Hello, my name is Lisa Jakub and I used to be an actor

This is a weird thing for me to write about. You see, I’ve been spending the last 10 years running from my past. A friend said that I’m so dodgy about my old life, that I behave like someone who killed her entire family and moved out of state.

I’m that elusive about it.

But I didn’t kill anyone.

I was just an actor. Continue reading

Managing anxiety: off the yoga mat and onto the stage

 

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I went to Providence, Rhode Island last weekend to speak at Johnson & Wales University and The Lady Project Summit. I did a reading from my book, spoke on a writer’s panel and gave a talk about the rewards and challenges living an authentic life and embracing who you really are.

It was a phenomenal weekend for many reasons. I  had lots of teary-eyed hugs with people who are on their own journeys towards living a life they truly believe in. I also met wonderful people like Maureen Petrosky who took me to Gracie’s, which is a restaurant that not only has unbelievable food, but also shares a name with my dog.

I was also scared out of my mind a lot of the time.

I have structured a pretty quiet little life for myself. I struggle with anxiety and get overwhelmed easily, so I try to keep life as simple as possible. I spend time with my husband, dog, and close friends. I do yoga. I stay home a lot, watching Netflix and reading books and cooking dinner. It’s lovely.

But I’ve started doing these events which thrill and terrify me in equal measure. Sometimes, when I am in a new place, standing at the front of the room with a bunch of people looking at me, I panic and go into fight or flight mode.

This is a pretty typical evolutionary response to fear. When our ancestors had to face down a woolly mammoth, we had a couple of choices. We could try to kill it or we could run away from it.

The thing is, these days, we don’t see many woolly mammoths.

We see public speaking.
Or an uncomfortable conversation.
Or a group of strangers.
Or an opportunity that is unnerving.
Or a situation we can’t control.
Or an outcome that is unknown.

But our minds go back to woolly mammoth territory and we want to either fight it or run from it.

What if there was a third way?

This is the most monumental thing that doing yoga has taught me.

I do hot yoga. That’s the one that is 90 minutes in a room that is heated to 100 degrees.

It’s hard. But it’s not nearly as hard as life.

So, the yoga studio is my place to practice dealing with the actual hard things in life. Because when I get to a yoga posture that is challenging me – and my instinct is to either run out of the room or walk up and kick the instructor in the shins for making me do this – I hear my teacher’s voice in my head:

Meet resistance with breath.

Maybe I can get beyond my caveman mentality and just stop for a minute. I can realize that I’m stronger than I think I am and I can be still for a moment and stop the spinning of my mind. I can take a breath – then decide how I want to respond.

So, as I stood in a glorious theater in Providence, RI, with a group of strong and interesting women all sitting there, ready to listen to me speak – the spinning started:

What am I doing here? Who the hell am I? What makes me think I have the right to stand here and say anything about anything to anyone? They are going to throw things at me. I need to run out of the room right now.

And then I took a breath. I met that resistance from my inner critic, with my breath. Then I remembered that they actually invited me to come speak. They wanted me to do this. These people had voluntarily signed up for this workshop of mine and no one was tied to their chairs.

So, I said:

“Hi. My name is Lisa Jakub. Thanks for being here today. I’m a kind of nervous, but really want to talk to you about something that is important to me. I want to talk about how we can all live a life that feels authentic even if it’s different from what other people expect of us. And the reason that I feel like I can talk to you with some authority about this topic is because I screwed it up so majorly, for such a long time.”

And then they laughed and then I loved them.

That’s what can happen when we don’t operate on automatic pilot and when we are open to options beyond the binary way we are tempted to see the world. It’s not always yes/no, black/white, good/bad, kill/run – the world is nuanced and so are we. When we can still the story line in our minds, a whole beautiful world of middle options become clear.

Sometimes we get a chance to make friends with the woolly mammoth, and we’re rewarded with a fantastic weekend, spectacular people and some really good macarons.

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“You look so familiar” : what it’s like to get recognized

I recently got an email asking me about the “recognizing thing.”

I get this question a lot, so I thought I would answer it here. People want to know if it still happens (yes, but not as much as it used to) and if I hate it (hate is a terribly strong word. I hate bigotry and raisins. I don’t hate getting recognized).

But mostly people say something like “I don’t get it – is it invasive if someone just comes up to say hello?”

