Recluses’ Excuses

I wrote this entry back in late May and never published it, so here it is 🙂

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There’s been a change in my life over the past 2 months. My anxiety has dissipated quite a bit.

Explanation? I think I’m just getting used to my work routine, and I think the subway is helping me grow a thicker skin, so to speak. Also, lots of prayer. And it’s sunnier longer now!

With the current season of warmer weather, I am entering a season of my life where I actually want to go out and do stuff. I’ve spent the past three years letting my anxiety dictate what I will or won’t do. Now that I’m calmer, though, I’m realizing that a fully lived life requires going outside and interacting with people–and that I don’t want to look back on my early 20s as “the time I did nothing because I was afraid of everything.” Real life doesn’t happen within the confines of my room.

So, for fun, I’ve compiled a list of “recluses’ excuses” that I’ve used over the past few years. (A recluse, by the way, is someone who stays in their house and doesn’t go out. Like ever. Emily Dickinson was a recluse. I can’t help but wonder if that’s why she wasn’t really famous until after she died.)

Okay, so, these are things I’ve either told myself/my mom/my sister/my friends whenever I want to get out of going out (along with some snarky responses I have for myself):

1. “But I’m tired…”–I am convinced that exhaustion is 40% physical and 60% mental. True, there are times when I feel really tired after work, and yet for some reason I find myself doing contemporary dance in front of my bedroom mirror at 11:30 PM. More often than not, my second wind will kick in. I just need to eat some protein and keep calm. (My mom recently joked that I need to take Geritol *sigh*)

2. “It’s too cold outside”–I know I’m not the only one who hibernates in the Winter. And really, it’s not always healthy/safe to spend extensive amounts of time outside in the cold. But if I’m just traveling from point A to point B in a heated vehicle, then what’s the problem?

3. “It’s too hot outside”–As you can probably tell, I don’t like extremes in temperature. I like when the weather is somewhere between 40 and 85 degrees (Fahrenheit). Last summer I did attempt to go to the park with a friend during a heat wave. It lasted all of 15 minutes, and judging by the fact that only 5 cars were parked in the usually-packed parking lot, we were among the brave ones. Same as I said in point #2, though, just because I can’t be in the outdoors doesn’t mean I can’t go out at all.

4. “It’s raining”–Not kidding, I used this excuse twice in the past few weeks. Apparently I’m not waterproof…even though I own a raincoat, rain boots, and an umbrella. I think the reasoning here is just sheer laziness. Also, I get strangely sentimental about being cozy in my house during a rainstorm….

5. “Nobody will care if I go or don’t go”–Don’t go for them. Go for you.

6. “I’m not familiar with that neighborhood”–And I never will be if I don’t visit sometime and explore a bit. Granted, there are certain neighborhoods I wouldn’t visit by myself after 9 PM. That’s common sense, though.

7. “I don’t know anybody there”–Exactly! That means a clean slate for making a good first impression. And if the chances are high that you’ll never see these people again, even better! Hey–you never know who you’re gonna meet.

8. “But I was planning on doing this nice indoor activity”–Oh, like reading? Or going on Facebook? Or watching a movie? Unless it’s a creative project, this excuse doesn’t apply.

9. “My [insert random body part here] hurts”–It will hurt whether you stay home or you go out. As long as it doesn’t prevent you from enjoying yourself and being able to engage in whatever activity is going on, just go.

10. “My nerves are shot”–This is something I usually say after a busy day at work and a tough commute home. It basically means I am emotionally spent and I am in “the panic zone.” This does not necessarily mean I *will* have a panic attack if I go out, but the chances of me feeling anxious while I’m out are pretty darn high. Interestingly enough, there are times when my nerves are shot and I go somewhere because I have to, and then after the first 15 minutes of being there, I end up having a good time for the rest of the night. So, in short, results may vary. But “what if’s” are inconsequential either way.

I will do my best in the upcoming weeks to avoid using these excuses and, as Nike says, just do it. I would love to take a pottery class or sing karaoke or go see Shakespeare in the park.

I just need to find people to do these things with. And I just ended a sentence with a preposition.

~Nikita

Resilience.

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When I spent those 5 months unemployed (and looking), I was pretty bummed out. I wanted something to do–needed a reason to get up every morning and leave my room, besides going to the kitchen to get a box of Kashi cereal. It happens. The worst part is that when you have anxiety, the more you stay inside, the harder it is to go outside.

