Tuesday, September 12, 2017

On Expectations

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On the July 4th while Amy, Kayci, and I were running down University Avenue in Provo, I commented on the Provo City Library. When I was young - probably kindergarten or so - I had a dream about it, when it was the abandonded BYU Academy. I remember being in the building, and there was a bridge that I crossed and went down some stairs. It's mostly just a snippet, but I rarely pass it now without thinking of the dream. In my mind, the inside looks like what I imagined through years of dream and memory and story.

I told Amy and Kayci my dream and how I've always wanted to go in, and Kayci told me that I should visit, that the library is really cool and she loved visiting there when she lived in Provo. I didn't expect to ever go in, but on Saturday, Shane and I had some time to kill in Provo and so we visited. I was really excited to see it finally.

It was nothing how I imagined. I had hoped I could look out of the western-facing windows onto University Avenue. I wanted it to feel like an old building and have eccentric quirks that usually come along with old buildings. In other words, I was hoping that it would feel just a little how it did in my dream.



I heard a quote yesterday while getting ready for my Sunday School lesson that said, "Expectations are disappointments waiting to happen." It's so true. I didn't enjoy the gorgeous tile on the stairs and third floor. I didn't explore the tiny art gallery off of the main hall. I wasn't interested in crossing into the new section on the east side of the building to see the main part of the library, nor the what I imagine is an amazing children's collection on the west. I just wanted to see something impossible.  I wasn't seeing what I wanted to see, so everything it was - and wasn't - was lost to me.

For so long after my anxiety started 2 years ago, I wanted to just be able to drive to work without being scared. I would spend all morning with a pit in my stomach, fearing what I thought was inevitable. If I could have magicked the fear out of me, I would have. Every day that I drove on the freeway I followed a pattern that became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Whenever I would have a good drive to work, I didn't trust it because I didn't know if I could do it again the next day. When I would have a bad drive, I let it ruin my whole day, because my expectations were that if I didn't have a perfect drive to work without anxiety, everything was lost.. My overarching expectation was really that I could go back to being who I was before I freaked out, and that driving was going to all of a sudden become not a problem, and I could move on and never look back.

But life doesn't let you go back. There is also no around or over or under or even across. There is only through. Once I started accepting my fear, instead of avoiding it and then punishing myself for it later, my relationship to it changed. When I finally had some space in my head and my heart, I found a way through. I stopped expecting to be afraid, I stopped fighting my fear, and instead just said hello to it when it happened. I stopped believing every stupid, irrational thought that sent my heart racing. Challenging those thoughts, not believing them, was one of the bravest things I've ever had to do.

Life doesn't really meet our expectations. But that doesn't mean it isn't great, or that we can't hope for things. Acceptance is counter intuitive. But once I got brave enough for it, it's changed so much in me.

I'm sad I visited the building. Not because I lost the imagined interior, or my dream. But I lost the hope that that place existed. And I lost the ability to see the library for the beauty that it really truly is. Maybe one day I'll go back. I'll go back so I can see the tile, and look out the northern windows. I'll go and smell the books and think about the old Provo Library that my grandma used to take me to. I'll recognize that some things will break my heart no matter what, and that's ok, especially if I remember that I still have choices, that nothing stays the same, that most things aren't permanent.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The summer of the dragonfly

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I can't count the times this summer that I've seen dragonflies. They've been on my hikes, at soccer games, at cross country meets, and even outside in my Rose of Sharon. I've started smiling and noting everytime I see one, as it seems to be a harbinger of good. Because - dare I admit it? Am I tempting the gods to say the words? - Summer 2017 was pretty good.

  1.  I finished the first Faber Adult Piano course and started on the second. I also love to play out of a Faber classics book and a Christmas book. I spend a lot of time at night playing the piano simply because it makes me happy to make music. I'm getting better. It helps that a person has put every song in both books on YouTube where he talks about the piece, describes concepts that might be new, and then plays it slowly with a metronome so that I can play along with him. While it makes me feel all sorts of vulnerable to put this here, here is a video of m playing Prince of Denmark's March. (My piano is old and out of tune...) 
  2. In late July, we went to Park City for two nights. It wasn't fancy or even very notable, but we enjoyed it. We played in the pool together. Ben and Shane watched a soccer game at a tournament that was being played there that weekend, while I sat on the blanket and enjoyed my book (Strange the Dreamer) and tried to stay in the shade that they cast as they paced the field. We ate delicious breakfast both mornings, and even wandered around the Park Silly art/craft festival on the last Sunday it was held. 