The answer is no, it doesn’t make me angry or upset or annoyed – it’s nothing that simple or dramatic.

It makes me kind of embarrassed. It makes me shy. It makes me awkward. (Okay, more awkward.)

It’s never something I got accustomed to, so every time someone approaches me, I’m surprised. I worry that:

  • I’m going to say something stupid to you
  • you are going to see the pimple on my nose
  • I’ll try to be funny and I’ll just be odd
  • I’ll make a goofy face in the selfie we just took and that you’ll have that forever
  • the friend that I am with – who is a nice, normal non-Hollywood mother of two – feels weird about me getting recognized and is now laughing uncomfortably and looking for an escape route

I never feel like I should be…human. People tend to call me by my character name and I feel the pressure to live up to whatever they thought Lydia/Alicia/Sandra/whoever should be. And should I be who they were at age fourteen? Or am I supposed be a projection of who those fictional characters would be in their mid-thirties? See? It’s complicated.

And then I get the people who think we went to high school together. They are absolutely convinced and won’t let it go. And then I never know what to do, because I can’t say, “maybe you know me from movies” –  without looking like a self-obsessed-Troy-McClure-jerk.

So, no, I don’t find it invasive when someone just comes up to say hi. I find it flustering, just in the same way that I get flustered when someone at Whole Foods asks if I need help finding anything – I’m just not skilled at talking to strangers. (See: introvert.)

To be honest, what happens most often is something much more tricky to manage. It’s staring. It’s whispering. It’s pointing. It’s attempted incognito photo-taking. And I’ve never known what to do about that, so I just try to sit there and not feel too much like a zoo animal.

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“Hey…you look like that girl…”

And then there is the really icky stuff – the stuff that started when I was a teenager and made me feel non-human to begin with. There is the feeling of being treated like a commodity and not a real person, like when someone yells “Hey, Doubtfire Girl!” across a room at me.

There is the lack of boundaries and demands of things I’m not willing to do, like the man who approached me at a hotel pool when I was sixteen and wanted me to take a photo with him in my bathing suit. When I asked him to please wait until I could put some clothes on, he said I needed to do it now because, “You’re an actor. You owe it to me.”

I could tell you lots of stories like that – several more appear in my book. I wouldn’t say it’s common, but it happens, and it hurts.  So, now I have the moment of feeling on guard, wondering if it’s going to happen again.

When someone says they just don’t understand how getting recognized could be anything other than fun – I get that. When it happens in movies it looks fun. I am grateful that people want to express their appreciation for something that I have done. That’s lovely. But the attention, and the feeling of being not-quite-human was never something that I was comfortable with, and it was one of the many reasons for my retirement.

So, if you see me somewhere, you are absolutely welcome to come say hello. And if you want to help make me feel more human and comfortable about the whole thing – just ask about my dog or tell me about yours.

As long as you understand that I will totally make you look at photos of Grace on my phone.

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Pondering profanity

I was probably eight years old the first time I swore in front of my parents.

I was playing outside and saw a garter snake. I love snakes and – being the stupidly enthusiastic animal lover that I am – I said, “I love you, snake, come here” as I rushed to pick it up. The snake wisely turned and bit me. My affection quickly extinguished, I dropped the snake and screamed “You bastard!”

(Now that I think about it, this was an accurate foreshadowing of my love life through my early 20s.)

My parents, after a moment of wondering if we needed to go to the emergency room, started laughing.

I learned something really important that day: swearing is funny.

Swearing is funny for a number of reasons, but mostly it is funny because it is unexpected. It jolts us out of the regular flow of things. It wakes us up.

I love swear words for this simple reason — I love words.

Words have long been my closest friends. I learned to read when I was three years old, and since I started working as an actor and traveling for shoots when I was four, books were more commonly my companions than other children. Whenever I was lonely, I could dive into that literary world that was populated with characters who would always be there for me. I have a deep and everlasting love affair with the written word.

That’s why I refuse to believe that there are words that are “bad.” I just can’t think of them that way. (Okay, maybe except for the word “slacks” which is just a terrible word and it should be banished from the English language entirely.)

