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  1. How to Change the Rules in the Game of Anxiety

    August 6, 2017 by Diane

    This week, I played the game of anxiety in the circus of my mind.

    It goes like this:

    Visualize the worst possible outcome for a future event and fixate on it, running the movie loop in your mind until your body reacts with sweaty palms and skipped heartbeats and a rise in blood pressure and a plethora of digestive issues, and then visualize the worst possible explanation for what’s happening with your body.

    This is considered round one.

    You may continue playing rounds, choosing different future events to obsessively worry about. You’ve won the game when you become a nervous wreck.

    I realized there’s a better game.

    It goes like this:

    Visualize the best possible outcome of events and fixate on them, running the loop in your mind until your body reacts with a smile and a bounce to your stride and a wide-open grateful heart, and then fixate on how wonderful you feel.

    You might have noticed it’s the same game.

    It just has different playing pieces.

    Since anxiety is a game manufactured in the mind, it occurred to me: why not set the mind to visualizing happy tidings rather than worrisome thoughts?

    Oh, you can’t fool the mind?

    That’s what I thought. Until I caught on to the fact: my mind isn’t all that bright.

    I’m sorry, but my mind doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s nothing more than whatever squirrelly thought I’m feeding it. Don’t believe me? Here’s a test:

    Imagine eating a lemon. Can you see the juices squirting as you cut into it? Can you smell it as the two halves fall away? Now, suck on one half of the lemon.

    I’ll bet your taste buds are tingling like crazy right now.

    See? Your mind was duped into thinking you were really eating a lemon, and sent that message to your taste buds.

    Granted, it’s not my mind’s fault that it’s none too bright. After all, it’s buried under a lot of grey matter without eyes to see or ears to hear. It relies on me to give it the real McCoy.

    It’s my fault for feeding it a bunch of malarky.

    Dave had surgery this week. I volunteered to be nurse for the day.  Had someone else volunteered me for the task, I would have questioned their sanity. Sending a hypochondriac to be a Florence Nightingale is a sure sign of Squirrels in the Doohickey.

    But I love the guy, so I stepped up to the plate.

    Here’s how:

    I worried endlessly, peppering my thoughts with “what if?” scenarios. What if the surgery goes badly? What if he gets sick from the anesthesia? What if he starts bleeding? What if he gets an infection and I have to take him back to the hospital? What if the surgery goes badly, he gets sick, he gets an infection, his incisions bleed, and I keel over? That was my real concern; that I wouldn’t remain upright through the whole ordeal. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle whatever happened, and Dave would end up taking ME to the hospital.

    I worked myself into a proper anxiety attack. I fretted. I ruminated. I lost three pounds.

    I WON THE ANXIETY GAME!

    Then the moment arrived: the changing of the guard.

    Carolyn, who drove him to and from the hospital (definitely not a job for a hypochondriac), brought him home, and I showed up, ready to take over.

    I took a deep breath.

    I cautiously called his name, and stepped inside.

    Dave was peeling off his shirt. He turned toward me.

    I avoided looking at his gauze bandages. I wondered about all that rusty-colored stuff on his skin. Blood? Antiseptic? Please be antiseptic.

    “Warning!” he said.

    I braced myself. This is it.

    “I saved my gallstones,” he said. “They’re in a bottle on the kitchen floor. Wanna see?”

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

    I almost cried in relief.

    “Um…maybe another time. How are you?”

    “Good! I don’t feel any worse than I do on Monday mornings getting up for work.”

    I gave him a sponge bath, a shoulder massage, and some energy treatments, opened a package of Saltines for him to eat, and hung around until he got into bed. Then I watched over him from the Jesus Chair.

    I was able to do this because, well, the visualization I had conjured up was much worse than the reality.

    And before arriving, on the verge of panic, I grasped the epiphany that anxiety is a mind game. The true winner games the system.

    Since my mind does an ace job reacting to my fearful images, why not choose images that tap into feel-good chemicals, instead of all that adrenaline and cortisol? I told myself I can just as easily visualize lying on my sky blue blanket on a vast green lawn, a cool breeze wafting by, the faint sound of a bi-plane motoring overhead, someone mowing their lawn in the distance, a father, perhaps—nice, safe, comforting, neighborhood sounds.

    Then, instead of worrying about whether I would be okay, I could focus on making sure he was okay.

    Game over.

    Now, about those gallstones…

    I did take a peak. Then I left Dave with a small bag of cherry pits from my lunch, so he could show them to the guys at the office. “Look how big my stones were!

     


  2. The Mini Refrigerator that Turned into a Giant Headache: Part 3

    July 30, 2017 by Diane

    Remember THE REFRIGERATOR INCIDENT?

    If you’re not up to speed, the whole lovely affair started here. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

    Back now?

    To recap: After my thirteen-year-old mini refrigerator gave its last gasp, I needed to get a new one. Turns out they don’t make mini refrigerators the way they used to. That’s what the not-so-mini refrigerator repairman told me when he came to examine the faulty seal on the Magic Chef unit I had purchased after returning the other two appliances that were not up to par.

    “Think about it,” he said. “Companies don’t make money unless a customer is buying their product. So they manufacture refrigerators to last as long as the warranty. Three years. Tops. Then you’ll buy a new one.”

    I recalled the tennis shoes I had purchased that had a six-month guarantee. My environmental hackles rose.

