The Rule of Three

By Claire Golden

It’s no secret to anybody who knows me, even in passing, that I don’t like change. Whether it’s something big like moving, or something small like not having Thai food for dinner as planned, change feels disruptive and sudden to me. This is exacerbated by severe anxiety, which is notoriously triggered by disruptions to routine.

However, change is unavoidable, and it isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a change for the better. If I hadn’t come to Portland State University, I never would have seen Little Cow Pigeon. (Yes, I will take any opportunity to use a picture of Little Cow Pigeon.) If I hadn’t started working at my new job, I never would have met my fiancé. Starting therapy was terrifying, but it changed my life for the better. Life doesn’t stay the same forever, whether or not you want it to, so I’ve had to learn coping mechanisms. One of the most useful techniques is what I call the Rule of Three.

I developed this rule during college, when I had to change classes every term. It was difficult getting used to a new classroom, subject and teacher every ten weeks when it felt like I had just gotten used to the last term. However, I always ended up settling in and feeling more comfortable…it just took me a couple of weeks. So I learned to give it three weeks before deciding the class was a lost cause.

Sometimes the change is smaller — a restaurant I was planning on going to for lunch is unexpectedly closed. This used to ruin my day. But there’s always an alternative, and sometimes that ends up being just as good as the original plan. I learned to pause and take three minutes to process my disappointment and consider the new options. That’s usually all it takes to I feel a lot better about things.

Same thing if someone asks me out of the blue if I want to go on an outing with them — say, a hike in the park or a trip to a food cart. My initial reaction is always to say “no.” I started wondering why that was, because I’m not a negative person. In fact, I’m generally rather optimistic. I figured out it was my anxiety getting in the way, because anxiety does not like spontaneity. Now I ask the person to give me a few minutes to think about it. More often than not, after I have three minutes to consider the question, I end up wanting to go out after all.

What if the change is massive? I moved twice during my childhood — I’m originally from Michigan — before moving to Ohio and then to Oregon. Those were huge changes. In this case, the rule of three had to be three months. That was how long it took me to adjust to my new home, city, neighborhood and friends. 

The Rule of Three has worked well for me when it comes to adjusting to change. Perhaps it will be useful for you, as well, if you also struggle with new things. I’m always trying to remember that just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s bad. It might be scary at first, but more often than not, it’s a change for the better. And that gives me the courage to power through.

My Favorite Books So Far This Year

By Claire Golden

One of the pastimes that’s gotten me through quarantine is reading. Although I’ve always loved books, sometimes I need them more desperately than ever, and the past year of COVID-19 quarantine is a prime example of that. Since I can’t go anywhere until I’m fully vaccinated, I’ve been reading books to escape my attic room and go on adventures with the characters. 

I enjoy a variety of genres, but what I really want from a book is to be completely immersed in a different world. I want books that will take me somewhere else for a few hours. So I’ve compiled a list of the top five books that have captivated me the most this year.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

This book is a recent release. It’s a Young Adult fantasy novel about a group of girls who are cast out from society because of the color of their blood, but they are training to be warriors who can take back their world from the oppressive patriarchy. The phrase “girl power” is overused and makes me roll my eyes, but that’s the sentiment of this book. The worldbuilding swept me up, and the characters are multifaceted and vibrant. This is a book I couldn’t put down and I would highly recommend to anyone looking for action-packed feminist literature, whether or not you typically read YA.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

This YA fantasy trilogy is far from new — it was published in 2013 — but it’s being turned into a Netflix series, and I always prefer to read the book before I watch the adaptation. I expected this to be a generic YA fantasy, but boy was I wrong. It isn’t afraid to go dark, but the story ultimately has a hopeful ending. I read this trilogy while I was recovering from surgery and it thoroughly distracted me from my pain. Now I can’t wait to watch the series!

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

For a change, here’s something that’s not a YA fantasy. (My family teases me about my love for YA fantasy, but we all have our favorite genres, right?) This novel won a Goodreads Choice Award and it sure does deserve it. It’s about a mom influencer who becomes obsessed with her daughter’s babysitter, a Black teen from the other side of town, after an incident where where the babysitter is accused of abducting the little girl she cares for. Emira, the babysitter, is a great character and extremely likable, while Alix is fun to root against. But the novel brings up important questions of “woke” culture, “mom bloggers,” and racial dynamics. 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

This author is one of my auto-buy authors; I will read absolutely anything she writes. And I think this novel is her best work yet! It’s a historical fiction about a Chinese-American teenager named Lily growing up in San Francisco and discovering that she’s lesbian when she falls in love with her friend, Kathleen. Together, they visit the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar. I learned so much about 1950s San Francisco and what it was like to be LGBTQ+ back then, from an #ownvoices author who is also Chinese-American and lesbian. Lily felt real to me, and the novel was very moving in addition to just being a plain good read.

