Can Words Help Us Mid-Panic Attack?

Last week I experienced my first panic attack. Ever.

At least, that’s what the internet says it was.

All I know is: my body took over my brain. My heartbeat was too fast, too loud, too strong. My limbs were trembling. My mind and my heart were both racing; nausea took over my digestive system. I was one step away from asking my husband to take me to the Emergency Room – but I had no idea what they could have done for me. I would have voted for temporary oblivion.

Instead, I talked myself off the cliff- well, I talked myself away from the edge of the cliff – using the advice from my own book.

Talk about a test of the material.

The Core Phrases are not designed to fix any serious mental illness or condition – but it was worth a try. It turned out to be enough to allow me to get some hours of sleep, and to function at work the next day.

What happened?

Background: I’ve had three surgeries on my left hip, and the last two contained some “surprises” – in one case, a damaged nerve that resulted in paralysis of the left knee for months; in another, a defect in the replacement causing it suddenly to slip out of place, leaving me to squeak like a rusty hinge with each step until emergency surgery could be scheduled.

That was two years ago, and though I don’t have full function in the leg, I can walk. I’ll take it, gratefully.

But suddenly, last week, out of nowhere: shooting pain in that hip. Like – owwww!

I can deal with pain fairly well – I gave birth to two children – but what caused the panic?

Fear. And the unknown. My body remembers sudden trauma all too well, and my inner (primal) brain just took over my logical brain.

I did not decide to have a panic attack. My fear just stepped in and took over.  It worked overtime.

To make it even more stressful, I had to be up all week at 3 AM to do a work shift (radio), and there was no understudy.

Worry layered over worry – and pain, and nausea.

So I did the only thing I could do -I took my own advice. I lay there, trembling, and focused on my breath. I tried to take air all the way in. With each inhale, I started repeating the two phrases that seemed helpful through the fear:

All Will Be Well. (Core Phrase #4, Trust)

and

Whatever Happens, I’ll Handle It Somehow. (Core Phrase #7, Esteem)

Did I miraculously get all better? No. But the ship turned around enough so that I stopped spiraling, and didn’t make myself worse.

I repeated those phrases over and over until, mercifully, I fell asleep. I repeated them again at midnight when my fear woke me up again, and got three more hours of sleep. I was able to get up, walk (with a walker) to work, and get the job done. And research my symptoms to understand what my body had decided to do.

I’ll confirm at my orthopedic surgeon appointment tomorrow, but I think the hip pain is muscular (a muscle that rests on the sciatic nerve), and the rest of the episode was, indeed, my body in panic mode.

With any luck, this is treatable. With more luck, non-surgically.

But in the meantime, I know how to talk myself away from the cliff’s edge. Words work.

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It Is What It Is: How Accepting Reality Leads to Happier

Core Phrase #2: It Is What It Is.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because (a) I did not make up the phrase – it’s widely used, and (b) the Reality concept here is also about something we also hear a lot about: Acceptance. 

Whenever I find myself spinning my wheels about “why me?” and “this shouldn’t be this way”…I realize I’m doing just that…spinning my wheels, and with absolutely no traction. In mud. Or snow.

So I’ve learned to come back to It Is What It Is…and that seems to lead to a more useful thought/question: Now What?

Yep. Acceptance is hard – and the difficulty increases along with the gravity of the situation. But if we don’t (eventually) get there, we can stay lost in the negative emotions that keep us stuck, and we never ever move forward from Pity Party Land. Or the Judgment Zone. 

Here’s an audio preview of this chapter, for more details:

 

 

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Happier Made Simple: The Book, The Podcast, and You

What is Happier Made Simple really all about?

It’s about little changes that can make a big difference.

Like: the words we use when we talk to ourselves, and to others.

Like: trying some actions even before they feel like second nature- and noticing what happens.

Like: taking small, consistent steps until you reach your goals.

I’m thrilled to let you know that I’ve finished writing the book Happier Made Simple: Choose Your Words. Change Your Life (Shortcuts to more Serenity in a Complicated World)

How? One 30-minute writing session at a time.

The road to publication is in progress, too, and here’s where you come in.

You can get a sneak peek by:

1- joining the new facebook page

2- listening and subscribing to the new podcast – episode 3 below

3 – signing up for my mailing list to stay informed.

 

 

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Aging Proudly: 5 Ways to Fight Back Against “Age-Defying”

68. And a half. That’s my age number, and I’m proud of it.

Or at least I’m working on it. Constantly.

My little grandkids will announce my age number loud and proud to anyone in line at Stop and Shop –  so why does part of me cringe when they do?

We’re Here to Love and Pass On Wisdom

In my best self, I, too, announce the number loud and proud. But…that little inner voice…the one fueled by years of “don’t admit you’re a grandma”, and “but you don’t look your age” , Zoom image enhancers, Insta photos of Christie Brinkley in a swimsuit (rockin’ it, as she always has, now at age 67), and countless ads for products that invite us to DEFY age, to DENY age, and to FIGHT age…that inner voice sometimes struggles.