  3. August was a blur of soccer tournaments and games and training camps, as well as cross country meets and camps and Thomas's 12 hour fund raiser run/sleepover at the school. It felt like we were always rushing somewhere, but I enjoyed most of it, because sitting around in a folding chair outside or wandering around a park is pretty good down time. 
  4. We had a few runs together that were adventurous. There is a canal road that I've always wanted to run on which came about one week thanks to soccer practice being held nearby. And we went to Sugarhouse Park on the afternoon of Labor Day and slogged through some 90-degree miles. I'm officially the slowest runner now in the house, which is awesome and humbling at the same time. It was bound to happen...
 
5.  My mom was sealed to my dad in the temple. I wasn't there, but I'm sure that it made my dad very happy.

6.  I was anticipating the first week of school being difficult. The start of school is a trigger, as my freeway incident happened on Ben's first day of 5th grade (why do I have to remember these things? Anyway.) I've finally gotten to a place, a real place, where I can be calm getting on the freeway. It's not always perfect, but I can do it and be confident that I can do it. I think that believing I can do it, and that I can trust that I can do it, has been one of the hardest mental struggles I've ever experienced. So in anticipation of the day, I decided I needed a henna tattoo for the first week of school. A girl in my neighborhood who I only very slightly know but who does henna answered a text from me one Friday night. The next day I had my hands done. I can't really describe the connection between knowing I can drive on the freeway and henna, but it gave me calm and reminded me to trust the universe just a little more than I'm naturally inclined to do. (The flower is modeled after the flower on the broken stone I loved in the Forum in Rome.)

7.  Reading: Game of Thrones book one, Midnight at the Electric, still getting through Full Catastrophe Living (everyone should read this book!!), When Things Fall Apart, The History of Love, Neverwhere, and a few others I can't remember.

8. Listening to some new podcasts: Tara Brach, The One You Feed, Slate's Trumpcast, and Oprah's Super Soul Conversations.

9. I cracked my phone. After almost 6 years of iPhones and dropping them hundreds of times each, my phone met its match at a soccer tournament.

10. Our summer menu consisted of a lot of hoagie sandwiches after soccer practice, watermelon, banana bread with pecans, stir fry, Cafe Rio Tacos, and Buffalo Wild Wings.
How was your summer? 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Summer 2017, so far

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It's almost the Ides of July, so I thought I'd post a review of summer.

  1. Memorial Day weekend, we went to Park City and stayed for the night. It was really fun and relaxing.We found the best breakfast spot - I can't wait to eat there again.
  2. On a whim, I went to a Dead & Company concert in June. It was so much fun! I got there late and spent a lot of time finding my brother-in-law and nephew, but even so, it was a great time. I didn't ever imagine myself seeing any of the remnants of The Grateful Dead again - the last time I saw them was in June 1995, just a few months before Jerry Garcia died. But it was an enjoyable reminder of my youthful days. Hippies haven't changed much in 22 years, which is both surprising and comforting. I knew I could show up and even if I didn't find my people, I was still pretty much with my people.
  3. My BFF Rebecca, came to Utah also in June. We spent a lovely morning whiling away the hours in her hotel room. I got to meet her daughter, who was just delightful, and adorable - she took a nap on my chest, which was a little bit like heaven. I haven't seen Rebecca since 2013, so it was a sweet reunion with (most of) her little family.
  4. Our other BFFs also came to Utah in June. We spent 2 days visiting with them at their rental house in Salt Lake. We spent a lot of time laughing and going to the store and Starbucks and visiting with them and so many other people who love them. It was so nice to be able to drive across the valley to see them. The kids swam in the pool and played soccer in the front yard and Thomas took a 5 hour nap on the couch and none of us could have been happier.
  5. Thomas has been going to cross country practice again this summer. It's fun to see him improving so much - the coach told me last summer it takes a year to make a distance runner, and I totally can see that now. He's also practicing driving so he can get his licence next month. They grow up too fast. He went to his first concert last Friday with friends, and he had so much fun. I love watching him start to have grown up experiences.
  6. Ben tried out for and made the same soccer team that he did last year. We love the coach and the players. They did a tournament last week and it was fun to see him playing again, even if it was 150 degrees in the shade. (I might be exaggerating a little.)
  7. I started riding my bike more and doing the stair climber at the gym. Every now and then, I remember I can't just run to stay in shape.
  8. I went on a lovely hike with a friend the Friday before my birthday. I love hiking and want to do more of it.
  9. I did the Provo Freedom Festival 10K with my sister Amy and oldest niece Kayci. It was so fun running with these women I love. We've never all done a race together, and we almost ran out of time before my niece moves again. So grateful that the stars aligned and we made it work.
  10. After the race, I had a lovely breakfast with my mom. It was fun to just sit with her one on one and visit. 
  11. I'm realizing that as my kids get older and start going this way and that with their friends, Shane and I have more time to just be together. We had 2 days in the space of a week where we were on our own. I love that we are still friends and enjoy each other's company.
  12. For the first time in our lives, we were on the groom's side for a wedding! My nephew Zac got married at the end of June. It was an adorable wedding. I loved being with my family all together.
  13. My car has been in the shop most of the summer due to transmission problems. I've been driving loaner Subaru Imrezas, and I'm getting a bit spoiled by them, with their fancy back-up cams and digital radio screens.
We still have a mini-vacation planned, and a few more soccer tournaments. I hope to do more hiking and spend more time with family.