Then, I was hired. Somebody decided I was worth a chance, and to this day, I still enjoy going to work. I like my job, I like my coworkers, I like the the location. The commute is very simple–but I have to admit, taking the train was an adjustment for me. In the beginning, I’d be sitting on the train crouched over, squeezing my stress ball and struggling to catch my breath as I listened to Jesus Culture’s album Come Away. Then gradually, I was able to put the stressball away and just listen to music, but I would still be crouched in the fetal position. Recently, I graduated from fetus to sitting upright. It’s taken me two months, but I’m getting used to the train. Even starting to enjoy it, to an extent. Except when there’s a problem.

Today there was a switch malfunction…or a fire…or a broken pipe…I don’t know, I can’t find an accurate story. All I know is that when I got out of work, all trains going uptown to the Bronx were out of service. I noticed when I first walked into the station that there was a swarm of people rushing upstairs from the 4-5-6 platform. They looked like rats scampering to get out. And me, like an idiot, thought “Oh wow, there’s a lot of people getting off the train.”

Really.

So I swiped my Metrocard, went downstairs to go uptown, and figured everything would be business as usual. I noticed it was a little more crowded than it normally is, but I thought, eh, maybe something’s wrong with the 7 train (I always blame the 7 train). But then the people on board the 5 train were told to get out. Well, you’d think the conductor must’ve said something about their mothers, the way one man reacted. But the 5 train people stayed. So we had a mobbed platform full of hungry, angry, lonely, and tired people. And when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, you need to HALT and make sure you don’t do something regrettable. It was by this point that an already packed 6 train left the platform, and then the disembodied voice came on the PA to announce that “due to a switch malfunction, 6 trains will not be running between 42nd and 139th.” Okay, I thought. I don’t need to get off between here and 139th anyway.

But the longer we waited, the more “delays” showed up on the schedule, and I realized I’d better get my behind to the express bus stop if I wanted to get home anytime soon.

Walking to the express bus is, for me, a revelatory journey of sorts. The few times I’ve done it, I’ve found it tiresome, confusing, isolating…even though I’m surrounded by people. Technically, the express bus is not that far from my job. The problem is me. So I walked to the express bus and had my moment of crashing at 331 Madison Avenue, where I sank down in the hallway of an elitist apartment building. The security guard was about 30 feet away, but I figured I should let him know that I was not deliberately trying to loiter.

One thing I’ve learned as a receptionist is the value of courtesy. Like the Bible says in Proverbs 15:1, a soft answer really does turn away wrath, and in order to come across as disarming, I’ve softened my voice. (To the point that if my mom calls me at work, she remarks about how nice I sound on the phone. Haha. I learn from the best!)

So I told the security guard something like this: “Excuse me, sir, I’m not trying to loiter. I’m just staying until I recuperate.” He said it was okay. I continued. “You see, the 6 train had a switch malfunction, so I’ve been walking to the Express bus at Madison and 45th, and I’m really out of shape.” He said it was fine if I stayed. I could stay as long as I needed to. I could even sit by the stairs.

His kindness undid me. I was going to weep. I got myself together, gulped down some Gatorade and water, put my coat on, grabbed my bags, and headed out to walk to the BxM8.

Where there was a line of people waiting.

I managed to get a seat, and I figured I was set, but then the bus driver had to tell boarders at the next stop that they would have to stand if they got on the bus. One middle-aged blonde lady didn’t care–she just wanted to get home. We all, in fact, just wanted to get home. This is the goal of every commuter. This lady–I’ll call her Cassandra–stood in the aisle right beside my seat, where she proceeded to murmur and complain.

I felt like I should give her my seat. After all, I’m young. I’ll live. So I offered my seat to her. She asked me if I was sure. And I was all, “Yeah, of course!”

Look at me, getting all optimistic. As the bus got fuller, we aisle-standers had to make our way towards the back. I took my coat off and put it in that shelf above the seats. I felt stylish and confident in my black blazer. The feeling was short-lived. Let me tell you something–Express buses were not made for standing. This is why they have narrow aisles and lots of seats. So after awhile, my anxiety kicked in. My feet got numb because I wore my heeled boots today. My legs felt stiff and strained. I tried various positions of leaning. But I became pretty scared once the hot/cold flashes started coming over me. I contemplated sitting on the floor. It wouldn’t be comfortable or socially acceptable, but I don’t know these people so it’s all good. I continued to stand, though.

And it was strenuous. I appreciated the scenery and all, but the traffic and swerves and whatnot made me feel thrown, and I was starting to feel weak.

