Friday, July 31, 2015

7 Quick Takes, Vol. 24: Favorite Music Edition

Since I've had some pretty heavy blog posts lately I've decided to end this month with a fun post. It's been almost 8 months since I last did a 7 Quick Takes post so why not now?

I often joke that music was my first love because I can't remember a time when I wasn't surrounded by it. When I was a tiny gal, I used to strum on my mom's guitar and then run away, laughing, out of sheer joy of making a sound. I was in the school chorus in elementary school and did a choir after school elective in junior high. I learned how to play part of "Fur Elise" the summer between elementary school and junior high (have since played it in full a number of times) and I eventually picked up the acoustic guitar in my late teens. I was even majoring in Jazz Studies prior to settling on Religious Studies. Oh yeah, and St. Cecilia is my adopted confirmation saint. I can tell you which songs and albums are associated with what times in my life. Most people in my life have a song associated with them. Need I go on? ;)

If you check my account, you'll see that I'm pretty much always listening to music. To narrow the list to my top 7 was hard but I think I've got my top 7... maybe. At least these are my top 7 in the jazz and classical genres since those are the ones I most gravitate towards.

-- 1 --
"Georgia on My Mind" by Ray Charles. 

No song will make me sigh and swoon as much as this song. It and "Dream a Little Dream" are quite possibly my favorite songs of all time.

-- 2 --
"Dream a Little Dream" by Pink Martini & The Von Trapps. 
love "Dream a Little Dream" in all its various incarnations. I'm usually partial to the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong version but this version by Pink Martini and the Von Trapps is my current favorite.

-- 3 --
"Being There" by the Tord Gustavsen Trio. 

I've been a fan of this trio -- which is now an ensemble -- since my reversion. I actually associate the reversion with the trio's The Ground album and this song is my favorite of the album. Warning: it's jazz and has no lyrics.

-- 4 -- 

"Feeling Good" by Michael Bublé.
I have a lot of wonderful memories attached to this song... and the video is still awesome, a decade later. Fun fact: my Jazz in American Culture professor while I was at Santa Monica College, Prof. Keith Fiddmont, was one of the professional musicians who played on the It's Time album. Great memories all around.

-- 5 --
"Thais: Meditation" by Jules Massenet
Sometimes I just want to turn off the lights in my room at night, open the blinds, and look at the stars while this song plays. Have I ever mentioned I'm a closeted hopeless romantic? No? Has my taste in music given me away yet? ;)

-- 6 --

"Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin
It's 16+ minutes of classical/jazz hybrid goodness and the song most of my friends associate me with. I have yet to watch it performed live but it's my dream and I will undoubtedly cry. lol. If you want to skip to my favorite part, it's between 10:37 and 12:26. At around 11:40 is when I start to really swoon. lol.

-- 7 --
"Ave Maria" by Franz Schubert.

I saved the best for last. This song will never fail to make me cry. Every. Single. Time. It fills my heart with love and joy. I've also dreamt of myself singing it... a lot. In a powerful voice.

Anyway, I don't expect anyone to like all the songs but that's okay. These are my songs. Which are yours?

And now I'm off to the E.R. to get the site of the former abscess looked at. Fun! lol.

I hope y'all had a great week and have a good start of the weekend. :D

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vanity! Wait, Vanity?

As many of you who were following my #ERadventures on Twitter know, I had a pretty busy afternoon yesterday. After not being able to secure a doctor appointment with my doctor this week and being told that urgent care was full, they (my insurance company; I called their customer care line after exhausting my options and talking to a nurse) sent me to the local E.R.

I'll spare guys the details beyond saying that it was a non-tooth related abscess. Whether it was a spider bite or a pimple gone wrong, something set it off and it looked like I was smuggling a small walnut under my jaw, near my chin. I had it for 4 days (Sunday through yesterday). It wasn't pretty -- and it kept getting bigger -- but I ignored it... well, I ignored the fact that I had a giant lump under my jaw.

Yesterday, while the doctor was explaining the procedure to me, she said she would make it the smallest cut possible so it wouldn't scar; that it was good that it wasn't on my cheek or anywhere too visible. Her assistant made a comment that it would've been a shame if it had been on my face; "a pretty girl like you..." I half jokingly, half honestly replied, "well, I don't care. It would be good for my vanity; it would keep me from being vain." When I got home, I took a selfie to show everyone (on IG) where the procedure was done. I jokingly said, "sorry about the mug; no make-up up in here." It was in that moment that I realized that I really don't know where to draw the line on what qualifies as vanity. (side note: Nope, not touching on the fact that selfies are considered vain.)

