Meditation Apps

I’ve been using meditation as a tool to treat and handle my anxiety and depression for awhile now. I wish I were more regular with it, but my practice is kind of sporadic. I’ve been taking a mindfulness class as my local yoga studio once a month. It’s fantastic. I’m learning a lot, trying new kinds of meditation, and being encouraged to continue and expand my meditation practice.

My favorite way to meditate on my own is through guided (as opposed to simply timed) meditations that are available though several great apps. Some are free, some might cost a few dollars (honestly, I can’t remember). Here are my favorites:

  • Meditation Studio – This app by Gaiam has an elegant design and lots of great guided meditations for $2.99 in the Apple app store (I got it as a free download from Starbucks a few weeks ago). Meditations are organized nicely to help you find one that fits your needs in the moment, and all of the teachers I’ve listened to have been excellent.
  • Headspace – This app was recommended by the teacher of my mindfulness class, and I already had it on my iPhone. It includes a 10-day free trial, but after the ten days, a membership is $12.99/month (or less per month if you get a yearly subscription), and I just can’t bring myself to pay for it when there are great free apps available. It might be worth checking out though if you like the free content.
  • Insight Timer – I love this world-wide app. The design isn’t very sophisticated, and it’s a little wonky to search through the multitudes of guided meditations to find the ones right for you, but there’s something awesome about seeing a community of meditators that spans the globe. There are lots of guided meditations available to sort through, a wide variety of “teachers,” and lots of community interaction among the users.
  • 10% Happier – I have recommended this app to my beginner friends, and I continue to use it myself. It is led by news anchor Dan Harris, who learned the benefits of meditation after his own breakdown, and it is aimed at “skeptics” who don’t think they can or should meditate. Explanatory video interviews with the meditation leader Joseph Goldstein are used to introduce each meditation, and a live “coach” is available to chat and help as you begin your meditation practice. This might be my favorite app to use and pass on to friends.

Please comment if you have other meditation tools that help you begin and maintain and grow in your meditation practice.

Awesome Audiobooks

I’ve always got a big stack of books (or several stacks) laying around, waiting to be read. Historically, I am really bad about actually picking them up and reading them. There are several reasons for this:

  • I tend to read at night before bed, when I’m likely to fall asleep two sentences in;
  • Netflix…watching Friends reruns is more relaxing than actually using my brain to take in new information or stories;
  • I read a lot for my job, so often my eyeballs and brain are tired and not inclined to further use in my free time;
  • The books I want to read (like the ones in the picture above) serve a purpose beyond mere entertainment…I want to get something out of them, and sometimes I’m just too emotionally exhausted to put in the work.

During a very long solo road trip recently, however, I discovered something I should have thought of long ago: audio books. I figured I would have to be alone but awake and alert for so many hours, I should download some books to listen to as I drove. I’m ashamed to admit that I bought two audiobooks that were already part of my “to-read” pile. I double paid for them (and audiobooks are expensive! Why?), but by gosh, I finally got them read. I listened to Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin and Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg as I drove, and I completely loved both of them. The sense of accomplishment from finally getting two books out of my towering stack feels great, and my enjoyment of these two books has fueled me to keep moving through the stack. I finished the actual paperback version of Daring Greatly by Brene Brown today. I also downloaded the Goodreads app to keep track of what I have read and want to read. It’s so energizing and gratifying to read (or listen to) books of substance and value, rather than just watching endless Netflix loops.

To be sure, there is still plenty of Netflix in my life. But it’s so nice that the simple shift of trying a different reading format has rekindled my desire to read. I’m trying not to buy any more duplicate audiobooks of books that are physically sitting in my stack, but I’m excited to seek out more audiobooks to add to my virtual Goodreads stack. I do have one question though…what is the deal with audiobooks costing 3+ times as much as hard copies?

 

Celebrating Freedom

I closed a major chapter of uncertainty, anxiety, and shame today. I feel lighter than I have felt in years. I had a phone call this morning with my lawyer. I had a lawyer. Never thought I would say that. It wasn’t related to anything criminal, but I needed a lawyer to help me get through some difficult things. This morning, in a pleasant phone call with the woman who has been my lifeline, we reviewed some details and financial info, then I said goodbye to my lawyer. Hopefully for the last time, unless it’s to meet her in person (we’ve only ever spoken on the phone), I thanked her for her help and hung up. A huge weight lifted off of me, one that I’ve been carrying for a long time.

The lightness was tempered when I thought, almost immediately, of the long road ahead and the many things still on my plate to tackle. But instead of letting that thought drag me down, I consciously decided that I would allow myself some time (the whole day sounds good) to revel. I’m giving myself permission to be joyful and free for the rest of the day. I took myself to one of my favorite spots for lunch. For the first time in memory, I sat alone at a bar and drank a beer and ate lunch. The old Cheers– style bar regulars who sat on either side of me were pleasant but didn’t make small talk. I was all alone to savor my strawberry cider (okay, it was cider, not beer, and it tasted like dessert) and salad.

