Woman hand holding a card with text can't over cement background
Christy Gualtieri

Rising to the Challenge

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, but November is “NaNoWriMo” (National Novel Writing Month).  Writers all across the country take up the challenge to write – or complete – a novel in only one month, relying on their wit, their perseverance, their talent, and a strong online community of other writers and editors to get the job done. Although most novels completed during NaNoWriMo challenges don’t make it to publication, some do, most famously Sara Gruben’s “Water For Elephants,” which was also adapted into a film starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.

I have half-heartedly attempted to consider starting a NaNoWriMo challenge – I never got as far as typing a single word – but, ultimately, I’ve decided that it wasn’t for me, at least not in this particularly busy season of my life. I do appreciate the value of challenges, however, especially ones set in constrained time periods. The Whole 30 challenge was pretty popular for a while too, and on social media it’s not uncommon to see creative challenges that center around posting pictures or blog posts each day based on a particular theme.

The idea of challenges is really interesting to me. I can see the value in it – it’s neat to see how we act differently when we are exposed to things that change our routine so steadily over such a long period of time. And those changes can work for the better, too. (I’m Catholic, and I see the benefits of fasting/small acts of self-denial that we partake in every year for the weeks of Lent, just before Easter.) Community plays a big role too, and an important one: you get a great sense of “we’re all in this together.

But for people who suffer from anxiety or low self-esteem, the idea – or the reality – of not meeting those challenges can be difficult to bounce back from. Not finishing a NaNoWriMo project, a Whole 30 food challenge, or whatever you tried can bring on the negative self-talk pretty much instantly: “I’m a failure. I knew I couldn’t do it.” It’s enough to not make us want to try again.

So what’s the secret to a successful challenge? I’m not 100% sure, but I think it probably has something to do with not taking them too seriously and adapting more of a “so what?” attitude. “If I don’t write a whole novel, so what? I wrote a lot more than I would have!” “If I eat some cheese on the elimination diet, so what? It’s helped me figure out that I feel worse when I do eat it, so it’s a bonus.” Trying to bring up the positives takes a lot of work, but it might also lead to success. That same positive self-talk works well in real life too, not just in a challenge setting. Maybe this month we can think about some ways we can change our thinking from negative to positive and see where that takes us!

Do you like to take up monthly challenges? What’s been your experience so far? Make sure to let us know any tips for success in the comments!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Three jack-o-lanterns
Christy Gualtieri

Hope, Perseverance and The Great Pumpkin

There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” – Linus

As a child of the 1980s, TV played a pretty instrumental role in how I saw the passing of time, especially when it came to holiday specials. One of my family’s favorite TV specials in the Fall was “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” which would air every year – and thankfully still does! Every October we would sit down to watch Charlie Brown and the gang, laughing at Linus stricken expressions, Lucys hilariously ironic Halloween costume mask, Charlie Browns costume (and his Halloween “candy”), and Snoopys WWI-era adventure through the “French countryside.” Everything about it – Vince Guaraldis jaunty soundtrack, the animation, and even the beautiful watercolor-esque detail of the cartoons backgrounds – signaled to me as a kid that Fall was really, truly here.

Charlie Browns adventures, no matter which you choose (and there are plenty to choose from) have always focused on both the innocence – and brutality – of childhood, particularly in terms of bullying, of which Lucy is the ringleader and reigning champion. Usually, the victim is the hapless Charlie Brown, but this particular episode focuses on his best friend, the philosophical Linus, and his faith in a being called the Great Pumpkin. According to Linus, the Great Pumpkin rises from a pumpkin patch every Halloween, but not just any pumpkin patch – the one of a true believer, the “most sincere.”  Naturally, because no one else shares his belief, they mostly dismiss Linus as insane and treat him as such throughout most of the episode. The other kids go trick-or-treating and then to a Halloween party, making sure to stop by the patch to let Linus (and Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, who decided to wait with him) know how much fun they’re missing.

But Linus perseveres, staying out in the pumpkin patch well into the night, needing to be escorted inside by his sister after the Great Pumpkin doesn’t show. The next morning when Charlie Brown, in an effort to commiserate with Linus, brings up how “he’s done stupid things too,” Linus explodes in indignation and doubles down on his resolve to make next year’s patch even better.

