Funny You Should Ask: “How do you stay so positive?”

I think I recognize the eyes and the hair. Is that my friend Beth behind the N95 mask? (One of the all-too-familiar new brain tasks in our Covid-19 world.)

Yes, it is Beth, and we carefully hug each other hello (faces pointed away to avoid germs, sheesh) in the supermarket aisle. It has been way too long. 

I really miss seeing people’s faces and hugging without fear. Sigh.

Anyway. After the health and family check-ins, Beth says:

“I’ve been meaning to call you for ages. I really want to talk some time about how you stay so positive through all this, and everything else that has happened in your life.”

(Seriously. I have not made this up.)

“Funny you should ask,” I say. “I’ve just written a book about that very thing.”

guess I should have worn this button sent by Book coach Cathy Fyock!

Beth’s question represents the reason I wrote Happier Made Simple. 

It has been a decade since I wrote the memoir about our family experience with serious mental illness, and the grief and hope that seesaws with that challenge. I’ve spoken to a lot of groups about our journey, and that very same question almost always comes up in the Q&A after a talk.

I answered the question “How do you stay so positive?” so often that dozens of people followed it with, “you should write a book about that.”

I procrastinated for ten years, but now the book is written, and on its way to readers soon.

Thanks for asking!  Your questions have been the inspiration to do my best to answer them. We non-fiction authors hold the same hope: that our words can be of help.

 

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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. 

There is an audio preview of this chapter on soundcloud. enjoy!

 

 

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Happier Made Simple: The Book, Some Listening, 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 audio messages – link below to one

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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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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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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What’s in a Word? Turns Out, a Whole Lot.

Screw New Year’s Resolutions. Especially this year, unless the resolution is to just, well, stay alive. (Stupid Covid.) I can’t remember the last time I made a resolution, anyway, since my higher self knows they only make it until mid-January at best. Then it’s another whole 11½ months of Oreos buttered popcorn, and guilt until we “resolve” again.

I tried New Year’s “Goals” too – you know, changing the word to be more, um, productive. Even broke the goals down into monthly ones. Helped a bit. But nah. Ultimately, I ended up accomplishing only part of the list (the things I wanted to do the most), but also – and this is important for all of us to realize – many things that hadn’t been on the list of goals to begin with. Hmm.

Sometimes, life shows us the way, instead of the other way around.

But I still do believe that our thoughts, and the words we choose to express them, are the seeds of everything that follows.

Sometimes, life shows us the way, instead of the other way around.

So, this year, I choose words. One word. Not for the year (evidently I’m not so great with commitment), but one for each month. Easier, right?

One little change…

Choose a word, repeat it to yourself frequently, and observe what happens: what you do, and also what happens to you (or what you “attract”, for you New-Age thinkers)

The possibilities, as they say, are endless. You can choose an action, an attitude a focus, a theme. Experiment and see what works. Much easier than a resolution. You can’t really fail at an experiment – just get some results that inform you. Emotionally safe!

Words are shortcuts, too.

My word this month was: OPEN. Just that. Nothing attached, except what came to mind in the moment.

And here’s what happened:

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