I didn’t have what someone might call a “regular” religious upbringing. My parents decided to join the Unitarian Universalist church when they moved to Austin in 1977 and thus my brother and I were raised going to that church. Although I do not call myself a religious person or even a spiritual one, I still identify as a UU and my education from my parents and the church has informed how I see the world. The most accurate way to describe what I have become is a secular humanist. When I tell people this, the typical response is that they have no idea what I am talking about. Some people know what a secular humanist is and a smaller number know what a UU is, but often I have to explain it.

The most common question I get is if UUism is a type of Christianity. The answer is yes and no. UUs started off being two different religious sects of Christianity, but over time came away from that and became what is referred to as a liberal religion meaning that the congregation is made up of people who believe different things. The Unitarians and the Universalists decided to come together as one in the 1950’s and created Unitarian Universalism. We don’t have a book we use to guide us or any all powerful people who decide what we should or shouldn’t do. Instead, we have seven principles to guide us and the teachings of many different religious practices. I have never memorized the seven principles, but the overarching idea is acceptance and equality. Each one has, in a different way, informed my thinking about the world and I would like to explain what each one means to me.

The first, and in a way most important principle, is that we believe that each person has inherent worth and dignity. This simply means the everyone is important, but for me it is more than just that. To me it means that each person, however different they are, matters and should be treated as such. I may not agree with everyone, I may not like everyone, but no one is lower than I am. We are all equally important. That doesn’t mean that I think all people are good. It is simply that we are all human and therefore all deserve to be on the same level.

The second principle states that all actions should be just, equal, and compassionate in nature. Basically this is saying that we should be kind to each other and ensure that we treat people equally and justly. To me, this means that you shouldn’t be rude or deny people equality just because you don’t like them. I say that because of course we are going to be kind to the people we like. We don’t want to hurt them, and if we do in a fit of emotion we can go back and try to correct the wrong. However, we don’t tend to do that with people we don’t like. Just because you don’t agree with someone isn’t a reason to treat them badly. Even a criminal, for all the pain they cause, doesn’t deserve anything except for justice in a fair and compassionate way. Yes, justice needs to be there, but we don’t have to go out of our way to be cruel and unfair about it.

The third principle states that we should accept and learn from each other. This one comes from the fact that all UUs have different spiritual beliefs. We believe that spirituality is a personal journey and what works for one person may not work for another. Another person’s beliefs are not wrong, they are just different. Because I believe this, it is very difficult for me when people say that someone else is wrong to believe what they do. I’ve had plenty of people tell me that I am wrong or going to hell. How do they know? I do not know that their beliefs are wrong or right. They simply are not the beliefs that make sense to me. Belief is something that takes faith because there is no solid evidence for it. That’s what makes it a belief and not a fact. Humans have believed in many different things over the thousands of years we have been around and each person believes that what they think is the truth. I think that whatever it is that people think is true is their personal business. I can learn about what someone believes and use it to inform my own thoughts about the world. I tend to believe only in science and nature, but there are teachings from all different religions that I think are good and I incorporate them into my life as well as I can.

Fourth, we believe in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. This goes back to the third principle and the idea that each person’s spiritual path is different. There will never be a consensus among people about what is true spiritually speaking. I don’t believe that there can be because of the unknowable nature of spirituality. But UUs say that is ok, that it is good even. Each person is encourage to find what is true for them as long as they do it in a way that is responsible. In other words, find your own path, but do it in a way that is not harmful to you or others.

The fifth principle I don’t think can stand on it’s own. But, taken into context with the other principles, I think it is can be a good thing. It says that in we believe in the democratic process and the right of conscience. The democratic process makes sense when you are talking about all people having worth and treating everyone with compassion, equality, and justice. Each person’s voice should be heard, everyone matters. You should also use your conscience to guide your decisions. I tend to agree with that, although I don’t think you should do things that harm other people or take away their rights. If your beliefs lead you to do that, I’m not sure that is right and just. It’s a complicated thing, to both be true to your beliefs and yourself but also ensure that you are acting with kindness. But I think that if you believe in compassion and equality then your other beliefs will follow suit and you will not be fighting for something that harms people or takes away their rights.