That resilience, along with the sheer tradition of the show, is a major reason why I think this special has resonated with so many people over the 50 years since it first aired. It speaks to all of our desires to get back up again after we’ve been knocked down. This is not the first year Linus has attempted to meet the Great Pumpkin; yet he continues to forswear his candy and treats (not to mention the constant ridicule) to greet him. Charlie Brown is told by Lucy, in no uncertain terms, that he was not invited to the Halloween party, yet he still overcomes his shame and attends anyway. What makes the Peanuts gang such a mainstay is that no matter how terrible and difficult life can be, we can still hope for greater things.

If you get the chance, make sure to catch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” when it comes around on TV this year. It’s great fun to watch, and will hopefully give your spirits a boost, too!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

woman relaxing on a wicker chair
Christy Gualtieri

The Passing of Time

I grew up in South Florida, where the weather is pretty much the same year-round: hot and humid.  At Christmastime, folks string lights through palm fronds and set out ice-cold drinks for Santa as they slide into bed with a t-shirt and shorts on, searching outside on Christmas morning for sights of reindeer tracks with flip-flops on their feet. When we moved to New Jersey, the more pronounced seasons were the way to mark time: when the leaves turned colors and fell you knew it was Autumn; when they dripped with fresh, cool raindrops it was Spring. In Western Pennsylvania, it’s still the same – we have our cooler months, snowfalls, rainfalls, and warmer months; but we find different ways to mark time now, and even earlier than we probably should.

Halloween candy is out and ready to go on the grocery store shelves in the beginning of August; so are the costumes. Pumpkin-flavored everything is in full bloom weeks before the regular NFL season begins; and in some big-box stores, the Christmas supplies are already lining the back shelves, inching closer to the front-and-center displays.  My mother passed away January 31st – the day after Valentine’s Day, the Mother’s Day cards were on display, something I was entirely unready for.

(To quote one of my favorite comedians, Pete Holmes: “Not too get all Andy Rooney on ya, but…”) We used to know time by the seasons, but now they’re changing.  We used to know by holidays, but now they’re being pushed up the calendar to the point of absurdity. We are in such a rush to get to the next mile, the next place to stop – only when we get there, we’re so anxious to get to the next one.  We finish an episode of a show and let it roll on to the next once, barely processing what we’ve just taken in. We finish an audio book and tap the button for the next one without a thought. We are in such a hurry.

But where are we going? Where are you going?

If this is something you struggle with, I get it. I’m the same way, and I’ve sadly gotten to the point where if I think of being quiet even for just five minutes in a row, it makes me want to cry for the impossibility of it.  I know the only way out of it is through it – to train myself to be away from media/my phone/TV/radio for a minute at a time to rebuild that muscle of just being able to occupy myself without any outside influence. And it’s hard.  But it’s so, so worth it.

Our time matters, and it’s fleeting.  It’s one minute after another after another, but it won’t always be that way. As you go through your week this week, what’s something you can try to string those moments along in silence, and to give yourself the space to simply observe the world around you? You may start to discover the path you’re on, and all of the exciting things that come with deciding if you want to stay on it or not, or choose something new and wonderful.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Woman enjoying the water in a swimming pool
Christy Gualtieri

Feel The Relax

On the last day of the swimming season, my family and I were graciously invited to the nearby pool by our neighbors, who are mainstays of our township and some of the most entertaining and generous people you’ll ever meet.  I grew up in and around swimming pools, but don’t recently frequent them because whenever you offer me the opportunity to go to the pool alone with my two young children who can’t yet swim, I’ll often decline. (It’s a lot of work trying to keep two alive by myself at once, is all I’m saying.)  But my kids who can’t swim are a bit older now, and have these next-generation floating devices that are way above and beyond anything I had as a kid, so we agreed to go.

It was a beautiful afternoon.  It had been forecasted to rain but it held off, and so it wasn’t as hot as it had been, but not terribly cold, either – the perfect temperature.  We got in the pool and my kids had a great time splashing around, even paddling a bit to the wall in the few feet of water we were in. My daughter bobbed by, a miniature pink buoy, her hands in the water and her face looking ahead, concentrating.  She mumbled something, and I leaned in to hear her:

“Feel the relax,” she said.