And then, there’s plastic surgery for vanity’s sake. Don’t even get me started — and yes, of course it’s sometimes tempting – not the slicing of my face, just the supposed results.

I once voiced a documentary that mentioned a myth where a young man was advised to “seek out someone with grey hair, for they will be wise.” When did that wisdom become something to be feared, hidden – something shameful?

I’m frickin; wise, dammit!

My biggest teachers here are my granddaughters, ages 5 and 3 1/2 – and (of course) their mom, my daughter. If I were to act all coy about my age, blush with embarrassment when someone says the number (gasp!) out loud, or stare into the mirror obsessing about my wrinkles – what does that say to them about getting older?

Happy Proud Birthday, whatever the number!

Getting older. Is it something to desire (seems to be, until about age 21…), or to bemoan? In this world, where Gen Z is poking fun at Millennials on TikTok (yes  -insert eyeroll here – I know what TikTok is. Also Clubhouse.), when do we express respect – and admiration – for the wisdom that comes with age?

Women (especially) are trained to pick apart their appearance, to focus on specific parts that they’d like to “fix.”. Other people – especially those who love us – see the whole, not the parts. My grandkids look at me and only see pure, mutual love.

 

Five ways to rethink Age-Defying:

1 – Notice what you are telling yourself about your age.  Catch yourself judging yourself – or others – when a number is mentioned. Is it the number, or what you are telling yourself it represents?

2 – Question where any negative “stories” come from. Is it that magazine ad you just saw for Botox? Is it the sitcom where the older person (parent, grandparent, senior manager) is portrayed as an idiot? Is it something that was modeled for you by your own family or friends? (“oh, my god, I look so old in that picture! Rip it up!!”)

3 – Replace the words with another message. Not so easy. Models are hard to find. Compile a list of go-to phrases that work for you. I often remind myself that women (especially) are trained to pick apart their appearance, to focus on specific parts that they’d like to “fix.”. Other people – especially those who love us – see the whole, not the parts. My grandkids look at me and only see pure, mutual love.

4 – Seek out role models for age-proudness – and be one. Look for celebrities who haven’t had plastic surgery.  Which ones own their age without apology? Who has a sense of humor about it? Think Bette Midler, Sigourney Weaver, Sally Field, Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Justine Bateman. Jeez, we all get older! We are LUCKY to get older. Hollywood, and advertising creators, just don’t often agree.

5 – Limit Social Media Overuse. Come on, seriously? Filters, photo editing, selfies that were the best out of 15. Instead: Learn something new. Take a class. Read a book. Draw a picture. Toss a ball. Take a walk somewhere where the trees are way oldewr than you are.  Expand horizons, that kinda thing. It’s what we’re here to do.

so….what next?

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Processing Time: Why Happier Does Not Mean Constantly Happy

I had a day on Sunday. You know, where I just couldn’t shake my sadness the way I usually can.

Ever have one of those? (If you say no, then you may want to check your pulse.)

As a “happier” writer, and the person people seem to seek out when they want a more optimistic perspective, it isn’t easy to fall into the occasional hole of a less-than-stellar mood.

But, boy, is is necessary. We just might want to be careful what we do while we’re down there, wallowing or figuring it out or whatever.

Moody thoughts are normal. All feelings are not only acceptable, but often necessary. Nothing wrong with that. But, as I teach my kids and grandkids, it’s what you do or say to others during those moods that can have a lasting, negative effect.

So – much as I wanted to “reason” myself out of the funk, I knew what I really had to do:

I just let myself be sad.

As a singing teacher once said to me, “Honey, your mind just has some work to do. Let it do its job, and let go.”  (I may be paraphrasing here, but you get the gist)

Sometimes, we just need processing time. Marinating, for you Food Network fans.

Think. Feel. Dwell. But don’t – please, don’t – say mean words, make rash decisions, do hurtful things to another human being until you feel in balance again.

Also, don’t judge yourself for your fall from “happier.” Human, human, human.

 

To be fair, the day had started out great.

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Hello Again, Stranger!: Tiptoeing Back Into Small Encounters

How I’ve missed you, person I meet by accident. We’ve been in our caves, zooming away, and hiding behind our masks for too long.

Cheers!

Yesterday my daughter Ali and I went took her three little munchkins out for ice cream at a local shop located on a family farm. Afterwards we went out to see the donkeys (gotta get fertilizer for the corn crop from somewhere!), and in the blink of an eye our 5yo made instant friends with another little girl named Emily, and (blink again) suddenly our kid troupe of three was a horde of five kids – Emily had a little brother – running around as if they’d known each other forever.

