Author: Meredith Simonds

Fall Leaves: Guided Meditation (7 Minutes)

Fall Leaves: Guided Meditation (7 Minutes)

In this 7-minute guided meditation, you begin at a trailhead on the edge of the woods on a crisp, cool fall day. Use the recording or, if you’re leading a meditation, you can read it yourself using the transcript below. Fall Leaves Close your eyes and […]

I Didn’t Report Sexual Assault 28 Years Ago, But That Doesn’t Mean It Didn’t Happen

I Didn’t Report Sexual Assault 28 Years Ago, But That Doesn’t Mean It Didn’t Happen

I didn’t know I had it in me to write this until I saw #FakeTrumpVictims trending on Twitter. Read at The Huffington Post: I Didn’t Report Sexual Assault 28 Years Ago, But That Doesn’t Mean It Didn’t Happen.

Runaway Wedding Guest: When Social Anxiety Attacks

Runaway Wedding Guest: When Social Anxiety Attacks

A few months after we started dating, Andy took me to a wedding. A dozen or so people there were friends of his I’d met before, but I didn’t know anyone well. Andy was officiating, so I was kind of on my own before and during the ceremony. And it felt all right. I was the new girl. That’s just how it is when you start dating someone; feeling out of place in their group of friends is normal.

What’s not normal is how out of place I felt at this month’s wedding for another couple in the same circle of friends who I have now known for nearly 4 years.

It started out okay

I’ve attended dozens of get-togethers with this group of people – parties, showers, weddings, you name it. But at the wedding just a couple of weeks ago, much of the time I felt so uncomfortable that it took everything in me to stay.

It started out okay, as Andy and I milled around chatting with people before the ceremony.

We talked about writing and artwork, next month’s wedding and babies, treasure hunting and the real treasure – Andy’s new autoimmune treatment.

Through it all, I was just my usual anxious self – asking too many questions, struggling with anything more to say than “Good, ya know, the usual,” and wondering if everyone else could smell that I’d used too much hairspray.

I could also feel myself fading, wondering how much longer I could keep this up.

The truth is, I’d felt down all day – a predictable sort of depression, I guess, that tends to come at the tail-end of a high-anxiety string of weeks like I’ve had the past couple of months. The day of the wedding, it took everything in me to shower, dress, and leave the house with a smile.

It was a welcome relief when we were told to take our seats. The ceremony was lovely and I was in the safest place in the world – beside Andy, his arm around me.

Once the ceremony was over, I was pleasantly surprised to be ushered into the dining room, another welcome relief as I thought we were going to get right to it: the food.

Except Andy and I were the only ones seated at our table.

And thus began the unraveling of me.

I couldn’t bring myself to get back up

At first it was nice, just the two of us chatting at the table. But as I looked around at everyone still milling around I realized, oh, we’re not quite to this part yet. Most people aren’t sitting yet because there was more socializing to be done.

And I just couldn’t.

Adrenaline got me through the first half of the event, but once I sat down at our table, I couldn’t bring myself to get back up. I didn’t tell Andy this, but maybe he knew. He stood back up to chat with his friends, but he stayed close.

This was a bittersweet moment for me. As much as I wished he were sitting beside me, I was happy to see Andy up and about having fun, one of too few social occasions he’s been able to enjoy since he got sick.

So I sucked it up and did my best to say hello to people from my seat, even going out of my way to stop people whom I hadn’t seen all night as they passed by our table. I even managed to stand up to hug and congratulate the bride and groom when they made their way around the room.

When people finally started taking their seats for dinner, a couple who we’re close to – in fact, the same couple whose wedding Andy officiated – tried sitting across from Andy and me but another couple had already saved those seats. I was bummed, but I couldn’t even bring myself to get up and move to available seats closer to the ones our friends ended up taking.

The thing of it was, I felt so detached from everyone that I doubted my ability to carry on dinner conversation with people I talk to all the time. They know about my social anxiety and would have understood if I’d explained how I was feeling. But when I’m in it, that last thing I want to do is call attention to it. I just want to disappear.

I was grateful to have food to shove in my mouth

I pretty much white-knuckled it until dinner was served. Only, it wasn’t served. It was buffet.

That’s right. I had to stand up, walk through the crowd, and stand in line. Fortunately, I found myself standing with a woman who is one of the easiest people to talk to I know. She also subscribes to the newsletter where I talk a lot about my social anxiety, so if I seemed weird in that moment, I knew it wouldn’t seem weird to her.

Back at the table, I was grateful to have food to shove in my mouth. I didn’t have to worry about talking to anyone on my left – I was at the end of the table; there was no one there. Andy was on my right, but he was catching up with the friend next to him. And across from me was a couple I barely knew who were pretty immersed in one another anyway.