How's your summer?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

41, A year in review, of sorts

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Subtitle and spoiler alert: there is nothing to figure out.

A year ago *today!*, I decided I’d had enough of living how I’d lived for the past year and I determined that I would Turn Over A New Leaf. I’d Power Through Anxiety. I would Stop Living In Fear. I had Figured It Out.

As if one can just decide that. (Well, they can.) As a high-achieving sort of person, I could will myself through any struggle. Push through, determination, rah rah rah!, and all of that. It was cute, and a good goal. It was me, setting out to run a figurative marathon that I was not trained for, at a full sprint, wearing spikey shoes and cotton clothes and needing to go to the bathroom.

Cute, as I said.

So the thing with life and milestones and stuff that we want/need to overcome is that we think we can do this. Our sheer willpower will help power us through the things we don’t like, the ways that we suffer. But, a year ago, I still had so many things going against me. Resistance to reality being one of them, thus the cotton clothes I was wearing. I thought that just by not wanting something to be the way it was, it could somehow be magically better. My spikey shoes were my constant self-battering, my internal dialogue of criticism and negative though patterns and feeling unsafe with myself, because, well, I was unsafe with myself. I set out in spikey shoes because were a symbol source of pride and of immense pain. There was no safety or compassion or understanding or forgiveness for that person. She evoked my ire simply by failing to drive to work one day. And I was going to fix it all as soon as possible, so I set out in a sprint, because I had to Win. Needing to go to the bathroom symbolizes just how unprepared I was to go, carrying uncomfortable truths with me that I couldn’t let go even though they begged to be released from me.

“But Becky, here you are again, saying you know so much more than before, and NOW you’re going to be so much better?!” I hear you, dear reader, and see the irony.

But the thing is, there isn’t a race or anything to figure out. That’s the huge irony and wonderfulness of it all. It’s just my life. It’s changed and I often hate the changes that have happened more than anything, but I also love them too. “Who knows, what is good and what is bad?” It’s all bad and good. It brings us to our now, and whatever the reality of that now is.

I’d like to acknowledge some of the things/people/books/whatever that has brought me to my current now.

Shane, who read a marriage book with me and then went on to find a source of peace for us that is as surprising as it is effective. He found us a common language, a gift that can never stop blessing us. Who has been patient with me even when I’m kinda crazy in an effort to make all of this work. I told him things this year that I’ve never told anyone.

Podcasts (and the personalities in the podcasts) 
  •  Secular Buddhism
  • 10% Happier
  •  Happier with Gretchen Rubin
  • Waking Up with Sam Harris


Books
  • The Places that Scare You – Pema Chodron
  • 10% Happier – Dan Harris
  • When Things Fall Apart – Pema Chodron
  • Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) handbook/guide – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Playing the piano, which is finally something I can say that I do. I love it dearly. I love when my left wrist aches from playing chords. I love when I can learn a single song in a night. I love that I can’t think when I play the piano and so it is a source of pure delight and enjoyment.

Meditation: podcasts, learning about emotions, learning how to meditate from Pema Chrodron’s audiobook How to Meditate and finding out what meditation can and cannot do for a person. Knowing that it won’t solve all of my problems and not asking it to. Knowing that it gives me space to react. Feeling it bleed into parts of my life that need calm. Feeling so damn grateful for this bit of craziness. When I compare the feeling in my body and soul today to where it was 2 years ago today – I don’t know how that person made it through a day, she was so wound up and hard on herself.

My time spent in Young Women, and now being released. It’s strange, but since I’ve been released I have a sense that things are easier, that a force that has been unrelentingly pushing against me has left. It’s surprising and I don’t really know what it means, but that’s ok. I loved the girls and women I served with.