Sixth, we have a principle that says that we have a goal of attaining a global community based on equality, liberty, and justice leading to a peaceful existence for all mankind. It is a lofty goal and one that seems impossible to attain. However, I think it is important to see the big picture. The world is not composed of the people we have contact with. It is not only about the interests of ourselves or even our country. We are all part of a global community and we need to take care of each other. I think that if more people around the world believed that then the goal wouldn’t seem so impossible.

Finally, the seventh principle says that we have respect for the interdependent web of life that we are all a part of. To me, this principle extends the idea that human life should be treated with compassion, equality, and justice to apply to all life. We are not the only ones who live on this Earth. It is not ours to do with as we please. Without all the pieces of the web of life, we cannot be. I am always reminded of The Lion King when I think about this. Mufasa says that we are all connected in the circle of life. I think that is true. It’s also why I have no problem eating meat and why I like the idea of going back into the circle of life when I die. I don’t ever want to just be a body apart from the Earth. I think that we need to remember that we live on the planet with many other forms of life that are equally entitled to the resources the world has to offer. Just because we have figured out how to take ourselves out of the circle of life doesn’t mean it isn’t still there and worth respecting.

So, there you have it. Basically that is what UUs believe and my own personal views on them. I may not be religious or spiritual, but being raised in a UU church has impacted how I see the world in a big way. It informs my political beliefs and how I feel about controversial issues. It is why I react strongly when people try to impose their belief systems on me or use them in ways that harm others. I do not understand why there is so much division when we could accomplish so much good by working together. A single person cannot have all the answers, but by taking the good ideas from many people and putting them together perhaps we can find many of the answers. I don’t know, but it’s an idea.

School has taken over my life. That’s not surprising when you take 4 graduate classes at once. But, for once, I have some time so I figured I’d write a little bit.

Lately, I’ve been getting back into documentaries about paranormal things and serial killers. I studied psychology in college and I find the psychology behind both of these things fascinating. For whatever reason, yesterday I was getting my usual saturday doughnuts and I was thinking about my tentative placement for student teaching next semester. I was going over the relatively short list of tentatives I have and was wondering why I didn’t have to go get fingerprinted. Well, I don’t because I already have been. Of course. And then of course I thought that if I ever committed a major crime, I am screwed. It’s a good thing I am not a criminal mastermind.

In other news, Blake and I have been trying to do “the zone” diet. I’m not following it as closely as he is, but I follow it more when we are together. Obviously I do not want to make two different meals just because I want something else. Plus, the meals are pretty tasty so far. In any case, yesterday was our first cheat day. We both ate whatever and I have to say, I do not like how I feel today. I want an apple, a glass of water, and some pickles. No cookies or cake or potatoes or french fries. I’m no longer craving soda which is good. I haven’t even had a soda in at least a week. It’s just really interesting how my body is adjusting and craving food that is actually good for me or low calorie instead of craving things like soda and potato chips.

Now that I’m eating better, I keep thinking I should actually start exercising. My mom has this exercise thing for the ps3 she has and I think I should try it out when I come down later this week. I also have a ball and a guide to come back and abs that I can use here. But, I can’t seem to find the motivation to get moving. I suppose my body thinks that taking the dogs for a walk should count. Plus, living on the 3rd floor adds a lot of movement into my life. But, I weigh as much as I’ve ever weighed (somewhere between 122 and 126) and my muscles aren’t as toned as I know they have been. I’m 26 now and I’m starting to get to where I need to get everything in my life together. I feel like getting in shape should be part of that. It helps that boyfriend is trying to lose weight and get into shape as well. Hmm…

That’s all. Not super interesting, but life isn’t also interesting. I need to come up with something interesting to write. I’ll have more time to contemplate it when the semester ends.