I watched as she stretched out her hands, pawing at the water the way a cat would, slowly making her way to the wall from my arms.

“Feel the relax.”

I was just as struck as I always am listening to my kids.  I wasn’t relaxed at all that morning – I was upset at having to buy a bathing suit last-minute (always a terrible experience)  and not looking forward to spending hours at the pool while both kids constantly clawed and clamored on me in the water, having to think about how much sunblock I’d applied and whether it had been enough or not – and I was dumbfounded by how much she knew, inherently, that the power to relax was inside her, just waiting to help.

In the hectic, frenetic weeks before school started and as the end-of-summer activities and to-do lists stretched on, I had completely forgotten all about the point of summer: to relax.  To just stop and observe the world around me. To let my muscles un-tense themselves, to feel the air on my face and the heat of the sun on my skin.

I watched my kids playing, and observed the joy on their faces as they partook in the last of the great summer traditions before school started the next day.  I looked up for longer than a second or two at the cloudless sky, and noticed that the leaves on the trees surrounding the pool were beginning to turn. I listened to the loud roars of the buses passing, and a train that had come by; and when the teenage lifeguard blew the whistle for adult swim, I passed my kids to my husband and went for lap after lap, the same way I used to do when I was little.

I felt the relax, and kept feeling it when we returned home.  Felt it as I threw their suits and towels in the laundry machine, felt it all through dinner, and as I packed my son’s lunchbox the next day.

Sometimes I forget to feel it, still, when the anxieties of the day crowd my mind; but I remember the innate wisdom of my little girl, take a deep breath, and try again.  A new season is coming, after all – and each and every one needs just as much relaxation, wonder, and peace.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

 

Woman playing with the Rubik's Cube. Rubik's cube invented by a Hungarian architect Erno Rubik in 1974.
Christy Gualtieri

The Summer Puzzle

I gotta tell you…as a child born in the early 1980s, there was no shortage of fun and excitement to experience.  Not in the “let’s spend every waking hour outdoors, surrounded by nature while being parented by all of the neighborhood mothers” sort of ways, like the 1970s kids experienced, but in the “what is this thing I can buy and take home and be entertained by” sort of way.  In the ‘80s, if a thing could be packaged and sold to you, it was; and one of the things I coveted most as a kid (but never received) was a Rubik’s Cube.

A Rubik’s Cube, if you are not familiar with it, is a six-faced cubic puzzle that has entranced (and frustrated) millions of people the world over in the nearly 40 years since its invention.  They were enchanting to me; I’d watch commercials of whiz kids turning the cube this way and that in record time, matching up all of the colors in some ridiculously quick amount of seconds. I’d see one at a friend’s house and give it a try here and there, but I had never mastered it.  It was way too confusing for me.  I’d look at it, turn it over in my hands, and eventually leave it alone, walking away completely disoriented.

I thought it was a kid thing.  Surely, as an adult, I’d be able to figure it out with little to no effort! So when my son, who celebrated his birthday earlier this year, was gifted with a Rubik’s Cube, I’d sneak it out of his room at night while he slept, determined to best the thing once and for all.

Did I do it? Friends, I did not.

I still haven’t.  But I smiled. Because…I found it!

Here’s what I mean: earlier this summer, I had toyed around with the idea of coming up with a Summer Project – a skill I could commit to learning that wouldn’t take too long to do, but also something that would boost my self-confidence.  I’ve tried this in past years, but I needed something that would presumably be quicker than the more laborious work I had chosen, like knitting and crocheting, and something not too intense (as most stay-at-home moms will tell you, being at home with kids in the summertime is often intense enough).  I wasn’t able to find anything, and was getting discouraged by my lack of follow-through. So when the Rubik’s Cube came into the house, I had a thought: I could do this! Maybe not in record time, and definitely not on the first try (or fiftieth, apparently), but it could definitely happen.

So I’m still going to try to hit my summer skill goal.  And you can, too! Maybe it’s not a Rubik’s Cube. Maybe it’s perfecting a new recipe, going from point A to point B without using a Google Maps, or it’s learning how to change a tire or sew a button…whatever is manageable for you is the perfect choice!  And because it’s still summer, there’s still time! Let’s try a new Summer Skill, and once you’ve chosen one, let me know in the comments, and we’ll boost our confidence together. Good luck!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.