my mental health first aid kit

A couple weeks ago I had a really hard day that resulted in me getting home too mentally exhausted to get out of my truck. I texted my bestie and she prescribed a chocolate bar, some yogurt, and a movie, to give me a place to start as I worked through what was going on in my head, and from there we came up with the idea for this mental health first aid kit.

One thing that my therapist and I have been working on is practical tools to get me through the rough spots. This kit is another tool for my toolbox.

When I have a really hard day, it’s often hard for me to do basic self care things. While the frequency of my bad days is reduced, they still happen. I talked it over with my bestie and we isolated the areas in which I struggle most on those days, and designed this kit to offer me the support I need, ready when I need it.

My kit has a bottle of water, a box of mac and cheese, a chocolate bar, a packet of electrolyte drink mix, a packet of tissues, one of my favorite movies, and a checklist to evaluate what I need to do for myself.

For me, communication is both the best way to get through an episode, but also the hardest thing to do. Texting someone to say “hey, I’m having a hard day, can you send me cute cat pictures?” can be hard, but often that casual connection is the best thing to help me work through what’s going on in my head. Another thing that helps is just chatting with someone face to face; due to the pandemic, that can be hard, but it’s so important.

Other things to check are if I’ve had enough to eat, enough to drink, if I’ve spent any time outside, and if I’ve taken any time for just myself. Evaluating these things gives me an idea what I can do to help myself.

I do well with a step-by-step list of what to do, so I included a step by step guideline in my kit. Having a detailed plan makes it possible for me to get up off the couch and do step one.

The last card in my kit is a list of things in my environment to look at. The goal is to pick just one and do that to improve my immediate environment. Just one isn’t too overwhelming and I can usually do it in five or ten while my meal cooks.

This is not professional or medical advice; this is just something I’ve set up to make it easier to get through the bad days, and I thought others might benefit from it and be inspired to create their own kits. I fully expect to create a kit for each of my kids if/when I acquire younglings, because this is something that I would have LOVED to have as a kid. Other ideas could be just some snack food, a good book, a puzzle or game, a coloring book, outdoor toys… there’s tons of possibilities.

My main goal was to assemble this kit in one place so it’s ready when I need it. The days that I need something like this, I’m usually not capable of collecting things from all over the house. Think of it as a mental health first aid kit and make sure it’s stocked and ready to grab when you need it.

Take care of you.

💜

– Annie

Seascapes

reader notes: a mini review

Seascapes by Evelyn Grace.

2020 reads: book 13

5/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This book was too short. I need more about Haven and Kate and Drew, and more about Peter and his church windows. This was a sweet, summery read with a classic Maine vibe. I pulled it out a couple times today because I was about three quarters of the way through and I wanted to know how it ended. I can’t WAIT for the second in this series!

This novel is similar in writing and storytelling to Karen Kingsbury and Lindsay Harrell.

Fun fact: Evelyn has been a family friend for years and years, and was partly responsible for my poetry writing!

An Abundance of Katherines

Reader Notes: a mini review

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

2020 read: book nine


4/5 stars


⭐⭐⭐⭐


I liked this one, but it lacked a little of the finesse and emotional impact of John’s later books. It’s not necessarily one I’m going to go re-read, but it’s one I’ll keep on my shelf and hand to my teenagers if I ever get around to that stage of my life.


Colin sort of annoyed me, but at the same time I liked him. I am not good at math, my dyslexic brain has trouble with reading the numbers right so while I can grasp a lot of the theory, I tend to read 6 instead of 9 and so the math doesn’t work out right — I solved the problem correctly, I just didn’t solve the correct problem. But anyway for all that I still did high school math team from age 12 to age 17 (I opted not to graduate early because I liked math team so much) so I like math, I just struggle with doing the correct problems. Which is a little bit like Colin. I think he struggles to do the correct problems, and that is most of the issue. But he seems to work it out in the end.


Lindsey is wild and I love her. And Hassan is MAGNIFICENT..


All in all, I enjoyed the read.

Blessed Assurance

This has been on my mind for a week or so now and my bestie said I needed to share it, so, here goes. This is for you, Missie. ❤

We’re caught in the middle of a global pandemic and nothing is clear and nothing is certain and I have no answers and no idea what tomorrow has in store.

