Turning the “when” into “if”

I’ve always been sort of a high strung person. While I’m not as vocally expressive as others–i.e., I don’t like to make waves–I definitely need a schedule to function, even if it’s a loose one. When I wake up in the morning, I like to know what I have planned for the day and what I need to do. I’m a list maker, and I love crossing items off my to-do list. Nothing bothers me more than a neglected to-do list (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but you get what I mean), because then I feel super unproductive–even if I actually got a lot done, or did something enjoyable with my day.

Another way of describing this part of my personality can be best expressed through Lorelai Gilmore. fb3e2850-bb5b-0131-4878-6e98995d6e3eWe’re totes twins, as 95% of other fans of the show claim.

I say all of this to prepare for the rest of the post. Even though I’m high strung, I never really considered myself an anxious person. Sure, I would get nervous if I realized I forgot to lock the car door, or if I realized I put my laundry on the wrong setting. Minute things. But as far as overwhelming, mind-controlling anxiety, I didn’t really struggle with. Until this year.

A few things happened that contributed to my heightened anxiety. For the first time ever, I was ONLY working, which was an adjustment period, even if I was excited. Last year, I moved to a new place, which (again) is exciting, but it was further away from my friends in the area. But the tipping point was when I fell in February and fractured my ankle.

I consider myself a pretty well-adjusted person, so when I realized the leg I had been walking on for two weeks was fractured, not sprained (thanks, first doctor), I took the news in stride. I understood what it meant, and I was able to acknowledge the next steps necessary for recovery. This didn’t stop me from breaking down in tears in Perkins with my parents, or having fears of never walking again (my brain went nuts), or any number of irrational fantasies. Luckily, my mom came to MD with me and was able to help me get around, which helped tone down many of my irrational fears. I was doing OK, until…

I visited the ortho for a check-up, told him about a pain in my leg, got an ultrasound, and ended up in the ER because of a blood clot. Let me tell you, guys–I have not cried that hard in months. I was literally breaking down in the waiting room because I literally couldn’t wrap my mind around what was going on. A blood clot? What? This was something I had never worried about in my life, ever, and suddenly I was sitting in the ER because of one, listening to doctors tell me about blood thinner medications, and getting CAT scans to make sure my lungs were clot free.

Even though I didn’t express it this way at the time, I can understand now what happened. Something I had never worried about was suddenly consuming my  life. What other things that I’ve never worried about could pop up next? What did I need to prepare myself for?

And then, like knocking over a witch’s cauldron (bad metaphor, let’s just move past it), my brain was FLOODED with anxieties and worries. I spent hours reading online forums about DVTs (blood clots). I cried on the phone to Rahul, to my mom when she flew back up to stay with me (because she’s awesome). I would have to stop grading to have intense thinking sessions about what the DVT meant and what the blood thinner was doing in my body. I put off taking Xarelto by one day because there was no antidote if I ever started bleeding a lot and only felt mildly okay taking it after talking to Rahul, Rahul’s dad (both doctors), and hearing advice via my mom through my aunt and uncle, who are both nurses. In the midst of freaking out about what was going on in my body, I fed the anxiety monster that had taken over my mind with several full meals many times a day. I let the anxiety win. Suddenly, I was imagining what would happen if I happened to cut myself cooking, or if I got in a car accident, or if someone mugged me on the street. Bad circumstances at any point, sure, but a thousand times worse while on a blood thinner.

I just finished my course of medication, and I’ve moved away a bit from the initial panicking. I have my follow-up appointment this week, and will probably get another ultrasound image to check in on the clot, even though it’s not required. If the xarelto did its job, my body should be clot free. Since receiving the initial news, I’ve done certain things to help my anxiety: I stopped reading medical forums. I (tried) to stop overwhelming conversations with friends about the medicine, because I was only doing it to make myself feel better (again, feeding the anxiety monster). Rahul has helped a lot, because he won’t engage in conversations that are purely motivated by my anxiety. What he’s doing, and what every person who struggles with anxiety needs, is providing support through not engaging my anxious self. Anxiety often pushes you to place certain needs, thoughts, etc, over others, and most of the time, they’re irrational fears, or things not related to the present. Also, for any person who has ever read up on anxiety, you know it’s often future-focused. Most anxiety is stoked by concerns about future problems, not present realities.

