Anxiety Sucks

The title sounds a bit harsh but I am not a fan. We all experience anxiety. It is a normal emotion and can be useful. I get anxious when I am running late or driving in traffic. Many circumstances can bring up anxiety. Most of us can practice tricks and tools to temper the feeling and continue with the task at hand. It does not stop us from propelling forward.

One of my favorite tools is to just sit and experience how it feels in my body. Notice that my heart rate increases. My skin is warmer to the touch and gets flush. I get a knot at the top of my stomach. Sometimes my mouth will get dry and even my eyes will twitch if the feeling is intense. Observing the physical responses curiously and objectively is sometimes enough for the emotion to cycle and pass. There are times when deep and focused breathing or visualization is a better tool. I can take my brain in another direction. It is like I get off the anxiety train and get on the calm, or maybe the acceptance train. It is incredible what our brains can do.

I can adapt to change fairly well. I may not like it but I can do it. My mental health has always been stable and I am extremely grateful for that. I am fortunate to have found tools to manage my anxiety and I do not suffer crippling and physically limiting anxiety. Not everyone can do this. I know this is a gift that I do not take for granted.

I have been with my husband, Todd, for thirty-five years. We have been married for almost twenty-nine. After we had Justin and Emily, he began to experience anxiety. It did not pass with a body scan and some breathing techniques. His anxiety would take over his body and he had little to zero control over it. Sometimes it would keep him from being able to work or focus on anything else. He was paralyzed by it. I did not meet these episodes with compassion and understanding. There is a bit of sadness I feel just typing that out. I just did not get it. I began to learn more about it as Todd gathered tools to manage it. It has taken hard work, counseling, and for him, medication. I have developed compassion and empathy I did not possess in the early years.

Todd’s experience living with anxiety helped us recognize it in Emily. We noticed from a young age many things triggered anxiety. The number of things that create anxiety for her is too long to list. It may be easier to tell you what doesn’t trigger anxiety: The Wiggles and eating. When the world stopped due to the pandemic, Emily’s anxiety escalated. It seemed like everything would trigger it. You can see and feel it. Her hands and feet sweat. She grabs for me like I am a life raft she needs to hold onto to keep from drowning. Her eyes will blink rapidly, or she will cover her ears. Her anxiety is easy to see and recognize. It is hard to watch her experience it. Finding ways to temper it is not easy.

Covering ears is one sign Emily is anxious

For the past eight months, we have worked with her neurologist to try to get a balance of medications and a routine that gives her comfort. Mental health treatment is not a one size fits all treatment. Most health issues are not. We all respond differently to treatments and what works for some, does not work for all. This year of trial and error and throwing darts to see which ones will stick has sucked. Seeing Emily panic and freak out sucks. Anxiety SUCKS but we will figure it out. We will continue to do whatever it takes to help her manage it.

Sometimes Grace IS Self-Care

We all have ideas of what self-care is. A day at the spa, a weekend retreat, a massage…you get the idea. Friday I had my first hair appointment in six months. I consider that self-care as well. It was an evening appointment because you take what you can get in COVID times. I fed the family and made sure Todd was ready to take charge and off I went.

I returned home less than 3 hours later to some drama. Emily was whining from her room and Todd was sulking in front of the television. The washing machine was working hard and I could smell bleach (one of my favorite smells…yes, really). I can tell that I missed something epic and I feel a little gratitude if I am being honest.

Emily’s schedule has been really off these past few weeks and her anxiety has been high. She is having panic attacks during transitional walking, when sitting in regular chairs, and recently while sitting on the toilet. She has been refusing to use the restroom on the toilet for the past few weeks. This is both frustrating and challenging after years of success. While she cannot tell us when she needs to go, our consistency and scheduled trips have made our lives better. This season, a bit of a mess.