At the end of next month, I will turn 26 and officially enter the “other side” of my 20’s. As I drove past my old high school today, I thought of one of my favorite teachers, Mr. E. I realized that I was first in his class 10 years ago. Which means that my 16th birthday was also almost 10 years ago. Why this math hasn’t struck me before isn’t clear, but once I realized it, I suddenly had an onslaught of thoughts about this upcoming birthday.

10 years ago, I asked for a surprise party. I know. How can it be a surprise if I know about it? Well, my parents planned it and I just new there would be a party at some point around my birthday. I had a huge and super fun sweet 16 at Dave and Buster’s. I got my first cell phone with a number I still have today. It was one of the best parties of my life. My 24th birthday was pretty awesome, too. But, the 16th birthday is something special.

Now I am facing my 26th birthday. I’m finally going on my fabulous adventure to Oregon. I have inadvertently decided to do something big for this seemingly insignificant birthday. No one gets excited about their 26th birthday. There are no special parties, cards, or expectations. It made me think about when my next exciting birthday would be. 30. Then what? 40? 50? All these birthdays seem to simply be saying, “Congratulations. You’re old.” That isn’t to say you shouldn’t be excited about it or happy.

Perhaps I know the answer to my question of why this is. 16 is when you can drive. 18 you can vote. 21 you can drink. After that….you are pretty much done with being allowed to do things. You can do it all. In that case, it’s up to us to embrace moving through our lives and make whatever we want special for us.

I have always loved animals. In fact, when I was little I almost always preferred animals to people. Sometimes that is still the case. My favorite thing to do as a child was pretend to be an animal and be around animals. In elementary school, I was well known as the “pony girl” due to my affinity for galloping around the playground. I wont lie, I still run around like a horse, but I am much more secretive about it. It’s fun. What can I say. I also have almost always had pets. I’ve had all kinds of rodents, dogs, cats, and horses. I’ve wanted more than that.

My first pet was a cat that I named Kitty Friend, called KFC by my dad. Ironically, she was the meanest cat I’ve ever met (though I may amend that since Jazz and I were attacked by a large random cat the other night). We adopted her when I was 3 from some people down the street. They had a zillion cats and didn’t really notice her absence. When we moved when I was 4, they grudgingly let us take her with us. Kitty Friend was an outside cat. Now that I’m older, I know that she was probably as close to being feral a cat can be while still being someone’s pet. As a youngster, Kitty Friend brought us all manner of creatures. Snakes, birds, rats, and, once, half of a squirrel. I have no idea why half, but I assume she ate the other half. Another time, she killed an entire family of birds despite the parent birds attempts to ward her off by dive bombing her and pecking at her head. She almost never let anyone pet her, although I tried all the time. Instead, she would hiss and bat at me. I loved her anyway. I think we took her to the vet twice in her entire life and she ate dead things and Friskies. Somehow, she lived to be 18 years old. As an older cat, she spent more time around the house and would even let me pet her for entire minutes. She died in our front yard on April 17, 2003.

Shadow was our first dog. My brother, T.J., got him for his 9th birthday the year after we moved to our new house when I was 5. Initially, we had gotten a lab puppy that we called Snowy. But, my mom was allergic so we got Shadow instead. He was a teeny tiny black toy poodle puppy with two blotches of white on his chest. I loved him right away. At the time, I had not started school so I spent a lot of time at home with my mom and the puppy. Shadow was more of a person than a dog to us. Especially to me. I would dress him up in baby doll clothes and push him around in my little stroller. He hated it and would let me know he’d had enough by biting me. He caught a burglar once at our neighbors house and often kept me company after my parents got divorced and my brother started to be out all the time. Eventually, like all things, Shadow got older. When he was 16, we had to have his eyes removed due to an autoimmune disease. He lived without eyes for another 2.5 years. He died shortly after I moved to California on October 14, 2009.

