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,

Jenny

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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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.

Hope: A Reason to Persist

To me, this quote has many layers.

The first thing I think of is “Never Give Up.” If you hit a roadblock, find a way to get around it. My husband often reminds me to be persistent, not give up so easily. I don’t like to hear this (or admit I’m not trying hard enough), but he’s totally right. Whatever the issue may be, I find that when I keep moving, reaching farther than I thought I would or could, it usually turns out to be a rewarding experience. Not always. But if I push as hard as I can and exhaust all options, even if it doesn’t work out, I feel better about myself. Because I gave it my all. Persistence pays!

This quote also reminds me of my own mental health journey. When I was a young girl, I had terrifying symptoms I never told anyone about. I didn’t know how to describe them, and certainly didn’t think anyone would understand. I felt hopeless. I didn’t want people to think I was weird or different. So I kept it a secret. For twenty years!

When I finally went to a doctor for help, he told me I was having panic attacks. He diagnosed me with agoraphobia and panic disorder. This might sound strange, but my first reaction was happiness. Of course I didn’t want to have an anxiety disorder. But I was extremely relieved that the awful symptoms I’d had for so long actually had a name. Not only that, but others had this too… millions of people. And, there was treatment available. I could be helped. It was unbelievable!

I was filled to the brim with HOPE.

25 Inspiring Hope Quotes #Hope Quotes #Inspiring Quotes

This month is National Suicide Prevention Month. I’m thinking of friends who are struggling with depression. I’m remembering people in my community who have died by suicide. My friend’s brother. My daughter’s classmate from high school. My dad’s work colleague. I’m thinking of how hopeless they must have felt, being in the deepest, darkest place filled with total despair. I’m thinking of their families, who will never stop struggling to cope with the loss of their loved one.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, or any other mental illness, please know that there is medical help available. You are NOT alone. Reach out for help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

There is hope. There is always HOPE.

Pain is real but so it hope. Work to know all of what is real (true) and what is fake (false) in life.

Images courtesy of Pinterest

Mental Health and Me, Featured on Thrive Global

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

It’s been a while! It feels good to be here, writing again. I’ve been devoting my time to another writing project, so I haven’t had much of a chance to be on the blog.

I want to say hello and share an article from Thrive Global I was recently featured in. They talked to me about my mental health advocacy and work with NAMI. I’m a speaker for NAMI’s in-school mental health awareness campaign, Ending the Silence.

You can read the Thrive Global article here.

It’s hard to believe it’s already the middle of August. My favorite season is just around the corner, yay! But I’m savoring each day of summer, aware that it is fleeting.

Take care, Jenny

15 Best End of Summer Quotes - Beautiful Quotes About the Last Days of Summer
Image courtesy of Pinterest

Summer Girl

Courtesy of Pinterest

There’s no doubt about it — the beach is my happy place. Maybe it’s because I’m from California, and the ocean has always been a big part of my life. Or maybe it’s just how the sea makes many people feel. Calm, relaxed, peaceful. A perfect place for fun and reflection.

Now that summer is in full swing, I’m doing my best to enjoy the longer, more carefree days. Like last night. My parents came over for dinner and we enjoyed a warm evening, eating outside at twilight. Big, puffy, blue hydrangeas from our garden were the centerpiece, along with flickering candles. I took a deep breath, tried to soak it all in.

For me, summer is a good time to take a break from my hectic days. I’m still busy… my husband and I own a business, bills must be paid, and domestic duties don’t end. But that doesn’t mean I can’t slow down a little and focus on mindfulness. Enjoy the gorgeous flowers in my yard (that I work so hard to grow!), jump in our pool like a kid, and yes, go to the beach.

Along with the seasons, life changes. Lately, I haven’t spent a lot of time on the blog or social media. Other business and writing projects are taking much of my time.

But it’s healthy, both physically and mentally, to take time out. A motivational speaker I admire takes a solid three week hiatus from social media every July-August. I like how he puts it, that it’s super important for him to be refreshed and rejuvenated so he can be fully present when he starts up again in the fall.

Right now I’m sitting in my office upstairs, the window wide open, a warm breeze flowing in. Neighbor kids are playing outside, gardeners are mowing. I’m listening to one of my favorite summer songs on my Spotify playlist: “Sittin’ Pretty” by Florida Georgia Line.

I better go finish my computer work, so maybe I can head to the beach tomorrow.

Happy Summer!

messy ponytail with a scarf on the beach
Courtesy of Pinterest

What I Would Tell My Younger Self About Mental Health

The Child Mind Institute has an awesome campaign that I love to follow. It’s promoted in May for Mental Health Awareness Month.

#MyYoungerSelf offers inspiring messages of hope. Celebrities, athletes, business people, and social influencers give short videos about their struggles, and what they would tell themselves as a child. They’re super open about their own journeys and stress that if you’re suffering from a mental illness, you are not alone. It’s okay.

Emma Stone speaks about her anxiety and panic disorder, Mayim Bialik talks about depression, Michael Phelps about ADHD, Barbara Corcoran about dyslexia, and so many more.

Today I watched a video from Alex Boniello, a Broadway actor, whose anxiety began in high school. He was in the cafeteria when he experienced such frightening symptoms, he thought he was having a heart attack. He had no idea it was anxiety and panic attacks.

This got me thinking… I totally relate to what Alex says. My panic attacks started around age 10. I didn’t know what was going on, why I had such frightening feelings. I was embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone. Now I know that stigma and shame kept me from saying anything. I finally got medical help in my early 30s for panic disorder.

That’s why I speak openly about mental health. I want to encourage people to talk about it, to reach out for help.

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Image courtesy of here

So, what would I tell my younger self?

Jenny, I know you’re scared and worried there’s something really, really wrong with you. You’re exhausted from keeping it a secret. You think no one else in this entire world could possibly understand what you’re going through. But millions of other people do understand! Because they’re going through the same thing.

The symptoms are terrifying, but you won’t die from them. Those horrible physical sensations and strange thoughts, like you’re living in a fog or dream, actually have a name: Anxiety and panic attacks. Panic disorder. You are not imagining it. It’s a real illness.

And something else… there is treatment, you don’t have to do this alone. There’s no magic cure, it’s not going to simply go away. You’ll always have to manage it, but you’ll feel a ton better than you do now. The road to recovery isn’t easy, but you’re going to do great.

I know you’re nervous about your friends finding out and you don’t want them to think you’re weird or treat you differently. They won’t. Having panic disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. Millions and millions of people struggle with their mental health. Talk about it and get help — the sooner the better.

Don’t ever forget, you are NOT alone.

Courtesy of The Child Mind Institute