Todd tried to get her to go to the restroom before bed and she refused. He finally gave up and put her to bed. Well, you can imagine what happened after. It was a shit-show in the true sense of the word. After stripping her bed, bathing her, washing her hair, cleaning up all the surfaces, and doing laundry both were upset and exhausted.

My first thought was, “If I had been home this would not have happened.” Is that even true and even if there is truth in that statement, is that thought useful? I decided to let that one scroll on by. I went to comfort Emily and cuddle her in a clean and sparse bed. I see her glaring out the room at Todd who is still pouting. I call out to him, “did you apologize for getting upset?” He just shrugs his shoulders. The next thing I know he is sitting next to her and they are having a little “chat”. I feel the energy in the room lighten. There calm in the house has returned.

I reflected on the day and knew I showed up with love and compassion. I did not beat myself up for not being there. I decided to give myself grace. I also comforted both Todd and Emily. I thanked Todd for taking amazing care of Emily, bathing her, cleaning the bathroom, and doing laundry, because that was off my “to-da” list for Saturday now. I decided that sometimes grace is self-care. It certainly was on this day.

The Wins Matter

When we are working on a goal, it is important to recognize the progress toward it. It is easy to get lost in the “end result”: The Finish Line. Reaching a goal is only one moment on the journey of progress. If we attach only to the goal, and not the person we are becoming on the way, the finish can be a letdown. We miss all the successes and small changes we created to get there. The tiny habits we built on each day. We create joy in the journey by celebrating all the way to goal.

Add Up The Wins

I am someone who plans daily. I have written over 700 daily plans. Some are in notebooks, expensive journals, planners, or a blank piece of copy paper. The vessel is not important to me. I always say the planner that works is the one you use. What you will find on almost all of these plans are my daily wins. Some directly related to my goals and many just ways I showed up that day. There are days when my win might be that I got up, took a shower, and made the bed. Those are the easy ones to add. The hard-fought wins are not getting upset at my son for forgetting to move his car for the street sweeper, or not having a glass of wine at the end of a tough day. The Wins Matter.

Every time we acknowledge our success and wins, our brains take notice. As the wins accumulate, so does the confidence that comes with them. The growing wins drown out the noise of difficulties. It softens the blow of challenges because your brain knows it can overcome them. It has evidence of doing this over and over. Our brain has to practice new thoughts, new beliefs, and new patterns of what we are capable of doing.

If you have ever listened to Tony Robbins, he talks about the power of our minds. He often says, “Where our mind goes, energy flows.” If we put our brainpower to work focusing on the successes, it will look for more success. If we focus on the problems, our brain will find the problems. It is just how the brain is wired. It may sound like woo-woo, but there is a science to it. You may have bought a new car, and suddenly you see that make, model, or color everywhere. This is a good example of our brain looking for something that it never really noticed before, but was always there. Our brain is seeking out the information now.

If we look for wins and successes, our brain will see more of them. Count the wins. Celebrate the wins. Put your mind to work at seeing what is possible.

Stop Romancing Your Food

I was recently working with a client who was struggling with chocolate. She described “just wanting it”. It was so delicious that she ate more than her body needed. This is common. We often discuss food, especially things like ice cream, wine, and chocolate, in a way that creates desire. Ever watch the Food Network? The hosts try to create an image of delight, desire, and joy about the creations. They want the viewer to desire it and it works. We think about how good it will be and want to make it ourselves.

I recently caught myself having a thought that seemed innocent. “This is such an amazing sunset, a glass of wine on the deck would make it even better”. Is that even true? No, that is the lie. Rather than believing the thought, I challenged it. “Billie, will the glass of wine really make the sunset better, or is that just some BS your brain is thinking?” Just because you think it, doesn’t make it true. We want to be in tune with the conversation in our heads. Our primal brain is looking for a fast, easy dopamine rush. Not always because we are trying to avoid some horrible thing in our life, but because our brains just want it. It is both creative and fast.