My second dog was Brandi. I got her for my 13th birthday. I picked her out from a litter of sheltie puppies down the street from our rental house just after I finished 6th grade. She was the runt and I loved her quiet shy puppy personality. I spent hours with Brandi sleeping on my stomach. I taught her everything I could think of to teach a puppy. She turned out to be an insane, barking dog and we did agility together for a long time. Her favorite thing to do was bark at people and run madly up and down the fence line. This eventually led to her breaking one side of the fence since she would jump on it to turn around. When I was in 8th grade, I taught her how to skateboard. I did this to impress my crush who was very into skateboarding. Brandi was incredibly smart. Aside from agility, the usual commands, and skateboarding, Brandi knew many other things. She would stop and look both ways before crossing the street. She also knew the difference between me telling her to go to her room and go to my room. Sadly, she got arthritis and became less and less mobile as she got older. We tried to keep her happy and healthy. The saddest thing I have ever done was the day we had to put her to sleep this past April. I still feel sick to my stomach thinking about it and I miss her every day.

Besides my long term pets, I had a lot of other little pets. We had Housey the gerbil, so named because he loved to eat the plastic houses that came in the gerbil cages. There was Brittany the gerbil who I accidentally killed when I was 4 after attempting to play hide and go seek with her and Housey. I stepped on her before I found her. Oreo was a mouse and then I got Brianna the gerbil who ended up having babies. I kept two of the babies and gave away the mom and the rest of the babies. My mom got rats for her classroom one year and although the pet store said they were both boys, they ended up having babies, too. We also had a few hamsters come through our house inbetween school years. There was also Golden, the rabbit. Golden wasn’t the friendliest rabbit, but I think it was partly because we didn’t neuter him. It was fun to let him hop around the yard, though.

I’ve also had three horses. Cajun was the first. He was a 16.2 hand thoroughbred and I was terrified of him. Technically he was my brother’s horse. The idea was that we would share him, but when T.J. quit riding, I traded him to get my next horse, a pony named Silver. I had Silver for 7 years. We competed together and I loved him more than anything in the world. Even after I grew too big for him, I didn’t want to give him up. But, when I was 17, we did sell him because I just didn’t have the time to ride anymore. My parents wouldn’t let me drive until I was 18and I didn’t get a car until I was 19. So, I had no way of getting out to see him on my own and it just wasn’t working to spend the money on a horse that I rode infrequently. My third horse I got as a sophomore in college. He was a 15.2 hand dark bay thoroughbred I named Ziggy. He was 4 and I trained him with the help of my riding instructor. We competed and I enjoyed having my own horse again. But, after a fall and mono, I experienced massive anxiety. I had a fear of driving as well as a fear of riding. My anxiety took over my life. As a result, I decided to sell Ziggy.

Currently, I have two pets of my own. I got Zoe when I was 17. She was a year and a half old then and had just had kittens. I met her by chance at the humane society after my volunteer hours one Saturday. I went to the Petsmart where she was the next day with my mom and adopted her. It’s been 8 years since then and she has moved with me all over. First we went to California for a year and then we moved into my first apartment together. This past May, we made the transition to my new apartment. She is very large, but very pretty and sweet. She likes to curl up next to me and purr. My other pet is my new dog, Jazz. I’ve had him for just over three months. He is a 1.5 yr old border collie mix. He is a super sweet, super energetic, super smart dog.

Despite having my two pets and sort of a third (I take care of my boyfriend’s dog Watson a lot, too) I find that I always want more. Right now, I very much want another cat. I love Zoe, of course, but I think it would be nice for her to have a feline friend. I know that I should wait until I have more space, but it is always this drive to have more animals. I dream of the day that I have a nice house with a huge yard. Then I can have my cats and dogs and maybe even some other animals. I’d like to get a bird and have a little aquarium eventually, too. Ah well. I will just have to wait. Until then, I will love and cuddle the pets I have now and remember the ones I have loved before them.