    The repairman, a genial balding fellow with glasses, checked the seal. “Oh, this is normal,” he said, pulling the seal completely away from the door. “It’s supposed to peel away. See? Then it tucks back in nicely.”

    “Uh…doesn’t that mean air is getting in?” The top corner still gapped.

    He ignored the question. Instead, he told me about the interesting customers he’d encountered.

    There was the guy who worked as a crane operator, who helped some NASA scientists with an experiment by dropping things from on high to see if the objects would remain intact. This was part of the design process for the rover. Unfortunately, everything shattered. One day, the crane operator leaped off his crane, landing with flexed knees, and said, “Ah ha! It needs knees!” And he became forever famous (at least in the world of NASA) for the brilliant idea of flexible legs on the rover.

    There was the guy who was shot in the head, the bullet lodged in such a precarious position that operating on it would have killed him. So the surgeon had the brilliant idea of putting the guy in NASA’s (again?) centrifuge, which whirled the poor fellow around at high speed, magically dislodging the bullet from the same hole it went in.

    “I love meeting interesting people,” the repairman said, and looked at me like he was waiting to hear what brilliant idea I’d contributed to humankind.

    I thanked him for his time, and sent the jolly man packing.

    And before you ask, YES, he did tell me those stories, because this is the sort of repairman the universe LOVES to send me. I interpret this as either:

    1. I need a more exciting life
    2. This is material for my blog
    3. I’ve just been duped by a big fat liar

     

    I wracked my brain for a brilliant idea on how to get the refrigerator back into its box, back into my car, and back into the store without sending my back into another spasm.

    The plan I came up with was this: buy yet another fridge, and store The Magic Chef in the garage temporarily, JUST IN CASE.

    As luck would have it, Dave had a buddy at work who had just purchased a mini refrigerator on Amazon. The guy had it delivered straight to the office, and he set it up next to his desk for bottled drinks. It hummed. It purred. It was so quiet, according to Dave, that you wouldn’t know it was on.

    I gave Dave my mini thermometer and instructed him to stick it in the fridge and monitor it. After a week, the verdict was in: the temp never budged above 35 degrees.

    Long story short, I rushed to Target to buy it. As it turned out, it was the EXACT SAME REFRIGERATOR I first purchased before all this madness began, the one that looked like it was made for Barbie-doll food.

    One of the shelves, I discovered, could be moved up or down to accommodate adult-sized food.

    I plugged it in. I set my thermometer on the top shelf. Then the bottom. Then the middle. Then the door. I nudged the temperature control a smidgen up and down and up and down until it was just right, and then I loaded my food onto the shelves.

    I am here to report: The refrigerator doesn’t purr.

    It has a faint high whine. Like tinnitus.

    Dave wouldn’t notice because he’s got tinnitus.

    I’m learning to embrace it.


  3. If Life is What You Make it, Make it Matter

    July 23, 2017 by Diane

    You live in a world where you wake up and the sun shines, coffee percolates, teeth gleam, and breakfast waits on the table on good china, next to rolled napkins of the finest cloth. Where politics is a word buried in a dictionary. Where windows are floor to ceiling, and the view is a white sand beach, with seagulls dipping into gently rolling waves. You live in a world where nothing matters except good food, good wine, good company, a good view, and something good to fill the days—something that does matter.

    Or…

    You live in a world where you drag yourself from bed thirty minutes after the alarm goes off, and rush through a bowl of cereal to arrive late at a job that bores you. Where the workplace is poorly lit with no windows. Where every surface is piled with clutter, the internet screams politics, and the only view is your own. Where nothing matters except quitting time, making it through traffic, opening a can of soup without slicing your thumb, and numbing your pain with reality television.

    Who visualized that life?

    Someone who didn’t visualize their ideal.

    Are you filling your days with what matters, or with what doesn’t?

    Let’s face it: unless you have a helper, you do the housework, wash the dishes, clean the clothes and get the groceries. Chores take up a portion of your waking hours. Can those hours matter more than something to get through? Can they be times when you do your best creative thinking, times when you practice gratitude for earth’s bounty, times when a clean home makes you feel as if you’ve stepped into House Beautiful?

    Do you know what matters to you?

    Is it writing five pages in your novel, or shopping for another pair of shoes that you don’t really need? Is it time spent reading, or time spent searching for your car keys under the clutter on your desk? Is it walking along the shoreline with a loved one, or standing in line at Starbucks checking your Twitter followers? The world is full of choices, isn’t it? Dizzying.

    What’s your vision?

    Without a vision and a plan to get there, we live our lives dealing with matters that don’t matter. And to make matters worse, sometimes we don’t even know it.

    Brian Tracy, in his book, Goals! How to Get Everything You Want—Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible, says, “If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want, you end up getting something else.”

    So: visualize what you want, every morning when you wake up, and every night when you turn out the lights. See it, feel it. Engage the senses. Make it as real as possible. A funny thing happens. With a clear target to aim for, like a magnet, the brain focuses in that direction.

    Make it matter

    Every waking hour, touch upon those things that spark your life force. Ask yourself periodically, does it matter, what I’m expending time and energy on? If not, can I make it so, or let it go?

    We live in a world of matter, shaped by our thoughts, our actions, and the thoughts and actions of billions and billions of others. Shape it wisely, and with an open heart.

    Because it matters.