Tag Archives: Anxiety

Cracking Writer’s Block with EMDR

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Thanks to Val Erde for letting me use this image. Click HERE if you’d like to use her images, too!

As a child, I was supposed to keep my room neat. My bed needed to be made the moment I awoke each morning; hospital corners were not optional. My clothes were to be folded and put away while they were still warm. Fortunately for me, I excelled at neat.

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 2.16.10 AMI remember watching the 1976 Summer Olympics with my father. Sitting next to him on the couch, I wore a yellow leotard. He pointed to Nadia Comenici as she waved to the crowd after earning her first perfect 10.0 on the uneven bars.

“You see!” my father said. “Being perfect is possible.”

In my house, failing was not an option. No one told me it was okay to mess up. No one ever said people learn by failing, by falling, and getting up again, that it takes a different kind of strength to persevere despite sucking.

I learned that sucking brought misery. When I sucked at trigonometry, it meant I had to complete endless math problems written on the back of placemats at restaurants until the meal arrived. Feeling my father’s frustration comingled with his disappointment, by the time our food came, I often felt like vomiting.

“It’s not that hard,” my father would say.

But it was that hard, and I didn’t get it. And I hated feeling dumb.

I learned if I sucked at something, I needed to avoid that thing at all costs.

So I stuck to my strengths and only tried the things at which I could excel.

You want someone to sing or memorize lines? Awesome. Need a crafty-critter? No problemo. I can make pinch pots and macramé, turn beads and fishing lures into jewelry. Watch me sketch and draw and paint fearlessly in watercolors and acrylics and oils. Need a dancer?Check out my smooth moves. Seriously, I can hustle and shimmy and shake my groove thing. I can twirl and do pirouettes. I can do back-flips off the diving board and handsprings on the lawn.

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There were 3 of these! Three!

In 2nd grade, Mrs. Church told I could write. She loved a story I’d written about a red-breasted robin, and she made me to read it to the “big kids,” in a different wing of the school. Later, Mrs. Oliver told me a poem I’d written moved her. It moved her. In middle school, Mr. Baron drew three big stars in my notebook next to the words “squishy red beanbag chair on the lime carpet.” Three stars.

I dreamed of being a writer.

In college, I received attention and praise, earned awards and validation from my professors.

I felt like a magician, able to amaze people with my words.

In December 2012, I found a writing partner. We worked together for six months, sending each other pages of our fiction manuscripts to read. We provided feedback for each other. I poured myself into her project, believing that – eventually, she would give mine the same kind of love.

Last May, I took a hiatus to prepare for my son’s bar mitzvah. My writing partner knew this when we started working together. I reassured her I would be back in the saddle after the festivities ended.

“I’ll be here, pardner,” she promised.

She promised.

When I called to let her know I was ready to start collaborating again, I caught the hesitation in her voice.

“I had so much momentum, I couldn’t stop! You know how that is, right?” she said. And then she told me she’d found a new person to work with.

My legs shook when I hung up the phone.

Besides feeling abandoned and betrayed, I felt like her actions said something bigger about my abilities as a writer.

The cosmos provided me with the words. I read between the lines.

My writing must have really sucked.

Because if it didn’t suck, she wouldn’t have been able to stop working with me. She wouldn’t have been able to put down my manuscript.

To make matters worse, my computer crashed shortly after my former partner dumped me.

I didn’t have anything backed-up, and I lost everything: twenty years of teaching curriculum, twenty years of photographs, decades of poetry and short stories.

A non-fiction manuscript. And a fiction manuscript.

Gone.

For most of my life, people have made me believe I could do magical things with words. But this past year, I’ve felt like someone took my black hat and my cape and my wand. Like someone stole my white rabbit.

Suddenly, what had always come naturally for me has became dreadfully difficult.

Recently I wrote about how I’ve been paralyzed with trying to be perfect with my writing. How some days, I worked 4 or 5 hours on a piece, writing 5,000 – 7,000 words.