Through all this, one thing has stuck with me. One thing that reared its ugly head when I became convinced that I would majorly injure myself while taking the blood thinner; that popped up the other day when I became convinced I had appendicitis; that shows up every night when I check my locked door: the WHEN. Lately, my thoughts have been consumed by not “if” something happens, but “when” it will happen. And through all of it, I’m amazed by the powerful hold anxiety has on the mind, because it’s all mind-related. The minute appendicitis pops in my mind, it becomes “WHEN I get this.” WHEN I get into a car accident on 495. WHEN my apartment catches on fire. WHEN the blood clot lets go and travels. WHEN I fall while running and break another bone. Some are based on some level of reality–i.e., the blood clot concern. But most of them are severely irrational, and only cause my anxiety to increase by the thousands.

I know anxiety is mind over matter. It’s controlling your emotions, it’s refusing to feed the monster. But, you guys, it’s hard. It’s hard when it’s so simple to feed that monster just a little bit, just a bite. But it never works that way. It’s like opening a bag of salt & vinegar kettle chips: once you have one, you have to have 25 more. Anyone that struggles with anxiety knows what I’m talking about, and how unhealthy this is. Also, anyone that struggles with anxiety understands the upsetting confliction of being able to understand what’s going on in your mind, and understand what you need to do to stop it, but not being able force yourself to take the leap.

Instead of leaps, it’s much easier to start with baby steps.


I really like this quote from the clip: “All I have to do is take one little step at a time and I can do anything.”

In the baby steps I’ve taken since receiving the blood clot news, I’ve been able to, for the most part, successfully squelch my need to do certain things, like look up medical advice online, or talk about my health problems with everyone under the sun. Amazingly, once a few days pass without doing the thing, the desire passes. It alleviates. Of course, I could reignite it by one simple Google search, but now I’m removed enough to tell myself I have the option NOT to do so, and I feel okay about it. Also, I think about it this way: how easy it is to strike a match, start a fire, but how hard it is to put one out. The same applies for feeding my anxiety, and I’m slowly, slowly (baby steps!) choosing not to do so.

The big thing I’m working on right now is changing the when back to if. I’m reminding myself that just because it happened with a blood clot doesn’t mean it will happen with everything. The terrible part about the blood clot was how blindsided I was: suddenly, I was in the hospital, learning about blood thinners, hemoglobin tests, staying away from sports and heavy drinking; all these things that were literally so far from my radar the day before. I was scared, most of all by how unaware I had been. I’m trying to remind myself that that isn’t the case with everything. Just because I was blindsided by this doesn’t mean the rest of my life will be terrible. This one incident doesn’t mean my life will become a series of “whens.”
Plus, I’ve made a deal with God, or whoever is listening, that the first half of this year can suck, and that first half ends tomorrow on June 30. I would really like the second half of this year to be awesome. So, a deal is a deal. 

 

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Looking Back at my 25 Year Old Goals as a 28 Year Old

For the past little while, I’ve noticed that a blog post from 2012, 25 Life Goals from a 25 Year Old, has been getting a lot of viewership. I don’t know the reason for this, because I also don’t fully understand how the internet works. Either way, I thought I’d revisit these goals, written a little over three years ago, to see which ones I’m sticking to, which ones I think are completely bonkers (or don’t make sense), and any new goals I have.

Reading a three-year old post was delightful and entertaining. These goals are definitely the ones of a young, optimistic person. There’s nothing wrong with them, but many of them seem a little too hippy-dippy for my current state. Some also seem crafted and written specifically for a blog post, instead of realistic, true goals. Again, nothing wrong with that, but if I had written this today, I would have surely used different language.