But instead of feeling relieved that I could sit in silence, I only felt more self-conscious.

I accidentally made eye-contact with a woman I didn’t know half way down and across the table from me who wasn’t talking to anyone either. On a better day I would have struck up a conversation with her. Instead, I did my best to smile with food in my mouth and stared back down at my plate.

As dinner was wrapping up, Andy said he was stepping outside to have a cigarette. I wanted to go with him because I hated the thought of being left alone but didn’t want to ask, as it seemed like a guy thing, and I didn’t want to be any needier than I already felt.

Thankfully, it occurred to me to ask Andy for his phone (I’d left mine at home) so I could at least do the socially acceptable anti-social thing while he was gone. Only using his phone turned out to be more anxiety-inducing than relieving, as it didn’t have the apps I use and it stressed me out more trying to find the news I wanted or navigate social media without them. I stuck with it, but failed to get lost in it and just grew increasingly self-conscious.

No hiding in the bathroom for me

I didn’t feel like I could sit there another minute so, as much as I dreaded the prospect of running into someone on the way, I decided to go to the bathroom. I bee-lined it there, avoiding looking at faces for fear I would recognize someone I’d have to talk to. In the end, that didn’t work, but for the best possible reason.

As I turned the corner for the bathroom, I ran into Andy who was just walking back inside. I gave him his phone and he gave me a kiss. I told him I’d seen a cookie cart he should check out on his way back to the table. (We’re trying gluten-free, but it was a cheat night.)

I locked myself in the bathroom and breathed a sigh of relief…interrupted almost immediately by a jiggling of the door handle. Someone was waiting; I had to hurry. No hiding in the bathroom for me.

Getting back to the table was easier than leaving it. One, because I was preoccupied with the plate of cookies I was carrying. And two, I knew Andy would be at the table when I got back. Only he wasn’t. I spotted him easily enough, talking to people not too far away. But as much as I wanted to be with him, I couldn’t bring myself to join.

What if I had to speak? (Of course, I would have to speak.) What if I embarrassed myself? (Of course, I would embarrass myself.) What if I ran away screaming? (Of course, I would run away screaming.)

So I decided the best course of action was to sit down and eat my cookies.

At one point I saw Andy talking to a couple we know who I hadn’t spoken to all night. I felt I should go over and say hello but I just couldn’t. I was too afraid of what might happen when I got there. Hell, I was afraid of what might happen just continuing to breathe.

“Pretty fuckin’ shitty”

By the time Andy sat back down for the speeches, I was having trouble even talking to him. He asked how I was and I responded with an “Okay” that probably sounded more like “Pretty fuckin’ shitty.”

“Are you ready to leave soon?” he asked, to which I responded something like my standard, “If you are.”

The speeches were funny and touching but not nearly enough to pull me out of my head. Because I knew all too well what came next – getting up from the tables and doing one of two things, neither of which I could bear: talking or dancing.

Only then did I realize I what was happening to me – I was having an anxiety attack.

I’m used to high anxiety, but don’t usually classify what I’m experiencing as an anxiety attack because I don’t have the physical symptoms to go along with everything else. In this case, though, I felt pressure on my chest, my heart was racing, and it was hard to breathe. On top of that, I had the sense something bad was going to happen (even if was me doing it) and I was desperate to get out of there before it did.

Just when I thought I might implode if I had to be there a moment longer, Andy asked, “Do you want to start saying our goodbyes?”

On a normal night, finding and saying goodbye to a dozen or so people is the easiest part for me. It means hugs, short chats, and the light at the end of the tunnel – going home.

On this night, though, saying our goodbyes felt like a death sentence.

“I don’t think I can do the goodbyes tonight,” I said.

“No problem,” Andy said, or something equally wonderful.

He gave me some cash and the valet ticket and I made the final trek to the car, leaving him behind to say our goodbyes for us.

Desperate to get out of there

I did my best to avoid faces as I made my way through the crowd, but found myself making eye contact with another friend of ours who I’d seen over the course of the evening but hadn’t spoken to yet. We were too far away to talk, and we both seemed in a hurry, so I smiled, waved, and carried on.

The only problem was I didn’t wait to see him acknowledge my smile or wave which, in hindsight, I realized may have been so subtle and rushed that they were undetectable.

What if he thought I just looked at him without any acknowledgment at all? What’s worse is we were both headed in the same direction. So when I realized I was going the wrong way, I stopped short and sensed that I made him nearly spill his drinks. But I was so desperate to get out of there that I couldn’t even turn around to apologize.