But words themselves simply can’t be good or bad. They just are, and that’s the beauty of them. They can only be infused with our intent. They can be used in ways that are beautiful or ugly or heart wrenching or enlightening. The only way I won’t use words is to degrade other people, so words that are commonly used in that way don’t show up in my work. But as for the rest of them, they are fair game in all their magical combinations.

I know some get offended when I swear. People say that I’m not a “lady” because of my language (don’t even get me started on that) and I think some people forget that I’m no longer 14 years old and so I can say whatever I’d like, which is one of the many perks of being a 36-year-old person. But I figure if I can drop the F bomb in front of my grandmother and she never flinched, no one else should get overly worked up about it.

I don’t swear because I can’t think of a different word. It’s not out of ignorance or a desire to annoy anyone. I use profanity as a punctuation mark. It brings the reader fully into the moment of the piece. It’s meant to express how I truly feel, the words come from the depths of my heart out of my fingertips and onto the keyboard. And sometimes what comes up is a curse word.

I use them sparingly, because with overuse, any word can lose its power. I use them thoughtfully, because I choose every word I put on the page with the loving care that one might use to tend a rose garden.

And I know that it makes some clutch their pearls in horror, but the simple truth is that I swear because I love my garden of words.

Even the words with thorns.

***This post was inspired by an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour. If you are not listening to it, do yourself a favor and go download immediately. It’s pure joy.***

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How to care for your introvert: a helpful guide

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Classic introvert behavior: talking with the animals at a party. (Me and Mr. Fox)

Does the photo above look familiar to you? If so – congratulations! You’re in a relationship with an introvert!

This introvert might be your romantic partner, friend, child, parent or even yourself. No two introverts are exactly alike – some are more introverted than others, some are outgoing introverts, some are shy introverts – but these simple care tips will help you to have a long, enjoyable relationship with your introvert.

  • Give your introvert a minute. We are not always fast on our feet and sometimes we need a while to adjust to a new situation. We need to quiet the voices in our head and figure out what we really think. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can get the words together in a succinct way.
  • Understand that if we never call you, it’s because we have a deep and eternal hatred of the phone. Texts or emails are how we connect.
  • Please don’t tell us to not be shy. Shy is different from introverted, anyway, and it’s pretty much like telling someone not to be tall. It also insinuates that there is something wrong with us. Not everyone needs to be extroverted.
  • Last minute invites are often challenging for introverts. Dinner with just one close friend usually takes several days to gear up for. Large gatherings (more than three people) need even more emotional prep. Sometimes, we just can’t manage it. No offense. But please keep inviting us to things, with as much notice as possible, because we have a wonderful time when we’re psyched up for it.
  • New people can be intimidating, but we’ll warm up. Introverts don’t need an army of friends, but we have a tight inner circle of people who we love wholeheartedly.
  • If we leave early, it’s not because we are having a bad time. It means we are leaving before we get overwhelmed. We probably had an absolutely lovely time.
  • We love the environment but we’re not carpooling because we need to have our own get-away car, in case we need to leave early. (See above.)
  • We are not judging you, we’re just good listeners. We are not bored or annoyed or zoning out. We like observing. We’re just taking it all in and we’ll share our thoughts when it feels appropriate.
  • Small talk will make us want to peel off our fingernails, but engage us in a conversation about the deeper things in life and we’ll talk for hours.

Trouble shooting

  • “My introvert is being quiet. Sitting on the couch, reading a book and looking serious. Is there something wrong with my introvert?”
    • There is nothing wrong with your introvert. This is her natural state. Allow her to recharge. Maybe bring her more tea.
  • “My introvert said she didn’t want to come out with me to a concert with all of my friends. Does she hate me?”
    • No. Your introvert still loves you. In fact, she loves you so much that a quiet dinner and a Netflix binge sounds much better to her.
  • “My introvert invited me to go to a loud concert with all of her friends/is talking in front of a large group/seems to be enjoying the company of others. I feel like I don’t know her anymore. Is my introvert still an introvert?”
    • Yes! But sometimes even introverts enjoy extroverted activities. Some introverts are great at public speaking and performance. Just be aware that she will likely need lots of downtime afterwards to recover.
  • “Only, like, two of these things apply to my introvert.”
    • People are different. We are not actually like plants. This is just the guide I wish I could hand out to everyone in my life.

(For a great read on introversion – check out Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain.)