I was also alone when my saga (the one that necessitated hiring a lawyer) began, but I was crushed under a boulder of guilt, shame, anxiety, FEAR. Today, I celebrated the end of my case, alone as well. But now I feel free. And while I was eating lunch alone, I realized I’m no longer really alone. I have a team of people who know me, like really know me, and support me. I have a boyfriend who knows about depression and anxiety, both mine and in general, and still loves me for me. And now, best of all, I have myself. Strange to think that I never had me before. Now I know how to support myself, how to understand and handle my feelings, and how to be inquisitive and compassionate with myself. I finished this massive battle on my own, with only the team that I recruited for backup.

When I hung up the phone with my lawyer, even though it was an innocuous call and I wasn’t worried or anxious about it, I said out loud, “I am a badass bitch.” Well, really I exclaimed it and jumped out of my chair. Then I fell to my knees on the carpet, leaned over a leather chair and thanked God over and over for getting me to today, while tears steadily hit the leather below my bowed face. I am so lucky, and so lucky to realize that I’m lucky. Whatever happens, my pain had a purpose, and I’ll be uncovering the full depth of that purpose for the rest of my life. And while the hard stuff will return and I will feel the pressure of worry again, for today, I have permission to be carefree, from the only person who has the power to control how I feel…ME.

Happy for the Holidays

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As I continue to pull myself out of my depression, I’m preparing myself for how to stay healthy and handle the stress of the holidays. My family is no more stressful than most, I suppose, but having everyone in one place brings chaos and occasional skirmishes. Like most families with grown children, we have issues and run-ins, and sharing limited space can be overwhelming. So I have been brainstorming a bit about what I can focus on and enjoy to keep the chaos from interrupting my healthy progress.

So, here are some of the things that make me happy, all year long, and especially through the holidays:

  • Red lipstick. This is totally a girl thing, but I love makeup, and red lipstick always lifts my mood and makes me feel merry. I’ve been coveting MAC Russian Red for awhile, so I might finally grab a tube and have a new pick-me-up to help me feel festive and put-together.
  • Yoga. Yoga and meditation have been game-changers for me during my recovery.  I feel so relaxed and connected to myself (if that makes sense) when I work yoga into my schedule. If I don’t have time to make it to scheduled classes, I use Apple apps to help me get my practice in. Finding a cozy, quiet spot may be a challenge with a full house, but that’s what the early morning is for. My favorite yoga app is Yoga Studio; my favorite for guided and timed meditation is Insight Timer.
  • Reading. I’m one who learns by reading, and finding new insightful books has been a huge help in taking back my life the past few months. During the holidays, I think that keeping up the practice of reading a helpful, healthy book for at least a few minutes every night will help keep me focused on my mental health and stability. My current read is Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. I’ve found it so interesting and encouraging, and it dovetails very well with what I’ve been working on in therapy.
  • Art. Another thing that has helped me “wake up” from my depression has been exercising the artistic right side of my brain. I’ve started drawing again for the first time since high school. It is so soothing and relaxing to focus intensely on something visual and artistic. For Christmas this year, I’ve been working on colored pencil drawings for my family and boyfriend. I love that it’s multitasking:  checking off the people on my Christmas list (almost for free!) while doing something that’s so beneficial to my well-being and sense of accomplishment.
  • Blogging. I’m new to blogging (in case you couldn’t tell, my one reader), and it is therapeutic to put myself and my thoughts out here for others to see. Openness and vulnerability are healing for me, so continuing to blog through the holidays will help me monitor myself and process what’s going on in my life. As the blog progresses, I hope it will focus on more things that I enjoy (makeup, lifestyle, physical health, current events, etc.), in addition to overcoming depression and mental well-being. That’s where I’ve started my blogging, because that’s what is going on in my life right now, so it’s the most authentic thing for me to focus on right now. But as I continue to gain strength and move forward in life, I hope that I can tackle many other topics here.

I’m wishing all people a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving. Let the Christmas decorating begin!

I Do Hard Things

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One of the ways that my depression has manifested itself is that it causes me to avoid things that give me anxiety. Simple things that are part of being a productive adult — like going to the bank, checking my mail, paying an overdue bill — became so incredibly difficult. And then, the guilt and shame about not having done the “normal” adult things that are expected of all of us, amplified the anxiety and made doing those things harder with every passing day. As you can imagine, a consequence of not doing things like paying bills and returning phone calls, is that the simple, day-to-day operational parts of life began to fall apart. The shame-and-avoidance spiral seemed utterly hopeless and never-ending.

