Being Unproductive is Underrated

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“Kryptonite” by Three Doors Down was playing as a crowd pleaser in-between sets at a Maui music venue. It was 2011—too many years since Kryptonite had been popular. But that’s typical of time-lagging-feet-dragging island life. I rolled my eyes because I was an artsy snob from New York City,  but secretly I loved the song.  If I go crazy then would you still call me Superman? If I’m a blah blah blah (I don’t know what they’re saying here) would you still be there holding my hand? In my hidden, honest depths, I sang along nostalgic for high school.

In a moment of courage, I blurted, “I know this song is awful, but I kind of love it.”

An older—but more importantly, wiser— woman nearby said, “why is this a terrible song?” I stumbled. I didn’t have an answer. I guess I was parroting my brother and his spectacular and snobby taste in music? Three Doors Down—they’re not Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, The Stones, Roberta Flack, The Jackson 5, or something offbeat and unknown and therefore “good.” They’re pop-radio-playing-crack. The truth: They were a band—amongst many others— I refused to let myself enjoy because I deprived myself of enjoying my life in an effort to constantly “accomplish” and “learn.” In order to obsessively “better myself” I couldn’t give in to futile art like “Kryptonite,”  I  had to restrict myself from dumb and simple pleasures.

For most of my late teens and twenties, everything I did for “fun” or in my “downtime” had to have an accomplishment attached to it. In all of my time off I was essentially doing “homework” or “bettering myself” in some way, and that included the music I listened to and the movies I watched.

Before I got sick, a friend asked me to make a list of the things I did for fun and here’s what I came up with:

Hiking, rollerblading, gymnastics, skydiving, bike riding, writing, reading, trivia games

She was quiet, “Soooo…do you enjoy anything that isn’t about exercise or learning? Like how about going to the movies? Or going to Disney World”

My mind drew a blank. “No. Not really. Sure, I go to the movies but is it fun? Not really. It’s a discussion topic, it’s for my records. It’s for research into good writing and good acting.” My idea of fun was mostly caffeine induced manic hiking, and/or an adrenaline rush. Everything else I did was an exhausting effort to better myself OR escape. AKA fix myself. AKA I am not enough as I am. AKA power through my PTSD (it has been mentioned that people with PTSD are adrenaline junkies as a way to constantly distract from the painful sensations).

While I am fully aware that I got bit by a tick and that’s something I’m powerless over, that I did not “attract” Lyme disease, I also believe that my lifestyle leading up to that point and after I got sick was of no benefit to my immune system, my adrenal glands, or my mental/emotional health.

When I first got sick, I could not chill. I didn’t know how. Again, I made my downtime about learning— I picked up my camera and started taking a photo everyday and studying photography.  It was a brilliant move for sure, but why was it so hard for me to just rest, to do nothing? I still felt I wasn’t worthy just because. I had to DO more, earn my space here. Good news: Slowly, thanks to illness, I’ve learned about the art of fucking off,  how healing it is, and how I don’t need to do or learn shit to be worthy of my life or of love.

I went to Disney World a couple of times and got wheeled around in a wheelchair, I watched A LOT of cartoons, I read some popcorn novels, I colored, I fucked around on silly Pinterest, I danced to silly music in my room, I painted pottery, and sometimes I did nothing AT ALL. But a few weeks ago, I really went full throttle.

I was sick with this crazy upper respiratory infection that lasted like 35 days. It sucked. It’s not Lyme related and was nothing like my torturous Lyme symptoms but still…it sucked. Day 5 or 6, exhausted and fighting a fever and hacking up a lung, I was like, “I think I want to stay in bed and watch a bad movie.” I texted my wellness-gal-pal, Eva, and she was like “watching bad movies will heal you.” Both of us have had to learn the hard way. We are both hard-working, goal-oriented, inspired, and passionate individuals so the idea of not accomplishing and letting ourselves rest remains very much a practice.

And so I began my journey into dumb Blockbuster hits that cost too much money to make and pay actors too much and usually insist on a value system that doesn’t line up with my own and definitely teaches me nothing….but they are entertaining as fuck. And they make me smile. Isn’t that the point?

