and airy, sprinkled with powdered sugar. The real name for them is Kruschicki. They’re also called Bow Tie Cookies or Angel Wings.

For at least the past ten years, I’ve thought of making Kruschicki at Christmastime. I wanted my dad to have another taste of his mother’s cooking and I yearned to bring a lost family tradition back to life. But I was intimidated.

I love to bake, but couldn’t imagine how Grandma made them, it always seemed complicated to me. Heck, I didn’t even remember what they were called. I only knew them by “twisters.” Grandma made her own dough, cut each cookie into a fancy shape, and fried them. It made me nervous to think about duplicating such a delicate dessert.

Until this past year. I finally did it!

It wasn’t that easy. I threw out the first batch because they were too dense. I had to go back to the store for more ingredients and watch a YouTube video to learn what I did wrong (worked the dough too much).

I worried I wouldn’t get it right. More than anything, I wanted my twisters to taste like Grandma’s. I’d settle for pretty close.

I turned the dough like the video instructed, cut and “tied” the cookies, fried them, and topped them off with a dusting of powdered sugar.

My persistence paid off.

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I’ll never forget the smile on my dad’s face when he walked in and saw the platter of special treats. He couldn’t believe it. It made me so happy to see him so happy.

The verdict from Dad? Delicious. And almost as good as Grandma’s!

When my husband and I walked my parents out to their car, Dad thanked me again for making the Kruschicki. My 90-year-old father said, “Tasting those made me feel like a little boy again.”

Wow. His sweet comment made me feel incredible. I realized I had just given him the best gift I ever could have.

So that’s what I’m striving for this year. To not wait for someday. Make things happen.

Today.

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A Little Holiday Cheer, Thanks to Taco Bell

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Something really cool happened today…

My husband Alex and I were out, taking care of our businesses. We stopped for lunch, had a nice salmon salad and breadsticks. Next on the agenda was to go to a clothing store to buy a gift card for a friend.

We pulled into the shopping center and Alex made a quick turn into the Taco Bell parking lot.

“What are you doing?” I said. “Why are you stopping here?”

“I wasn’t going to. But remember last year we wanted to get the girls Taco Bell gift cards for stocking stuffers, (both of our daughters love TB!) and they were completely out? Let’s get them now, so we make sure we have them.”

“Great idea, I’ll go in.”

After I bought them, the cashier told me I got two free tacos for purchasing the gift cards.

“I have to get them now? Can’t I get the tacos on another day?”

“No, sorry.”

Thoughts raced through my mind. I don’t need two tacos, I really don’t want them. We just ate lunch. I’m full. Oh, I’ll just take them, they’re free. Maybe Alex will eat one, or we could refrigerate them and have them later for a snack. Or maybe we’ll see a homeless person to give them to. That would be the best thing. 

I put a few hot sauces in the bag and got back into the car.

“Alex, look what they gave me. For free!”

He smiled. “I’m not hungry, but I guess I could always eat a taco.”

“I wish we’d see a homeless person to give them to, so they don’t go to waste.”

Alex backed the car out of the parking spot, and —  I’m not kidding — a second later, he looked to his left and said, “Oh wow, maybe we’ve already found someone.”

A homeless man was walking toward us. His thin body hunched over, his dark, curly hair flew every which way in the breeze. He looked tired and dirty. He held an empty cup and a crumpled dollar bill.

Alex rolled down the window. “Hey bud… Are you hungry? Do you want some tacos?”

The man looked surprised and bewildered, like he wasn’t sure if he heard Alex right.

Alex showed him the bag and said, “Do you want some tacos? You can have them.”

A huge smile spread on the man’s face. “Thank you, I love tacos! Bless you and have a Happy Holiday.”

Alex and I waved and said, “Merry Christmas!” We drove away, smiling at what had just happened. We were in awe. The timing could not have been better. God’s timing.

It felt amazing to know that we helped that man in some small way.

“Well, that was sure meant to be,” Alex said.

It sure was.

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Locker Room Talk: Good for Your MENtal Health

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I just heard a great message in the men’s locker room.

No, no, I wasn’t actually in there. I watched a new webisode series on my computer, called “Locker Room Talk.” It’s hosted by National Basketball Association star Kevin Love. Sponsored by Schick Hydro, the purpose of the videos is to raise awareness and funds for men’s mental health.

The five-minute videos are geared toward men, but of course, women can watch too! I loved each interview. Kevin and his guests are open and honest about dealing with their mental health issues.

Earlier this year, Kevin Love wrote an essay, opening up about his struggles with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. There was an outpouring of support on social media, and countless others were inspired to also speak out.

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Kevin said, “People don’t talk about mental health enough. And men and boys are probably the farthest behind.”

