through the words of a book

Has anyone read (or listened to) “Furiously Happy” since I wrote about it? I sincerely hope so. It’s truly delightful. To reiterate from Jenny Lawson herself:

“I’m fucking done with sadness, and I don’t know what’s up the ass of the universe lately but I’ve HAD IT. I AM GOING TO BE FURIOUSLY HAPPY, OUT OF SHEER SPITE. … I’m going to destroy the goddamn universe with my irrational joy…”

Sometimes, it’s hard to make life “furiously happy” though, right? Sometimes it’s easier to melt into the pages and journeys of someone else’s life. Sometimes, skulking through the chamber of secrets, averting your eyes as you go to avoid the basilisk, as the panic pulses through your veins, is much better than being “furiously happy” in your own life, because you have melted into someone else’s journey — through the words of a book.

I love literature. I love books. My undergrad at Calvin was partially an English degree (Interdisciplinary Science with a double focus in English and Psychology, to be specific).

As Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying, “I have been through some terrible things in my life; some of which actually happened.” I love this quote. It was shared at church today in reference to how we get in our own heads and worry.  I am the queen of getting in my head. Just this past weekend, when out with friends, I had to escape to a public bathroom and google quick meditative techniques. I found two which I think I will use for the rest of my days (yes, they’re that good).

1) Pretend like you’re watching yourself on TV. The article that described this technique did so in much more flowery and descriptive language with great reasoning as to why and how you step outside of your perspective and become instantly calm, etc..etc…and honestly — at that moment — I didn’t care why it worked. All I knew was that I was anxious, irritated, and having a crap-night. And watching myself on TV through a fictitious screen, worked. Plus, it was kinda fun.

2) Take a slow breath. This one sounds super typical & ho-hum average. On the breath in, you say to yourself, “I am.” On the breath out, you say to yourself, “at peace.” Again, complete with great explanations. I also switched out the wordings. Not gonna lie — I was a tiny bit upset with my man, so I said “I am” — “in love” while I held his hand. It actually worked like a charm. What I said was true, but sometimes when you get frustrated with someone, it’s easy to remain frustrated and forget the bigger picture of life and your relationship.

Anyway — back on track #rabbittrails Our pastor did an excellent job of using Paul’s words in Philippians to talk about choosing joy over worry, and choosing joy in our Lord. I am of the firm belief that God also gave us literature and words to bring us joy. And wowzer — do words bring me joy!

I have always been an avid book worm. I was in the Boxcar Children book club and would have three books delivered monthly. They’d be devoured within hours. But I did get a neat cardboard caboose to store the first twelve or so books in. I have been on many adventures with Nancy Drew and solved many a mystery with her as well.

this is not mine…mine must be packed away at my parents’ house somewhere..

My parents have always told me they struggled with the whole “lights off” concept when I was a youngster. They hated scolding me and requiring me to turn off the lights because I wasn’t up late doing naughty things — I was up late adventuring in the pages of a good book. I would sneak my nightlight under the covers and keep on reading. They always knew.

When “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” came out, my life was forever changed. Literature has been and always will be a driving and life-giving force in my life. Whether it be fictional tales, life-giving advice works, words of encouragement pieces, or educational tools for work — literature courses through me. It’s the best anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, and mood-stabilizer on the market, hands down.

So stay tuned for the next post in which I share John & my 100 book reading list! 😉 I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

 

Gratus -a -um

Prince’s “Purple Rain” adding spice to life!

Mr. Prince (and I’m not referring to the beloved singer of “Purple Rain” with an honorific — I’m referring to my beloved high school Latin teacher) would be so proud to know that I am reflecting back on my days in class and thinking about the root word of grateful.

Gratus -a -um — why? Why in the world am I thinking about the masculine, feminine, and neutered form of the root word for grateful? Because gratitude is a concept that has been on my mind a lot lately. And naturally, Latin comes to mind? Haha! (…life with bipolar disorder, and my natural nuttiness…)

Gratitude is a natural antidepressant.