Friends and family: watching my kids get older and wiser, texting and hiking and running and everything with Amy, seeing and texting and playing the piano and all the things I do with Melanie, my piano teacher Nicole, my high school friends and our long-running group text, God for letting me tell Him I was angry and for helping me find answers in places that are strange but are a blessing, for letting me see the path ahead sometimes.

And now I get to be 42. But I’ll admit, 41 wasn’t too bad.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Tools series: Meditation

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Months ago, I talked about the tools that have helped me with anxiety. One of the most important ones is meditation.

I know. It's trendy. It's in magazines and work-place programs and on talk shows. They have a word for that - McMindfulness, the McDonaldization of something that's essentially 2600 years old. But all that isn't really important, because I'm not (really) trying to sell you on meditation/mindfulness. I mean, I think that most people would benefit from it, but yeah. Live and let live.

During the summer when it all fell apart (2015), I had started mindfulness meditation thanks to winning a subscription to Headspace at work. I used Headspace that summer, and I liked it, but there were somethings that I didn't love. I found it hard to keep my mind in the game when I was meditating, and that frustrated me ("Why am I doing this wrong?") I didn't like it when images or thoughts came that I didn't know what to do with. Also, in the agitated mindspace I was in that summer, I was trying to use it to fix something that wasn't possible. I didn't even know at the time what needed fixing, I just knew that I loved the few moments of calm I experienced during meditation but was frustrating to not be more able to access that peace afterwards. I didn't have a language or conceptual knowledge to even know I what I was seeking, only that what I was getting was inadequate to help bring contentment to my life.

Meditation is a tool in my backpack in many ways.

  • When I find myself in anxious moments, I can detach myself from the seriousness of my thoughts, because I've learned that thoughts are just thoughts and I don't have to believe every one that pops into my head. 
  • It can the sting from highly anxious moments when I'm close to or experience panic. I may still freak out on my drive to work, but I realize it's not the only thing I'm going to do that day. I can get back to calm sooner, and I don't carry the weight of those experiences so heavily, or for as long.
  • I'm slowly starting to see that it is helping with the weight of my panic on the freeway, the experience that set me off 2 years ago. I'm finally processing that experience and while it can still fill me with dread, I am less attached to the experience as a whole. (I don't know if that even makes sense, but I don't know how else to say it.)
  • I worry a lot less. I don't believe any longer that my preemptive worry will help me prepare for a situation.
  • I am not stuck in my head as much. I don't create elaborate stories about situations and think on them for hours without questioning their truthfulness.
  • I can identify my emotions, and accept them for what they are.
  • The idea of impermanence, that everything changes, helps me through the bad emotions (they won't last forever!) 
  • I know that everything has a beginning, middle, and end. Not clinging to the moment allows me to live in it more authentically, and I can savor it and be there, not dreading the end.
  • I take myself a lot less seriously.
  • The critical voice in my head isn't the only one I hear anymore.
  • My reactions are much less dramatic. I can stop myself a little better from behaving negatively on impulse. I may still get a flash of anger or other strong emotion at something, but I have more space before I act, and I'm not as likely to spill my vitriol over others.
  • I can drop the story about those strong emotions. 
  • It has given me and my husband a common language. We listen to a lot of the same sources, and we've found this strange but wonderful path together.


My favorite source for meditation is an app called 10% Happier. There is free content on the app, as well as paid access (I happily pay for it, personally.) There is also a podcast by its host, Dan Harris, by the same name, and a book too, that I've read and loved. He interviews people from all walks of life who meditate, and a few who don't. (To get started, just listen to the very first episode. He interviews that Dalai Lama. It's delightful.) If you are a "fidgety skeptic" about meditation, check him out. He takes all of the sting of meditation away and just brings out its awesomeness.

Another source is the Insight Timer, a free mediation app that gives you access to hundreds of guided meditations. It also has a great timer if you like to do your own. I personally don't like to do silent solo meditation for long periods of time - anything more than 5-10 minutes, I prefer a guide.

Does meditation fix everything? Absolutely not. But the concepts I've learned from some really amazing teachers have made such an impact on my life.

These are just a few ways that meditation has affected my life. I feel like it's nothing but good stuff. If you know me in real life and really want to make me excited, let me talk to you about meditation.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Challenge!

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We are too hard on ourselves.

I am too hard on myself.

You are too hard on yourself. (I say that with all the kindness in the world!)

I was finishing my run yesterday through a lovely tunnel of trees that made me want to weep happy grateful tears. I had every reason to have my old inner dialogue that discouraged myself, but I wasn't listening it. I was cheering myself on and having the best time.

Which made me Inspired.

Here is my challenge to you. It's about identifying our good and bad inner dialogue, and practicing recognizing/challenging it for 5 days.

