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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Looking Up

by Christy Gualtieri

A few months ago, my cousin from New York City came to visit with his four kids in tow, the oldest of whom was sixteen. We got to talking about cell phones and how old the kids were when they first got them, a topic that I listened to with interest, since although my kids are relatively young, it’s a conversation I’ll end up having sooner rather than later. The sixteen year old does everything on his phone. Calls and texts, obviously. Social media apps, getting his news. But also, schoolwork. Writing essays.

“Writing essays?” I said incredulously, like a proper Old Person.

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “I type them on my phone and then email it to myself to print out.”

I sat there relatively agog, half-wondering if he was a warlock of some kind. “But…how do your thumbs still work?” I checked his hands fully expecting to see inhumanly large thumbs with huge muscles bulging out, but they looked like normal teenage hands to me.  “Haven’t they fallen off?” I was joking, but still…I was pretty taken aback.

It’s such a funny thing, living in a time when things are changing so rapidly, where new technologies are cropping up every day. I imagine it’s like someone who just got electricity in their home for the first time, and what the Old People in their times would say. “But…you just turn on…lights? In your home? What do you do with all the candles?”  Or people who just got radios. “But…how do you hear someone’s voice in your house…without them being there?”

But back to the phones. Being of a certain age, I wouldn’t say that I’m the kind of person who is attached to my cell phone all the time, but I do check it pretty frequently. I can’t imagine being a kid and feeling like a limb was missing if it was taken away, or what someone’s brainwaves look like after only knowing the reality of being able to access information in the palm of your hand.

The other day, I was standing on the corner waiting for my son’s school bus. I was alone and it was a chilly day, but a bright one, and the sky really was lovely: a robin’s-egg blue color with this smattering of white clouds all across it. I looked up and watched the cloud for a minute, and then saw something else, and kept watching. I was transfixed. No one had been driving by at the time, but I can guess what they’d have been thinking if they did: what is she looking at? And maybe they’d stop too, crane their neck up against their car window, or peer upward past their sun visors that hung down, trying to see why in the world one solitary woman was doing just standing there on the corner, looking up at the sky.

There was this bird, that’s all. A huge bird, the kind that was so big so way up high that you knew it would be absolutely monstrous if it was closer to you. We get plenty of birds in our neighborhood; cardinals and blue-jays, crows (my favorite), and sometimes little yellow ones – canaries, maybe – but this was no bird like that. I wondered how high up it was, and remembered that hawks can spot a little mouse for dinner from something like a mile up in the air, and I wondered if that’s how high this bird was. After a minute it kept flying out of sight, and I thought about how silly I must have looked, neck crooked, eyes straight up, with a hand to shield the strong light of the sun.

Why is it strange to see someone looking up…and why is not strange to see someone looking down? Because that’s what we do, most times, right? I know I do. Looking down gets you knowledge of things that are happening not very close to you…but looking up keeps you focused on the world you’re in right now.

Chances are, you’re like me, and could do with some more looking up. Of course, we all need distractions, especially if you’re not very comfortable with the world you’re currently in right now, but we need balance, too, and the world needs you in it – to participate, to acknowledge, to understand that although it’s a big, wide world, it’s all the more special because of what you contribute to it.

So if you get a chance (and you should make one), take a minute to look up. Observe what the sky looks like, and the clouds, if there are any. Take a deep breath, and then another one. Then go back to whatever else you were doing, and try to take that time again tomorrow, with some extra time added on…and see what you see! You may be surprised!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Scary Air

by Christy Gualtieri

You’ve most likely heard the saying, “Do one thing that scares you,” a popular – and somewhat useful – nudge designed to move you out of your comfort zone. Doing things that scare you, or even things that make you uncomfortable help give you confidence, trust in your own abilities, and spur you onward into even greater things.

I know all these to be true, my friends, because just the other day I also did something that scared me: I put air in my car tires.

Putting air in your car tires seems to be the kind of thing that 99% of car owners would probably not bat an eye at, probably because it’s one of the most simple ways to take care of your car.  But while I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, there’s a surprising (at least to me) number of “simple” things that I struggle to do. Jello, for example. I can’t make jello.  I’ve burned spaghetti (which you are supposed to boil).  I have been that person at the gas pump who has sprayed gasoline all over her pants during a six-hour drive across the state.  (In my defense, I learned how to drive in New Jersey, where it is illegal to pump your own gas, so I didn’t learn how to until I was solidly ten years behind every other American driver my age not from New Jersey.) So you’ll understand why I was nervous about pumping air into my tires.  It just seemed hard.  There’s the little cap you have to screw off, and what if I lost it? And what if I put too much air in, causing the tire to explode right in my face? What if I couldn’t do it, and everyone would see what a failure I was?