I was a tomboy growing up. I "rebelled" against the frilly dresses that they used to make me wear by wanting to wear only jeans and shorts as soon as I was allowed to pick out my own clothes. I liked playing sports. I used to race against my male classmates to see who was fastest. In my only year of public HS, I was one of three girls who actually got into playing (mandatory) co-ed flag football. Don't worry, guys were respectful and they kept their paws off of us. It wasn't until I got older (really, early-mid 20s) that I got "girlier."

One of the things I've struggled with -- especially lately -- is knowing what would be considered vain and what isn't because I get so many conflicting messages. I consider myself pretty low-maintenance. Most days my hair is in a ponytail, braid, or up in a messy bun. I wear minimal make-up (blush and under-eye concealer on sleepless days, occasionally mascara to make my eyes look a little bit brighter, more alert) on the days that I do wear it... which isn't often because I'm admittedly lazy about going through the whole routine of taking it all off with lotions and washes and toners, etc. I'm currently going through a wardrobe overhaul because clothes aren't fitting and/or are getting seriously worn. I want to look nice and I have fun occasionally putting the effort into experimenting with different hairstyles and colors... but does that mean I've fallen for the trap for vanity?

Some people would say "yes." Some people look down on make-up and are vocal about it. 'Oh, I don't wear it. I don't need to look fake." Other people would say "no." "What's wrong with wanting to look nice? It makes me happy!" I fall somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards the latter. When I looked paler (due to my anemia), I wore a little bit of blush on my cheeks and concealer under my eyes so that people wouldn't worry about me looking so pale. Now that my color is back to normal, I don't worry about it as much.

As I said, that doesn't mean I don't want to occasionally wear a little bit of make-up or dress up. Sometimes I'll be in the mood to experiment with make-up colors or pretty hairstyles, knowing that no one will see me and that I'll undo it minutes later... and that's fine with me. It's just something fun to do. If I have a lunch date with a friend (especially if it's someone I like), I will make the extra effort to look nicer than usual. I'm sure when there's a fella in my life, I will also put the effort into looking nice for our dates... though he'll have to get used to it not being an everyday thing. Again, I'm a bit lazy when it comes to the routine of getting the make-up off of my face. lol. Does that make me vain? I would think not but, again, mixed messages from various sources has blurred the line for me over the years.

These are just some of the thoughts that have been bouncing around in my mind since yesterday. I'm sure I'll eventually figure things out... I hope. lol.

Oh! If you're wondering how I'm doing post-procedure: I haven't needed to take any pain meds. Last night, when I changed the gauze, there wasn't much blood on it which is a good sign... especially with how low my platelets have been for a while. It no longer hurts when I try to eat but I'm still not eating as well as I normally do. I'm a bit exhausted but that's to be expected with a nearly sleepless night and a failed nap. Temperature did go up to 99.4 last night but it went down to 98.4. It's currently at (almost) 98.9 so I should be okay. Tomorrow I return to the E.R. to get it looked at again since there are still no doc appointments available with my primary doctor. Thank you all for your prayers; they definitely helped me stay calm and be brave during the procedure. :)

Anyway, that's it for now. I hope y'all are having a good week thus far!

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D

Monday, July 27, 2015

Self-Care is Not Laziness

Lately I've noticed that there have been a number of articles about the importance of self-care (Modern Mrs. Darcy's post was the one that really inspired me with its simplicity yet effectiveness)... which is coinciding with my resolution to do just that: to take care of myself. As the articles have stated, we've created an (almost) idol out of being busy. If we're not busy doing something, the word "lazy" gets added to the mix. For the longest time this used to bother me -- being called "lazy" -- because I felt it unfair. People who called me that didn't know me -- didn't know that I needed the break from whatever (school, work, etc) for my health (mental and/or physical) -- yet, because I wasn't "busy," I was obviously wasting time and being a freeloader. It wasn't until this month that I made the decision to let those judgmental thoughts slide and finally give myself some much-needed time off from everything. Really, it's going to be a two-month summer vacation (my first in years).

As many of you (who've known me for years) know, I helped take care of my dad during the 7 years he battled with cancer. From ages 17 to 24 all I did was go to school, work (I was a retail slave, no less), and/or take care of my dad. After my dad died, I still went to school. I literally took two months off before I returned to school. It took me 3 months to find freelance work after graduating from college and that's been what I've been doing since. Then I started that ill fated stint at Utah State for an intense Speech-Language Pathology program for nearly an entire academic year before I had to pull out due to declined health. Even in the middle of that, I managed to publish two novels, the second having come out only a month after I left Utah State. I pushed myself to what I thought was my limit and I messed up my health in the process.