Once outside, I had to make it past a couple of other women I know who thankfully were so engaged in conversation that I managed to pass unnoticed (at least that’s what I told myself).

I handed my ticket to the valet and breathed a sigh of relief. I was home free.

Not.

The night’s saving grace

A friend of ours was walking my way.

“Are you leaving?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. And he stopped for a hug. Only he ended up staying for a lot more than that – he stayed to talk. And there it was, my worst fear realized. Only…it wasn’t.

In the moment, and as it unfolded, this conversation turned out to be the night’s saving grace.

It was just the two of us talking, in the middle of an empty street. It was easy to breathe. It was easy to focus. It was easy to listen and respond thoughtfully.

I remembered I could have an intelligent conversation.

I remembered I like talking to people.

I remembered that, no matter how anxious I feel in any given moment, it always gets better. Not all the way and not all at once, but enough to remember the real me underneath.

I’m Walking for Mental Health: Will You Help?

I’m Walking for Mental Health: Will You Help?

In August 2016, I attended the BlogHer Conference in Los Angeles. I heard a lot of inspiring things there, but it was Mayim Bialik — the actress, neuroscientist, and GrokNation founder — who left the biggest impression on me. Not for any one thing she […]

Did You Have Double Anxiety During the 2016 Election?

Did You Have Double Anxiety During the 2016 Election?

Thirty percent of us were anxious about both major party candidates in the 2016 presidential election. I was among them. Were you? Read my take on it at The Huffington Post — Election Anxiety: I’m Not Passionate About My Candidate.

7 Anxiety-Reducing Truths I Was Reminded of at the BlogHer Conference

7 Anxiety-Reducing Truths I Was Reminded of at the BlogHer Conference

One week ago today, I left the Los Angeles Blogher Conference feeling something I doubted I could: empowered by the experience. As much as I had wanted to go, my anxiety told me I would hate every minute of it and, worse, that I would hate myself by the time it was all said and done. Instead, I loved BlogHer and it reminded me of some anxiety-reducing truths.

1) Other women are anxious, too

On Day 1 of the conference, I got there 20 minutes early for volunteer training. There was one person there. She was sitting up front looking very official (i.e., intimidating). I couldn’t bring myself to (a) talk to her or (b) ignore her so I left before she saw me and walked around the hotel for a few.

When I got back, there were two people in the room. The second person was a woman I’d passed in the hall earlier. We’d already exchanged a smile, so it felt safe enough to go in and have a seat behind her. We said hello, exchanged a few words, and got back to our smartphones as others trickled in.

One by one, we said hello and one of the women started asking around what each of us blog about. That’s when it happened. The thing that clued me in to how much I might really belong there after all.

I said I blog about women and anxiety, and one of them said, “Oh, I’m gonna need your card.”

That’s how it began – the first of many times the women I met over the next three days said they struggle with anxiety, too. Maybe not to the extreme I experience it – or about the same things that trigger my anxiety – but it’s there, it’s challenging, and it’s all of us.

2) You can turn off the news

In the weeks leading up to the conference, the only thing I felt more anxious about was the news, which I haven’t been able to tear myself away from lately.

I’ve never watched the news regularly. I used to think it’s because I didn’t have interest in what was going on in the world, which isn’t something you want to believe about yourself. But after immersing myself in the election coverage these past few months, I’ve come to a different conclusion.

I cannot sustain this level of anxiety.

Even if I only want to follow one story, when you’re tuned in to the news cycle, you’re seeing it all. Between Google news, and social media, and cable television, it’s one thing after another to absorb every day, all day long.

Sheryl Crow echoed this experience in her keynote Q&A on Day 2 of the conference:

“My boys are 9 and 6 and have never seen the news. I make sure CNN is not on when they turn it on to watch Cartoon Network. I think it’s not natural for people to have that kind of stress and worry and be exposed to every bad thing in the world.”

I’m learning to lay my phone down.

3) It doesn’t matter what other people think

Kim Kardashian was also a keynote Q&A speaker on Day 2. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Kim revealed she’s doing exactly what she wanted:

“When I was 13, The Real World had just come out. I told my best friend that’s what I wanted to do.”

No matter what you think about her dream and how she lives it, Kim Kardashian says she doesn’t care.

“I do what makes me feel comfortable,” she said. “I just do what makes me happy… Be you. Be confident in you… Do what you love because you love it, not for validation.”

Now, Kim did acknowledge that she felt differently years before when she would obsessively pour over social media comments about her. (In fact, I saw it myself when it was a storyline on a Kardashians episode.) She cared very much back then. But she seems now to have a thicker skin, and it’s a good thing because she needs it.