Changing how we talk about food can reduce some of the desire. Quit making the candy bar, Merlot, or ice cream sound so tempting and desirable. Stop talking about food in words you would use to describe your spouse or dear friend. Neutralize the dialogue. For example, tonight we are having ground beef tacos and salad for dinner. That is a neutral sentence. You may think tacos sound good after reading this, but your brain is not getting all excited about it.

If I were to say something like, “I went to this exclusive specialty store and got corn tortillas that are made fresh to order. They are soft, tender, and incredible. They are the perfect vessel to cradle the beef that has been slow-cooked to perfection. The beef is seasoned with a spice mix that my best friend brings me from Mexico. There is nothing like it. Just the right amount of heat and sweet. My son grated three types of cheese to add and I made fresh pico de gallo and salsa. Don’t forget the batch of guacamole I whipped up with perfect avocados. These tacos are going to be amazing! You won’t want to stop eating. They are that good.” Now that is romancing the food.

I challenge you to just listen to the conversation you have about food. Be curious about thoughts that arise when you think of freshly churned ice cream or lasagna made from scratch versus raw carrots and raisins. Just listen. Your thoughts will come. You can choose to take the romance out and make them more neutral. It will create more success in approaching food as fuel your body needs to run instead of a lover you are about to embrace.

We Were The Lucky Ones

I got a call from my husband one afternoon that he was bringing a guest home for dinner. I had a mini panic attack. The house was not “company ready” and I didn’t have anything prepared to serve for dinner. Todd told me not to worry about anything. He arrived home an hour later with a Pitbull puppy and all the things a dog would need. He also had a receipt for the hefty vet bill. I lost it. (I did not have thought-work back in the day.) I could not believe he would bring a Pitbull to our home. Lucky, as he called him, had been hit by a car roaming the streets of South Los Angeles. Todd could not just drive by. He scooped the dog up and took him to the vet for assessment. Lucky was a scrappy and skinny street dog with road burns down his back that he sustained in the accident. He was lucky to be alive, get medical care, and have Todd bring him home.

Lucky and Coco were the same size (for about a week)

My mind went straight to doom and gloom. We already had a puppy, Coco. We also had two small children and a boa constrictor. This is crazy! I said, “You have to choose between the snake and the Pitbull. I will not have two things that can eat my children in this house!” Pitbulls are not often painted in a good light, and most stories I heard were not good. Lucky, had won Todd’s heart in a way that a red-tail boa never would. The next day Todd went to a pet store with the snake (I cannot remember the snake’s name) and got her rehomed. YES! I might like this dog after all.

Lucky was great for his baths

The first year was tough. I was concerned about Emily being safe because she couldn’t walk and was always on the floor crawling. I also had concerns about Lucky hurting Coco. Both were concerns that never came to pass. Lucky, a gentle giant, would let Coco run the house. She was the Alpha and she let him know. Over the years she took a chunk out of each of his ears. Not once, but twice. It was a bloody mess both times, but Lucky never fought back. He was never aggressive with any of us. He was always gentle and loving.

Over the last 14 years Lucky has added so much to our home. He was never a one-person dog, but loved being around everyone in his pack, even Coco. Lucky enjoyed his bath and would climb into the tub for me without any resistance. He was not a fan of being alone and let you know. Even to be separated by a door would upset him. He would cry if we were not home when by sunset. He was a big, sensitive baby. He could read my emotions. If he thought I was down, he would follow me, comfort me, and just love me. I could not tell you the number of times I tripped over him. He was always at my feet.

Snuggle time with Mom

In December I noticed Lucky’s neck was swollen. I thought maybe he had an abscess. We took him to see the vet. His blood work and organs were all amazing for a dog of his age. That was the good news. The biopsy of his lymph nodes told a different story. The vet informed us that Lucky had lymphoma. We began a steroid treatment to manage the symptoms. The treatment gave him some extra time and we enjoyed every precious moment with him. He continued to show his love and loyalty for each of us every single day. This past weekend his time with us came to an end (a beautiful story for another post). Our family is grieving the loss. He was close to each of us and our home does not feel the same without him. He added so much love and laughter into our home. I will definitely be writing more about Lucky in future posts. He had a big impact on my life and his light in our home is missed.