And then I deleted everything.

Because every word sucked.

That’s how I ended up doing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) with Vickijo Campanaro.

I’m not going to try to explain the theory behind this kind of therapy. Let’s just say EMDR is often used with individuals who have suffered major traumas, sexual or physical assault, combat experiences, accidents, the sudden death of a loved one: any kind of post-traumatic stress, really. But EMDR therapy has also been used to help athletes, performers and executives to achieve a state of “peak performance.”

If facilitated properly, EMDR helps people replace negative or stressful thoughts with positive ones.

Or something like that.

During my first session, VJ took a detailed history where we focused on what I perceived to be the major traumatic events in my life. I thought about the things I’ve been through in my 45 years on this planet and realized I had a lot from which to choose. She demonstrated a breathing exercise, which was familiar to me from my experience with yoga.

Then she had me hold these little buzzing paddles, which felt like cell phones set to vibrate.

Apparently, some therapists have clients track flashing lights but, over the course of her career, VJ said she’d found pairing the gentle, rhythmic buzzing from the paddles with conversation just as effective.

On my third session, Vickijo instructed me to put the buzzing paddles under my thighs, and she asked me to tell her about what I perceived to be my strengths as a writer.

I couldn’t think of one.

Not. One.

Unfazed, VJ asked me to close my eyes and describe a writer I admire. I thought about one particular blogger. “She can write about anything. She has amazing range: sometimes she’s funny; other times, she’s serious. She uses fresh images. She knows how to tell a story so it is unique and yet universally true. She responds to everyone. She’s generous, and her audience loves her.”

“You can open your eyes,” VJ said, so I did. “Do you think you possess any of the same qualities as this writer?”

I wasn’t sure.

Earlier in the session, I had talked about how much I sucked.

VJ asked me to think of an affirming sentence to replace my negative thoughts.

It was hard.

The voices were loud in my head.

“Let’s start with: ‘I suck,’” Vickijo suggested. “Can you turn that on its head?”

I closed my eyes and feeling the slow, rhythmic vibration of the paddles under my thighs, I saw myself sitting at a table, eating words. I literally ate the word ‘apricot’: chewed on it and swallowed, while my hand moved, scribbling letters inside a black and white composition notebook. I saw all the words I’d ever written in my life penned on a cozy fleece blanket and draped over my shoulders. I read the words I’d written on the lined paper.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

Except when I said it, there were eleventy-seven question marks at the end of the sentence.

“You’re a writer,” VJ said it as a statement. “And what does that mean?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “For me, writing is like eating or pooping. I can’t not do it. Whether or not I ever publish a book, I’m always going to write. It’s what I do.”

Vickijo laughed. “And that’s because?”

“I’m a writer.”

When I said it the second time, I believed it a little bit more. Weird, right? I have a hard time explaining how or why it’s working, but it is. EMDR combined with 5 minutes of daily meditation has been doing wonders for me.

And my writing.

For CREDIT click HERE. It was VERY hard to determine the origin of this image, but i have done my very best.

I’m feeling less compelled to be perfect.

In fact, perfect hasn’t even been on my radar.

I know it sounds whack-a-doodle, but the science supports this stuff. It’s incredible to me to think we have the ability to reprogram the way our brains have been hardwired to think. If you have suffered a trauma — or any kind of anxiety — EMDR can really help.

A few months ago, I would have felt like a bad person because my bed isn’t made, I’ve got a sink filled with dishes, and very little food in the refrigerator.

But today? I’m soooo not.

Progress.

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Here’s a video I found on YouTube that does a good job explaining EMDR, if you are interested.

Have you ever heard of EMDR? If you’ve tried it, did it work for you? What do you think about the idea of reprogramming your brain to think happier thoughts?

tweet me @rasjacobson

Check out my friend, author Kasey Mathews’ post on her experience with EMDR. We’ve known each other for decades, she guest posted on my blog HERE, and can you believe we’re both having positive experiences with EMDR?