My weight plummeted down to 113-114 lbs at my smallest, 4-5 lbs underweight. My iron levels were dismal (and I was still "slightly" anemic at my last blood draw in April) due to poor eating. Stress, anxiety, poor sleep, poor nutrition... this busy bee burned herself out. I was still trying to stay "productive busy" through earlier this month when I realized that I was not doing myself any favors by not taking a decent break. With grad school starting in late September, I knew I had to start taking better care of myself in preparation for it. I left my low-paying, high-stress freelance writing job earlier this month. I put my third novel on hold. These days I'm all about the self-care.

I'm still "busy"... but it's a busy that is necessary. I keep the apartment clean, vacuuming and dusting twice a week. I wash the dishes by hand. I check how my car is doing on oil and water as well as using a rag to clean off the dust the maintenance guys throw onto my car with their leaf blowers. I pray at least twice daily. I read books. I stay in the loop of the Catholic world by checking out the daily emails I get sent from places like the Catholic News Agency, ZENIT, and the National Catholic Register. I touch bases with friends via email and/or text message. I cook. I listen to music. I run errands. It's still a busy life... but nothing that is too stressful.

Most days my to-do list consists of:
- Morning prayers
- Rosary
- Examination of Conscience
- Nighttime prayers

That's it.

Of course, I sleep, eat, and take care of my personal hygiene. As I wrote in my Digital Burnout post, taking breaks from online activity has helped me. I installed the StayFocused app for my Chrome browser to keep myself off of sites like Twitter... though, in all honesty, it's currently disabled because I accidentally left the Twitter tab open when I went to eat, after replying to someone today, and the 10 minutes expired... and I needed it to post the link to this blog post on it. Yes, I will enable it again when I'm done posting the link to this post. I'm averaging less than 5 minutes on Twitter on the days I do log in for whatever reason (usually to reply to someone; I get the notifications sent to my inbox which is how I know someone sent me a message) and it's wonderful. Same with FB. All of this is done for my mental health and self-care.

I'm slowly working through my Warm Weather Bucket List, having modified it a bit to better suit my new self-care regime. I'm working on fixing my sleeping cycles, adopting an EST time frame since I'm up in the 4 a.m. hour (PST) to drive mom to work, which would be 7 am EST. That means not watching late night shows or movies to get proper sleep in. I'm exercising more (or trying to) and I'm eating healthier. I'm trying to learn how to make my own bread and rely less on store bought things that may not be as gentle on my stomach (I have horrible GERD/acid reflux). My weight is finally at a good, healthy place and has been consistent since about late April-early May. I'm trying to build up a "bag of self-care tricks" for when I do eventually become busy again (with school and work) to help me get through the worst, most stressful days. I'm looking at finding things I can do in 5-10 minute breaks when I'm super busy. I've even started a Pinterest board for ideas.

I'm afraid some of you with children and/or very busy lives may roll your eyes or be unhappy with this blog post. "I don't have that luxury," you may say. I'm sorry if that's the case. I'm not flaunting my self-given time off. The grass is not greener, folks. Sure, I have no husband or family to take care of but I do have a mother to help and a loneliness to battle against. All I'm saying is that it's okay to give yourself a break if you're able to do so. Hey, adult coloring books are selling like hot cakes on Amazon for a reason! Embrace the idea of a small break and take care of yourself. Self-care is not laziness. Idleness is terrible but so is failing to take care of the body God gave you. Think about it.

Anyway, just my two cents in something that seems to be a popular topic, and with good reason. I've seen enough of you lovely folks getting burnt out quickly as the summer progresses. Don't push yourselves too hard. Learn from my mistakes. Do me a favor and take 5 minutes out of your day to do something for yourself. Even if those 5 minutes is simply sitting on your couch or bed, closing your eyes, and listening to your favorite song while having a drink of your choice.

That's it for me for now. I really want to get started on one of the new puzzles I got at Target (four 1,000+ piece puzzles for under $7, score!). Self-care while keeping my mind busy before I switch to prayer and a book before an early bedtime. ;)

I hope y'all have a great start of week!

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Keeping God in Mind During Attacks

Last night I felt a pretty intense attack... but unlike any panic attacks I've had. I wasn't shaking. I didn't feel like I couldn't breathe nor was there a heaviness on my chest. I wasn't lightheaded. I just felt a sudden wave of hopelessness and desperation. I glanced at the iPod next to me (yes, I need to break the habit of having it nearby when I sleep) and it read 1:37 a.m.