Every night, right about the time that I think I might want to get to sleep, a sudden onslaught of thoughts comes pouring into my head. I find myself dashing out of bed in hopes of jotting down some of these ideas that may turn out to be something important down the line. There must be a reason for this, but I cannot fathom what it may be. I would blame the stillness of the night, except that the daytime can be just as still and empty for me as the night. In fact, during the day my only company is usually animals who speak to me in purrs, licks, and wide eyes glances. During the night I am often in the embrace of my loving boyfriend and accompanied by the sound of his soft breathing, the sheets shifting over our bodies as we each move through the night into progressively more comfortable positions. I could blame the calm that I feel when the lights are off and the world seems to have turned off as well. But, when I am alone in my little world at home I often feel the same calm that I experience at night. The times that I sit listening to the world rush by, sunlight eliminating the need for florescent light, my animals napping beside me are some of the calmest and most pure moments I have during my days.

My best guess is that it is the nature of the process of falling asleep. When we are trying to sleep, our minds tend to drift off into the spaces of our mind we tend to shut off during the day. We are too busy worrying about assignments, bills, that meeting we have to make, the appointment next week, and all the little details that we occupy ourselves with day after day. These seemingly important things take all of our attention and so the beautiful and worthy thoughts are pushed to the far corners of our minds until we lay our heads against the pillow. Then, in a whirl, the thoughts are brought forth.

For me, these thoughts have lately been about the nature of happiness and how to structure the book I want to write. These two ideas are not related. Not really. But they are both important to me and to my desired path. So when I am half asleep and an idea suddenly pops into my head, I simply have to get up and write it down. Then I go back to bed and wait for sleep to come.

In the night time, my mind sings soft lullabies to me about how happiness lies in the heart. About how the dapples on the ground painted a beautiful picture I should some day try to capture. About the adventures I should go on over the weekend like hiking at Enchanted rock or bicycling around McKinney Falls. About the pies I want to invent. What would go into a pie named after small dogs or kittens? What is the cat version of a peanut butter puppy pie? There are melodies that carry the idea of how to structure my book into sections. Melodies that make remind me of my picture perfect little house with the yard. Melodies about thunderstorms and snow. Splatters of raindrops against a window pane. Streaks of ice splintering across a puddle. Midnight melodies rocking me to sleep.

“You ready to go to Grandma’s house? You get to play with Zander today!”

Getting my dog ready to drive down to my mom’s house, I suddenly realized how much I sound like the mother of a toddler on the way to a play date. I have always considered my pets as children, but now that I have a dog that I take to play dates, it has escalated to a level I did not expect. Ah well.

Yellow, straw grass crunches beneath my feet and the smell of burning wafts into my nostrils. I have watched the green grass slowly die and the streams dry up during the daily walks the dogs require. It has gotten to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if the ground suddenly burst into flames. Rain has become a foreign animal, locked away only in my memories coupled with flashes of lightning and the low rumbles of thunder. The land is literally dying for a drink of water. New islands are popping up in Lake Travis. During the time I have lived in Texas, I cannot remember a time that was drier than it is now.

Despite the destruction and possible loss of life that a hurricane would cause, I can’t help but wish for one to come right up the coast and unleash waves of water upon the parched land around me. Does that make me a bad person? I don’t know, but it seems to be a sentiment felt by many other people in Texas currently. My friends who I have talked to about this particular subject all agree. Hurricanes come every year, and the towns that are damaged are rebuilt. This drought is in the most serious category and could have widespread and long term ramifications. Most Texans rely on the rivers and aquifers that run through the state for water. What will we do if they dry up? Already, deep wells are being drilled in areas that are almost out out water in hopes of finding more deep under ground. Would dealing with the floods and damage done by a hurricane really be better than running out of water? I think we can all safely say yes.

Although, I still feel guilty saying it. My boyfriend is from Lafayette, LA and lived through Katrina down there back in 2005. We’ve all seen the videos of the water rushing into the city, of the streets flooded with dirty water, the devastation that still hasn’t been restored, and the lives that can never be regained. Galveston has not been the same since Rita, either. It seems like people there have given up and the once blossoming seaside town is crumbling before our eyes. For the people living in areas that are the most susceptible to the horrors a hurricane can unleash, is it worth the risk in order to get closer to the 16″+ that are needed to pull out of the drought? Is it worth it to have more water if you might lose your house or worse, lose a friend?