I have struggled with depression on and off for a long time. My first and most vivid memories of my struggles with depression were in the summer of 2007, when I ventured off to live in and do missions’ work in Palmer, Alaska. It was a bittersweet experience. I loved it. I loved jumping off 30 foot cliffs into icy lakes. I loved the mountain hikes. I loved the late night deep campfire discussions about life, faith, and everything in between. I loved the long days with light blue skies until 3:00 AM. I loved stalking moose with my dear friend, Bridget. And yet — it was a tear-filled experience as well. It was shrouded with the clouds of depression.

And I have continued to struggle with it, on and off, since. There are various things in my life that trigger depression for me. That being said, I have found that gratitude is a natural antidote that, honest to goodness, truly works. I remember one time, while waiting to board an airplane, my mind started to sink into the depths. So I opened a note on my phone and started to furiously type a list of things that I was grateful for.

There are many ways to treat depression (and other mental illnesses): medication, counseling/therapy, education, support groups, and various life changes including practicing gratitude!

How does practicing gratitude act as a natural antidepressant?

When we focus on and consider what we are grateful for, the production of serotonin and dopamine increases in our brains. These neurotransmitters send signals to the “happiness center” of the brain similar to the way antidepressants do. So, essentially, practicing gratitude — literally writing down, or verbalizing what we are grateful and thankful for, can act as an antidepressant, but naturally, for free, and without all the negative side effects.

So, without further ado, I am going to write a short list of some of the things I am grateful and thankful for, because…

#practicewhatyoupreach

1. the people in my life. I have truly been blessed with some amazing friends and family and a wonderful man as well. Having mental health struggles makes for an interesting and fun life, but it can make life challenging at times. And I am so incredibly grateful for those who have walked with me through the dark times and celebrated with me in good times as well.

2. my faith in and relationship with God. Honestly, this is and has been the most sustaining thing in my life. Without God — I don’t know where I would be. He is my rock, my joy, my all.

3. my cup of coffee in the morning with splenda and a bit of creamer — a way to start the morning off with a bit of warmth and a bit of sweetness.

4. the energy that I somehow receive that wakes me up at around 6:00 AM every morning. I used to be that girl that woke up at 1:00 every afternoon, that slept away half the day. But miraculously, I now wake up like clock-work (much to John’s chagrin) around 6:00 every morning and am ready to take on the day. And I absolutely love it.

5. television sitcoms. When I am having a down day, when the tears won’t stop, or my brain won’t turn off and/or go to a happy place — I love to flip on Netflix and melt into my big screen TV and pop on Friends or The Office or Sex and the City or Gilmore girls or any show where I can join old pals and laugh and laugh and laugh…

6. grass between my toes. Oh and sand too.

7. I’m grateful for and so very thankful that I have transportation. When my good friend and college roommate, Lo moved back home to southern California, she sold me her car for $500. And I have had it for several years. It has been a good little car. And my mechanic, bless his heart, has done a great job of keeping her running. Praise God for transportation — to get to visit friends and loved ones near and far, to get to work, to go on any adventure my little heart desires.

8. books! books! and more books! and my Kindle! and my love for books! Yay reading! I have so many books on my “to-read-list” it’s not even funny. Like woah. I love it. I should probably write a post about books some day soon. Oh man. #englishmajor

9. jewelry. I love Premier Designs (a direct sales company I used to work for) and I love getting dolled up and fancy and layering on the jewels and I am so thankful for all of the jewelry that I have. What a blessing.

10. Last but definitely not least, I am SO SO thankful that my mom and dad bought me plane tickets to go visit my brother and sister-in-law and little niece in a couple of weeks with them for a week! BEST GIFT EVER! #cantwait

Alright. I think I definitely need to work on having an attitude of gratitude. Even just writing this post, I feel better. Maybe I should write a post about exercise and then I might be able to convince myself to go to the gym that I joined recently…bahaha! Thanks for reading guys. I’m grateful for you as well.

love to you my friends,
emily alma

(Thursday night) Friends

“Your love is like a giant pigeon, crapping on my heart” — croons Phoebe. Phoebe is and always has been one of my most favorite characters on Friends. And the sitcom Friends is a staple of two of some of my oldest and most important friendships.