And yet, for the first time in my life, I am filled with this calm assurance.

It feels odd to me, because my anxiety is still there, fluttering around, but then there’s this deep bass note of knowing.

Sometimes you feel things in your head, and sometimes in your heart, and sometimes in your gut. I feel this assurance in all three: no matter what happens, no matter what comes next, this is not the end.

This is not the end.

Even if I should catch this virus and die, even if the knuckleheads speeding on my street should actually kill me, even if there’s some kind of violence and I get caught up in it and die, this is not the end.

There will still be a garden to tend, there will still be a cat to pet, there will still be a hand to hold — maybe Jesus’s hand, I don’t know.

But no matter what happens today, tomorrow, or in a year, I know, and kind of for the first time in my life, that this is not the end.

I don’t have answers. I don’t even really have questions, if I’m honest. I’m scared and nervous about what might happen.

But I know that whatever does happen, it’ll work out okay somehow

Death isn’t the end of the story. Death is turning a page.

So for now I’m going to keep washing my hands and keep waving at people and keep smiling even if I’m wearing a mask because my eyes will show it. I’m going to keep writing my articles for work and keep writing my stories for me and keep mucking about in my garden.

Everything will be okay in the end.

And this, my love, is not the end.

Three Things I Know Are True

Reader Notes: a mini review

2020 reads: book eight


Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley


Tell Me Three Things: there is only one rule. You have to tell the truth.

Five out of five stars


Betty’s debut novel is deep, aching, and had me fighting tears in the waiting room at the car repair shop. I’ve never read a verse novel before but it was the perfect form for this story and even helped me see how one of my stories would like to be told.


My favorite part was how Jonah stayed human. How Betty exposed the humanity, the exquisite beauty of broken bones and broken brains and broken hearts. It is so important to remember that brokenness isn’t always visible, and so important to touch those around us with soft fingers. “Where are you? What lives in your world?”


Liv reminds me of myself when I was 12 – fidgety, words turning into mashed potatoes when they come into my ears. Jonah… oh, Jonah. I know you. My Jonah was five years older than me. Her name was Heidi and she was one of my best friends when I was five. She and I would sing together because we could.


I felt like I knew this story, even though I’ve never read it before, never read the reviews. This is a story about my people. About my world.


Tell me three things.


There is only one rule.


You have to tell the truth.

Lost

I’ve been working at the paper since July 2019. In that time, I’ve traveled all over the county, all the way up to the border. Most of the places I’ve gone have been places I’ve never been before. Most of the things I’ve done have been things I’ve never done before. Most of the people I’ve met have been people I’ve never met before.

I’ve never yet gotten lost.

(Not for lack of trying, either.)

I’ve gotten stuck — up in Rangeley on a holiday with a dead camera battery and another half hour of photo taking to do, off the road into a ditch in Phillips at 8PM, on the shoulder of the road in Coplin Plantation in the dark with a secondhand smoke induced coughing spasm — but that’s not the same as getting lost. And there was always someone to help.

In Rangeley, I texted the police chief and asked where I could charge the battery, and he pointed me to the grocery store. They let me charge the battery for a bit while we browsed and picked up lunch and a few groceries, and I got my photos.

In Phillips a couple guys stopped and used one guy’s truck and the other guy’s chain and popped me out of the ditch easy as anything. Made sure I was all set before they left.

In Coplin a Lucas Tree truck driver stopped to see if I was okay. I was crying, on account of not being able to breathe very well and having to stop in a place where I didn’t have cell signal, but there wasn’t anything he could do. I just needed time to ride out the coughing, so he reluctantly left. But the action of someone stopping to check was something that still makes me feel like it’s not all rubbish in the world today.

But I’ve never gotten lost.

I was talking about it with my big brother Caleb when I was down in Cape Cod to see those boys, and was able to put words to what I meant.

I may not always know where I am, but I always know what to do to go where I want to be, or what to do to go back where I came from.

I don’t feel lost if I know where to go. And I always seem to know where to go.

I am lost when I don’t know where I am and I don’t know where to go or what to do.

And that’s where I’m at with this virus.

I don’t know where I am.

I don’t know where to go.

I don’t know what to do.

I’m lost.