It’s no secret there were mixed responses to her presence at the BlogHer Conference. Some people love what she does. Some people hate what she does. Some people love to hate what she does. And she doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass any which way. I love that.

4) It’s okay if other women don’t want to be your friend

I moved around a lot when I was a kid. The worst part of the day at a new school was lunchtime because I often had no one to sit with. That fear and anxiety came rushing back full-force going into the Voices of the Year Awards at the end of Day 2.

For all the other keynotes throughout the conference, I was with other bloggers beforehand, so we naturally sat together. This time, though, I’d been flying solo and I walked into the giant room by myself. I didn’t see anyone I knew so I swallowed my pride, picked the closest table with the best view and available seat, and asked if I could sit down.

I didn’t know anyone there. There was one woman who I’d seen in a session earlier that day so I introduced myself to her and we had a little chat. Also at the table was one of the few men at the conference, there for his wife who’d won an award for her Instagram page.

I cannot tell you a single thing about the rest of the women at the table because none of them would talk to me. They wouldn’t even look at me. The woman to my left was buried in her phone the whole time. At one point I decided to break the ice and remarked how much I liked her phone cover. She smiled and said thank you; conversation over. She left the awards show early, as did most of the women at our table. It was a lonely feeling.

Halfway through the presentation, I noticed a blogger I knew sitting directly behind me. If only I’d seen her before I sat down. On the one hand, it would have felt better if I’d been able to sit with her instead. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to practice feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’ve come a long way since middle school when I would have taken my lunch to the bathroom stall.

5) If it’s only meaningful to one person, what you do matters

On Day 3 of the conference, Mayim Bialik was the Q&A keynote speaker. You probably know her as Blossom, the young Bette Midler character in Beaches, Amy on The Big Bang Theory, and a real-life neuroscientist. But you should also know her as the creator of the website GrokNation.

Grok means to understand something intuitively or by empathy. And by “something” GrokNation means pretty much everything because it sounds like there’s not much they won’t cover.

“When we first started, we were asked what our demographic was,” says Mayim. “I said I think about so many things. I don’t have to pick…

“I don’t want to say I’m a reluctant creator, but honestly, it was scary. I don’t think of myself as a celebrity. I’m a mom and a scientist… I don’t pay attention to stats because that’s not where my brain lives. I did those in grad school! Some people on our team are trying to track what people like. I posted a piece about incest. If this gets one like from one person that needed to read it, then that’s all I need.”

That’s music to my ears, as my own site is so new, with very little traffic, and most of the time it feels like I’m writing into a vacuum. But every few weeks someone will leave a comment, message me on Facebook, or send me a tweet saying how much what I’m doing means to them. And hearing from that one person means the world to me.

6) When you put yourself out there, you can make friends

A few weeks before the conference, I wrote a piece called Odd Woman Out at the BlogHer Conference. As the title suggests, I was worried I wouldn’t fit in. I posted it to the BlogHer Facebook Group and received this reply:

“Be my friend.”

It was from Joules Dellinger and she asked about meeting up. I looked at her blog and saw that she’d written a similar post about the conference: Let’s Be Odd Ducks Together.

I loved we had odd in common.

If I hadn’t written and shared that post, I would never have met my new friend who already feels like a good one. I also wouldn’t have met the women Joules introduced me to – Jenna Taylor whose fun Instagram page is one of my new faves. Or Meadoe Hora whose post about the excuses she makes to avoid working out made me laugh.

If I hadn’t volunteered, I wouldn’t have met Patty Kraikittikun-Phuong who’s working on a gluten-free bread recipe I can’t wait to try. Or DiSheen Smith who reminded me how important is to make the most of opportunities we have living here in L.A. Or Elizabeth Hill who switched volunteer times with me so she could see Sarah Michelle Gellar and I could see Kim Kardashian.

If I hadn’t talked to someone I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have met Ligeia Polidora whose writing about midlife inspires me. Or Joy Bennett whose reviews have me motivated to see more L.A. film festivals, shows, and concerts. Or Tabitha Black who makes me want to explore the Pacific Northwest.

If I hadn’t reached out to another blogger on the Facebook Group page – a woman who posted about having a tough time with unfriendly folks at the conference – Sandi Schwartz wouldn’t have seen my response and invited me to meet up because she writes about anxiety, too. She focuses on kids, with ideas for stress and anxiety relief backed up by science, like this one on creativity.

7) It’s okay to talk about anxiety

I used to try and hide it, ashamed I couldn’t control my anxiety. Funny thing is, that only made my anxiety worse, as it felt like I was pretending to be someone else. In talking about anxiety with other women at the conference, I felt proud of us. Not proud of the anxiety, but of the courage it often takes to admit. I also felt more like myself – awkward, yes, but honest.