But it’s the autumn, the time of year when the cooler weather necessitates a trip to put air in my tires. And while I am very lucky to be married to an extremely capable man who is more than willing to do things like this for me, I was determined this year to learn the skill for myself. So I drove up to the air pump at the local station, read the instructions, and got to work. I put in the amount of air pressure I wanted, hooked up the pump to my tire (after screwing off the little cap), and it worked! The machine beeped when it was full, and I replaced the cap and moved on to the next tire. No tires exploded in my face, and when I was finished, I replaced the air pump hose back to the machine with total satisfaction.

I was downright ecstatic…until I found out it didn’t work. When I got back in my car to drive away, my tire pressure numbers hadn’t inflated. I was so annoyed! What did I do wrong? What was wrong with me? Would I ever learn to fill my own tires? I drove the short distance home, hoping the numbers would readjust, but they stayed put. I asked my husband what it could be and he told me that he’d show me a few days later when we went out for church, but I wanted to figure it out for myself, today.

And so I did. A couple of hours later, I returned to the same gas station and the man there said the air pump was broken; they’d just hadn’t had a chance to put up a sign.  So off I went to another station down the street with an air pump, absolutely determined to get this right. I put in the pressure numbers, hooked up the pump, and…success! I managed to fully and properly inflate all four car tires by myself. I drove away just as pumped as my tires!

I fully understand how ridiculous this all sounds, especially from a grown woman, but it really was something that scared me and it was something I was able to gain a lot of confidence from. I learned that I was able to persevere and figure out what I wanted and needed to do, and I did it. It’s probably the smallest example in the world, but those are the best kind, because everyone can do them. Even you!

So choose something that scares you today – or at least makes you a little nervous. It can be anything: a hard conversation with a friend, base jumping off the Grand Canyon, whatever. Even putting air in your car tires. But give it a try. Because even if you don’t succeed at it, like I didn’t the first time I tried, you’ll know you got that far, you’re still alive, and you can always try again.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

To A Kid

by Christy Gualtieri

I had a very curious relationship with myself as a kid. (I need to preface this by saying that I was raised by two exceptionally loving parents and a wonderful family.  I can in all honesty say that I have been loved every day of my life.) But as a kid, I didn’t necessarily understand it the way I do now. I didn’t outwardly dislike myself; I was content in my own world of reading and writing, and I liked school and watching TV and spending time with my cousins and friends. But maybe it was because I had two younger brothers, one of whom was (and still is) very charismatic and loved the spotlight, that I found myself wanting to – no, needing to change in order to be someone worth knowing. I needed, somehow, more attention. I wanted the world – which is very difficult to navigate as an elementary schooler – to know who I was. So I tried.

I’ll give you some examples. One of the kids in my second grade class had glasses, and he was popular, so I squinted and begged and lied about having headaches in the classroom because I couldn’t see what the teacher had written on the board. He had glasses, so I needed them, too. (And although I didn’t get them then I did eventually need them…in middle school, and if anything they made me less popular.) One of the pretty girls in class had Type 1 diabetes and had to test her blood sugar by pricking her finger with a needle every day, and so I would draw a colored-in circle on my index finger with a red pen before I got on the school bus to show that I, too, needed special treatment for something because I was special, too. (I am acutely aware now, as an adult, of how messed up it sounds to pretend to have Type 1 Diabetes just to get attention, by the way.  It just made sense to me at the time.) And one day, in the middle of the school year, I insisted to everyone on the school bus that my real name wasn’t the plain one I wrote on my papers and teachers called me by. My real name is much more exotic. Veronica. And I wouldn’t answer to anything else. (…It’s a lovely name, but my name was never Veronica. It’s always been Christy.)

For all of the things I liked about myself, there were so many things I wanted to change. I always felt a step or two behind, always off-trend, always missing what everyone else seemed to intrinsically know. And I needed that validation, I guess. Parents and teachers always were ready with praises, but it was the recognition from my peers that meant the most to me. The only trouble was, it was the one I lacked the most. It also didn’t help that my ultra-charismatic brother, who went to the same school, was the class favorite. He always had an invite to the party, a large group of friends around, and he always knew what to say. I was always a bit chubby in middle school, and straight up ballooned in size well through high school and college, adding to my depression. I found it harder and harder to fight through all of the comments about my weight and the comparing I’d do to the other girls at school, but it was pretty plain to me that there wasn’t a whole lot about myself that I liked.

My parents would try to help, give me little pep talks and try to cheer me up, but not much clicked until college. That’s when I really found out who I was, and was able to surround myself with friends who I had so much in common with – and found out I could be my true self around. Because of them, I grew into a (mostly) confident adult who (sometimes) struggles with anxiety but who genuinely, in all honesty, today can say that she loves herself. It’s been a long process, but I’m really glad of it, because it’s made me into the person I am today.