Here’s the thing about being lost: you need to do a little bit of letting go. If you’re sitting in the car clutching the steering wheel for dear life, you need to pry your fingers off it and get the map out of the back seat before you can even think about getting unlost.

We don’t really have a road map for this situation. And it’s not like getting lost in the woods where you might need to just sit down and wait for rescue teams to find you.

I don’t know how we get unlost here.

I don’t know where we’re trying to get to.

I don’t know how to get back to where we were.

All I can do is let go, take one step, then the next. I feel like I’m learning to walk all over again.

I think of a wee little babe learning to walk who was so focused on taking a step that she held her breath; she couldn’t get past that first step when she was holding her breath.

I need to let go and breathe deeply in, out, in, out, to the beat of my footsteps.

Here’s the other thing about being lost: it doesn’t matter where you’re going and where you’ve been, if you’re okay right where you are. That is my wish for each and every one of us: that we will find a moment of stillness where we are.

– Annie

Reformed

Reader Notes: a mini review

2020 reads: book six


Reformed by H.L. Burke.


THIS BOOK. GO ORDER IT.

It’s up for preorder until release day, May 1st, and if you like superheroes, sassy books, magnificent cats, and strong characters (both male and female), you want to read this one.


5/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’ve read a few superhero stories and this one takes the cake. Reformed has all the character depth and development as a Marvel movie, with an incredible cast of characters, Burke’s usual sassy tone, and some genuinely heartwarming moments. This story is about young adults, mid twenties mostly, but would be suitable for superhero fans ages 13 and up.

Aiden is my favorite, by the way.


Guest appearance by Westley who’s so black he screwed up the white balance in the photo.

The Hobbit {my favorite book}

I wanted to republish one of my most popular blog posts in light of the state of the world today. This was originally published in February 2018 on my blog.

You’d be surprised how many times I get asked what my favorite book is. It’s on blog tour signups, it’s quizzes in my online groups, it’s just random questions. I usually have a hard time picking a favorite, but not with books. There’s always one I can give as an answer:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The first time I walked into a hole in the ground, I was five. Maybe six. My dad read it aloud to me and my four brothers, and I was hooked for life.

See, I was a fearful little girl. I wanted to be brave and important and save the world, but I got scared by the shadows in my closet and bright lights and by people talking too loudly around me.

I learned about being wild from the boys I grew up with. They challenged me to jump off cliffs (literally), to climb trees (I am terrible at it), to run all out and not be scared of tripping and falling (I still have scars on my knees). They encouraged me to take a couple steps and throw myself out, trusting to the water to catch me and cradle me.

But there were some things they couldn’t do.

They couldn’t teach me not to be afraid of the darkness.

They couldn’t teach me about the dragons I would have to face.

We were only little kids, after all. They didn’t know about those things either.

Later – much later – I learned far too much more about fear. I learned about the monsters that lurked, not under my bed or in my closet, but inside my mind. I learned about grief. I learned about being ripped apart. I learned about being wrong. I learned about being hurt. I learned about death.

I learned all that and more, and I almost lost myself in the middle of it.

By that point, The Hobbit movies were being filmed and everyone in my family was buzzing with excitement. I got out my book from the bottom of the stack on my bedside table – even during the time when I didn’t read it every six months, it never quite made it to the shelves – and I read it again.

I found myself inside the pages. I was Thorin, brave and loyal and proud. Too proud. I was Smaug, my own monster. I was Gollum, clutching to things I couldn’t keep.

Most importantly, I was Bilbo, small and afraid and unimportant.

But I learned something, and the movies helped me see it clearer.

I learned that even the small, seemingly unimportant ones are needed. I learned that sometimes what the world needs is a little more home. Sometimes it needs another pocket handkerchief.

The beauty of The Hobbit is that Bilbo doesn’t try to be Thorin or Gandalf or Beorn. Bilbo is simply himself, and that is enough. He becomes, over the course of the story, a better version of himself… but he is still himself. He is a hobbit. He likes his books and his armchair and clean handkerchiefs. Tea is at four.

Image: Pinterest

I learned more about being from reading or listening to The Hobbit approximately 200 times in the last fifteen years than I ever learned in church or listening to sermons or preachers. I learned more about life, my own and life in general, from this little book than I have from almost anywhere else. I sometimes think this book saved my life. I don’t really know, but I do know that it has shaped me in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible.