Being able to go out somewhere and accidentally meet and talk with someone random is something I hadn’t even been aware I missed so much.

Ah, people.

And, as moms of any age do, Ali and I started to chat with Emily’s mother. They don’t live in our town, so it’s unlikely we’d run into them again. Still, what a nice ten-minute conversation – we covered sleep training, school in a pandemic, sibling rivalry, and ice cream flavors.  And then we each went home to our separate lives.

But – oh, how lovely. For the past year, most “meetings” with people outside our pods have been carefully orchestrated, sanitized, and/or with a computer screen between us. Being able to go out somewhere and accidentally meet and talk with someone random is something I hadn’t even been aware I missed so much.

Ah, people.

  • Ah, little child sitting next to me on an airplane who gives me a sticker from her collection to put on my iPad case.
  • Oh, couple we chat with at the bar, talking about our families, our work, even (sometimes) politics.
  • Oh, woman behind me in the produce section who shares exactly how she can tell a melon is ripe. (thank you!)
  • And -for me – oh my audience members how I miss you. The exchange of energy, the shared laughter during the show or presentation, , the small chats afterwards.

How I’ve missed you. How I treasure you. These small encounters are little gifts from the universe that we didn’t know we needed, experiences to remind us that we don’t have all the answers, and that some of our plans need to be flexible.

Because: life.

Let’s inch out of this pandemic together, probably on tiptoe, but let’s never forget how much we can meant to each other – even in ways we took for granted, or didn’t remember to treasure, before we were isolated from them.

Stranger: welcome back. I appreciate you as never before.

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April’s Word: Complete. How Did it Go?

Well…is anything ever really complete? (*sighs* started with a disclaimer…no-judgment zone)

As you may be aware, this year I opted out of New Year’s Resolutions (okay, opted out again) and chose instead a try-and-see approach simply by choosing a word for each month, no pressure, and seeing what might happen.

April’s Word

April’s word: complete. Well, it was going to be finish, but that sounded too much like a command and I hate being told what to do (even by me). Complete, on the other hand, is a gentler verb (as in “you complete me.” Corniness aside, it’s still kinda sweet). Complete can also be an adjective, with all sorts of warm fuzzies attached. (as in, my life is complete, a self-talk phrase I used a lot during my 16 single-parenting years.. Better than, um,  my life is finished. You get the point. Word choice matters.)

Bottom line results for April: I did complete a few things (yay), but more often I just made some progress. And, as one of the Covid-era  online webinars I took reminded me: Progress is a form of success. (Shout-out to Brandon Eastman’s Be Better Industries).

Everything I did complete felt SO. DAMN. GOOD. Completion leaves open space.

Done: (work projects with deadlines don’t really count, as we’re usually motivated for those)

  • Completed (or skimmed and donated, truth be told) some books still left piled in

    Love my Sis – Color Adds to Doodles

    my reading spot from January’s word: Open.

  • Completed three of the masterclasses I’d started (Steve Martin on Comedy, Ron Finley on Gardening; Nancy Cartwright on Voice Acting)
  • Fixed the stuff in the mending pile
  • 2nd vaccine shot received!

Progress: (projects that had been getting pushed aside more each day):

  • Voice education started in January (warm-ups and reading)
  • 2 doodling classes (March’s word: Visual Art)
  • The happiness class I’d started (online) – hey, made it to end of week 2 (am I the only one here who starts a class and lets it slide?…show of hands, please)

So – if I were to grade the power of this word for me I’d give it a B+ – allowing for just being human.  Might try that word again. Everything I did complete felt SO. DAMN. GOOD. Completion leaves open space.

Note: I noticed that I never completed blogging about my words for February or March. So there’s that.

Briefly:

February’s word was: Write.

Results:

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Legacy: The too-short life of Amy Oestreicher

Ten years ago, I auditioned to play a role I’d performed twice before: Nancy in Oliver. I didn’t get cast (it had been a long shot, age-wise, but hey). The role went to my friend Amy – who was, to be fair, much more suited to it. Not only was Amy 30 years younger than I am, but she actually looked the part of the underfed, abused waif that Dickens’ Nancy probably was. 

Why did Amy look so thin?  

She hadn’t eaten anything for over three years. She was kept alive thanks to a daily IV solution, administered because she no longer had a stomach. Said stomach had literally exploded a few years prior, due to a major blood clot, right before Amy was supposed to graduate high school and go on to the prestigious college musical theatre program she’d been accepted to.

Instead of prom, Amy had spent months in a coma, at death’s door. She survived, after over 10 surgeries in the first week alone(!).  And she went on to a long “detour” of a life changed by medical crisis.   

Last week, though, death’s “door” finally opened to Amy. She passed awy, a few days shy of her 34th birthday and just days after her second book was published, with her loving family by her side. I think her body, after countless surgeries and challenges, had finally given up.  