Among the Beasts & Briars by Ashley Poston

And one more YA fantasy to round out the list. This book reads like a fairytale, from its shorter length to the beautiful descriptions of castles and forests. Cerys escapes into the enchanted forest after a curse strikes her town and must survive with only a fox…who might also be magical…and her own wits. She is resourceful and spirited, and she has a fox companion that charmed me from the start. Although I have read enough YA fantasy to fill an entire bookshelf, this one still brought enough new material to the genre to keep me entertained. Also, serious cover love!

What books have kept you entertained during these long quarantine days?

What The COVID-19 Test Is Really Like

By Claire Golden

After scheduling an upcoming medical procedure, the doctor informed me that I would have to get tested for COVID-19 prior to going. My heart sank. I’ve never enjoyed going to the doctor. Well, nobody does, but for me it used to be a phobia that would lead to tears and panic attacks. I’ve come a long way and it doesn’t scare me like it used to, but I was far from enthused about being tested for COVID. I understood why they had to do it. But the nervous butterflies started up. In fact, I was more scared for the COVID test than I was for my upcoming surgery. Anxiety is a silly thing sometimes!

There are a few types of tests to see if you have COVID. One involves spitting in a tube, another involves twirling a swab just inside your nose. However, the one I would be getting — and the one I was scared of — is the nasopharyngeal swab, where a long, skinny Q-tip-looking thing is inserted far back into your nostril to get the back of your sinus. When I looked up a diagram of this, I thought, “Nope,” and proceeded to hyperventilate.

Well, I am here to share my experience with you and to inform you that it is not a bad experience at all. I know I’m not the only one who worries about this sort of thing, so please allow me to ease your mind a bit by reassuring you that it looks much worse than it actually is.

The whole test took less than 30 seconds. My partner drove me to the drive-through testing site. When we got there, I showed my photo ID and rolled down the window. The nurse explained what was going to happen and asked me to lean my head back against the headrest and relax. I’ll admit, when someone asks me to relax, it doesn’t exactly make me feel relaxed, but it does help to stay calm. On the count of three, the nurse stuck the swab into my right nostril and just…kept…going. It is a really strange feeling, but it doesn’t hurt much. You know the feeling when you really have to sneeze, how your nose kind of burns? That’s exactly what this felt like — a tickling sensation in the back of my nose. When the swab was removed, I coughed a few times, blew my nose and felt back to normal.

The test probably only took 5-10 seconds, and the anticipation was about 100 times worse than the actual thing…which is always how things go, in my experience. I found that closing my eyes, bringing a stuffed animal, and squeezing my partner’s hand helped keep me calm during the process. I am quite squeamish about any medical procedures involving the face, so if I can get through this, anybody can!

If you go on the Internet you can find a variety of COVID test horror stories about how awful it was. Although I’m not discounting anybody’s experience, it’s important to remember that people often exaggerate to make the story more interesting. For the vast majority of people, the test will be smooth, quick and easy. I worried more than was necessary, so if you’re about to be tested for COVID yourself, I hope this can help ease your mind.

In Defense of Comfort Objects

By Claire Golden

There’s a scene in one of my favorite books, The Giver by Lois Lowry, that’s stuck with me. It’s a dystopian novel where every year children go through a different ritual for their age group. One year, they have to give up their “comfort object,” which is a stuffed animal they’ve had since they were born. The idea is that the children are now old enough that they shouldn’t have a stuffed animal anymore. This appalled me as a kid and continues to appall me today as a 23-year-old college graduate. See, I have more stuffed animals than ever and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Since The Giver is a dystopian novel, it’s showing a world that we shouldn’t aspire to. But in our own society, don’t we do exactly the same thing? I remember getting dolls and plushies from my friends on my birthday, only to start receiving clothes and makeup when we hit our teenage years. But I hadn’t stopped liking stuffed animals. It just wasn’t cool to do so anymore.

