Peace, Love & Anxiety

First Time On

by Christy Gualtieri

Here in Southwestern PA, Spring decided to just skip right over us, and we’re experiencing Summer’s high temps and intense storm systems. At the school bus stop in the mornings, it’s meant no sweatshirts, shorts and tees; and on the weekends it’s meant time in the wading pool.  And last week, it’s meant a trip to Kennywood!

If you’re not from the area, Kennywood is an iconic amusement park that was opened in the late 1800s (!) and is only one of two in the entire country to be designated as a National Historic Landmark.  It’s home to a variety of exciting rides, entertainment venues, and a special area just for children, Kiddieland, that features pint-sized versions of the park’s most popular rides.

Although my children were born here, we’d never been to Kennywood, and we didn’t really know what to expect – but once we got inside the park, we had a blast. Well, my son and I did at first. My daughter pretty much lost her mind her first time on a ride (the carousel), and was inconsolable every time we tried to get in line for a new one.

After about a half hour I stood there, daughter in the stroller and son on a kiddie ride, and decided that I’d take her on the next one with us. No other adult was with us to watch her while I went on with my son, and I knew it’d be very boring for all of us to just walk around and watch my son ride alone; and so when we approached the next ride, I told her that we’d all ride together.

And again, cue the screaming.  But I held firm, parked the stroller, and picked her up and carried her into the ride car with us. I strapped her in tightly next to me (her screams had subsided a bit by this point), and as the attendant went around double-checking our straps, I leaned over to her.

I’m right here. Sometimes we just have to be brave, Sweetheart.

The ride began, and wouldn’t you know it, she absolutely loved it. She was a bit uncertain at first, but by the time the ride ended, she was asking to go again. We spent the next few hours riding together and having a great time (I especially loved that she fell asleep almost the instant we got back to our car).  And I was proud of her for trying to be brave, and succeeding.

You can never learn these things too early, but it’s never too late, either. There’s been countless times as an adult when I’ve had to face things that have ranged from mildly scary to intensely terrifying, and those same words have rung true for me. I take a deep breath, look at myself in the mirror, and say it:

Sometimes we just have to be brave, Sweetheart.

What are you afraid of? What do you need to be brave in the face of? And who do you have with you who will be right there through it all?

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Two Secrets

by Christy Gualtieri

It never really goes away, you know.  I think that’s what I want to tell you the most.

Have you ever seen those pharmaceutical commercials where the person (usually cartoon-animated) has a chronic illness, and that illness is personified somehow? Like it’s a creature in the shape of a bladder or an elephant or a cloud.  And it suffocates the person, or sits on their chest so they can’t breathe, or they’re pulling the person endlessly toward the bathroom (that would be the cartoon bladder). After the person gets fed up and takes whatever medicine the commercial is promoting, the chronic issue is still there. It might be smaller, or have a smiley face, or is now led around on a leash (that would be the elephant), but it’s always still there.

Anxiety always is, too. I don’t know what my anxiety would look like, if you asked me to personify it. But it comes and goes, too – it’s not that special. It’s like any other chronic illness. When things are going well and I’m on top of my self-care game, then it hangs back. But when I’m angry or tired or something stressful occurs, it’s like it’s gotten the signal from the coach to jump back in the game, stronger than ever. And the feelings are the same: near panic. Aching body. Shorter breaths. Quicker tears.

It is better now that I know what it is. Before I knew I had anxiety, it would scare me, not being able to control it. I’d despair because I’d put the work in – I’d go to sessions, I’d try changing up my diet and exercising and drinking more water, I’d take deeper breaths and stay off my phone more – but it wasn’t going away.

But that’s the secret. It doesn’t ever go away.

When I realized that, I felt free.

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When my mother passed away, I read somewhere that grief “never stops hurting.  Over time, it hurts with the same intensity, just less frequently.” And so it is with my anxiety, too. I know the signs. I have strategies ready for when it gets really bad. And when it does, I rely on grace, those strategies, and the love of my family and friends to get through the days. And I get through to the other side.

That’s the other secret. There is another side. Maybe you don’t think there is one. Maybe you think it’s going to be like this forever. And I understand that; anxiety and depression can trick you into thinking it’s always going to be terrible, that you’ll never see the light. But you will. There is another side. There is a way out. It’s going to take work, but most things that are worth anything do. Is it fair? No. Is it your fault? No. But it’s reality, just like it’s a reality that you can and will get through it.