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Anxious About #BlissDom? You’re Not Alone!

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In a few days, I’ll be attending BlissDom, a blogging conference in Grapevine, Texas.

I’m excited to network and meet some cyber-buddies, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being nervous, too.

For weeks, I’ve read posts about what people are doing to prepare for this thing. Some bloggers wrote about how they plan to get to the conference early so they can have their nails done & have their hair cut and colored before the keynote on Thursday night.

{gulp.}

Some women posted pictures of what they plan to wear to the conference. Others mentioned they received sponsorships from clothing companies that not only paid for their tickets to the conference, but also gave them cute outfits to wear the entire weekend.

{gasp.}

I’ve read how about how important it is to pack properly for this conference. Apparently, I need earplugs and Band-Aids and duck tape and snacks and comfortable {yet stylish} shoes. And an iPad. And gifts for my roommates.

Holy moley, Spicolli.

I know y’all mean well, but y’all are making me want to hide at the pool, and I haven’t gotten on the plane yet!

For those of you who haven’t met me yet (and that would be everyone since this is my first blogging conference), I figured I’d come clean right now.

I will not be the girl with the make-up or the nails or the pretty outfits.

Coming from Rochester, New York, I live in a puffy, black sleeping bag coat between November and April. We all do. It’s a thing.

So I probably shouldn't wear this, huh?

So I probably shouldn’t wear this, huh?

Also, I operate under a probably misguided belief that I look adorable in jeans worn under a sundress.

With cowboy boots.

So I will probably be wearing something like this:

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This works, right?

Everyday.

I might also be wearing a hat.

On account of my crazy hair.

Here are some things I would appreciate if you would do when you see me at BlissDom:

  1. Check my teeth. I have this one area where food always gets caught. Friends generally tell me if there is something nasty up in there. Seriously, I will love you if you lean over and discreetly tell me my lunch is stuck in my grill.
  2. Dance with me.  I plan to tear it up on the dance floor. I don’t need any alcohol or drugs or anything to get out there. If you want my drink tickets me to love you forever, dance with me. Don’t say you need ten drinks first. Just come join. I promise I won’t make you stand on the bar. Probably.
  3. Ask me if I know where I’m going. I was not born with an innate sense of direction. When traveling alone, I am 100% dependent on Google Maps, which probably won’t help much inside the Gaylord Hotel. If you see a woman weeping in a corner, chances are I have to pee and I can’t find a bathroom. If you can just point me in the right direction, I’d be much obliged.

Help me on any of these fronts, and I’ll pretty much do anything for you.

I’ve got my business cards and my iPad.

This Yankee is packing her big girl panties and her cowboy boots.

I promise to bleach my mustache for you.

But I’m not getting a spray tan or micro-demabrasion or liposuction or Rejuviderm or Botox.

{Unless someone is offering to sponsor that. In which case I totally am.}

Get ready, BlissDom.

I’ll be the 45-year-old shaking her badonkadonk on the dance floor.

What are the most important things you have ever brought to conferences — writing or otherwise?

tweet me @rasjacobson

The Horror of Public Speaking: A #LessonLearned by Chrystal H.

There's @gumballgirl64!

Enter my iPad cover giveaway

Chrystal H. has loved math for as long as she can remember.  In 6th grade, she decided to be a math teacher. At the time, she wanted to teach 5th grade math, since that is what she knew best. When she got to high school, Algebra I and Algebra II changed her mind.

Amazingly, Chrystal’s lesson learned is not from a favorite math teacher. It is a lesson that came from an English teacher who taught her more than English. How cool is that? You can follow Chrystal at The Spirit Within or on Twitter at @gumballgirl64.

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Click on the teacher lady's hand to see other people who have written about "Lessons Learned"!

The Horror of Public Speaking

In 10th grade, the English curriculum was set up so that we took one quarter of poetry, one quarter of essay writing, one quarter of public speaking, and spent one quarter learning how to write a research paper. The poetry unit was fun, the essay writing challenging, and the research paper was a skill I knew I would need the following year for US History. But public speaking? How I dreaded that part of the year!