When I finally felt like I couldn’t take it anymore, the bus driver announced our first stop. Then I was finally able to sit. And I cried because of 3 things: 1) I was glad it was over. 2) I felt bad I put myself through that. 3) God proved me wrong like He always does–I can do it. Because He will give me the grace/strength I need. I prayed while I was on that bus, and the song “Shoulders” by Tal & Acacia played on my iPod.

Slowly, I’m building up resilience. I’m not like I used to be. And I’m not alone.

~Nikita

The Panic Diaries: Fighting Immobility

Hey all. As I announced in my last entry, I now finally have a job!

But with any change comes new adjustments…and new fears.

Thankfully, I’ve built up a pretty sizable arsenal of coping techniques. The unfortunate thing is that I have my moments when even those don’t seem to work…

And those moments are frightening.

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My boss was kind to let me out early this past Friday because many people took the day off and it was a slow day. I was determined to go to Posman Books in Grand Central to buy two contemporary classics–Slaughterhouse Five and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, Grand Central was really mobbed on this particular day because it was Black Friday–which meant that the place was filled with travelers and shoppers. I soon felt overheated and overwhelmed, so I plopped myself down on the floor under a closed ticket booth and drank my gatorade as people rolled their luggage and gave me strange looks. Or maybe the looks weren’t strange, but either way, I felt really self-conscious.

And I continued to sit on the floor. And the fear of getting up seized my heart.

I started mentally going over my options. Cab? No, too expensive. Call my mom and ask her to meet me in Grand Central? Not feasible, and she’d probably want to slap me through the phone. I knew two things: 1) My problem was anxiety in and of itself. I wan’t afraid of any particular bodily ailment or any specific threat or dangerous person. I just felt scared for no particular reason. And it sucked. 2) I couldn’t stay on the floor. I had to get up at some point, whether I liked it or not.

I felt anguished. Based on past experience, I knew a good cry would be somewhat relieving, but I couldn’t muster up the tears. So I had to be a big girl and get up. I unlocked my iPod so I could play Jesus Culture’s album Come Away, and I started to repeat Joshua 1:9 to myself over and over again. I needed to remind myself that God was going to be with me wherever I go.

I walked over to the area where I could go down the escalator to catch my train, but when I saw the crowd of people just waiting to get on the escalator, I thought to myself, “Nope. I’ll just take the Express bus.”

Which meant that I would have to walk to the Express bus. In the cold. By myself….Just like everybody else! But when you have panic disorder, even tasks that normal people find trivial can sometimes turn into mountains. So I made a few stops along the way to the bus so I could warm up. It snowed for all of one minute, and I had to laugh at the whole situation. When I finally boarded the bus, I felt a huge sense of relief.

You can’t die from panic disorder, as I’ve reminded myself multiple times. The problem is that when you’re in the midst of an attack, even though you feel like you’re gonna die, you know you’re going to live…and that there’s a huge chance you’ll have another panic attack sometime soon. The combination of these three things makes me feel miserable at times–I feel like I’m dying, but I know I’m going to live, and I know I might feel like I’m dying again sometime soon. But I cannot focus on the what-if’s. Instead, I can look back on the small victories. To you, these things may be run-of-the-mill and mundane. But for me, getting up in the middle of Grand Central station and moving ahead was momentous. Because it proved to me that I’m more resilient than I think I am, and that God is still with me, even when I’m walking alone.

❤ Nikita

PS Is anybody looking to get rid of an old copy of either Slaughterhouse Five or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? Please let me know via Twitter @Vacca_To_World. Thank you!

Losing Loved Ones (Who Are Still Alive)

A few people in this photo are still with us. My sister is actually the girl standing behind me.

When my sister was in her senior year of high school, she had to take a class called “Death & Dying.” I don’t think I need to explain what the class is about, but when I took that same class at that same high school six years later, they had changed the name of the course to “Alpha & Omega.” The school did this renaming for two reasons:

1) “Death & Dying” was apparently too morbid.

2) They wanted to talk about beginnings as well as endings.

Still, death was very prominent in this course, and I remember reading an essay about mourning the various “deaths” we encounter throughout our lives. Some deaths are concrete–the death of a loved one, or confronting our own mortality. However, some deaths are more abstract–the death of our childhood, the death of a marriage.

Over the past 4 years, I did grieve the deaths of several family members and friends. These deaths are difficult to think about, because when I do I am reminded that I didn’t get to know some of my relatives very well before they died, and vice versa. Now I can’t visit any of these people and talk to them.