Mother Nature can be a cruel beast, forcing us to choose between the lesser of two evils. We cannot control her anymore than we can control any other mysterious forces in the universe. Life is cyclical. There will always be severe droughts and terrifying hurricanes. They will plague us until the end of time. For me, the answer is a clear one. I want it to rain, one way or another. It is a selfish feeling, but also one filled with guilt and regret that there isn’t some kind of balance without horrific extremes. Eventually, I will move away from Texas to a cooler, wetter location. The heat and I do not get along well and I suffer from reverse SAD. Too many warm and sunny days make me depressed. It is undoubtedly a side effect from the “grass is always greener” syndrome. Perhaps, someday when I am living far away from Texas in a place that is always wet and cold, I will dream of these hot, dry days and wish for them to come visit me once again.

I come home to relative quiet. A jingle from Zoe’s collar, the hum of the fridge, the light whirl of the air conditioner kicking in once again to ensure my comfort. I announce my home coming to the room as if someone else will pop up and say hello back. Instead, the distinct ping of metal as Jazz excitedly leaps up, trapped inside his crate at the sound of my voice. Whap, whap, whap. His tail bounces off the sides of his enclosure when he sees me enter the room. I sigh, knowing I am about to unleash his wiggly energy into the rest of the house, disrupting the quiet stillness that exists when he is asleep and Zoe and I sit together embracing our time alone. I unlatch the door to the crate and out he comes, all four feet at once. He wraps himself around my legs and stretches his lean body out, exposing his ribcage and tiny jutting hip bones. He bounds out to find the cat, who is sitting, as she always does, in the armchair she has claimed as her own. Jingling mingled with loud sniffs signal that he is greeting her, testing her patience, seeing if she wants to play this time. No, is her response. She flattens her ears and her body as though maybe she can sink into the chair and he will go bother someone else. The jingling is then joined by hissing and low growls followed by Jazz’s tiny whimpers as he tries to figure out what she means by all of this. Eventually, he leaves, distracted by some tiny sound I make getting a glass of water or sitting down to work on my computer. Perhaps he has suddenly remembered the half eaten bone left around the corner or the light blue of the dragon caught his eye. Whatever it is, Zoe is left to go back to her silence.

Eventually, the quiet seeps back into the house. Jazz has decided to take a nap on the couch and Zoe is keeping my feet warm while I type. Occasionally, I will reach down and pet her which is like hitting a purring button. This is our existence, the three of us. The quiet feels like home to me. It is soothing in its simplicity and cozy as it wraps around the house. There are days when I simply sit on the couch with the animals and enjoy the feeling of being. It was not always this way, though. Quiet used to be a very different thing to me.

Before I moved into my own apartment in May 2010, I had never slept in a house alone. Once, my mom was out of town and I cried when my brother tried to leave me at home alone to go stay with his girlfriend. I was 23 years old. He reluctantly stayed, but I felt terrible that even as a grown woman I could not stay at home alone and ended up crying myself to sleep that night. Even during the day I did not like being alone. The TV was on constantly or else I had my music playing in the background. I found the quiet to be eerie and a sure sign that I was all alone in the world. A sound that meant if anything happened to me, no one would be there to save me. The quiet turned into the sound of fear, thoughts creeping into my mind like the unseen horrors I was terrified I’d find hiding in my closet at night.

At some point while I was living in California, something shifted and I knew instinctively that I could stay alone. The time I spent alone during the day was my time to watch my shows, draw, cross-stitch, or nap. Zoe and I lounged around together, the balcony door open, a cool breeze softly pushing the blinds back and forth. Slowly, my quiet time began to drift into the evenings as Alex and Cheng went out to the bar when I was already in curled up in bed. I savored this time. I read my books, studied French, and listened to the sounds of the street in the darkness. Finally, I would drift off to sleep surrounded by the stillness of the apartment. No distractions from a video game being played in the second bedroom or indistinct, but obviously disturbing sounds from episodes of Dexter coming from the living room.