We’re wrapping up Mental Health Awareness month, and if you’ve been looking for a good time to reach out to someone to get you back on solid ground again, I really encourage you to try. If you’ve been in therapy for a while, keep going – keep pushing, keep talking, keep striving.  Drink that water. Get that sunlight. Create those strategies, and pull them out when you need them. No shame.

When you’re feeling better, encourage others. Shine your light on them. When you’re in darkness, rely on others to pull you through, and accept their light. And know that we are with you, every step of the way! Thanks for reading and being a light to me, too.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

The Underdog In Us

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the Pittsburgh Penguins, fresh off a Stanley Cup win, have entered the second round of the NHL playoffs.

Wait! Wait, come back, non-hockey fans! I have a point that’s much larger than hockey to share. But since you’re already here, you may as well appreciate a few things about this team. They are not, in general, well-liked by hockey fans outside of Pittsburgh, much in the same way the NFL Patriots are absolutely despised anywhere out of the greater New England area. I get it. This is mostly because of all the winning, and even more mostly about a particularly talented young man named Sidney Crosby.  It’s hard to have haters, but I feel as though he handles it particularly well. Also, the Penguins have won Stanley Cups two years in a row and are now trying for their third. It’s been done before, but not for a long time (the last three and a half decades). So this run is a bigger deal than most.

I did not grow up a hockey fan; in fact, I spent much of my adult life categorizing it as a sport that existed but wasn’t as in your face and all over the TV as football and baseball were. Hockey was like soccer to me, or race-car driving; I knew there were fans of it, but I’d never really met more than one. But the first night of our honeymoon, my husband and I sat down in a Florida bar and noticed a dozen or so other patrons crowded around a TV projector, and found they were watching hockey. And not just any hockey, Pittsburgh hockey. This was 2008, and the Penguins were making their first serious run for the cup in a long, long time, since the Lemieux days. And that excitement of an underdog – this team full of young, though talented, kids – winning big surrounded us when we moved to Pittsburgh a couple of weeks later and never really left.

It’s fair to say now that the Penguins aren’t underdogs – no team fresh off of two championship wins in a row qualifies. But I love underdog stories, don’t you? I don’t really know who doesn’t. Why do we love them so much? I have a few theories. One is, of course, because it’s how we see ourselves. We know how many times in our lives we’ve been kicked down and told we weren’t good enough. We know how we didn’t look the same as others / sound the same as others / have as much money as others, and maybe it lit a fire under us to prove ourselves. Another theory is that we love how hard underdogs fight, even if it’s more than we would. Or maybe we love them because of how much they believe in something. They mirror to us the potential that we could have, too. They fight The Man, and they win.

But underdog stories only work if they overcome their odds, or get very close. They don’t work if The Man keeps kicking them down and they don’t get back up. They don’t work if the Pittsburgh Penguins never win any games. (Then they just become the hockey equivalent of the Cleveland Browns.) They don’t work if there’s no fight left in them.

Which brings me back to us. When was the last time you felt like an underdog? What lit that fire in you to fight back against the lies The Man told you that kept you down, that made you feel less than? What words did you need to tell yourself, or the words someone told you that you needed to hear, that reminded you that you are good, and you are worthy of love, and of living a full life? If you haven’t heard those words yet, then let me tell you, and never mind that I’ve never met you in real life. These words are true anyway, and they’re for you:

You are good. You are worthy of love. You are capable.

You can fight, and you can win. Maybe not today – and that’s okay. Maybe this isn’t the year that the Penguins three-peat.  But the rest still stands, regardless.

Now go out there and get ‘em!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Everyday folk

by Christy Gualtieri

For Christmas last year, one of my brothers gifted our dad with one of those ancestry-type DNA tests, the kind where you spit into a tube and mail it away. You wait for a while, and then results get sent back to you, sort of breaking down your ancestral heritage.  He hasn’t received any results yet, but I’m decently clear on my family’s history – on the one side there’s some Eastern European and some Irish (more Irish than not, I believe); and on the other, there’s Cuban. My father’s parents were from Cuba, but up until recently I learned that they were only in Cuba for that one generation. Before that, they were from Spain.

My other brother told me last week that he found out recently through some other family of ours that we were from Spain, and we were pretty righteous people there: Jewish men and women fighting against the Inquisition. A statue of one of my great-great-great grandfathers still stands in a Spanish town, apparently, in honor of his efforts. And for a second, I puffed up with pride, because it’s a nice feeling when you come from honorable people – it makes you feel kind of honorable, too.