It was just supposed to be one movie.I watched “Just Married” with Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy (RIP).  I had SO MUCH FUN cocooned in my bed with a nightstand full of nutrients and natural soothers— ginger tea, lemon water, sautéed veggies, fruit, zinc lozenges and essential oils— that I thought why not just keep this up, what’s another movie?  I have a weakness for Jennifer Aniston so when I saw that “Mother’s Day” was streaming, I jumped right on it. It was truly NOT GOOD, but I had a GREAT time watching it.

I took a break from movie watching to move my body a bit, do some stretches, refill my big mug of ginger tea, and do a manageable hour of writing. For me, the hour-or-so break is a key component to a day of “fucking off.” Self-care has many layers, it’s important that I give my brain a small amount of exercise and it’s super important that my body doesn’t stay in one position all day as I will end up with more pain later on. Whether I get out of bed to get some sun or I write or I do some meditation and yoga, it helps to break up the “nothingness” and leaves me feeling nourished by the night rather than cagey, sluggish, and depressed.

I put my computer away after an hour of work and started scrolling through the streaming services again. I went for “Bad Moms.” That shit was good. I always love a pretty, overworked woman who is a little sad and frustrated in her life.

I thought I had had enough. I really did. But it was getting late, and I wondered why, if I was having such a good time, I was even considering stopping there? I had nothing to do. I mean, I had a fever—why did I feel pressure to “do” something. I hadn’t enjoyed a day at home sick maybe ever, but I was deeply enjoying myself and I was enjoying my own silly company, too.  So, I dove in to “Americas Sweethearts.” Because Catherine Zeta Jones being a world-class bitch and not getting her way is fun to watch. I mean, c’mon. The irony is that after four bad movies in a row, nothing learned or earned,  I felt so accomplished. Because I had given myself a break. Because I love myself. Because I wasn’t pushing my suffering body to do shit it couldn’t do. The need to be productive is just a symptom of low self-worth. Or certainly, a lack of self-compassion. So, for me, the accomplishment I felt in allowing myself to watch dumb movies all day was greater or deeper than my 365 photo project or the acting job or the writing job or etc etc..

I’m (mostly) done trying to prove something to the world. And I’m not so sure of this trying SO HARD to better myself thing I do.  That being said, interestingly enough, I know more than I ever have. I am currently sitting on set and I handed my copy of The New Yorker to another actor who had nothing to do. I said, “the fiction is good this month. It’s depressing as all fuck but it’s good. It’s on page 64.”  And all of the actors laughed cause I’m a freak who is writing a blog post and reading The New Yorker and taking a holistic medicine certification course online all while in-between shots of this commercial. It might be a lot or too much even, but I’m doing it BECAUSE I enjoy it all. I’m not doing it for notches in my belt or discussion topics. I just really love that magazine and I love to write a couple of things here and there and I LOVE learning about all of these different herbal remedies. I do what I enjoy, I do what excites me. And SOMETIMES, what excites me is a day in bed watching a bunch of futile movies.

Do your version. Fuck around. Stop trying so hard. You might just have a spiritual experience.

REPORT BACK!

With fun and love,

Jackie

WARNING: THIS IS NOT ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE OPPOSITE ISSUE. SOME OF YOU MIGHT NEED TO THROW AWAY THE TELEVISION.

PS: Check out Noelle Janka, health coach extraordinaire. Noelle has many affordable or free resources for those who are healing. Check her out, write to her, get your healing on.

 

 

Treating Anxiety, Part III: Lyme disease

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“I just have a deep sense, a deep inner-knowing, that I am safe in this world now,” I told my mother one day in early 2013. It was true. For a girl who seriously suffered from panic attacks and PTSD, I had gotten so far in life.  I had worked through my issues very seriously, utilizing everything from medication to meditation, and it was all proving worth it.  Life’s anxiety inducing situations rarely spun me into a panic— deep down I could feel that the Universe was my ally, not my enemy. My risk-taking, fear-facing, and spirit-searching had left me with (what seemed like) an excess of emotional and physical freedom. And I attached to that freedom like it was my identity,  endlessly exploring my options, hopping the fences that said “no entry,”  and following my heart’s desire to go to the parts of the Earth that were untouched. I didn’t want to walk away from this life unscarred, untouched and inexperienced. In an effort to affirm this preconceived notion of myself, I took a camera man and  got my photos taken while rolling around in the dirt as an expression of my free-spirt. This attachment to identity and proving myself…it got me sick. How ironic that, in an attempt to solidify myself into one small box called “free-spirit,”  I got bit by a tick, I contracted Lyme disease from the tick,  and everything I thought I knew about myself violently unraveled.  It was terrifying. That “sense of safety” I had confidently chatted about to my mother months earlier was tested and, as it turns out, fear is a whole different beast when it’s NOT irrational. But it had to be faced and overcome because if I had acted from fear when it came to healing from Lyme disease, I would have died.