As a child, I was painfully shy. As an adolescent, the idea of public speaking was terrifying. (I must not have realized at the time that teaching involves public speaking every day!) Mr. Tibbetts taught that part of the 10th grade year and was one of the few male teachers at my all-girls school. I was a little afraid of him to begin with, since he had a reputation as the only teacher who could spot gum in a student’s mouth from 100 paces. Fortunately, I found out that he could also be kind and supportive when a student needed it.

We had to write and deliver informative speeches, persuasive speeches, and personal history speeches. We learned about breathing, eye contact, and speaking slowly.

It was awful.

And it was wonderful.

Although I hated having to get up in front of my classmates, worried that they would judge me harshly, I loved Mr. Tibbetts. He was always encouraging, constructively critical, and extremely patient with this shy math geek.

Senior year, we were given semester-long electives from which to choose, and I chose to take Mr. T’s classes both semesters – even though one of them was Drama, which had the requirement that we memorize and deliver a speech from a play.  I chose Hamlet’s soliloquy, and 30 years later, I still remember the first part of it!

To be, or not to be–that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them.

Through Mr. T’s guidance, I “took arms” against the pains of public speaking, and by opposing them, I have found myself able to stand in front of a class, in front of the whole school, even in front of my church, and speak.

Not too long ago, I learned my amazing teacher — the man who took the time to help me in a subject that was a weakness for me — had passed away. He was truly one of the best teachers I ever had; he helped me overcome my fear of public speaking, encouraged me to work at things that did not come easily to me, and most importantly, taught me the ability to spot gum in a student’s mouth from 100 paces.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Tibbetts.

What pieces do you remember reciting when you were in school? Could you deliver things with ease or were you a train-wreck?

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

I’m Afraid

this morning

the little things scared me

i remembered

i’m afraid

of the dark and

dirt under my fingernails

stepping on thumbtacks

and the windows of my car getting stuck

in the down position

or the up position

i remembered that i’m afraid of rats and

cheese aged over 100 days

roaches

microwave rays

i’m afraid of potatoes

because i see

a similarity

between them and me:  i have too many eyes

work in disguise

have felt the earthy rot

from within

i fear i’m too noisy

and then {i fear} I’m leading too quiet a life and

i’m afraid

of that man

who enters daily

through my eyes

{he could leap out of bed and never return}

i’m afraid of dying

in an absurd place

near a tobacco stand or

on a street corner where

old people linger.

i’ve a fear of drowning

being held upside down

under water, tangled in seaweed

and ocean.  i’m afraid

of dawn’s outstretched arms

and the morning which screams

a promise between overlapping teeth

I’m afraid that

“Chicken Little” was right

{and the sky is falling}

i’m afraid no one will keep

the door open for me and

i’m afraid of being alone on the other side of the door.

i’m afraid of standing

beside buildings, so tall

not because they might fall

on me, but because cigarette smoke

and hate

drift upward

choke the sky

i’m afraid of the way my heart dangles carefree

on a string

and i’m afraid

that if you look in my eyes

you might see some ancient madness there

i’m afraid of being wrongly accused

afraid that i haven’t suffered nearly enough

but mostly i’m afraid of

my right hand, the way it guides me.  It is

much older than i, comes down gray as

an eyeball

is godless

and without it

i am not here, never was.

My mother once told me

that i should

never tell anyone

what scares me the most

that they would surely

use it against me

so if you ask me

if i am afraid,

i will deny everything.

Truly, I am afraid of posting something that is pretty controversial. I am afraid that I will lose subscribers. I am going to do it on 3/13. But I’m really scared. Tell me what you are scared of.

Lessons in Losing It: The Sequel

photo by thetechbuzz @ flickr.com

A few entries back, I wrote about how I got my son through a mini-freak out session when he thought he lost a 544 page hardcover public library book. I explained how I had pulled out all the stops and used my best parenting skills to talk him off the proverbial ledge and to teach him perspective.