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The writer’s bloodline

When I was six, I learned how to tell a good story by sitting on the diving board of my grandmother’s pool.

Every night, Gramma would swim laps before bed. Her best friend would come over and as the two of them sliced slowly through the water, I told stories. I was obsessed with a stone owl statue that stood guard over her garden, and I chronicled his adventures with the toads and butterflies and squirrels.

As I perched on the edge and dangled my toes in the water, I played with story arc and character development.

I leaned about suspense and foreshadowing.

I learned how to utilize supporting characters to bring out the essence of your hero and how to use humor to illuminate an essential truth.

I learned how to be a writer.

After the swim, Gramma would critique the story as she toweled off, telling me the parts she loved and the parts where she lost track of the plot line. She never coddled me, never gave praise when it wasn’t due. I’d nod and thoughtfully furrow my brow and considered how I could refine the owl’s story for tomorrow night’s swim.

My Gramma knew how to use words. She came up through the newspaper world. She was one of those gutsy young broads of the late 1940s – working long hours as an editor at the place she reverentially referred to as “The Paper.”

She lived at the Y, and wondered if the fellas in the newsroom were saying she looked tired when they told her she had “bedroom eyes.” One day, with shaky hands, she marched into her boss’s office and demanded to be paid on par with those men. After that, they respected her more and started offering her cigarettes. She tucked them away in her purse, saying she’d smoke them later. She didn’t like cigarettes, but her boyfriend did, and the man who would become my grandfather couldn’t afford his own smokes.

Her love of words traveled through the bloodline and directly into my heart. However, unlike me, her spelling was impeccable. She slaughtered me at Wheel of Fortune.

In so many ways, she made me a writer.

And I am so deeply grateful. For that, and a million other things.

My grandmother is not here anymore, she passed away two weeks ago and I’m still learning to talk about her in past tense.

But the stone owl from her garden now stands watch over mine.

And he reminds me of where this writer’s soul of mine came from.

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Me and Gramma, a few months ago, visiting a winery in Virginia. One of my favorite days ever.

 

 

A love note to books

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My favorite bookmark, in my current book…

I recently saw a little kid almost walk into a wall because she was reading a book.

It made me so very happy.

Not just because I think it’s funny when people run into things, but because I totally understand the enraptured joy that kid was feeling because of her book.

I’ve had several people ask me recently why I love books so much. (I’m assuming it’s just a question, and not an accusation, like, what is wrong with you, you freaky book girl?) Some people ask me how to start the reading habit, or how they can encourage their kids.

I began my love of books as an extremely emotional and introverted three-year-old. Books were a way to discover the world, escape from my own, and inspire my writing. Characters in books became my closest friends. By the time I was four years old, I was working as an actor and traveled frequently for shoots, so real-life friends were harder to maintain than the ones on the page. Those characters were always there when I needed them, and they always accepted me and welcomed me into their world – it didn’t matter how different I was.

My heart sighs with delight to see a kid reading. They are expanding their mind, learning about the world and figuring out their place in it. Especially now that video games and movies and TV can be all-consuming – reading is all the more sweet.

I’m not going to go on a technology rant and bash TV- I love a good Netflix binge. I love technology. I love my Kindle. I also love paper books and I think there is room for both. I once heard someone say that in the whole physical vs. ebook debate, they were “container neutral” and I thought that was brilliant. I don’t care how we get the words. We just need to get them.

The incredible thing about books is that you can read about absolutely anything. I don’t believe you need to cave to books you “should” read. If Dostoyevsky doesn’t do it for you – no sweat. Read what makes you feel alive and inspired. Read what you love. Is it sailing? Robots? 14th century farming techniques? Great. Find a book about it. Can’t find a book about it? Write a book about it.

Read a book that grabs you by the collar and throws you into the chair. And – this is controversial advice – if you don’t like a book, I believe you have permission to stop reading it. I give a book 50 pages to make me fall in love. If not, no hard feelings, but we go our separate ways. There are too many things I want to read, I won’t force myself to slog through something and resent it. I don’t think authors want you to suffer while reading their work. (Okay, maybe some do, but I don’t.) For me, reading is pure joy. Pure happiness.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read something that challenges you, pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you think differently. Great art has a way of doing that. Art, at its core, is an expression of life and beauty. It might not seem traditionally beautiful – but the best book will contain something breathtaking, hidden in the form of deep truth and skilled wordsmithing.