But as I thought more about it, I realized how interesting it was, this tug in our hearts to get connected to our past families through these sorts of lineage-type activities. Because who are we looking for? Are we looking for people similar to us? Maybe you’ll find out you had a great-great-great grandmother who liked to knit, just like you do. Or a way-distant relative who liked to be very close to nature, and now you’ll feel justified to your TV-loving family that you’re not weird for not liking TV, you’re just like that great-great aunt who also just loved being outdoors. Are we looking for people to inspire us? Hey, that crazy relative went whole hog on this patent idea that made him famous and really wealthy, so maybe I can quit my job and go all-in on my idea, too! Or are we looking for ways to puff ourselves up? Apparently, my entire ancestral lineage was a bunch of good-for-nothings, and I’m doing great now in comparison – I’ve really made it!

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great fun to look back and see who was there along the way long before I arrived. But the temptation for me, and maybe for some other folks out there, is to find out someone great we can focus on (the guy they built the statue of, for example) and not the long line of people before him and since then that were just normal, everyday folk, who lived and died just doing what they did – holding down a job maybe, having children, fretting about the weather and taxes – but having enough sense to keep creating a line, so we’d get to where we are today.

In today’s world, so many of us hear the message that we need to succeed to really mean something to someone. You’re only valuable if you can produce something other people like; you only matter if people know who you are. But I think deep down, you and I know that’s not really the case. We matter because we carry an inherent dignity, just by virtue of the fact that we are people.

So if you end up doing one of these ancestry lineage tests, and you find out there’s no glamorous fruit hanging off the family tree, remember that it’s not a bad thing. Remember that the everyday folk are just as important as the freedom fighters and the warriors, because otherwise, you wouldn’t be here! And if you’re not as successful as your neighbor is, don’t stress out about that either because you’re just as worthy as they are of love and dignity.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

The Freedom of Learning

by Christy Gualtieri

It’s very possible that everyone else in the world but me knows this, but I recently learned that the origin of the term “liberal arts education” was based around the idea, long ago, that when it came to learning, if you did not have to learn things to work in order to make a living (because your family had a lot of money, say; or because of other serendipitous circumstances), you were free to learn more about things for the sake of learning them – things like the humanities, the arts, etc. The Latin word for freedom is “libertas,” which the English word is drawn from.

Learning for the sake of learning – learning just because. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? It’s different from how a child learns; a child learns in order to understand the world around them. It’s different, of course, then how a scholar learns, or how a person who works in a trade learns – all of those types of learning have ends to them. Anyone who’s watched a YouTube tutorial (*raises hand*) has learned for the sake of a particular goal in mind.  But learning something just because? There really is freedom in that!

And these days, it’s so easy to do that because of the sheer volume of information that is so readily available to us. If I wanted to, right this minute, I could look up how to create those amazing Japanese fluff-ball edible desserts that are designed to look like a cherry blossom suspended in a raindrop. (I’d make it and I’m sure it would come out looking nothing like it is supposed to, but I could try.)

And I should – and so should you. Not the Japanese cake (although, it does look challenging and delicious; and if you do it, please post a pic in the comments, because you’ve pretty much just become my personal hero), but learning something new – and not because you need to. Because you’ve always wanted to, but never did. And you may not have time (I feel you – I’m a mom of two young kids, and so personal time is an extremely foreign concept to me), but I think this “liberal learning” would be beneficial. And you can find the time, because you can learn new things during your self-care time; the time you take to practice taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

What’s that, you say? Self-care? To quote that ever-famous meme, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”  Indeed. But you and I both know that it is essential to our mental health to find some time, even if it’s just a sliver of a few minutes. And just like looking at glossy Instagram pics of beautifully-plated, delicious whole foods does not make you a nutritionist, neither does just thinking of delighting in something new make you more learned in it. We live in a time period full of accessible knowledge that was unthinkable to people not even a generation before us. We have more time than they did to think liberally (meaning freely – no politics here!) about things; and so I really encourage you to take a few minutes to learn something new just because.

So, take a minute. Close your eyes. Smile, and think of something that delights you. Now, research how to do it / build it / pronounce it. For no other reason than that you delight in it. After you’ve done that, smile again. You’ve learned something new.

Wasn’t that fun?

Until next time, be well!
Christy