Those were not my only losses, though, because over the past 4 years I’ve mourned many friendships. Some of these friendships disintegrated, some were cut down at my own hand, and some just…evaporated. I mourned the loss of the youth group at my church. We went from having 25 members to having almost no one. And yes, I lost these friendships, too. Sure, sometimes a few keep in touch. I’ll give someone a life on Candy Crush Saga, or they’ll wish me a happy birthday when it’s that time of the year. But otherwise, we do not confide, we do not converse, we do not pray for one another, we do not call each other, we do not hang out. At all.

Everyone left for different reasons. Some left on bad terms. Some wanted to go to a different church. Some simply left without a trace. And some wanted to walk away from God.

Most of these people who left did not say goodbye to me. And you see, when somebody dies, that’s usually one of the first complaints of the person who grieves–“I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye! I didn’t get to tell them that I love them! I didn’t get to make peace with them before they passed on!” But when the person is still alive and they exit your life, and you don’t get any closure–it just stings. Can I track some of these people down? For sure. I know where some of them live, I’m friends with many of them on Facebook, I even still have some of their phone numbers. What’s the point of it, though, if chances are they won’t be receptive? After all, they haven’t bothered reaching out to me, so why should I reach out to them?

That’s when I realize, though–maybe they’re thinking the same thing. Maybe they get sentimental for the good old days, too. Maybe they want to contact me, or contact someone else who left, but they’re afraid to because we’re all afraid of the same thing–

Rejection.

For those of us who still follow Christ, though, we have no excuse. If we truly are brothers and sisters, why can’t we get along? If my mom or my sister moved to a different house, I wouldn’t disown them. So why do we, as Christians, get into such an uproar when someone leaves our church to go to another?

It partly has to do with how they left, and why they left. What did they leave behind? Did they cause division? Do they speak badly of us now that they’ve left? Did they get into a fight with someone prior to their leaving?

I took some of it personally in the beginning. In my mind, I kept making the situation about me–why didn’t they say goodbye to me? What did I do wrong? We were working on the same ministry team–why didn’t they tell me they were going to jump ship? After awhile, though, I tried to understand their story, their side. Some of these people were abandoned themselves, and maybe they don’t know how to respectfully leave a person or a place. Some of these people had serious issues and needed help. Some of these people felt humiliated and didn’t want to make the situation any bigger.

Now, I can understand these things. I forgive those who have left and I still love them all. I still mourn from time to time, but as time passes by, I can relive the memories without crying. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

~Nikita

The Most Calming Album

Music’s effect on the brain

I once asked a friend of mine if she believed that the media you expose yourself to can have a negative effect on you. She said no, and since then her opinion has slightly changed. I still believe your input can definitely affect your output, though.

With that said, knowing my personality, there are certain things I avoid exposing myself to. I don’t watch horror movies, I avoid listening to artists with bad messages (i.e. Marilyn Manson), and I don’t read really dark books (iDrakula wasn’t what I’d classify as “really dark.” It was kind of a spoof).

These are self-imposed restrictions, by the way. When I was teenager, I was really into paranormal fiction, and my mom made no gripes about buying these books. Then one day I woke up, looked at my book shelf, and tore these books apart. Then I recycled the mess of covers and pages, because I care about the environment. (I kept the Twilight Saga, though, because those books are tame and don’t dwell too heavily on mythology).

Aaaanyway, this is supposed to be a music post. I think music really taps into something deep within our hearts/minds/souls. An upbeat pop song can put you in a good mood. Listening to fast music while you’re working out can help you keep pace. Listening to a violin and piano duet can make you cry. Why? What is this mysterious thing about music that makes us react to it so viscerally?

Lanny Donoho touched on this subject in his book God’s Blogs, which I plan on writing about in the near future. So for now, I’m going to tell you which album has had the most soothing effect on me.

Around the time I was diagnosed with panic disorder, worship band Jesus Culture released their album Come Away. A friend of mine recommended that I check it out, so I bought it and listened to it.

It was recorded live, so you hear the crowd between songs. Indeed, the album does have that spontaneous, live quality to it, as if you’re there in person. The songs were so encouraging and calming for me that I started listening to the album on my commute to school, and in my room as I got ready in the morning, and I would even play it looped on my iHome as I slept at night.