"Nooo," I said to myself. "Not when I have to get up before dawn for Mass." I tried to fight it. I could hear Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" starting to play (okay, that's not true but the song pretty much expresses how it felt) as it grew stronger and stronger. Next thing I knew I got out of bed, left my room, and started pacing the perimeter of the living room. At some point I started crying because of the frustration. I hadn't had one of these nights in a really long time; so long that I honestly can't remember when the last one happened. Two years ago? Three?

I know what triggered it. I know what thoughts invade my peace of mind, causing this attack to come to fruition. Though I rationalized them away, they still held strong. "You're weak." "You're doing this to yourself." "There is no hope." Every time a thought like this popped up, I countered it with "But God has my back." "I trust in Him." The more I fought the negative with thoughts of God, the worse the negative thoughts hounded me. Still, I fought.

I tried saying the Memorare prayer over and over, only to not be able to concentrate on the prayer. I thought about praying the Rosary but knew I wouldn't be able to concentrate. Then I did something I never thought I would ever do but it was done without second thought: I literally dropped to my knees and began praying.

The worn out carpet hit my bare kneecaps hard but I didn't care. I cried harder and I began praying. "I trust in God. I don't know why I can't fight these thoughts right now but I trust in You. I trust in God. Our Father... Hail Mary... Glory Be..." Slowly, the negative thoughts began to disappear. "You won't make it to Mass; you have to get up in 2-3 hours. You won't make it" the thought said. "Yes, I can. I'm used to 2 hours of sleep when I drive mom to work and it sometimes takes me 2 more hours to fall back asleep for a nap. I can always go to Mass and come home to nap," I countered. "I WILL go to Mass tomorrow." My rational/logic explanations and my positive thoughts began diminishing the strength of the negative ones. A few minutes later, it had all passed. It still took me a few more minutes to settle down before I fell asleep again.

I can already hear some of my friends theorizing it was a spiritual attack. It certainly wasn't a typical panic attack but whether it was spiritual or not, I was glad that I was able to keep my thoughts on God. If you suffer from panic attacks, you know how hard it is to concentrate on anything that isn't what you're feeling. Even after having suffered through them for half of my life (they started when I was 15 though they've diminished in strength and frequency over the years), it's still hard for me to focus on God during those times. It's worth the try but I know not to beat myself up if I can't automatically go there.

I'm sharing this because I get a lot of blog hits from people searching the key words "Catholicism / Catholic" and "anxiety." Anxiety and panic attacks are still a major taboo with some people. There is still that stigma that there is something "wrong" or "off" with us. There isn't. We're not going crazy, though it may feel like it at times. Part of my anxiety stems from having medical PTSD (years of adverse reactions to medications and food allergies, plus seeing my dad suffer through 7 years of cancer, have left me nervous when it comes to medical emergencies). Some people have a chemical imbalance in their bodies. All are valid reasons that no one should hold against us... and, trust me, most of the time there is nothing but compassion towards us.

Whatever reason there is for these attacks, please know that it has nothing to do with what's "wrong" with us. Some things are beyond our control. Other things -- such as my medical PTSD -- can be worked through. I am making good progress on it though I know it won't be something that will go away overnight. No matter what we go through, we can always ask Him to help us carry those heavy crosses when we feel like we can't. During our times of weakness is when He's right next to us.

Anyway, that's it from me today. I still haven't gone to Mass but I need to start getting ready for one of the later Masses of the day. :) I hope y'all had a great weekend!

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D

Friday, July 24, 2015

Digital Burnout

Image courtesy of Ashley Ella Design.
I don't think many people noticed but I was completely M.I.A. on Twitter a couple of days this week. I probably would've gone more days without tweeting except I got excited about Father (now Bishop-Elect) Barron coming to Los Angeles... and then I felt the need to defend myself against subsequent comments from others which made me feel attacked for welcoming him to my hometown. It was during this time that I realized just how burnt out I was on social media and on technology in general.

Having a job (freelance writing) that makes you rely on the internet (to receive, turn in, and research assignments) all day... having your entire degree online (as I did last year when I did a year at Utah State)... having most of your friends rely on social media to interact, all forced me (and, really, gave me) the excuse to be online more than I should have. When I realized that I was a lot more burnt out that I had first guessed, I made the decision to step away a couple of days a week and it's been great.

First, I've made it a mission to take better care of myself because I'd been neglecting myself for a long time. I recently quit my low-paying and increasingly stressful job as a freelance writer for a certain company... and I'm not looking for any work at the moment. I'm not doing anything but having a vacation from the busyness of life before grad school begins. I want to use the next two months to create habits that will help me during grad school and after. That includes fixing my sleeping schedule, eating better, finding what little things I can do during the day that make me relax when things get overwhelming, etc.