A couple of days after my 26th birthday, a mysterious rash began to take up space on my skin. MY skin. Why am I powerless over what happens to my very own protective shell? Why is it my shell, if it’s so vulnerable?  One itchy bump on my thigh, one itchy bump on my elbow, and one itchy bump on my butt later, I realized I might have a little problem. The anxiety set in. I was overly attentive, looking at the newly forming rashes every few minutes, “did it go down, did it go up?” Days passed and the rashes were only expanding. I had one on my calf growing more irritated by the minute and wider by the minute. Like it was alive. I lied  in bed one night on the phone with a free-spirited young man I was loosely dating. I was scantily clad in cotton underwear and a tee- shirt. I was examining the rashes, half invested in our conversation, half obsessed and anxious about my mystery ailment. Slowly, like a hippo’s eyes surfacing on a placid river, a red bump formed on my upper thigh. I watched it come, and I watched it grow. Three more bumps then streaks overtaking the upper part of my thigh—a part of my thigh that was meant to be sexy and welcoming.  And a weighted anxiety began to torture me. “I’ve gotta go,” I quickly hung up the phone, and the googling began.

What in the ever- loving- fuck was happening to my own body? I researched psoriasis, bed bugs, impetigo, poison oak, poison ivy, and spider bites. I was impatient— I tormented myself with questions that I wouldn’t be able to answer unless I was a doctor.  I quit drinking coffee in an effort to magically cure myself. I tried every type of cream and anti-allergy pill. I did everything a young waitress with no insurance could do and nothing worked. I kept naively thinking, “once I work this rash situation out then life can just go back to normal.” I had lived my life that way and with that false idea: get over this obstacle and then I’ll coast. But, in that state,  I was constantly seeking the coast and anxious to get the hurdle over with. When so much of life is an obstacle, well then you’re really just asking to miss a lot of life, right? Part of the reason I HAD such bad anxiety was because I could not tolerate the messiness, the discomfort, of LIFE. Life is messy, hard, and full of detours and if I couldn’t tolerate that… well then life would be …intolerable.

I was desperate to FIGURE IT OUT so after two weeks of no answers,  I took myself to urgent care and was promptly told that I likely had Lyme disease. I was relieved, “cool, I’ll take some antibiotics and then go back to my normal life.” My anxiety dissipated. I was a survivor; I knew how to get my needs met and I knew how to show up for the tough times… Or so I thought.

I was immediately met with a resistance I had never known before. Part of the world seemed to be collectively AGAINST me healing. I felt like I was at war.

I instantly tried to find a doctor. No one would see me on short notice; no one would see me for a manageable price—the beginnings of anxiety, abandonment, and frustration in dealing with the medical community.

I finally saw a doctor, and the cost went directly on an already debited credit card—the beginnings of financial anxiety.

The antibiotics didn’t work—the beginnings of a deep fear that I wouldn’t get well.

My family didn’t show up for me—the beginnings of a loneliness, abandonment and anxiety full of depth. I constantly wondered if I would be cared for.

Lyme disease began affecting me neurologically— Lyme anxiety, a different beast altogether.

Insomnia kicked in and I stopped sleeping for nights on end—My anxiety took me over and I started saying, “it feels like satan is trapped inside of my body.”

I got so sick that working suffered, I had to back out of creative projects, I could barely waitress, and my debt expanded—rational financial panic, rational panic about the potential my future held.

I lost weight, I lost hair, I lost color in my skin—Anxiety about losing my looks, my most used coping mechanism in this life. Also, the “I might actually die” anxiety.

I traveled around the world seeking treatments—I was afraid of needles, afraid the treatments wouldn’t work, afraid I’d disappoint people, never work again, and the list goes on.