1. Think of the place/space/time when you are kindest to yourself.
2. Think of what you say to yourself or what allows you to love yourself in that space. Write it down if you need to.
3. Think of the place when you are hardest on yourself. Or just pick one, if you are like me and have a multitude of them.
4. Think of the things you say to yourself in that space. Identify the range of feelings and thoughts.
5. The next time you realize you are in the space where you are hard on yourself, change your dialogue and say the kind things you say in your safe space to yourself. Accept the hard feelings, and encourage yourself in whatever way works best for you.

Practice this for 5 of 7 days. Recognize if it helps, or not. Be kind to yourself, even in this challenge.

I am so excited about this!

I'm going to link to this from my social media pages. Use #mykind5. Share it!

You can find me on Instagram and Twitter as @beckykump.




Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tools in my backpack

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Remember in January when I wrote that I never wanted to write about anxiety on my blog again? I still hold to that, in that I don’t want to have post after post chronicling my day to day successes and missteps with anxiety. But in a different way, I want to still write about it if only to help me remember when times get tough again, and to maybe somewhere, somehow help someone else.

Last Friday, I spent all morning trying to write a post about podcasts. But all of the words that I had were about anxiety, not podcasts. After multiple attempts at writing, I thought I figured out what was missing. For months, I’ve been thinking about drawing a…map of sorts about my anxiety, but I couldn’t think of a way that it would work. I decided that I needed my map for the podcast post, and so I dove in to making the map. And then I had a super exciting creative breakthrough. My quandary was still how to illustrate the nuclear bomb that was my meltdown with what lead up to it and what came out of it. All the vaporous clouds and squiggly lines that were in my head didn’t make a very interesting or satisfying depiction of what I wanted to put on paper.

And then came my breakthrough. A comic strip!  I loved the idea of a comic strip because I could use all the pictures and words that I wanted. It didn’t have to be one concise depiction. It allowed me to tell the story that I wanted to tell using bits of words and, mostly importantly, memories of moments that are already like a comic strip in my head. And while I’m a stick-figure person with no natural art talent, I could still get across exactly what I wanted to. I mean, it’s not as if I will ever share it with the wide world. I just needed it for me. I eagerly grabbed my markers and sketchbook and dove in.

The journey I’ve been on in the past year has been interesting. I got a lot of answers at the end of 2016, but the answers weren’t enough. I had made resolutions, such as:

·         Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable
·         Dropping the story line that constantly ran through my head
·         Not looking for the magic solution to my emotional states

Which are all great things to realize and want for oneself. However, I kept realizing in January and February that I had what equated to backpack (I’m going with backpack instead of purse, because, well, if you know me in real life, you know that purses aren’t my thing. But I’m currently carrying a backpack around, so it works!) with nothing in it that mattered. No wallet or keys or gum or hand lotion or chapstick or notebook or pen or half-read novel, all the things that make a backpack a helpful item.

One of the most important pictures in my comic strip is of my empty backpack. After the initial creative rush that I had on Friday morning (which was essentially an hour and a half of filling up 3 pages of my sketchbook with little boxes of words and stick pictures and one airplane that looked more like a UFO) I spent time on Saturday coloring in some of the pictures and finally working on the items I’ve discovered help me that go in my backpack. Because I can say finally, that I can spend whole days now in which I’m not terrified of remote but terrible things happening to me. I don’t have the electricity flashes that used travel through my body on a regular basis, resulting in my heart beating extra fast and my breath being hard to find. The vague underlying fear that I couldn’t put a finger on but made me withdrawn and stuck in my head and unhappy to the worst degree.

I will say it did not happen overnight. And just like a hammer can’t stand in for all of the other tools in a tool bag, there hasn’t been one figurative tool that could have gotten me here by itself (not for lack of trying - I looked high and low for that one magical tool for almost two years!) But I finally have multiple tools that can all work together to make it so that I can now get on the freeway without fear. And on the days that I do have fear, I can handle that fear. I didn’t think that would ever be possible.

I want to do a series of posts on my tools. Now that I’ve explained where they come from, I won’t feel like I have to go back to the beginning each time. I can now finish the podcasts post, write a post about playing the piano, and another about a book my husband and I read together, because I don’t have to start with anxiety. Which means that maybe it will stop being a major theme in my life.

I’m looking forward to those posts. Mostly because of the pleasure and healing that those things have brought to me. I couldn’t have gotten to them earlier – I had go through the hell of 2015 and 2016 to have them be so meaningful.


If you have tools that have built up your backpack, I’d love for you to share. I don’t think a person can have too many tools. And if you are searching for tools, come back and maybe some of mine can help you.