Every Thursday night in high school, Kathryn and Christina and I would gather at Mama and Honey’s house to watch Thursday night’s comedies, which included Friends. We bonded over Dr. Peppers, the dramas of high school, and scattered papers of last minute homework assignments that we were scrambling to do in the back room of Christina’s grandparent’s house. It was a glorious tradition that I cherish in my memory. It bonded us. We were three young girls trying to figure life out in the echoing halls of high school; we banded together in solidarity as we faced the world.

And we’re still friends to this day. We’ve gone the distance as far as time and literal distance. We’ve all traveled far and wide and we’ve had each other’s backs through it all. I’m not saying our friendships have been without their bumps. What relationships are perfect? But those bumps make us real. I love these two dearly.

What is friendship?

Proverbs 17:17a tells us “A friend loves at all times.” That’s pretty straight-forward. I am blessed to have some pretty awesome friends. Kathryn and Christina are just two.

Friends are the ones that hold your hand in the dark times. They wipe your smudged eye-makeup from your face before you go back out in public after an emotional moment. They give you courage and strength when your well has run dry. They make you “welcome home” signs when you return from months abroad. They send you encouragement cards in the mail when they live across the country and know you’re going through a hard time. They dance with you to silly songs just because life is great. They dress up with you and get fancy because “why not?!” Friends are there for the good and the bad. The mundane too. Friends don’t desert. They stick around. Friends are the coffee of life — they’re what you want in the morning to wake you up first thing. They give you energy. They can be sweet at times, but bitter if not treated well. Friends, like coffee, must be treated well. Friends, like coffee, must be chosen well. Friends, like coffee, bring me so much joy. They are essential.

I love my friends. And I love you. Love to you, my friends.

XOXO,
emily alma

joy vs. happiness

Happiness fades with the sunset, but joy is everlasting as the sun. What is the difference between joy and happiness? Happiness is like a drug, it feels good when you’ve got the high, but it is not long lasting, it is not sustaining; it is circumstantial.

Joy, on the other hand, is a state of being. Joy is a way of life. Joy is a choice. Joy, like the sun, is always there and warms you whether or not you always see it or feel it. You choose to believe in it’s power, in it’s existence. Joy is a fruit of the spirit.

When life brings you down, when the bills come due and the bank account is dwindling towards empty — happiness fades. When a friend promises to be there for you and the phones lies silent on the desk — happiness fades. When the MRI report reads possible sarcoma and you can’t breathe — happiness fades. What then? What sustains you? Joy. You persevere with joy as your guiding light.

There have been times in my life when choosing joy was not an easy task. After just reading through some of my posts from my old blog when I was in Spain, especially the second post following the first time my classmate raped me…just re-reading that post reminds me of how lost I was. I started to question what I wanted to do with my life, what my goals were, who I wanted to be, and who I was. I was feeling empty and void. I was struggling to find my purpose, and definitely my joy.

I was robbed of my happiness and I let my joy be stolen from me. I had become a shell of a being. For three months I walked those city streets of that tiny coastal town in Denia, Spain: empty, void. No joy. I let it escape me. I did not pursue it. Looking back, I think I found happiness in simple things: the Mediterranean coast, the cafe con leche, the siestas in the afternoon where I would take 2-3 hour naps in my cozy bed. But I let joy escape my grasp and did not make it a priority.

Choose joy. I had to choose joy. I had to wake up every morning and make a conscious choice to choose joy. Upon my return to Grand Rapids, I met with my counselor and processed through my experiences and my emotions and my feelings of shame. I began to learn how to live life again, to choose life again, and to ultimately choose joy.

That lesson has helped me time and time again. It helped me when I was un-diagnosed with bipolar disorder and taken off my meds, when the mania struck, when I was hospitalized (twice), and when life took a downward spiral. Joy is hard to grasp when life is at its seemingly worst. But that’s when you must hold on the tightest. Joy sustains. Joy uplifts. Hold on tight. Life is a wild ride and joy is a great companion.

dinner and drinks @ Greenbush Brewing with my dad, 9/7/17

Cheers to joy.