Since I started seeing the right therapist and have been pulling out of my depression, the list of things I have to “fix” after a long period of depression-neglect has been daunting. Some things are little, like writing an overdue thank-you note. Some are big and scary, like owning up to a major professional snafu. As I have been going through this process, with an anxiety-ridden task at hand almost every day, one phrase has become like battle cry for me, a motto as I harness my fear and charge ahead. The motto comes courtesy of an online bible study that I came across a few months ago. The title of the study is I Do Hard Things by Havilah Cunnington.

The bible study itself is fantastic. It’s a series of short videos in which Havilah guides us through scripture to help us grow as people of faith as we face the difficult things in life. The study is wonderful, and well worth spending at least a few minutes a day. But it’s the title of the study that hit me square between the eyes and will not get out of my brain. Just adopting those words as my personal mantra has been so incredibly helpful. When I’m preparing to do something difficult, I buck myself up with a pep talk along the lines of: “Heck yeah, I can do this! I’m Ms. Glowstick, and I DO HARD THINGS! It’s what I do, I tackle scary things and I triumph!!!” It may sound silly, but it is incredibly effective for me. And after I conquer something that scared me, I pat myself on the back and say, “That’s right, I do hard things.” It makes me feel like a warrior, a gladiator, who is fighting one challenge at time, to reclaim the life that depression almost took from me.

For whatever reason, this phrase really captures my spirit and bucks up my resolve. What is your “I Do Hard Things”? What motto or phrase gets you psyched up to handle your challenges? I’d love to hear from you about what works for you!

John 3:16 for ME

I made a very wise, faithful new friend this week. In our very first conversation, in which I expected to discuss career choices and general professional “shop talk,” instead we discussed things much more important and impactful. We talked about God’s love, his power, and his promise. We talked about what that has meant in his life, and what it means for me as I move forward and overcome depression and anxiety. I was able to be honest and vulnerable about where I’ve been, how I’ve struggled, and how I’m working to reclaim my life.

Possibly the most moving part of our conversation, the part that I will remember many years from now, happened when my friend pulled out his leather-bound bible, well-loved and full of highlighter yellow and note scraps. He asked me to turn to John 3:16-17. I have no actual evidence, but I would guess that this is the most famous and quoted passages of the Bible, so I knew what was coming and found the page easily. At his urging, I read the two verses aloud, my voice just slightly shaky with emotion. The passage reads:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (NIV)

There’s a reason that passage is so popular and meaningful for Christians. In a meager two sentences, it poetically sums up the essence of what we believe. What I was not prepared for, is that my friend next asked me to read the passage aloud again, but to change all of the broad references to “the world” to personal references to ME. When I began to read, my voice cracked and I could barely see through the tears that flooded my eyes. The altered passage reads:

16 For God so loved ME that he gave his one and only Son, that if I believe in him I shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn ME, but to save ME through him.

Goodness, just typing the first phrase makes my breath catch in my throat. The passage is still true and familiar, but all the more beautiful when it is changed to remind me that my personal savior died for me (and for you). God’s salvation is for the world, but it is also personal to each one of us who chooses to accept it.

Repeat the altered verse to yourself, think about its meaning, and try not to get choked up with gratitude. I dare you.

Getting What We Need

Despite Simon and Garfunkel‘s lyrics’ getting stuck in my head on a regular basis, and despite my best efforts not to need anyone, I am neither a rock nor an island. That is the unfortunately tardy realization I’ve had over the course of the past year. For all of my life, I have held everything inside: emotions, disappointments, failures, anxieties, insecurities. I have suppressed feelings and avoided finding my true self. I have given almost no thought to who I am, what I want, what I like, what I can’t stand, and most importantly, what I need. As a result, a lot of imploding has happened since last January. It was a long time coming, and it continues to be painful every day.

But a glorious thing happened when I admitted, first to myself, that I am not a rock. I am penetrable, I am vulnerable, and I am broken. I began, finally, to get what I need. Denying my needs for companionship, reassurance, affirmation, and support has made me weak. It took a long time and a perfect storm of circumstances to bring me to my knees, to finally break me down completely enough to force me to open myself up to change. Many like me, including some in my family, will go an entire lifetime without ever recognizing that they are missing the connections they need. We all need to be connected to God, to others, and to our true selves. It may sound crazy, but I am so thankful to have been so deeply broken at the relatively young age of 34. Barring some unexpected death knell, I have time, to get it right, to find what I want, to build sustaining relationships, to live the way God wants me to live from this point on.

Now, having reached the nadir of my struggle, I have begun to climb up slowly. And from the moment I began to accept my vulnerability and share it with someone I trust, I have seen that God is providing what I need to keep climbing. He is helping me widen the circle of people who take my hand and pull me forward. He helps me understand and accept my vulnerability so that I can move beyond the things that have made me weak. And He provides assurances that I will continue to have what I need to complete my journey. I am finally getting what I need, and it feels warm and comforting and I am thankful.