And there is nothing that makes me happier than discovering something unexpectedly beautiful.

(If you are interested in knowing what books I love, and what I’m currently reading – check out my Goodreads profile, and friend me so we can share book recommendations! I also have specific shelves there for my favorite books on anxiety, meditation, writing, etc.)

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Through the looking glass of fame

Photo courtesy of USC Photo/Gus Ruelas

Photo courtesy of USC Photo/Gus Ruelas

The University of Southern California recently bought a letter at a London auction, penned in 1891 by C.L. Dodgson. The only reason that anyone cares about a really old letter from C.L Dodgson is because he wrote books under a pen name –  Lewis Carroll. It’s a three page letter, on sepia-toned paper with perfectly old-timey slanted script. The letter seems to have the sole purpose of explaining to his friend, Mrs. Symonds, why Carroll hates being famous. He says:

“All of that sort of publicity leads to strangers hearing of my real name in connection with the books, and to my being pointed out to, and stared at by, strangers, and being treated as a ‘lion.’ And I hate all of that so intensely that sometimes I almost wish I had never written any books at all.”

It’s fairly shocking to learn that Lewis Carroll was so appalled by fame that he had some regrets about writing Alice in Wonderland. (It’s also surprising to learn that he was such a fan of underlining.) But clearly, he really didn’t like that whole celebrity thing.

What did it even mean to be famous in 1891? What was it like to be a celebrity in the days before TMZ and paparazzi and Twitter fights? Were people hiding in the bushes at Thomas Edison’s house? Did W.E.B. Du Bois get hounded for autographs while getting his mustache groomed at the barber shop? Could it really have been all that bad?

Yes, clearly for Carroll it could, because some people are just not cut out to be famous.

I am also one of those people. Now, let me state this clearly, before anonymous internet commenters beat me to it: I am not claiming any major type of fame here. I had a taste of that celebrity lifestyle when I acted in movies that did well at the box office. I had that mobbed-in-malls, autograph requesting, red-carpet walking lifestyle for a few years — until I was 22 and realized, like Carroll: I hated it. I found the rejection, the lack of privacy and acting as a puppet for someone else’s writing to be increasingly harsh and unsatisfying. It threatened to completely overwhelm me. Panic attacks struck and I found myself gasping for breath in dark corners, clutching my chest in an attempt to keep my heart from ricocheting off my ribs and busting through the skin.

So, I quit.

But sometimes when people find out that I used to be an actor, they often ask, with this wide-eyed expression, why I would ever leave Hollywood. I try to explain that it’s just a job, with all its pros and cons, and sometimes you get tired of a job and want to try something new. Some people give me this look that apparently people have been giving for 124 years, because Carroll references it in his letter:

“Of course there are plenty of people who like being looked at as a notoriety and there are plenty who can’t understand why I don’t share that feeling. And they probably would not understand how it can be that human beings should have different tastes. But it is true, nevertheless.”

Not everyone is cut out to be a doctor, likewise, not everyone is cut out to be famous. Yet, unlike being a doctor, most people think they would be pretty good at being famous.

But we see people who are bad at being famous all the time. Some celebrities crash their cars, go on bigoted rants and get dragged out of theaters in handcuffs. The problem comes when we fail to remember that these are people simply doing a job. If someone is a bad bartender, they get fired, but unfortunately, it appears to be quite difficult to fire a celebrity. Poor job performance just seems to get them promoted up the celebrity hierarchy.

This disastrous behavior could be blamed on money or power or access to every indulgence imaginable, but I believe it’s the result of being treated – as Carroll said – as a “lion.” It sounds enviable, after all, who wouldn’t want special treatment? But in reality, “special” inherently means “different.” And it’s hard to be different.

I’ve recently realized that in my desperate attempt to not be a lion, I became an ostrich. By pretending that 18 years of my life never happened, I was simply sticking my head in the sand. We all have a past that stomps its feet and demands to be dealt with. My past pops up during 90’s movie marathons, regardless of whether I acknowledge it or not. While the past is not deserving of a staring role in the present moment, it can be worthy of a little thank you in the credits somewhere. Because where would any of us be without it?