I love C. S. Lewis’s quote on stories for children because it sums up my relationship with The Hobbit so well:

Image: Pinterest

So if you ask me what my favorite book is, I might tell you the title of one I just finished… I might protest at having to pick favorites and how difficult the entire concept is… I might rattle off a list that’s three miles long… or I might tell you The Hobbit.

-Annie

Copyright 2018 by Annie Louise Twitchell
Annie Louise Twitchell at 4:58 PM Friday, February 23, 2018

stop waiting for ideal

My ideal writing environment is the following scenario:

I have a couple hours free in the morning. I drive over to The Orange Cat Cafe, get my breakfast, and occupy a seat in the back room of the cafe. I pull out my laptop and work for an hour or so, pausing between paragraphs to nibble my quiche or sip my coffee.

I was writing on my phone this day, but it still counts.

I’ve done that maybe six times in the last year.

Sometimes this is what it looks like, darlings. Sometimes writing means scraping together a few minutes in waiting rooms, just before you go to sleep, while you eat breakfast, while you cook supper.

Messy, real, unfiltered and unedited, this is where I knocked out 307 words while I waited for my pots to boil.

I’m sure we all have our ideal writing environment, but if we wait for our ideal, we’ll have a really hard time getting anything done.

I’ve been learning that the hard way in the last year. I started working and being away from home a lot, plus overnight trips to the city for my mom’s neurologist visits and physical therapy appointments. I had to get good at writing in two and five and ten minute stretches.

I had to get good at being flexible. At making the best out of a bad job.

I had to decide what was more important: getting the work done, or getting it done the way I wanted to get it done.

Because the way I wanted to get it done wasn’t an option.

But you know what? The more flexible I got, the more I got to experience my ideal. My ideal shifted. Now, my ideal is a cup of coffee and something to nibble, period. That sometimes means the cafe, and that sometimes means sipping a cold cup of coffee and typing four sentences on my phone while I wait for a soccer game to start. I’m happy there. I’m writing, I’m in an environment I enjoy and take delight in, and I can work well there.

Still working on taking delight in the ‘laptop on the kitchen counter’ environment, but hey, at least I’m writing.

I first wrote this up in a post in the Go Teen Writers Facebook group.

fifty activities with little to no screentime

A list of 50 activities you can do while social distancing that use minimal or no screen time, from an introverted extrovert with lots of experience with small children and cabin fever. Most are child friendly.

  1. Read a book.
  2. Listen to an audio book.
  3. Read a book out loud—you don’t have to read TO anyone. Just read to yourself or a pet. Exercise your voice.
  4. Play a board game.
  5. Play a card game.
  6. Do a coloring page.
  7. Make a drawing.
  8. Make a painting—don’t underestimate children’s watercolor palettes.
  9. Write a letter.
  10. Start a journal.
  11. Do a jigsaw puzzle.
  12. Study maps.
  13. Learn to crochet.
  14. Learn to knit.
  15. Learn to weave.
  16. Learn knot tying.
  17. Learn to eat with chopsticks.
  18. Sing—it can be terrible.
  19. Go for a walk.
  20. Wave at someone.
  21. Start a garden.
  22. Start a mini garden.
  23. Start a single plant pot on a sunny windowsill.
  24. Practice calligraphy.
  25. Doodle.
  26. Learn Cat’s Cradle.
  27. Practice jumproping.
  28. Try yoga or pilates.
  29. Bake bread. If it fails, try again.
  30. Wash the windows so you can see outside clearly.
  31. Make candles.
  32. Hug a pillow or a stuffed animal.
  33. Build a blanket fort.
  34. Build a city out of legos, duplos, or building blocks.
  35. Play an instrument—it can sound terrible, just try.
  36. Write a bucket list.
  37. Write a poem.
  38. Trace the alphabet in a thin layer of cornmeal or sand on a cookie sheet.
  39. Bake some cookies.
  40. Make Playdough.
  41. Make slime.
  42. Make cornstarch gak.
  43. Roll a single dice and record the number of each roll—enjoy the randomness.
  44. Play Solitaire.
  45. Learn to swing dance.
  46. Try meditation.
  47. Make bath bombs.
  48. Take a bubble bath.
  49. DIY facials and manicures.
  50. Call a relative or neighbor or friend, and chat.