Maybe it’s thanks to my homeschool background that I managed to hold onto my stuffed animal collection rather than giving it away due to peer pressure. But I love my plush companions. They’re fluffy, soft, cheerful and comforting to cuddle with. I dream of meeting a kiwi bird in real life, but since that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, I got a plush version that I can hug. When my pet chicken died, I got a plush that looks just like her that I can hug when I really miss her. Some of my stuffed animals are over a decade old and hold lots of memories. I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

Since it isn’t socially acceptable to have stuffed animals in public, I brought plush keychains and pencil cases with me to create the illusion of what I thought was maturity. But the fact that I greet my stuffed animals when I come home has nothing to do with how functional of an adult I am. My stuffed pandas sit next to my desk while I work from home. I make my own doctor’s appointments…and then bring a fluffy alpaca to the hospital with me. (Pictured is Millicent the alpaca, first in a bonnet I made for her, and second, at my surgery consultation last week.) 

I’m learning to care less about what people think. But you know what? Whenever someone sees one of my plushies, they usually think it’s awesome. Often they want to give it a hug, and they tell me about their own stuffed animals at home. It’s like me embracing my own weirdness gives them the courage to reveal their own. Sometimes it even helps me make a new friend. Life is too short to hide something that makes you happy, especially when it’s this fluffy and cute.

Clean Room, Calm Mind

By Claire Golden

Like many college students and recent graduates, I live in a small space. This means that even a small mess can quickly become overwhelming because it takes up most of my living quarters. I am naturally a messy person, much to the chagrin of everyone who has lived with me. (Shoutout to my younger sister for putting up with the Yarn Blob when we shared a room!) However, over the years I have discovered that having a messy room has a negative impact on my mental health.

When I’m feeling depressed, I lose motivation. That leads me to set things on the nearest horizontal surface, whether that’s the nightstand, table, or floor. Then my room becomes a Depression Den (as the Internet likes to call it), which causes me to feel even more depressed, and the spiral continues. I suffered from Major Depressive Disorder a few years back. Fortunately, now I only deal with seasonal winter depression, but I’ve found that both conditions lead to the same result. When my room is littered with clothes (both dirty and clean), books, papers, and things everywhere, it doesn’t help my mind feel any less like a disaster.

It feels impossible to clean up a Depression Den, so sometimes you might have to ask for help. I lived with my parents during college and my mom would offer to keep me company while I cleaned. This prevented me from getting distracted with various knick-knacks and books and also gave me some moral support. Now that I live with my boyfriend, we put on a documentary and clean together. If cleaning your whole room feels like it will never happen, then choose one area to tidy — I always feel better when the floor is picked up. Or, set a timer for a manageable amount of time. Even five minutes of cleaning is better than nothing.

Ideally, I would take a few minutes every day to tidy up, but my mind just doesn’t work like that. So I tidy when I feel capable, and create impossibly tall stacks of books when I don’t. I’m far from perfect, and the state of my room reflects that. In the end, you have to do what works best for you. But I encourage you to set aside a few minutes to care for yourself by making your living space calmer. It might just help brighten your mood, too.

“Fake It Till You Make It”

By Claire Golden

One of the best pieces of advice my mom ever gave me occurred when I was worrying about something — my first day of college, driving a car for the first time — the exact situation doesn’t matter. I worried aloud to her that I didn’t feel ready. Her response? “Fake it till you make it.” This advice has helped me through many a scary event. 

I’ve pretty much never felt ready for something scary. When I went to my first day of college, I felt like a little kid pretending to be an adult. I felt that I wasn’t smart enough for college. Everyone would know that I was just a fraud. So I just faked it. I wanted to be perceived as a competent, friendly, smart person, so I did my best to act that way. I’m not saying to pretend to be somebody you’re not — I’m saying to act like you’re confident, and eventually you’ll start to feel that way.

Carrie Fisher put it much better than I ever could in this quote that I think about often.

Image Description: Quote from Carrie Fisher that says “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it, and eventually the confidence will follow.”

I’ve since learned that many other people felt this way, too. The truth is that most of us are just faking it, because most of us don’t know what we’re doing. We’re all figuring it out as we go along. So act as if, and the confidence will show up. Even if it’s just a tiny bit of confidence, and even if it takes a long time to show up, one day the scary thing will be a tiny bit less scary. 

If I had waited to be confident before I attempted something, I would still be waiting. So don’t wait. Do it even though you’re scared, and one day you will be less afraid.

The Banish-Anxiety Box

By Claire Golden

Admittedly, this title is an exaggeration, because I know of no way to banish anxiety completely. However, in my last post about anxiety disorders I promised to share one of my favorite techniques for coping with anxiety. So here it is!