Something I’ve realized in the three years since I turned 25 is that life is magical and ever-evolving. After turning 25, I experienced a life crisis of sorts. In college, 25 seemed so old. I expected to have everything figured out by 25 and that I would basically be a billionaire living on the ocean in an exotic country or something. Since turning 25, I’ve adjusted my worldview and come to understand that life is often a slow burn (in a good way) and that things take time. Also, I’ve realized that age is just a number. Sure, there are certain things that I should be doing by 28–like saying thank you, or doing things I want to do, and a handful of other things on this list–but most of these are just general being-a-decent-person life goals. I set these goals at 25 as a reminder to myself to take ownership of my life, and that mindset is still just as prevalent today. So, in a way, they’re life goals from my 25-year-old self that I can stick to and adapt and mold for as long as I want.

New Goals:

1. Find ways to work on my anxiety. I’ve developed a lot of anxiety over the past year (thanks, fractured leg), and I’m trying to find ways to reign it in.

2. Get out of my apartment and stop wasting time. I waste so much time, especially when school is out for the summer.

3. Never get tired of my surroundings. DC is a great city, and I never want to feel like I’m just “tolerating” it.

4. Don’t underestimate or undervalue myself. I’ve had a revelation of sorts lately where I realized the reason why I hardly ever spoke in any of my classes as a student was because I was underestimating myself, not the other way around. I’m learning to value my voice more, as well as my own opinion, and finding ways to more thoughtfully engage in conversations.

5. Write write write write write!!!

The Original List: 

1. Write thank you cards. Say thank you.
I’ve done okay on this one. I usually remember to send thank you cards, and try to always say thank you when I feel genuinely thankful for someone’s help, advice, you name it. 

2. Take a moment to calm down when overly emotional. Re-consider your thoughts.
Eh. What can I say? It’s that quarter-Italian in me. My brain has this funny way of going into overdrive when I have something interesting to say, or I’m trying to make it point, and takes over my calm, rational side. 

3. Never make decisions when you’re emotional.
Again, I’ve done so-so on this one. I’m pretty impulsive by nature and when I realize I need to do something, I want to do it RIGHT AWAY! But, I have gotten more practical about my decision making, usually allowing things to sit before completely deciding. 

4. Read books for pleasure.
Yes! It’s a slow process, but I have done this one. When I made this goal, I was in the middle of my first year of my MFA, which required a total of 20 books per semester for the lit classes I was taking. Ah! The back-to-back reading turned me into a very, very slow reader, as I wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing anything potentially important while reading. Let me tell you, that’s not a fun way to read. I’ve been working on bouncing back from that. I have little time to read during the school year because I’m up to my ears in papers to grade, but I’ve managed to read The Secret HistoryThe Girl on the Train, and Station Eleven, and I loved all of them. Just finished Everything I Never Told You, which was amazing. AH-MAZE-ING. This book will stick with me for a while. Do yourself a favor and add it to your reading list now. 

5. Open your windows. Go outside.
This one seems kind of silly, but I am trying to do this instead of lounging on my couch all day…which has happened a lot, unfortunately. BUT I’m finally running outside again, post-leg injury (knock on wood). I also take advantage of the apartment’s pool, as well as walking to the grocery store instead of driving. Even though it’s blazing hot, it’s nice to get outside. Plus, I have huge windows which make my apartment feel luxurious. 

6. Stop making excuses.
Eh. I’ve gotten better at this, but I still come up with the excuses in my mind, even if I don’t use them. Since I’m sort of anxious/shy by nature, I’ll often think of reasons not to do something, even if it’s just meeting friends for a drink. BUT I will say that I didn’t use my broken leg as an excuse to not grade my classes, other than for the day I was actually in the hospital. 

7. Allow yourself to have free time, even if it’s 10 minutes of coffee in the morning, 2 minutes to play Scramble with Friends, or a date with your boyfriend to watch Titanic. Don’t laugh—Rahul and I totally did this the other night.
Free time is my best friend. I probably take too much advantage of it. How else am I going to watch all of my favorite TV shows constantly? 