My oldest child is starting elementary school this year, and I’ve already seen him comparing himself to his peers, pointing out to me where he doesn’t measure up. It breaks my heart, but I remember what it felt like for me to be his age. So I give him an extra hug, give him those extra moments of encouragement and send him on his way, ready with a pep talk of my own for when he gets off the school bus at the end of the day. He might not appreciate it now, but maybe he’ll get it, the way I once did, when I became a grown up.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

“Thanks, but…”

by Christy Gualtieri

How do you take compliments? It doesn’t have to be anything big; it can be a small comment someone makes to you about an outfit you’re wearing, or how your hair looks, or noticing a good job you’ve done on a project at work.  What’s your first instinct? Do you listen and thank the person? Or do you do what I do, which is completely downplay it while thinking they’re absolutely crazy?

Here’s what I mean.  I was at the pharmacy a few weeks ago, trying to pick up a prescription that was taking a while.  There was some miscommunication about the medicine and as I was trying to talk it over with the pharmacist, my young kids were…well, being young kids.  After many attempts to calm them down, including threats of taking away every toy that has graced our household over the past six years (and there were many; we have very generous family and friends), I sat them down on a nearby bench and noisily opened a bag of pretzels we’d just bought.  They sat there, quiet for the first time in hours, nibbling; and an older woman walked by. She looked down at them and then up at me, and complimented them on how good they were being.

“Yep, they’re good now,” I agreed.  “But you should have seen them just a few minutes ago.”

See what I mean? I could have smiled and thanked her and affirmed them, because they really are generally well behaved.  And I’m not a toddler anymore, but the thought of standing at a pharmacy for a very long time trying to iron out an issue over medication also makes me want to throw fits, so I understand where they’re coming from.  But I did what I normally do when I receive a compliment: I downplayed it. If someone pays me a compliment these days, my initial reaction is “Really? You should have seen me just a few minutes ago, or a day ago, or last week, when I…”  And the list goes on and on.

Why do I do this? I’m pretty sure it has to do with self-esteem.  For those of us who are lacking in that department, it takes work to believe that there are things about us worth praising.  It’s much easier for me to downplay compliments and reinforce those negative thoughts about myself. But if I do that, what am I achieving? What message does that send? It would do me well to remember that there is an endless supply of compliments in the world.  If someone gives me one, it’s not like it’s being wasted and someone else on the planet won’t get one. And it’s helpful for my kids to watch and learn how to receive compliments gracefully, because it helps them remember that they are worthy of praise, too.

I’m going to try, the next time someone says something nice about something I wore or did or achieved, to smile, thank them, and embrace it.  If you struggle with this too, let’s try it together!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Existential GPS

Turning Dreams and Goals into Action

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

What’s on your “bucket list?”

Writing a novel?

Traveling through Europe or Asia or both?

Learning how to paint or play piano or dance the Tango?

Goals and dreams give us hope, make life interesting, and provide us with a source of everlasting motivation and meaning. Often they present a sense of balance in a seemingly unbalanced world. Naturally, realizing your goals and dreams requires action.

You know all the tired, self-generated excuses as to why your goals are “impractical” or “will have to wait until a better time.” You’ve justified these reasons enough that they have become the only response to your ever-patient, ever-waiting life dreams. Here are a few thoughts that might turn these excuses into accomplishments and help you realize the potential of your life’s goal:

  1. What do I really want? It seems like a simple question until you begin focusing on what is important. What gives me a sense of connection, purpose and meaning? What is my “calling?” Do I possess talents and abilities that I have told myself are not practical or unimportant? How many of my negative thoughts about my dreams and goals are self generated?
  2. How will I get there? What do you need to connect the dots between Point A and Point B. Map out each step you might take on your journey. If you don’t have some plan in mind, you will likely find yourself struggling with frustration and uncertainty.
  3. What if my dream were already happening? Successful performers, sports figures and entrepreneurs report they are able to visualize their achievements far in advance. The use of positive visualization does not make automatically your dreams or goals come true, but it does provide a healthy nutrient for the soil in which your achievements can take root.
  4. What can I control? Staying focused on your goals and dreams without allowing others to interfere can be difficult at times, but not impossible. Do NOT allow others to dictate or influence your goals and aspirations. Becoming caught in others opinions or good intentions often times is the proverbial pin to your goal balloon. Remain in the present, knowing that you can only control what is happening at this moment, and only what is happening with you.
  5. What if I fail? Every journey will have its share of stormy weather. Treat any rejection or misstep as a learning moment toward realizing your dream and goal. Most everyone can agree that they will regret what they DIDN’T do in life versus what they did do.
  6. Is it even realistic? Perhaps not, but are you willing to try? Be persistent and flexible. Know that you will have to “roll with the punches” from time to time. Perhaps you will be surprised over what you discover about yourself on your journey.

Get going – now! Tend to your dreams and goals. Your journey can begin with a first, small step.

In good health,
Don