Since anxiety tends to focus on either fretting over the past or worrying about the future, one of the best ways to cope is by grounding yourself in the present moment. To do this, it’s useful to engage your five senses. I put together a box with tools for each sense. When I’m anxious, I reach for this box and play with the things inside until I feel a little less on edge. It’s important to put these resources together ahead of time because it’s difficult to function in the moment. In the same way that you don’t wait to pack until five minutes before you leave for the airport, you shouldn’t wait unil the moment of an anxiety attack to put together your kit. It’s a great way to care for your future self and take a little bit of control back from anxiety.

My anxiety box is actually a drawer in my desk. It used to be a physical box that sat next to my computer. When I commuted daily to college, I had a small zippered pouch that I used instead of a large box and contained a miniature version of this kit. Below is a picture of a small box I use as well as some of my crochet, which helps me a lot with anxiety.

Sight

  • Pictures of cute animals and loved ones
  • Memes
  • “Satisfying” videos of slime or kinetic sand
  • Watch videos of relaxing things like ocean waves
  • Read a book
  • Make a wall of your favorite quotes that you find encouraging, so you can look at it when the world feels especially scary

Sound

  • Meditation or relaxation videos (YouTube has lots of relaxing ASMR videos)
  • Listen to music — and maybe dance to it
  • Listen to nature sounds (I love falling rain)
  • Draw or color something, paying attention to the sound of your writing

Smell

  • Lotion
  • Candles
  • Go seek out your favorite smell. For me, it’s cracking open a book — I love the papery smell.
  • Take a bath with some fancy bubbles or soap

Touch

  • Fidget toys (I love Tangles)
  • Craft such as crochet, knitting, embroidery, origami
  • Play-Doh or Silly Putty — my favorite is Dave’s Thinking Putty which is so fun to play with and comes in all sorts of awesome colors
  • Stress ball
  • Use a peel-off face mask or something else for self-care
  • Hug a family member, friend, pet, or stuffed animal (pictured is my dog, Maisie, who is always happy to oblige)
  • Give yourself a hand, foot, or shoulder massage complete with lotion – put a massage tool or small container of lotion in your box

Taste

  • Lollipops
  • Gum
  • Sour candy
  • Include a favorite recipe to bake your favorite treat —- this works for smell, too!
  • A warm cup of tea (peppermint helps calm me down)

I hope this list can be of some use to you like it has been for me. What is your go-to trick for stress relief? What would you add to this list?

When You Just Can’t Stop Worrying

By Claire Golden

It’s normal to be nervous from time to time, and some anxiety can be helpful. For instance, if you’re nervous about giving a speech, those feelings can encourage you to prepare and practice. But there’s a difference between being anxious sometimes and having an anxiety disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 19% of adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder…almost one in five people! So what is the difference? And how can you tell if you’re one of the more than 40 million people who has one?

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There are five main types of anxiety disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Social Anxiety. I have a few of these myself and sometimes refer to this as my “alphabet soup” because of all the abbreviations. GAD is the most common and is usually what people mean when they talk about “having anxiety.” Put simply, in order to have GAD, you have an overwhelming sense of worry and being out of control most days for at least six months. This is extremely different from situational anxiety, like before a date or the first day of classes.

In my experience, the hard thing about anxiety is that there often isn’t anything concrete that you’re worried about. You’re just worried. Sometimes I’ll say to my boyfriend, “I’m nervous.” He’ll respond, “Do you know what you’re nervous about?” And I’ll say, “No, I don’t!” (Usually followed by a hug or him bringing me the cat to cuddle.) It’s frustrating, because if there was something specific that was worrying me, I could deal with that problem and the anxiety would go away. But I just feel like something bad is going to happen without knowing what. It’s like suspenseful music playing in a horror movie, where you know something is about to jump out at you.

The distinction between just being worried and actually having an anxiety disorder is one that our society doesn’t recognize, but is important to understand. People who don’t have a disorder, can find it hard to understand why an anxious person is so worried. They might want to fix the situation when there’s no concrete problem to fix. But it just doesn’t work that way..

If this resonates with you, consider contacting your doctor or make an appointment at SHAC to receive a diagnosis and discuss next steps and treatment. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve learned a lot in the course of understanding my own anxiety. In my next post, I’ll be sharing some coping techniques that have helped me immensely. I was diagnosed with GAD when I was six years old, so I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. I used to be too scared to tell people about it for fear of the stigma, but it’s become my mission to break down some of the walls around mental illness. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and whatever your brain may tell you, you’re not alone.