It’s not an album for music aficionados, per se. If you’re looking for a more artful and experimental worship album, I’d recommend Gungor’s Ghosts Upon the Earth. Come Away has songs with repetitive lyrics and melodies, and some songs are pretty long–but that’s kind of the point. The album isn’t meant to entertain you–it’s meant to uplift you and bring you into God’s presence. And it succeeds in doing just that.

My favorite songs on the album are “Rooftops,” “My Soul Longs For You,” and “One Thing Remains.” All the musicians and singers in this band are very talented and “tuned” to each other and to the Holy Spirit. Worship music can be done one of two ways. You can have a set list and simply stick to the set list, without leaving any room for spontaneous worship and alternate songs. Or, you can have no set list at all, or just have a basic idea of what songs you want to sing, and then let things go onstage as God leads.

Come Away has been my go-to album when I feel anxious, scared, and overwhelmed. If you fall into any of those categories, I’d recommend this album for you.

~Nikita

What albums do you listen to when you are stressed out? 

Is Facebook a Skill?

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I jumped on the LinkedIn bandwagon around 2 years ago, I want to say. I figured it was a professional social network, it was starting to gain momentum, and I’d best partake in this if I wanted to make good connections.

Now that I’ve graduated college, I’ve been taking LinkedIn a lot more seriously. I’ve applied for a few jobs via LinkedIn (they tell you how many others also applied–I’d rather not know!) and I’ve made some good connections. One of the features I like on the site is that people can endorse one another for various skills. I enjoy endorsing people, and some have kindly endorsed me, but I’m a little perturbed by the fact that my most endorsed skill is…

Facebook.

I’m not even sure why I listed it as a skill–it’s kind of like listing Microsoft Word. If you don’t know how to use it, you probably don’t own a computer. I guess with the social media work I’ve done, it was important to utilize Facebook in a professional manner.

But is Facebook really a skill? The people who endorsed me for Facebook are all friends with me on Facebook. Is it a humorous way of saying I spend a little too much time there? (Which I don’t, at least not anymore, except when I’m playing Candy Crush Saga or Pyramid Solitaire Saga….)

I should hope I don’t bear any virtual resemblance to this young lady.

But in all seriousness, what are the merits of Facebook? Anyone can get a profile, anyone can make a page, and anyone can start a group. How is it a skill if virtually anyone can “do” it?

In defense, I can say that I was an admin for House Party’s Facebook page while I was an intern there. I didn’t do as much on the page as my supervisor did, but I did have to occasionally post event photo albums, and there was a process I had to follow to make sure the album was posted at the right time, with carefully chosen and organized photos, and with the correct information and creative captions.

For the past 8 months I’ve been an admin for the Christian Rockers group and the Christian Rockers fan page on Facebook, both founded by my friend Topher, and my experiences in running both have taught me a few things about responsibility, organization, and community management (really!).

At House Party, they use an Excel sheet for organizing the company’s blog schedule. I adapted the format of that spreadsheet for the Christian Rockers’ page “Band of the Week” posts, and Topher and I used this sheet to schedule an entire year’s worth of posts. We watched the insight section of the page to figure out when the best times for posting were (we didn’t always stick to it, but still). We even used the spreadsheet as a calendar to delegate who would post on which days (once I graduated, I started posting less often so I could focus on my job search…and stuff….)

There are 425 members in the Christian Rockers’ Facebook group, but only a core group of about 15 people frequently post and comment. Recently there was a mild political riff over the New York Times, and I deleted someone’s comment because it seem too overcharged and off-target.

I was just happy for Skillet! Making front page of the NYT Arts section is huge, regardless of what you think of the New York Times.
I was just happy for Skillet! Making front page of the NYT Arts section is huge, regardless of what you think of the New York Times.

Then I realized that the previous comments on this post were also slightly off-target and politically charged as well, so I made the decision to delete all the comments on that post. It was only fair. Then I wrote this:

I am a peace-lovin' gal. So I shamed both sides. XD
I am a peace-lovin’ gal.

It was a decision I had to make as an admin. I did not want a fight to start, but I also did not want to single out one person. So, instead, I generalized the issue at hand and put the focus back on the music.

Is all this a niche thing? Yes. However, it does show some level of skill in terms of administration. And this was all Facebook related.

So, if you’re someone who actually does work on Facebook, then yes, Facebook is a skill. 🙂

The downside–nobody really cares (according to this article).

~Nikita

Weigh in: Do you think Facebook is a skill? Also: what are some skills on LinkedIn that you find run-of-the-mill and not worth listing (i.e. Microsoft Word)?