8. Celebrate something at least once a day, if not more.
This is hard to track. I am trying to get better about focusing on things I DO do during the day–cue Chandler Bing–instead of things I haven’t done. Doing this helps cut my anxiety and also helps me enjoy my days a little more. 

9. Catch up with a different friend once a week.
THIS IS SO HARD and I’m also really bad at it. I’m the queen of texting, but suck at phone calls. I’ve kept up with friends, but it’s more sporadic than scheduled, which is actually fine with me. 

10. Keep your attitude in check, always. Be intentional in what you say.
I’m good about this when talking with my students, but sometimes bad when talking to friends or family. Working on it! 

11.Listen to others. Take notes. Remember.
Again, another one that is so-so. I definitely haven’t taken notes (come on, 25 year old Katherine), but I do try to be a conscious, observant listener. 

12. Don’t be scared of confrontation, when necessary.
Hmm. If I was making this last now, I would change it to “Don’t be scared to hold your ground.” I definitely struggle with this in my teaching–at my core, I want to help each student be their best, but I’ve had to acknowledge and understand that it sometimes just doesn’t work that way. 

13. When you make a mistake, never, ever blame it on someone else.
I’m pretty good at this. I had a teacher in college that would never take the blame for mistakes he made (i.e., we would put something in the newspaper because he said we could, and then go back on his word, etc), so I vowed to never be like this because it’s so disrespectful and wishy-washy. 

14. Laugh at yourself.
Um, yeah. All the time. 

15. Do things YOU want to do.
Also all the time. Stay tuned for my coffee shop series to see an example of this!

16. Don’t say sorry when it’s not your fault, and do say sorry when it is.
This is a hard one, especially since I say sorry all the time for stupid reasons. 

17. Engage.
What? As in get engaged? Okay, yeah, I did that. : ) 

18. Talk to strangers, or someone you wish to get to know better.
HAHA! I’m definitely the type to have few, close friends, instead of a 1,000 friends. Of those people, I try to ENGAGE and get to know them better. I definitely don’t talk to strangers. This was definitely written by optimistic Katherine. 

19. Do things that remind you of what you love in the world.
I really try to stick to this, especially living near such an awesome city! Since writing this blog, I’ve traveled to some beautiful places (India, Paris, London, New Orleans, Provincetown, just to name a few), which definitely reminds me what I love in this world. Visiting and doing things in DC allows me to take advantage and enjoy a city I love, even if it’s just driving to the Trader Joe’s on U Street. 

20. Try new things. My recent fascination: baking and cake decorating. Sorry, Mary Beth, but I’m probably going to ask to use your kitchen a lot this summer.
Mary Beth, do you remember if this happened? I don’t know. BUT I did get into a serious baking frenzy after moving to my new apartment. My masterpiece is banana chocolate chip bread. 

21. Don’t bullshit. Ever.
I’m pretty good with this, but this is also so broad. Don’t bullshit about what? I’m not sure what I was thinking here. 

22. Embrace who you are, even if you sometimes don’t like who you are.
OH BOY. I’ve had some ups and downs in the past three years. I’ve had many moments where I didn’t like myself, and many moments where I did. However, I think that’s natural for most people. Regardless, I am working on embracing the parts of me that are inherent, and changing the things I can change. 

23. Tell people what you think of them at every chance you get, whether it’s “You’re a rockstar” or “I appreciate you” or “You inspire me” or “I love you.”
I do try to do this! If it’s my students, I let them know when they’ve done good work. I tell my family and Rahul how much they mean to me and how much I love them constantly (so they don’t forget, haha). When someone helps me out, I try to say thank you or that I’m appreciative. 

24. Don’t waste a day with a bad mood. Find things to cheer you up.
I wish I knew what this video was, but the account has been deleted! oops. But I do try to do this, although when I get in a REALLY bad mood, it’s hard for me to come out. Usually it’s because I’m freakin’ stubborn and want to sulk. 