When I decided to move back to Texas I knew I wanted to live alone. My parents worried that I would not be able to live alone and it would be a mess trying to figure out what to do when I discovered that living alone was the worst idea I have ever had. But, I continued to refused to live with anyone aside from my cat and finally my parents gave up and agreed to let me live alone. Transitioning from living with two people to living completely alone was a shocking adjustment. For a while, the quiet still haunted me. Every click or rustle emitted from the darkness caused a panicked check of every inch of the apartment despite every lock triple checked already. Some nights I slept on the couch with the Disney channel casting flickering blue lights around the room. Some nights I slept with my bedside lamp casting a warm glow over the bed. Some nights I left the bathroom or entry light on so I could watch for shadows dancing on the walls. I took to closing the door leading the my bathroom, deciding that if someone where in the house, I would hear the door open if they were trying the hide from me by running in a circle around the kitchen: living room, bathroom, bedroom, living room.

Slowly, these rituals faded and the pounding in my chest subsided. Slowly, I learned to savor the quiet as I once had when I was not living alone. I began to feel safer with the deadbolts thrown, fearing what was outside rather than what was inside. I let the moonlight be my nightlight instead of leaving on the harsh bright electric lights. My brain seemed to rewire itself to only sleep in the dead stillness of the night. When I moved again to my new apartment this past may, it was an easy transition. Jazz was a new addition to my little family and the three of us settled in as if we had always lived here. No rituals here except to put Jazz to bed, read while Zoe settles herself next to me, and we all fall asleep with the soft quiet surrounding us.

Well, I’ve put my plan into action. The biggest news is that I did start taking an antidepressant on Thursday. I’m on a low dose and hopefully that is all I will need. The first few days were kind of rough with lots of side effects, but I started to feel better pretty fast. All I really have left is a slightly dizzy feeling when I wake up and sometimes for short periods in the evening. I also have some trouble staying asleep and I feel tired. I have a little bit of tinnitus, but it doesn’t bother me much. Otherwise, I feel pretty ok. I feel relatively calm and even, but I know that it’ll take another couple weeks to see how well it really works.

The other thing I have done well this week is changing my diet slightly. Right now I am working on cutting back on my sugar and caffeine mostly. That seems to be the easiest thing to fix. I also am trying really hard to not eat fast food. So far, I’ve managed to significantly reduce my sugar intake. I’m trying to drink more water and skip juice and soda. I also haven’t had much candy or baked goods. I had a piece of chocolate on Thursday and a tiny bit of apple pie on Friday and that is it. I also haven’t had any caffeine since I decided to cut back on it. Even though I love having my coke in the afternoon or evening, I have managed to not have it.

Yoga I’m still working on. I have classes I want to go to, but I haven’t made it yet. I meant to go this morning, but I was so tired when I woke up I decided to sleep more instead. Hopefully I’ll make it on Thursday since the class is a little later in the morning. I wish that they had more of the classes I am interested in in the early afternoon. Oh well, I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I can stretch and practice meditating at home. That counts, right?

Volunteering hasn’t happened yet either. I was very interested in one place, but when I went I didn’t get a very welcoming vibe. It seemed sort of awkward and I’m not sure that I want to deal with that. I know that other places tend to have longer processes to get started, but it may be worth it to be somewhere that I feel welcome and comfortable. It’s something I need to spend more time investigating it seems.

Otherwise, I am feeling more centered just from going through the process of getting all this started. Hopefully that trend will continue as I continue down this path.

I haven’t written in a while. I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t had the desire to write, but I just haven’t. No topic has really stood out to me as interesting enough to write about. That said, I have had something happen (not actually something new, but still) that has prompted me to start writing again.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) with Panic Disorder (PD). Some people out there may be thinking that they know what I’m talking about. Maybe they have it or a similar illness or perhaps someone they know has it. I know people may also be thinking that they know what anxiety is and have heard about panic attacks. I am sure there are also people wondering what I am talking about.