Last week, something happened to my stupid iPhone which resulted in the voice activation feature to accidentally turn on. I don’t have a clue as to what series of keys I may have pressed, and I’d like to know so I never do it again, because suddenly this computer generated female voice – let’s call her iJill – is shouting all kinds of commands at me in her terrible and very unstoppable voice: “Settings. General. Settings. Settings. Settings. On. Settings. iPod. Email. Settings…”

I fiddled with my phone, which made iJill furious and the screen locked up on me. I tried turning the phone off and doing a soft return. It was all for naught, when the phone turned on again, iJill was still shouting at me, my screen would not move and, I started to lose it. Here, I’d just come home from a fabulous vacation where I’d seen elk and bats and fox and lizards and butterflies; I’d climbed rocks and ridden horses; I’d flown in a 6 person airplane over the Colorado River and then floated down the Colorado River on a pontoon raft. Suddenly all that serenity disappeared because there was unpacking to be done, groceries to be purchased, laundry to be cleaned – and, frankly, I just needed my phone to stop shouting at me.

I started losing my mind. I think I was actually pulling my hair and screaming at the phone to shut up.

“Mom…” my son said placing a hand on my arm.

“Not now, Cal…” I said, pretty emphatically.

“Mom…” he continued relentlessly. “…I’m going to give you the worst case scenario…”

I looked up. Because, honestly, how could I not look up? He was using my lesson against me!

“Mom,” he said, “Your cell phone is broken.”

Oh. My. God.

“You have food and clothes. We have cars that work and air conditioning to keep us cool. Plus, we just took a great vacation and no one is sick or dying. And a lot of people love you. We have other phones, and you always say that you didn’t even get a cell phone until you were 32 years old…”

Ooh. Snap! He got me. He played every card. Basic needs. Check. Health. Check. Luxury items. Check. Love. Check. He even played the cell-phone card.

Instant perspective.

And honestly, I had to giggle a little because iJill was still babbling nonsense on the table, “iPod, iPod, Accessories. Settings. General. Settings. General. Settings. Settings…” and the world just seemed a little bit funnier. My son grinned at me, his freckled-face tilted to the side. Sometimes the student is the teacher, and my li’l guy continues to teach me near daily.

(NOTE: Child also reminded me that I have the Apple Protection Plan on my iPhone and that the Apple Care people are there to help me 24/7. And he was right again. So after one quick phone call, within 10 minutes, iJill was silenced and all was right in the world again.)

What are the best mini-lessons you’ve learned from a child/children?

Lessons in Losing Things

"boxed in" by massdistraction @flicker.com

I am a pretty organized person. In fact, there was an eight year stint where I worked as a professional organizer and was paid to go into people’s homes and help make systems to create order out of the chaos that surrounded them. And I was really good at it.

Truth be told, I am supremely organized. I used to lie about my house being as neat as it is. It doesn’t look quite as fabulous as the homes in Style Magazine or House Beautiful, you know, where everything has been staged to perfection – the beds heaped with fluffy, organic linens with a thread count of two million and smoothed so they 100% lump-free; every knick-knack is interesting and placed at the proper angle; the glass in the picture frames on the side tables sparkle, and the familes in the frames sparkle too.

It’s not like that here. Things here aren’t perfect; I just know where my stuff is.

Usually.

Except when I don’t. Because that happens sometimes.

One night, around 10 pm, while I was folding laundry and my husband was out enjoying a Jeff Beck concert, my son apparently realized he had lost his book, Pendragon: The Quillan Games, (#7 in the series) somewhere at school. Pendragon is not a book he checked out at school; it is a library book. A thick, hardcover library book. Apparently, he laid there in the dark perseverating. You know, that thing we do that gets us absolutely nowhere except more freaked out? He was running “what if” scenarios over and over in his head, trying to figure out where he might have left his book, even though he thought it was probably in his desk. Alone in his bedroom he was thinking, What if I can’t find the book? What if it’s really gone? What if I left it on the playground? What if the library charges me three times as much as a new copy would cost. What if my parents get really mad at me for losing the book and don’t trust me and won’t let me take out any more library books? (For a voracious reader, that would be a major punishment.)