I cried all of the time—Anxiety that I would lose my boyfriend to this disease, anxiety that I would end up in the psych ward, that I was actually losing my mind.

I wasn’t sure I’d survive OR, God forbid, what if  I would have to LIVE WITH Lyme disease.

 I would have rather died. In fact, I wanted to die. 

I’m glad I didn’t.

I’m glad that I kept calling the doctors even when they disappointed me.

I’m glad that I put the treatments on a credit card; I’m glad I faced the fear of doing a fundraiser and let my friends and family support alternative treatments.

I’m glad I tried the antibiotics, and I’m glad I was willing to do alternative treatments. I’m glad I faced fears of each new treatments and jumped in with a zest and a need for life.

I’m glad I felt the rage and the heart-break caused by my family’s initial absence, I’m glad I talked about it, I’m glad I took my mother to therapy, and I’m glad I have the option to forgive.

I’m glad I never stopped seeking new solutions to my sleep issues, and I’m glad I found one.

I’m glad I kept my creativity alive by allowing myself to be imperfect. I’m glad I faced the fear of backing out of projects, putting work on hold and resting for a while.

I’m glad I quit waitressing and trusted the universe. The universe provided.

I’m fucking glad that I showed up no matter how I looked or felt. I looked you in the eye when i was pale in the face and 97 lbs and needed a wheelchair, I looked you in the eye and said, “I’m so fucking afraid, but let’s keep going if you don’t mind pushing.”

I’m glad that I stayed in bed when I was afraid I’d miss out on something cool; I’m glad I got out of bed when I was afraid for you to see my face; I’m glad I said “yes” as often as I could and “no” when I knew it would disappoint you.

I’m glad I yelled at doctors and asked for help and risked losing everything— including my own life— in an effort to get well and thrive.

Because now I’m out on the other side and it has all been worth it. And I’m not just saying that because it’s kind of a radical thing to say—I mean it.

Sometimes I think about anxiety: the pumping heart, tingly body, erratic thoughts, paranoid eyes, and I think, “that’s a body that really really wants to live.”

Maybe my anxiety is my desire to live run amuck. Maybe it’s my anxiety that I have to thank for pushing me to fight for life.

I love being alive, I desperately want to live.

Lyme disease, in many ways, birthed my greatest fears into reality. And I faced them head on, sometimes with an army of people behind me and sometimes alone. But I made sure to face each and every one. And I feel like I have a brand new life. I do not have some identity I’ve wrapped myself in, some identity I’m trying to prove. Today, I live more free than I was in the first place: I am deeply in touch with the softness, the fragility and truth, of my humanity (and yours), but also now I  really  know what the fuck I am capable of.

Go show ’em what you’re made of. It’s worth it.

fun and love,

Jackie

Treating Anxiety, Part I

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In 1998, at ten years old, I discovered that Mama Cass died choking on a ham sandwich. Maybe I heard it on TV. Or maybe I was eavesdropping on some random adult chatter. Or maybe my mother told me during one of my relentless questioning sessions about all of her favorite musicians.  It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that with that news, I was hit— for no rational reason— with life-changing fear. My brain grabbed onto this idea of “death -by -choking” like a shark grabs its prey: What if I choke in the school lunchroom,  nobody hears me over the chatter and I die? Days passed as that thought flipped and flopped and tossed and turned restlessly—violently—through my brain. Choke and die, choke and die, choke and die.  I sat through school lunches half invested in the innocent adolescent conversations about lipstick and half obsessed with my imminent death. One March day, the thoughts were so overbearing that when I took a sip of my peach flavored Snapple, it went down the wrong pipe, coughing commenced, and I came into contact with my first debilitating panic attack.