25. Love.
Yes! 

And an extra one because I have problems with limits (even when they’re my own):

Don’t complain about things you can control. This is a MAJOR one to remember for me as of late.
OH MY GOSH, I still struggle with this SO MUCH. The kid taking too much time at the water fountain, the traffic on the way to school, you name it. I’ve really tried to work on these things and let these complaints go, because, when I do, I feel lighter and happier. But sometimes I just want to be mad at the world. 

25 Life Goals from a 25 Year Old

June 22, 2015: After noticing this post was receiving a lot of viewership, more than any other post I’ve written, I updated this list of goals from my 28-year old perspective. If you’re interested, you’ll find it here. Thanks for reading! 

So have you ever had one of those days where, at the end of it, you wish that day had just never existed in the first place? Like you had stomped around like a big doofus the whole day messing up everything in sight?

Yeah. Today was one of those days.

Not to go into any details, I’ll just say it was definitely one where I needed a few deep breaths and other de-stressers to get me through the day.

Which leads perfectly into a list I made a few days ago. As the semester speeds up and I begin to calculate the hours in the day and the hours of work to be done and realize the latter is way larger than the former, sometimes my brain just needs a break, or a reminder of why life is good. If you read my blog post on 10 Ways I’m Going to Enjoy My Life More, you know I sometimes struggle with this. I tend to let myself get swept up in my homework, or work, or a combination of both, and then I forget why I love school and being in a university environment so much. I let stress get the better of me and then I become a big ball of tears.

Some of you may experience the same symptoms, but from other causes, or different reasons. Either way, all that to say: I began to think a few weeks ago about things I wish I did more, or things I already do and want to continue doing, or things I want to start doing. So essentially a lot of things, but added together that equal extrodinary opportunities. Some of these are some I could use right now, or wish I was already implementing better.

Disclaimer: Even though these are things I hope to accomplish, or get better at doing, I have written them in the “you” format (sorry, English teachers everywhere) in hopes that I’m not the only one with these goals.

My original, hand-written list. Maybe one day I’ll sell this bad boy on Ebay for big money.

 25 Life Goals from a 25 Year Old:

1. Write thank you cards. Say thank you.

2. Take a moment to calm down when overly emotional. Re-consider your thoughts.

3. Never make decisions when you’re emotional.

4. Read books for pleasure.

5. Open your windows. Go outside.

6. Stop making excuses.

7. Allow yourself to have free time, even if it’s 10 minutes of coffee in the morning, 2 minutes to play Scramble with Friends, or a date with your boyfriend to watch Titanic. Don’t laugh—Rahul and I totally did this the other night.

8. Celebrate something at least once a day, if not more.

9. Catch up with a different friend once a week.

10. Keep your attitude in check, always. Be intentional in what you say.

11.Listen to others. Take notes. Remember.

12. Don’t be scared of confrontation, when necessary.

13. When you make a mistake, never, ever blame it on someone else.

14. Laugh at yourself.

15. Do things YOU want to do.

16. Don’t say sorry when it’s not your fault, and do say sorry when it is.

17. Engage.

18. Talk to strangers, or someone you wish to get to know better.

19. Do things that remind you of what you love in the world.

20. Try new things. My recent fascination: baking and cake decorating. Sorry, Mary Beth, but I’m probably going to ask to use your kitchen a lot this summer.

21. Don’t bullshit. Ever.

22. Embrace who you are, even if you sometimes don’t like who you are.

23. Tell people what you think of them at every chance you get, whether it’s “You’re a rockstar” or “I appreciate you” or “You inspire me” or “I love you.”

24. Don’t waste a day with a bad mood. Find things to cheer you up.

25. Love.

And an extra one because I have problems with limits (even when they’re my own):

Don’t complain about things you can control. This is a MAJOR one to remember for me as of late.

Happy Thursday, folks.