I hope that Lewis Carroll got to a point where he could see that the work he did meant something to people and realized that he was not required to be a lion or an ostrich or even Lewis Carroll.

All he ever needed to be was C.L Dodgson.

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Don’t just do something – sit there

The search for a deeper understanding of self is both inherently natural and completely exhausting.

That kind of self-reflection can leave you sweating and chewing your toenails if you aren’t prepared for it. It’s the reason that we have reality television — so that we don’t have to do the hard work of sitting with ourselves and trying to figure out who we truly are. But we do reflect, because it seems more selfish to just wander through life and not think about what you want your contribution to be.

Since I was a kid, I’ve had a nasty habit of getting so anxious about things that I hyperventilate and black out. It could be about a phone call or a party or merely pondering what the hell I am doing with my life. Panic attacks can happen anywhere. I can be in my living room or in a restaurant, when suddenly there is gasping and shaking and trying to fight the tunnel vision and convince myself (and anyone else who might be present) that I’m not actually dying.

My shrink recommended that I try meditation. She sent me home with stacks of books and the instructions to just sit there and breathe. Just sit there. Alone. In silence. With my own self. I would have preferred a recommendation to massage my eyeballs with sandpaper.

I had an entire film career based on the fact that I could let my thoughts run away with me. Acting required me to completely believe the worst possible scenario, such as the fact that my computerized house was really trying to kill me, and let my body react accordingly. My mind was the master, and my emotions needed to follow.

However, I tend to do what I’m told and so, I sat. Every emotion that I wished would stay lurking under the bed, got in my face. Those voices pointed out all the other people in the world who understood how to do this life thing just fine, and how pathetic it was that I had massive anxiety about going to the grocery store.

But I still sat.

I started going to a weekly group that did Yoga Nidra, a deep form of meditative relaxation. Most of the other people in the group were vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. They possessed this disconcerting combination of looking both very young and very world-weary. They picked at their cuticles and talked about their PTSD. They mentioned their lingering pain from combat injuries and they pulled down their sleeves and tried to cover up the scars.

I stayed quiet at the gatherings, deciding not to bring up the whole “I’m stressed because I’m a former child actor” thing. It lacked the drama of mortar fire and made me feel like a massive jerk.

Instead, I just listened. I listened to these young warriors who knew more about sacrifice and suffering than I ever would. One guy told me he hadn’t been able to sleep more than a couple hours a night since he got back from his tour. He said this “chanting hippie shit” was not his scene, but he had actually started sleeping since doing a meditation practice. So, he was happy to trek down the pathway, which was draped in Tibetan prayer flags and Obama signs, to come to this little shed near the chicken coop in a yoga teacher’s backyard. He’d do whatever it took.

We sat together and breathed deeply. We sat with the voices that tormented us and we sat with the uncomfortable unknown. We didn’t fight with the doubts and fears and regrets, we just stared them down until they exhausted themselves and slithered away. We let go of the past and the future and simply practiced gratitude for this moment right here. Eventually, I noticed that I was spending less and less time gasping like a fish who had just leapt out of her bowl.

It wan’t like some lightning bolt where I saw God.

But I saw some peace.

And then I saw that maybe those are kind of the same thing.

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Stepping back: lessons of 2014

feet

In 2014, an astonishing number of people continued to google “Lisa Jakub feet” – and I still aim to please.

As I said last year, I’m not really a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They tend to be vague proclamations, glorifying some unrealistic ideal, and often resulting in a deep feeling of inadequacy and another lapsed gym membership.

I prefer to look back at what I learned over the past year. Once again, 2014 was a year of throwing myself into a free-fall of new and slightly terrifying situations. Some I managed okay, many I could have done better. But I can say this with total certainty: I showed up for my life.

Sometimes you need to believe in yourself even when some other people don’t

I heard “no” a lot this year. I received a stack of rejections for my book. Each one made me want to hide in shame. But there was a tiny part of me that clung to a fundamental truth — I came into this world to be a writer. That voice was almost drowned out by the much louder voice that said I should just quit this whole writing thing and take up cake decorating. But persistence tends to pay off. I could not be more proud that I found a supportive and enthusiastic publisher this year, and that my book will be published in June.