How to Keep a Worry Journal

How to Keep a Worry Journal

I started my worry journal 5 years ago right around the time I was stressing over two life-altering experiences that would have been stressful enough on their own – producing my first play and dating again after a break-up. I worried that I sucked in […]

How Cameron Diaz Helped Me Deal with the Anxiety of Aging

How Cameron Diaz Helped Me Deal with the Anxiety of Aging

Toward the end of one of my play productions a few years back, the actresses and I were having one last get together before we said our goodbyes (none of whom were Cameron Diaz, by the way, in case there’s any chance that needs clarifying). […]

Row With the Flow of the River: Guided Meditation (9 Minutes)

Row With the Flow of the River: Guided Meditation (9 Minutes)

In this 9-minute guided meditation, you begin at the edge of a river — the water is peaceful, a slow steady flow. Use the recording or, if you’re leading a meditation, you may want to read it yourself (see transcript below).

Row With the Flow of the River

 

Close your eyes and breathe easy.

You’re standing at the edge of a river.

The water is peaceful – a slow, steady flow.

Tall green grasses are on either side.

An empty row boat is waiting for you on the river’s edge.

You carefully step inside and sit down.

It feels safe and easy.

You’re carrying a messenger bag, which you set down in front of you.

You untie the boat, pick up the oars, and row with the flow of the river, the oars gliding easily in and out of the water.

The sun is warm on your skin.

A breeze blows through your hair, the grass, the trees.

Just ahead, you see a woman standing on the riverbank.

You row over to her, reach into your messenger bag, and hand her a red envelope.

She opens it and reads:

“I am safe.”

She smiles and thanks you.

“You’re welcome,” you say.

And you row with the flow of the river, the oars gliding easily in and out of the water.

Just ahead, you see a second woman standing on the riverbank.

You row over to her, reach into your messenger bag, and hand her an orange envelope.

She opens it and reads:

“I am creative.”

She smiles and thanks you.

“You’re welcome,” you say.

And you row with the flow of the river, the oars gliding easily in and out of the water.

Just ahead, you see a third woman standing on the riverbank.

You row over to her, reach into your messenger bag, and hand her a yellow envelope.

She opens it and reads:

“I am powerful.”

She smiles and thanks you.

“You’re welcome,” you say.

And you row with the flow of the river, the oars gliding easily in and out of the water.

Just ahead, you see a fourth woman standing on the riverbank.

You row over to her, reach into your messenger bag, and hand her a green envelope.

She opens it and reads:

“I am loved.”

She smiles and thanks you.

“You’re welcome,” you say.

And you row with the flow of the river, the oars gliding easily in and out of the water.

Just ahead, you see a fifth woman standing on the riverbank.

You row over to her, reach into your messenger bag, and hand her a blue envelope.

She opens it and reads:

“I am understood.”

She smiles and thanks you.

“You’re welcome,” you say.

And you row with the flow of the river, the oars gliding easily in and out of the water.

Just ahead, you see a sixth woman standing on the riverbank.

You row over to her, reach into your messenger bag, and hand her an indigo envelope.

She opens it and reads:

“I am aware.”

She smiles and thanks you.

“You’re welcome,” you say.

And you row with the flow of the river, the oars gliding easily in and out of the water.

Just ahead, you see a seventh woman standing on the riverbank.

You row over to her, reach into your messenger bag, and hand her a violet envelope.

She opens it and reads:

“I am connected.”

She smiles and thanks you.

“You’re welcome,” you say.

And you row with the flow of the river, the oars gliding easily in and out of the water.

The sun is warm on your skin.

A breeze blows through your hair, the grass, the trees.

Breathe it in, breathe it out.

Row with the flow of the river.

Open your eyes.

Row with the flow of the river.

See other guided meditations.

For unguided sessions, try this simple approach to meditation.

 

Odd Woman Out at the BlogHer Conference: Worry Journal Exercise

Odd Woman Out at the BlogHer Conference: Worry Journal Exercise

A few months ago a friend was telling me about a conference she was going to for work. “I love conferences,” I told her. That’s a strange thing for me to say, I thought, because I don’t go to conferences. I do vaguely remember an […]

How Do You Escape the Anxiety of a Dangerous Friendship?

How Do You Escape the Anxiety of a Dangerous Friendship?

My fiancé, Andy, was very sick last year. It was scary, and stressful, and I needed moral support I didn’t know how to ask for. The best I could do was be honest with my family and friends about how things were going, but only […]