Rest in peace my good and faithful companion

Dam-Sized Gap Plan

This week marks a full year Emily has been home from school. She was out sick the last few weeks before we completely shutdown in California on March 13, 2020. It feels like only yesterday and like forever ago at the same time. Adjusting to all of her services being stolen from her in one day is still a hard pill for our family to swallow. I know the struggle is real for everyone but I believe it has been a little harder for the disabled and the elderly. That is just a thought, but one I stand by.

It takes so many people to care for Emily and to meet her needs. She needs full care. Our family could never do it alone. Well, that is not true, because we did it for the first few months of quarantine. When a world pandemic forced it on us, her care became ours alone. As we were all adjusting to having 4 people in a 1,000 square foot house all trying to find a corner of quiet and good internet connection to work, Emily was just confused. She became agitated. She was angry. She got louder. Her anxiety began to increase. She could not and still does not understand. Her agitation and anxiety echoed off the walls. It was audible and palpable. Imagine waking up one day and everything you know is gone with no explanation: your job, your friends, your support system and you have no idea why.

Emily looking out the front door

We managed for about 12 weeks like this. All of us clinging to a life raft to keep our heads above water. Weather permitting, I would take Emily outside for walks. Some days my hips and foot pain kept our walks short. I would bring a small blanket to park my bottom on the wet grass at the park as everything was taped or fenced off because the park was “closed”. I brought a speaker to listen to music or play a podcast.

On one of our walks we listened to Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast. It was about debunking the myth that relationships are 50/50. In it she discusses that her and her husband developed a habit of discussing how much they had to give on a percentage basis and included the kids as well. If the family had at least 100% between them, then they were good and if not, they had to figure out how to close the gap. After I listened, I knew our family needed a GAP Plan. I was also certain there was no way Todd, Justin and I could ever get to 100% without help. We were going to have to open our circle to bridge the dam-sized gap in our home.

Emily and Sommer

I remember bringing up the discussion with Todd. He was not thrilled at first. COVID-19 is real. It increased our risk and Emily’s risk of getting it. I told him we had to come up with a solution because our family could not continue living like this. There is balance between mental and physical health and while we were all physically healthy, I could see our mental health dipping, especially Emily’s. After some debate, he agreed. I reached out to someone who has cared for Emily in the past and only lived with one other person that worked from home. Her job had been shut down since March and the risk was low to invite her into our home. She agreed to care for Emily a few days a week during peek hours when my job needed me to be available. Emily was happier getting out of the house for walks and to see a new face. I had a few hours to concentrate at work. The help also gave my back, my hips, my feet and my mind a much needed break. There was really nowhere to go, but just having someone else around lifted Emily’s spirit. We have continued to open our circle a bit over time to meet our needs and to give Emily more sense of community and her normalcy.

Park benches finally opened in 2021

I cannot say that I have loved quarantine. Emily and I are a lot alike in that we both love social interaction. Zoom and the phone is okay, but just not the same as in person connection. Our family has rallied together over the past year. We have all taken turns doing the heavy lifting when another is busy or physically exhausted. We have done the best we can with the resources we have but I still believe Emily deserves and longs for more. I have said for years that it takes a village to care for Emily. The last year has spotlighted the truth in that statement.