“Are you ok? Jackie, are you ok?”  The teacher spoke to me over the microphone, “stand up, stand up.” I stood up. I was overheated from both embarrassment and physical stress. I was already unpopular, but now an entire cafeteria of cruel ten and eleven year olds were staring at me.  I gasped for breath and simultaneously considered my poor wardrobe choice that day. If I had known I was going to be the center of attention, I wouldn’t have worn that stupid pink cardigan and those unbecoming gray sweatpants. “Nod your head, nod your head,” the teacher was saying, “do we have to do the Heimlich?” I knew they didn’t have to do the Heimlich. After all, it was only Snapple that I was “choking” on. But I certainly wasn’t going to admit that, not after the spectacle I was creating. My coughing slowly subsided, and a  breath of relief rippled through the couple hundred kids in the cafeteria…  immediately followed by an outburst laughter. I sat down, wanting to hide, and suddenly—just like that— all of the ease I had previously lived with was gone. Who knew that it was a luxury to be able to interact with your peers, go to school, eat lunch, and exist in the world without a consistent feeling of impending doom holding you back?  I tried to act normal. I walked with the herd to my next class, took my seat, stared at the chalkboard, and wrung my sweaty hands seeking some sort of solace in myself. Something was infinitely unsafe, but I didn’t know what so I couldn’t even protect myself. The walls were closing in on me, my friends looked like enemies, words were muttered, faces were fuzzy, and I burst into tears.

I was sent to the nurse’s office. I could barely speak by the time I got there. Sweating through that stupid fleece cardigan, I was crying so hard that I could only gasp out one  comprehensible word at a time, “I—choked. and. am. —scared.” The nurse looked at me confused and harshly, got me a five ounce dixie cup of water, and led me to a small, poorly lit,  corner room. There was one beige metal folding chair meant for me to collect myself on. “Sit in here and calm down,” she said.  I took the seat thinking I’d rather be anywhere else or maybe nowhere at all. I wanted a hug desperately. That is what I wanted. As the nurse closed the door, I heard her say to her colleague, “I mean, seriously, she should be able to control herself, she’s ten years old. What’s wrong with her? My God.” Did she think I couldn’t hear her? I was so embarrassed, so ashamed.  I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and if I could have controlled it—like she was suggesting— I certainly would have.

By the time I got home that day, I had decided that I should probably never leave my bedroom again and that I should definitely never eat again. If it was up to me, I would have lived a very small life. My parents got in the way of my ideas.

I cried through dinner one night, trying to spoon a small amount of plain broth into my mouth but every time I looked at the bowl of liquid, I was hit with the memory of “choking” in the lunchroom. I just cried and shook until my father lost his cool, dropped his fork and said, “What’re you gonna do? Never eat again? If you went outside and tripped and fell, would you never go outside again?”  I felt pathetic. What I was experiencing was NOT logical and could not be beaten with logic.

My mother held me in bed that night as i sobbed and sobbed. I said, “I wish I had some physical illness. Even cancer. Anything but this. It’s so scary.” And I meant it. I was in unthinkable pain. Thankfully, my mother understood what I was experiencing due to her own turbulent history with panic attacks and, as a by-product, she pushed me. She wasn’t going to let me become a slave to my anxiety. It was strategic, and it was brilliant. She sent me to school everyday, she denied me medication even though doctor’s suggested it, and I was forced to take part in all daily commitments whether I sobbed through them or not.  To this day, I consider it the greatest gift my mother gave me. To this day, I consider it her shining moment as a parent.

When my seventh grade field day came around, I was hit with a new deepening wave of panic. Who knows why. There was no real why. At 7:30 am, I hid in the closet sobbing, “I’m not going. Please, please, please don’t make me go.” I begged for an hour until the bus came and my mother lovingly pushed me out the door. I went. I mean, I WAS forced.  I went full of terror, but I went. And, as the day went on under the suburban sun, the fearful pangs subsided. The distraction was helping. The sun was helping. Exercise was helping. I was easily able to take part in field day activities, and I even won a flimsy second place ribbon for a short-distance race. By the end of the day, I felt great, and I was deeply proud of myself.  I sprinted through my door that afternoon, impatiently shouting at my mother, “mom, mom. I had the best day ever. Thank you for making me go! Look, I won 2nd place in the sprint!” She was so proud of me. In that one day, I had instanteously grown muscle where there wasn’t any, I had a new life experience that would forever change the way I lived—a reference point for what it felt like to feel the fear and do it anyway which remains a saying I try to live by. Curiously—or not so curiously— I didn’t have another panic attack for seven years.

At nineteen years old, everything I had learned about coping with anxiety was put to the test. My panic attacks came back, and this time they were not so easily defeated.

To be continued….

Love,

Jackie