Month: August 2017

Watching Hurricane Harvey from New Orleans

For the first time in twelve years, I didn’t wake up thinking about Hurricane Katrina on the anniversary.  Not the day of, not the week before, and not for the entire month of August.

Instead, I woke up thinking about my stranded parents in Houston. This is where they settled twelve years ago after we lost everything. Surely this can’t happen here, too? Surely they are more equipped to deal with this level of devastation than New Orleans was in 2005?

The truth is that we cannot outrun disaster. I know this first hand. In my first 3 months of grad school a hundred year flood hit the area, and it was impossible to escape the memories of Hurricane Katrina. If there’s a natural disaster, you can bet that I will be there for some inexplicable reason. I guess it was lucky that I’d planned on driving to Houston the weekend after the storm to watch the LSU game with my dad. My weather misfortune is a long running joke among friends and family.

Still, it’s hard to look at the photos of Houston without remembering the hell of Katrina. And the irony of Hurricane Harvey falling on the anniversary of Katrina isn’t lost on me. Houston took us in, all of us. Plenty of people saw it as a sanctuary and settled there permanently. And as it sits engulfed in water, I can only think about the fact that there is nowhere left to run.

I have lived all over this country only to experience this kind of devastation over and over again. Wherever you are, we are all in this together. However, I do not wish to spin the resilience myth that comes with surviving a hurricane (or flood, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, landslide, or wildfire). That is an individual experience.

As I’ve gotten older and survived more and more once-in-a-lifetime weather events, they’ve become easier to deal with. A few weeks ago, I was stranded in my car during a flash flood with a flat tire when the water suddenly rose without warning.

It is so easy to relapse into trauma or to let my PTSD resurface in these moments. Or that used to be the case anyway. But for the first time, I found myself laughing in the face of danger. Making humorous videos to share with friends and family as the world around me spun out of control like it had so many times before.

I have found a certain kind of peace in accepting what I cannot control.

Earlier today I called my mother to see if she could get out of her neighborhood, which she now can. “I feel bad for cooking and drinking like nothing’s wrong,” she said. My mother, who has worked at Home Depot for 30 years, is weatherproof. She is ready to step up and sheetrock people’s homes, and I love her for that.  If anyone understands what Harvey flood victims are going through right now, it is my selfless, half-Cajun mother.

My father was evacuated from his home today and took the only road out of the city all the way to Austin. On the way out, he shared a photo of the Brazos River, which looks muddy and pregnant, ready to burst at any moment.

The battle is not over. The river will crest, and when it does, more devastation will arrive. Even though I should be nestled in a cocoon fashioned from my own anxiety right now, my heart is full witnessing the Cajun navy (rescue volunteers from Louisiana) arrive in Houston with boats – lots of boats – to brave the elements and lend a helping hand.

It is strange to see Houston in a vulnerable position when they’ve always been our refuge. But I guess this is how relationships work. We New Orleanians see ourselves in Houston. We know what lies ahead for them. While we won’t forget Katrina, Harvey’s widespread destruction has it’s own place in history now. And we are ready to help.

5 Ways to Break Your Anxiety/Depression Cycle

Getting stuck in a cycle of anxiety/depression is the absolute worst. Food, socializing and everything that normally gives you pleasure, suddenly feels like a chore. But there are a few ways you can break the cycle and start enjoying life again.

 

1. Stop thinking about yourself.

Some people think of others so often that they neglect themselves, and some people have the opposite problem. Once you’re there, it feels nearly impossible to break out of this introspective, anxiety-fueled cycle (see that one time you smoked too much pot in college). Taking small steps to put that thought power toward someone or something else can help you break free from overanalyzing and the negative self-talk.

2. Quit boredom.

As children we’ve had all sorts of fantasies about the future. But did you ever imagine that one day we’d all be walking around with little hand-held devices? Devices with the ability to communicate instantaneously, with internet access, or devices that allow us to play games anywhere at anytime?

There’s really no excuse to be bored, ever. But if you find yourself feeling listless, try to find out why in this world of endless capabilities you can’t find a single thing to occupy your time. Start reading, blogging, running, cooking, or [insert passionate hobby] again. Try something new or learn an unfamiliar skill. You will discover things about yourself you wish you’d known years ago.