One of The Short Family “Road Therapy” Drives

48 Hours

KOFA Wildlife Refuge Sunset

Recently Todd and I got away for a glorious 48 hours. No, it wasn’t like the movie with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy (totally dating myself here). I did use a bucket toilet for the weekend, so for me that is about as renegade as I get. Respites away from home are few and far between. Add a year of no services for children and adults with disabilities in California due to COVID, and respite is as rare as a Gible (Pokémon ode to my sister, Carol). A few months into lockdown, we found a caregiver willing to come to our home and help with Emily a few days a week so I can keep my day job and my sanity. Recently she suggested Todd and I get away for a day or two, and she and Justin would hold down the fort we affectionately refer to as Casa de Chaos. Todd got super excited and immediately wanted to go camping. He asked me if I would go camping in the desert with him. Since I usually decide where we go, and I made 2021 my “Year of Yes” (thanks Shonda Rhimes), I said “Yes, I would love to.” That was certainly laying it on a bit thick.

I am not a fan of camping. I do not even like Glamping. I am more of a Palm Springs boutique hotel than tent and bucket gal, but Todd’s childlike giddiness and excitement challenged me to embrace the idea. The ladies in my accountability group got to hear me daily talk about my thought work. Each day I was writing about creating a “lush” experience of camping in the desert with my husband for two nights. I was serious about visualizing everything at home being fine. The caregiver not facing any challenges. The drive with Todd being drama free. I visualized myself staying calm in the passenger seat of his truck, and joyfully listening to music and loving our time together. I decided I could use a bucket toilet for a couple days, and it would be an adventure. I knew it was a stretch, but if you build it they will come, right? I was doing my part, I was preparing my mind.

While I prepared my mind, Todd was in full planning and execution mode. Every day packages would arrive on our doorstep with something that would be needed for our trip. Todd was making every effort to make sure my experience was amazing. He bought a raised cot mattress and a new tent that practically assembles itself. He pulled out his tent heater, and made sure it was in perfect working order. He bought new camping gear and containers to precisely hold everything in order, and made sure it fit perfectly in his truck bed like a game of Tetris. He got new tables, lighting, emergency chargers, and a new camp stove. He began confiscating my pans from the kitchen to use for our trip. He was planning the menu for our meals and doing everything. I didn’t have to do anything but show up with an open mind. I began embracing his excitement and felt myself actually getting excited about our trip too. Crazy what thought work does.

Todd bought me this Keffiyeh to keep wind and dust at bay without bulk

The night before we planned to leave, we got the weather report, and the place we planned to camp was expected to have sustained winds of 30-50mph. Todd could not hide the disappointment on his face when he told me we would need to cancel due to the weather. He suggested we stay at a hotel instead. I responded, “No, we will figure something out. Let’s get on Google and find somewhere else to go”. It took us a few hours, but we found a place in Arizona about the same distance as our original destination that looked like a good prospect. Neither of us had ever been there. Todd was not too sure, because he could not guarantee what it would be like. I told him we had nothing to lose by going there and it would be a new adventure for both of us and might be great. What? Who am I?

We arrived at KOFA Wildlife Refuge with about an hour of daylight to find a spot to camp and set up our site. All the hard work Todd had put into planning a great experience for me paid off. We had our site up in no time, and made a simple dinner of beer brats on French rolls. We made a lovely campfire to sit by, and we watched the sky delight us with stars that surrounded us and seemed to touch hills in the valley. The sky was amazing and the stillness around us so peaceful. We really just enjoyed the silence and slowness. We both adapted, and both showed up as our best selves for one another. It amazes me that after 35 years together, we continue to surprise one another.

The Bucket

Personal or Professional?

Do you want to create a blog that is personal or professional? This is the question I was asking myself when I decided to start writing. I love to write and always have. In the last twenty-five years, my writing has consisted of mostly to-do and grocery lists. Oh, and there was that one essay I wrote about my husband, Todd. I won first prize in an essay contest, and won tickets to see (and meet) Keith Urban. (I wish I had a copy of that essay. It was pretty darn good.) With the exception of a sprinkling of writing here or there, I spent most of my time caring and doing for others. I did not create the time to do things that bring me joy. Writing is one the many things that bring me joy.

Keith Urban private acoustic concert and Q&A .