Expectations Unraveled

By Claire Golden

Last week I impatiently waited for the delivery truck to arrive. I’ve always been excited about getting things in the mail (it’s one of the things I can still enjoy even with lockdown), but this mail was particularly special…author copies of my debut novel were arriving! 

Unraveled released on Dec. 14 from Gurt Dog Press (in ebook, paperback, and hardcover). I was a nervous and excited wreck all week. Anxiety can’t tell the difference between good and bad events, so I had a stomachache even though I was over-the-moon happy. I’ve poured hundreds of hours into this book over the last five years, and when I finally held the finished copy in my hands, I experienced a feeling I’ve never had before — a mix of happiness, shock and gratitude. So, what did I do?  I took my book child to the park for some pictures.

The book publishing journey hasn’t been quite like I pictured it. I didn’t anticipate all the waiting:  to get edits back, for a cover design, for the book to release. With the pandemic, things also look different. My book doesn’t get a release party and I can’t do a book signing in person. But I’ve learned from this experience that even when things don’t look like you expected, they can still be wonderful. My publisher held an online book tour, my online friends commented on every post with enthusiasm and support, and my extended family ordered copies from across the country. In short, I am a super lucky author, and even though release day was unusual because of the pandemic, it was still awesome.

Unraveled arrived in a world much different than the one in which I started writing. And that’s okay. I’m also a different person than I was when I started writing. The book contains a little piece of my soul, and because of that, it’s rather scary for it to be out in the world where everyone can read it. But it’s a good anxiety, because it helps me grow. If I plan to keep writing books, which I do, then I’d better get used to people reading my work! 

I’ve heard from LGBTQ+ teenagers who found the book encouraging, from people with OCD who were glad to see the mental illness portrayed in fantasy, and from people who just enjoyed reading it. Having people connect with my characters has been one of the best moments of my life, and nothing short of a dream that’s become reality. In the end, my expectations didn’t matter, because everything turned out better than I could ever have imagined.

More Than A Habit

By Claire Golden

Content warning for discussion of mental illness and skin-picking.

Did you bite your fingernails as a kid? Maybe you still bite them now, or maybe you grew out of it. For most people, it’s just a bad habit that they can stop with enough concentration that  doesn’t affect their  life in a significant way. But for a small percentage of the population, skin-picking is a big problem.

I’ve picked my fingernails and lips since I was a kid, only I never outgrew it. “Stop picking” was a constant refrain from my parents, who were just trying to stop me from injuring myself. I didn’t want to hurt myself; it simply felt impossible to stop. Like how you can’t stop yourself from scratching an itch, I couldn’t stop myself from doing the behavior. My grandma once took me for a manicure, which was painful on my tender fingertips, but the pretty nails didn’t last very long.

I picked my skin constantly, for hours a day, regularly wearing three or more Band-Aids at a time to cover up sensitive spots on my fingers. One day, when I was 14 years old, someone looked at my hands dotted with five bandages and asked, “Oh my gosh, what happened?” This was a wake-up moment for me because I honestly hadn’t realized this was out of the ordinary. My friend’s shock at my beat-up fingertips clued me into the fact that this wasn’t right.

When I was 18, I learned that this condition has a name: Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior, or BFRB. There are a multitude of BFRBs, and the TLC Foundation for BFRBs is a great resource to learn more. The most common is trichotillomania, or hair-pulling, which you may have heard of. Or you may not, because BFRBs aren’t very well-known. Too often they’re seen as just a bad habit that someone will grow out of. I was fortunate to attend a therapy group for people with BFRBs, and receive Habit Reversal Training therapy, which essentially focuses on recognizing the urge to pick and redirecting it to something else.

Now my work desk is laden with fidgets for me to play with instead of taking my stress out on my skin. You can’t cure a BFRB, you can only learn to live with it — but mine is much more under control than it was several years ago. Now I only have to use a Band-Aid a few times a month instead of several times a day, and I’ve learned to reach for Chapstick instead of picking at my lip. (Sort of. I’ll admit I’ve been picking while I write this, but perfection is unattainable.) 

If I can get one thing out of my experience with a BFRB, it would be to share the knowledge with others. If you, too, are a BFRB sufferer, please know that you aren’t alone and there’s nothing wrong with you. Your mind just works a little differently, and that’s okay! There are ways to cope and people who understand what you’re going through. I encourage you to learn more about this condition, whether or not you have it, because increasing awareness c helps people. And now, I’m off to apply some lip gloss so I stop picking.