In the 16 years between Amy’s near-death and her actual passing last week,  she left a legacy that will give gifts to the world forever. We all leave a legacy of some sort, really– the love we give, the work we do – it all adds to the world, and stays behind when our bodies go.  

Amy’s One-Woman show – highlights are on youtube

Amy Oestreicher, though, went far beyond the usual legacy – she left us with concrete examples of  courage, resilience, humor, art and inspiration that will touch people forever. What she did – what she chose to do – with those 16 years is a gift and inspiration to us all. And it’s a gift that keeps on giving.  

Bank to Oliver. I saw that show, and Amy absolutely rocked that part. Even though, during intermissions, she had to hook up to the IV to get nutrients.  After many surgeries, she also was – finally – able to drink something. Well, sort of drink.  

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Unmoored: What To Do if Life Goes Adrift

I’m not a huge interpreter of dreams, but last night’s was a doozy. My home was about to fall into a sinkhole. ( What ?!?!  )

So I had to climb onto the roof, leaving behind all I had worked so hard to create.  Carefully chosen wallpaper, brownies baking in the oven – all abandoned; I climbed up, nearer to the sky (with a friend, identity unknown) as the house drifted into the water (I guess I had scored a waterfront property in this dream, wahoo) – destination entirely unknown. No map. Just safety from disaster, and no choice but to trust that we would land somewhere. Somehow.  And eventually we did land – on an island where my family was among others waiting to share this new experience.

I know where this dream came from. Life is like that now for me – unmoored. Maybe for you too. My business has changed. More people getting into voice-overs and narration – suddenly everyone and their grandmas have created in-home audio and video studios, (and so my cool set-up isn’t the novelty it used to be).and they are lowering price points.

Live speaker gigs with actual people have disappeared for now – or morphed into virtual presentations. Even audiobook narration (my constant staple in 2020) slowed down for awhile – so I ‘ve had more unscheduled time than I had before Covid, and have been feeling (like in the dream) adrift and unmoored. Not sure what to leave behind, not sure what the Universe is trying to tell me.

One year (and counting) into this pandemic, and I can barely remember what it felt like to have a jam-packed day and then gratefully collapse back home, grateful to slow down at last. Can you?

So – we adjust. I’ve jumped (or been forced to jump) many times before, and have always landed on my feet. I bet you have as well.

But in-between the old and the new, there is that time we spend adrift. Boats unmoored, not quite knowing how to navigate.

Still – there is a lesson in everything. I firmly believe that. I have to. I’ve been unmoored before – and, looking back, it always led me to greater things.

So – we adjust. I’ve jumped (or been forced to jump) many times before, and have always landed on my feet. I bet you have as well.

My husband deserted our family when my kids were 3 and 6, leaving me to fully support and raise my son and daughter. This led to a new career as a radio broadcaster, and also a drama teacher. It also inspired me to greater heights as an actor and voice talent.

After 17 years, the radio station decided suddenly to “make a change”. I felt lost (unmoored). This feeling led to time to write my book (Ben Behind His Voices) – and to my speaking career, national and international.

Two years ago, I discovered that my biological father was actually a sperm donor – and my whole concept of “family” had to change. This led to discoveries: a new genetic half-sister; a reinforced concept of the value of “shared experience” and that family is what you embrace.

Every job loss, every relationship gone pffft!, every empty space left when you lose something is also an opportunity. Sometimes you know where to steer the boat – sometimes you don’t. In that case, some faith is required.

  • Stop flailing and complaining
  • Let Go of the past
  • Listen to what the world seemed to be telling me
  • Trust that you don’t know – or control – everything. But you do have choices.
  • Take a New Step off the boat onto that new land.

How about you? When have you been set adrift in the past, and what happened (oh, hindsight, you fantastic teacher). What did you learn? What new things did the open sea lead you do?

Unmoored. For now. Where will you travel to?

 

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Art: Creating for the Non-Artist

Word of the month for March:

Art.

Why?

Because I’m not an artist – at least, not a visual one.

Why do it, then?

Three reasons:

  • It can be fun.
  • It reaches another part of the brain
  • Hey, ya never know. Maybe you are a visual artist of sorts.

We all have our “gifts” – you know, the interests and abilities that  come to us easily, almost as if the universe is calling us to them.

painted field

Eviana Asked me to Draw This

For some of us, we see our purpose in the gifts that seem to have been there from birth. These mysterious talents (“I don’t know, I just started playing piano at age three and my parents couldn’t keep me away from it”) define us almost from the get-go. And well they should, in many cases.

But – what if we’ve let this definition of “who we are” cage us in too much? What can we gain if we just try some other things, letting go of having to be “good at it”? What if we open the door to another room and just live there for awhile and see what happens?

My word for March is “Art” because I want to see and feel what happens in the room.

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