As I started losing weight and began to journal consistently, it brought back the passion I have for writing. I began writing about Emily in my journal. I wrote about quarantine with her and funny stories of our walking adventures. I wrote about things that happened when my kids were little. It brought me so much joy reflecting on my life and past in written form. It also had me contemplating my journey going forward. What does Billie want? What does she enjoy? What fills her cup so she can give freely and openly to others without resentment? As a natural “helper”, I want to share what I have learned. I hope by sharing my experiences that I can bring hope and help to others.

When I decided to become a coach, I knew I wanted to have a blog as part of my message. I just was not sure the best approach. Do I focus on strategies? Do I share personal stories and lessons learned? First I started writing things that were not ME. I did not resonate with the message and did not LOVE what I was writing. I became frustrated and took a step back. I am not a polished and refined speaker. I do not sugarcoat the bad, but I do find the positive in any experience. I am who I am. I want to write freely what is on my mind, and have faith that the right person will receive a message that might bring them comfort or help them through a similar struggle.

Unexpected Journey

I am a self-defined caregiver. I love to care for my family and support my friends. I have always put others’ needs and desires above my own. Like most moms, I want the best for my kids. I want to support my husband and family. I take pride in being a good employee. I have spent over 25 years giving to everyone and everything except me. Yes, there were short periods where I would lose 20 pounds, take a trip with just my girlfriends, or solo, but not without guilt. I always felt like I was letting down my family or my job. Self-care was always attached to guilt or sacrificing my family.

Left in 2015: Right 2020

About five years ago, I began seeing the toll that caring for others, at the expense of my health, was having on both my mental and physical well-being. I was in constant overwhelm. I spent the day putting out fires. I was a victim in my life and just reacted to whatever obstacles or things came my way. I could see the damage I was creating, but I could not see a way out. I would end each day exhausted and desired an escape from my day. I would be tired and also want “me time” so I stayed up late indulging in things that added to the problem. I would binge on TV shows or snack and drink wine to “unwind and relax”. This only added to the exhaustion and overwhelm I thought I was escaping.

That is me in the front row.

2019 started, I was over 50, and carrying 50 extra pounds. I set out on a journey to lose some weight. I began the typical diet of restriction, but was not willing to figure out why I put the weight on in the first place. By April of that year, I was down almost 20 pounds, but nothing in my life had really changed except the number on the scale. I was still tired, deflated, depressed, and overwhelmed. A friend of a friend suggested I listen to a podcast about this lady that lost 100 pounds, and has kept it off for over 13 years. I had never listened to a podcast. You heard that right: I had NEVER listened to a podcast. I gave it a listen, and what the lady said made sense. Her “tribe” was opening for 5 days only so if you wanted to join, I better get after it. I am not someone who makes decisions easily. I need time to weigh out everything. The pros. The cons. The financial investment. You name it. It usually takes me months to make a decision. The host and life coach, Corinne Crabtree said something that has stuck with me to this day. Corinne said, “give yourself the gift of decision”. How the heck does she know I was still deciding? I went to her website: to get more information. I broke out my credit card, and said I would figure out the money part later. I had no idea what kind of cult I had just joined, but it was something new and resonated with me.

This is a photo from June 2019 as I was a few months into my journey

I learned a new way to think about weight loss. I was learning a new way to think period. I was being hit with some pretty heavy circumstances in my life, and for the first time, I felt I had the tools to face them, while still taking care of my needs. Caring for others and myself could happen at the same time. I was learning as I began to listen to my body and my thoughts, that I was becoming better. I was a better employee, wife, mom, and friend. I had energy again. I began to feel good in my skin.

The journey to weight loss led me on a journey of self-discovery. In putting all my time and energy into caring for others, I had lost the ability to identify with myself. I did not know who I was or what I wanted. I am still figuring it out. I am sure the journey will be lifelong, but I am confident that I have the tools to create the joy and life I want. I also want to help others find what I have found. It is possible to care for others and yourself at the same time.