Apparently, he tortured himself like this for about thirty minutes before he finally exercised the good sense to come downstairs and explain his dilemma.

My child is the responsible type. He doesn’t like to lose things. He doesn’t like to miss deadlines or due dates. The thought is abhorrent to him. I understand this – apples don’t fall from pear trees, right? – so I was glad when I was able to share something with him that a friend of mine helped me with not too long ago with when I was freaking out about something insignificant, that seemed really big at the moment.

I asked my son to sit on the floor beside me, to close his eyes, and listen to my voice. I told him I was going to take him to the worst case scenario: His worst fear.

photo of "mother and son" by pcgn@flickr.com

“Are you ready?” I asked.

He nodded.

“The book is, in fact, lost. You will have to pay for the book, maybe even three times the price.” Then I added this part: “But you are okay. You aren’t sick. We are all healthy. You have dad and me. We have a home. We have food and clothes, and we love you like crazy.”

He was calmer. Quieter. It was working. (Plus, he was really tired.) And because he was being quiet, I added, “And just so you know, assuming you live a long time – and I hope you do – you are going to lose stuff. A lot. It happens. I lose things all the time. I write notes to myself on slips of paper and they disappear. I don’t know where they go. I lose bills and receipts. Bottom line is, you have to know that you are going to lose shit, and you have to know it’s not worth losing your mind when you lose something.”

He giggled.

“What?” I asked.

“You said the ‘s-word’.”

Ooops.

Drawing on sage advice from my friend Jennifer Hess and her children’s yoga practice, I asked my son to take a deep breath, take in as much air as he could, and then exhale as if he were blowing out a million candles. At first, he couldn’t do it. He felt stupid, he said. But I insisted that he keep trying. He got it right on the third try.

“That felt good,” he said, calmer now.

Walking upstairs together, he let me hold his hand – something he doesn’t always let me do these days.

I hope he gets it: That adults aren’t perfect. We can strive to be organized and have our perfectly-perfect systems, but nothing is fool-proof or fail-safe. The important thing is to have the perspective to understand that what feels so terribly, awfully, overwhelmingly, miserable at one moment can be dealt with and the awful feeling will pass. Even when it is a big something – the loss of a friendship, a major illness, even death – these things have to be dealt with calmly too. Freaking out doesn’t help.

That night was about a lost book.

That night I counted our blessings.

Afternote: Boy found the book at school the next day. It was rescued just as it was about to be sent back to the public library. All’s well that ends well. He is now well into Pendragon Book #8.

On Being Excommunicated

"sola" by Alessandro Pinna @ flickr.com

I am trying to understand disappearance. When a person chooses not to communicate, does it mean that person is busy? Could they be on a vacation overseas? Could it have been something that I said, or did I say nothing when I should have said something?

Because here I am walking around thinking everything is right in the world, that every baby born for the last six months has had ten fingers and ten toes. I thought the rain in the forecast meant the grass was growing, that the chill in the air meant pumpkins, not the end of something.

When a person chooses not to communicate with you, that person holds all the cards, all the power. There is little for the excommunicated to do but look at the sky but wonder and try to determine how it could be so blue, cry a little – alone, maybe – in the car, but put on a happy face, as if being forgotten does not hurt like a hundred bee stings, or the bloody scratch from the extended claws of a trusted cat.

Could it be that the person has decided that you are not, in fact, worth the effort – and has left you to figure it out? If that is the case, I am slug-slow at “figgering” and would prefer, like a racehorse with a broken leg, to be put out of my misery more cleanly. In this case without a bullet, but perhaps the words, “In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m already gone.”

How have you dealt with the loss of a friendship?