Back to “Locker Room Talk”… The series has an initial trailer and three episodes. Kevin interviews Olympic gold-winning swimmer Michael Phelps, Kevin’s friend and teammate, Channing Frye, and basketball legend Paul Pierce, who played for the Boston Celtics.

First up, Michael Phelps:

Everybody's journey

Michael has suffered from depression and thoughts of suicide. He’s candid about his mental illness and admits he still struggles.

“I don’t ever want my medals to define who I am,” Michael says. “What I’m doing now — to have the chance to save a life — is better than ever winning a gold medal.”

Next is Channing Frye:

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Channing sat out the 2012-13 basketball season due to a heart diagnosis, an enlarged heart. He was able to return in 2013, but says he’s had severe anxiety about his condition, and his game.

Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness have been life-changers for Channing. He stresses the importance of talking about your problems. “Speaking your truth is liberating,” he said. “It’s okay to be vulnerable.”

And Paul Pierce:

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Paul was brutally stabbed outside a nightclub in 2000, which led to anxiety and depression. He says he doesn’t like to be in crowds anymore, and it’s really hard for him to go to the mall, movies, or amusement parks. He says his mental illness affects not only himself, but his family too.

These four men are an inspiration. Let’s continue the conversation on mental health. It doesn’t matter if you’re at home, work, or in the locker room — just keep talking.

It’s okay not to be okay.

You are not alone.

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The Scariest Part of Panic Disorder: on the NAMI Blog

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I’m excited to have another article published on the NAMI Blog!

It’s about something I never thought I’d ever talk or write about. For me, it was the scariest part of panic disorder.

Derealization and depersonalization.

The best way I can describe it: an out of body experience. My body would feel numb and I’d feel disconnected and disoriented from the world around me. I’d look into a mirror and wonder if it was really me staring back. It was like living in a fog or dream, where things don’t seem real.

I used to worry that if I told anyone, he or she would think I was “crazy.” It wasn’t until years after I recovered from panic disorder, that I found out these symptoms can be part of the illness.

For more on my experience, please click here to read my post on the NAMI Blog.

Nami National Alliance on Mental Illness

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Healing

healing takes time

The past three weeks have gone by in a blur. I’m just starting to get back to “normal.” Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m going to write here. But I know I need to try. For me, writing is therapeutic. 

I’ve had some time to process the horrific events that shattered my community of Thousand Oaks, CA — the mass shooting and devastating wildfires. Sometimes it feels like it never could’ve happened, that it was a bad dream.

But it was all too real.

It’s hard to describe how it felt to hear the gut-wrenching news that a shooter killed twelve people at a popular country bar in our tight-knit, safe city. And hours later, to receive a mandatory evacuation order because our home was in “imminent danger” of a fast moving fire.

Each event was tragic enough on its own. But together? Unbelievable.

None of us had time to mourn those murdered at the Borderline Bar & Grill, before we had to pack our cars and rush to leave, worried our homes might burn.

My daughters and I were talking about this the other day, how it seemed like it wasn’t fair that the shooting didn’t get the immediate attention it deserved, because of the fires. Not that anyone could help it… But still.

Now that the smoke has cleared — literally — our community is able to grieve the twelve innocent souls who lost their lives much too soon.

Thousands have visited a beautiful memorial at an intersection near the  Borderline bar. A man from another state made twelve white wooden crosses with each victim’s name on them. There are photos, American flags, candles, angel wings, hearts, and so, so many flowers.

People wrote poems, letters, and messages to the victims, like God has 12 new angels, We love you, and You died a hero; and notes to the community, such as T.O. Strong. And, We will get through this TOgether. 

My husband and I visited the memorial late one Saturday night. The grandparents of one of the boys killed were there, standing vigil by their grandson’s cross. It was so sad to see the grandmother break down as she read the loving messages and mementos left for her grandson.  

Disasters bring people together. It’s heartwarming to see neighbors working to help support those who lost so much. There are memorials, fundraisers, and vigils scheduled throughout December and beyond.

I’m more than grateful that my family and home are both safe. I wasn’t directly affected — well, yes I was, because I live here. I didn’t lose my home or a child in the shooting. But my daughters know kids who were there and lived through that horror. One of my friend’s friend lost her son.

The shooting and fires affected the entire community in some way. It’s hard to push these tragedies aside and move forward. I guess that’s part of healing. It can’t be rushed.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of the shooting victims and how hard it must be for their families. And of the hundreds of people who lost their homes and the three who died in the fires, unable to escape. It seems especially difficult now that it’s the holiday season.

My heart breaks for all of them. And I know it will for a long, long time. These harrowing events changed our community forever. We will never forget.

Together, we’ll heal. It just takes time.

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