Sometimes people are more wonderful than you could have imagined

I remain in humbled awe of how kind you all are to me. You send me emails and tweets and Facebook messages and funny memes of dogs. You tell me about your families and your jobs and your dreams. You tell me how we are alike and how you feel connected. There are more of you now, and I can’t always respond to everyone. But please know that I read every message and each one is more meaningful than I could ever express. You are why I show up at this keyboard every day.

Sometimes you need to do things that you swore you’d never do

I have continued to do talks at conferences and colleges. Two years ago, I would have said this was as likely as me becoming the heavy-weight champion of the northeast. The biggest shocker of all is that I actually enjoy it. This completely introverted girl with social anxiety and a general loathing for anything that requires more than sweatpants, actually has a good time talking in front of people. Go figure.

Sometimes the world fucking sucks

Robin Williams died. And it still breaks my heart.

And sometimes there is poignant beauty that comes from the world and its fucking suckiness

As a country, and as a little community here on this site, we started talking about depression, anxiety and loneliness. We connected and comforted each other and we told the people we love that we love them. We said the most important thing, over and over again.
You are not alone.
And you all inspired me to start working on my next book, which will be grounded in this topic. It will be honest and it will offer hope and it will be funny – because we have to be able to laugh.

Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.
~Joseph Campbell

I wish all of you joy and peace in 2015.

xo,

~L

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Happy freaking holidays: a guide to surviving December

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This is a stressful time of year.

Sure, it’s joyous and whatever too, but let’s not candy-cane-coat this. Many people are feeling a time crunch, family pressures and money stress. Those of us who struggle with anxiety and/or depression tend to have a hard time, thanks to ridiculous holiday expectations.

But we can do this.

Here are some things that help me this time of year.

Leave

Walking (especially with the dog) is sacred time for me. Even a few minutes of fresh air helps clear my head, get me grounded, reconnected to the natural world, and focused on what really matters. And anything that makes Grace happy, makes me happy.

Give

I always feel better when I am able to stop obsessing about my own life and help someone else. Volunteering or just doing something for others (baking cookies for the mail carrier or simply telling someone how important they are to me) brings an abrupt end to my pity party.

Downdog

I am a yoga fanatic; I think the benefits are endless for mind, body and spirit. I love that it can be done at home without fancy equipment and is accessible to everyone, even those with a severe lack of physical grace, like myself. I start my day with some simple Sun Salutations (which are great for beginners) and tend to unroll my mat whenever I’m feeling stressed.

Write

Writing is my outlet. I have written angry diatribes, compete with outlandish accusations and the inventive usage of profanity. Once I write it out, I usually realize how silly it was to begin with and can let it go. And watching all that that drama go through the shredder is immensely satisfying.

“No”

Setting boundaries is integral to maintaing sanity any time of year. I have social anxiety, and parties tend to be really difficult for me. When my husband is with me, it’s a little easier, but there are events that I need to attend without him. Even though carpooling with friends might be more efficient, I almost always drive myself so I don’t feel trapped and I can leave if I start to feel a panic attack coming on. Knowing that I have an immediate out allows me to relax and actually have some fun. But even with those accommodations, there are times I need to decline an invitation and stay home with the couch and a book. And that’s okay, too.

Sit

Meditation has been an incredibly effective way of dealing with my anxiety. Like everyone else, I always thought that my mind was just too busy to meditate — but something significant changes when you take a few moments to breathe, slow down the incessant thinking, and become aware of the present moment. It’s not easy, but it’s so worth it.  If you are interested in trying mindfulness, just sit in a quiet place, set a timer (start with just three minutes and work up to more) and count each inhale up to ten, and then back down to one again. Your mind will wander – constantly – but don’t get frustrated. Simply come back to focus on the breath, no matter how many times you start thinking about that witty comeback you didn’t say.

Here are some of my favorite books on meditation:

10% Happier – Dan Harris (For the meditation skeptic)

Wherever You Go There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn (For simple directions on mindful living)

Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program – Sharon Salzberg (For those looking for audio guided meditation)

You can also check out the rest of my favorite books on Goodreads.

Most of all, don’t get caught up in silly holiday propaganda and think that everyone else is perfectly merry with their perfect families and perfect homemade hot cocoa you are the only one getting stressed out.

Remember the profound words of Ellen Griswold —

 

So, let’s just take a deep breath and we’ll all make it through this joyous season in one piece. Happy holidays, everyone.

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