3. On that note, just put the phone down altogether.

Anxiety and depression without an outlet is exactly what leads to boredom. And what do we do when we’re bored? Spend hours online looking at other people’s lives. You see some of your friends hanging out without you, and now you feel slighted and sad. You see that random girl from high school just got engaged, and she looks so damn happy. Next, you open your sad Tinder app, stare at the list of underwhelming strangers, and begin typing.

Try texting that group of “traitorous” friends instead. Or catch up with your parents, skype a friend in another city, plan a much-needed vacation or day trip you can look forward to. Find ways to redirect your energy towards something that will reap real rewards.

4. Exercise (I’m sorry!).

Personally, this is my least favorite way to break the cycle, but it is also the most effective. The reason I dislike this one, or at least in the beginning, is because I immediately feel how long I’ve neglected my body.

Me running all of a sudden:  Oh wow, yeah, I can barely run a mile without stopping or having an asthma attack in the middle of the street.

Me 2 hours later:  Oh wow, I feel great. I am an actual goddess. Watch me conquer the world. Endorphhhhhhins.

It hurts at first, which is why you should set realistic, achievable goals. You don’t need to come out of the gate with a 5k. Just take it one day at a time and keep building on the foundation you create. The only one putting pressure on you, isyou.

Eventually, you’ll find your anxiety and depression taking a back seat to the work you put in.  The important thing here is to create a routine and regimen you can stick with. If you have athletic friends, step outside of your comfort zone and ask to work out with them. More than likely they will be excited to see you making positive changes and offer guidance. Plus, the accountabil-a-buddy system goes a long way.

5. Get some sleep.

Sleep deprivation is the number one contributor to my shitty moods, that and a lack of routine. Without stability, your sleep schedule fluctuates along with your mood, which feels like playing the emotional lottery. Some days you wake up feeling great, others, you wish you could crawl under the desk with a human-proof shield. If you’re particularly prone to mood swings, depression and/or anxiety, it is crucial to get this part of your life under control. There are plenty of studies showcasing the effects of sleep deprivation on the mind and body over time, and it’s not pretty.

Exercise acts as a natural sleep aid. Turn off your devices, throw on the white noise or a meditation track, turn the air down, read for a while, and wait to climb in the sack when you really feel like you’re about to fall asleep. Once you fix your sleep cycle, your mood should improve significantly.

Self-Acceptance vs. Happiness

So many of us put pressure on ourselves to be perfect when perfection is something we can never achieve.  If I just do blank, I can love myself. If I lose weight. If I get that promotion. If. If. If.

There is a belief in Taoism that the only way we can find inner peace is by accepting ourselves the way that we are now. And that prospect feels impossible to many of us.

After hitting a rough patch a few years ago, I started going to Temple once a week. Counter to The Secret’s law-of-attraction concept popularized in self-help lit, here, I was taught to accept my thoughts – and therefore, myself – for the very first time, rather than trying to manipulate every feeling into something positive. The results were astounding.

After a few meditation sessions/sermons, I realized that every time I manipulated my thoughts, and inevitably failed, I felt worse for the failure, creating an endless cycle of negativity. I do believe that the ability to convert negative thoughts into optimism is useful to a point. But when you do not accept a situation or your feelings, you are merely patching a dam with a bandaid.

What I’m trying to say is that if you find it difficult to steer your thoughts into the light – it’s okay. No one is perfect, and the sooner you realize you are good the way that you are, the sooner you will find inner peace.

When you accept and view your thoughts, rather than push them away, you begin to realize you have set conditions for self-love and self-acceptance, which is futile because everyone and everything are in a continuous state of fluctuation. In a literal sense, each decade or so, every cell in your body is replaced with a new one. You will never be the same person you were yesterday or the day before that and so on.

Not to be confused with happiness, inner peace is a constant state of self-acceptance that equips you to handle most unforeseeable situations. Inner peace is not dependent on circumstance, while happiness is a fleeting moment of joy that is impossible to maintain. Through the foundation of inner peace, happiness is easier to experience and maintain but never sustainable. After all, how can we experience joy unless we also experience sadness, anger or misfortune?

Don’t beat yourself up over negative thoughts. Accept them and take your power back one day at a time.