GAD is characterized by extreme and excessive worry that has no apparent cause or is out of proportion to the situation. This worry happens for most days for at least six months. It is important to understand that GAD is not triggered by a specific fear or event which makes it distinctly different from social anxiety, specific phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Rather, it is worrying over everyday things constantly. People who have GAD often will also have other symptoms such as fatigue, nightmares, trembling, irritability, mood swings, nausea, sweating, headaches, insomnia, trouble concentrating, trouble breathing, trouble swallowing, rashes or hives, and muscle tension or aches. They are also unable to control their anxiety despite often knowing that their fears are irrational and excessive. It is more common in woman than in men and effects around 5% of the population. The cause of GAD is not really known, like all mental illness, but it is thought to be at least partially genetic. It is also thought to be an issue related to the amygdala and how it connects to other parts of the brain. It also seems that dependency on alcohol or benzodiazepines (tranquilizers like xanax) can cause GAD.

Often times, people with GAD have other disorders as well which is referred to as comorbidity. Panic disorder is one of the more common ones. PD is characterized by having recurring panic attacks. A panic attack is essentially an extremely severe anxiety attack that comes out of the blue. They build up, come, and go very quickly. Often within twenty minutes or so. The worst part of a panic attack usually only lasts a few minutes, although the whole event will last longer, usually 15 min to an hour. Some people will have rolling panic attacks, meaning one after another, over a period of time. When a person has a panic attack, they will often say that they feel like they are about to die. Often times they report feeling like they are having a heart attack. Other people say that it feels like they are losing control which causes the symptoms. I can’t be sure, but I want to say that most people get the same sort of symptoms from a panic attack. These include shortness of breath, racing heart, chest pain, numbness, arm pain, choking sensations, feelings of being in altered reality, hyperventilation, shaking, chills, and feelings of impending doom. Lots of things can cause panic disorder, but again it seems to be genetic and linked to brain function.

This is an illness I’ve had since I was about four years old. That’s considered to be on the young side for developing GAD, but I distinctly remember having anxiety attacks when I was very young. It has increased in severity and subsided throughout my life and I’ve dealt with severe anxiety attacks and panic attacks in all the parts of my life including school, vacations, hobbies, in the car, and at work. My illness seems to be entirely genetic and linked to the way my brain works. In the past five years, I have gone from having extremely severe anxiety and panic attacks to having almost none. However, in the last six months or so, my anxiety has slowly increased and I am now at a point where it is effecting me nearly every day. The good thing about GAD and PD is that one, my PD is directly linked to my GAD and two, it is treatable. These disorders cannot be cured, however. They are something I will live with for the rest of my life.

That said, I am done with anxiety. When I don’t have anxiety, I feel wonderful and happy. I can enjoy things completely without worrying and I feel good about my life. When I do have anxiety, I do not like how I feel at all. I cannot enjoy things as fully or sometimes at all. My moods shift quickly and without warning and I can become very irritable. I would like to be the person I am without anxiety all the time instead of just part of the time. And that is what I am going to be writing about here for a while. My plan is extensive and involves several layers of treatment and life changes. My plan involves therapy, medication, volunteering at a place that is focused on whole body health including the mind, Kundalini yoga, possibly tai chi, and changing my diet.

I have already started therapy and I believe I am going to begin doing cognitive-behavioral therapy which is where you basically teach yourself to think differently. Today I am going to sign up to begin volunteering. I’m going to start out with one day a week, but I may do more if I really enjoy it. Tomorrow I have a doctor’s appointment to talk about medication options. Finally, Friday I am going to my first yoga class, although it will not be Kundalini, but rather an introductory class. I am going to try to shift my diet to a more Mediterranean diet since it focuses on the foods that seem to aid in the reduction of anxiety. I am also going to wean myself off of caffeine and try to cut down on my sugar intake. My goal is to write about my progress at least once a week. I hope that through this, I can help keep myself motivated as well as possibly give hope and suggestions to anyone who may be dealing with the same issues.

*Information about GAD and PD from the National Institute of Mental Health