Second, I've cut my time both online and on the laptop/iPod considerably... and that time offline will increase through the next couple of weeks. The majority of my Biblical Theology program will be done online so I know I'll be relying on technology a lot. I'm grateful that there will be a couple of lectures/events I will have to drive down to JP Catholic for since it will give me more excuses to not get online. In order to help curve the temptation to waste time online, I charge my laptop during off-peak hours (I purposely found out what they were in my area) and if the laptop runs out of battery, it stays that way until the following day. Same with my iPod touch. It gets charged once a day. If it doesn't last through the night, it waits until the following day. If I don't use it much, I will physically be in a different room than the laptop, iPod, and cell phone.

I'll be honest and admit that I do still log into Facebook daily because most of my best friends are on there and it's the easiest way for us to communicate on our busiest days. Some days I play "FB chat tag" with a friend or two throughout the day because of how busy we can get. However, I don't spend hours on FB. I'll spend a couple of minutes (or, most of the time, less than a minute) a couple of times (3-4) during the day; it depends on how many comments / conversations I'm having. That equals less than 5 total minutes on most days or up to less than 15-20 minutes on my most active days. The decision I made to have under 30 people on my list has made the difference because no one on my list abuses FB... and no one on my list loves to instigate drama.

As for Twitter... there is a reason why I completely avoid it on some days. I like Twitter but just not as much as I used to. I noticed that a lot of my defensive/grumpy moments have happened because of something that originated on Twitter. Lately it just seemed worse than usual. Some people love to cause trouble. Other people feel like they are free to speak to you as if they know you well even if they don't (read: untactful buttinski types). A good portion of the time, miscommunication will cause unnecessary drama. I don't like drama. I dislike when people instigate arguments for kicks. Yes, I chose to be on Twitter and to reply to the comment... but I've always chosen to step away from it or even not reply to everyone on some days for the sake of my sanity.

At the time of my reversion, I took a break from the online world. It was one of the most spiritually fruitful times in my life. My focus was on my relationship with God, choosing to not listen to former friends who'd emotionally and mentally bullied me. They were not okay with my decision to walk away from their friendships -- which I saw as harmful to me. It was hard but it got me back on the right path. Having a similar experience lately, I decided to step away in baby steps and it's done wonders.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's noticed the change. I've been feeling less stressed, less defensive, and less sassy/sarcastic. I'm less likely to be uncharitable in my thoughts and words. I'm more likely to be understanding and compassionate, to let things slide, and just smile. I feel like I did when I was in my early reversion days. The spiritual dryness I'd been experiencing has lessened considerably. Not having the online drama invade my thoughts when I log offline has done wonders for my spiritual life.

I've been doing the St. Anne novena along with one to the Immaculate Heart of Mary... in that order. Yes, I chose the heavenly mother and daughter tag team. ;) I feel a wonderful sense of peace and love when praying them, especially the latter. The St. Anne novena is for my vocation (though I'm asking for clarity of vocation not that it be a specific one). The one to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is for (as I mentioned in the last post) learning to fill that loneliness/emptiness gap I've felt with His love "as I know no human being will ever be able to fulfill it." I end up including the idea of a future husband and children in that last novena. "If my vocation is of wife and mother -- as I believe it is -- please let me be full of His love first... because I don't expect my future husband to fill something he can't. It wouldn't be fair to expect that from him. Instead, please let be so full of His love that I can reflect it unto my future fella and children." I'm not sure I would've had as much clarity if I had been worried about something that happened online.

I like how my life offline is shaping up. My communication with my mom is getting better and we're learning how to work with our differing temperaments better. I've learned a lot of things about her that have increased my respect and love for her; she's learned some things she didn't even know about me. I've been sleeping better. I'm less cranky throughout the day. I'm less anxious. I've been able to concentrate much better when I pray. Instead of having to constantly fight off random thoughts -- usually of whatever disagreement or drama stemmed from Twitter -- popping up during my time in prayer, I've been able to concentrate on (and even visualize) the words I'm praying. Life is good. :)

Anyway, I just wanted to share this because I've seen a number of you feeling burnt-out on social media but are scared of taking breaks from it out of fear of boredom, missing out, etc. Trust me, I was in the same boat but, man, all this time offline has been great for me and it's made me want to spend even less time online. If you're stressed, try a day or two offline per week at the beginning and gradually increase it. You'll notice a difference after a couple of days. I seriously recommend it. :D

Alright, that's it from me for now. I have a number of things to do offline (mostly read... and drink tea... and watch the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, the 2008 version of Sense and Sensibility, and the 2009 version of Emma; did I mention I'm big on self-care these days?) and want to get to them early so I can sleep early. ;)

I hope y'all are doing well. :D

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D