My Newest Challenge

This past week I started something new. Something that has my whole family scratching their heads in bewilderment. My husband commented, “that is a really weird way to relax.” My kids keep coming up to me and wanting to know, WHY? I will tell you, and probably all my friends that knew me in high school will start laughing. I am taking high school Alegebra 1 via Khan Academy, online. 

I zipped through Unit 1, and I am on the last quiz and Unit test for Unit 2. There are 15 units. I have no idea how long this is going to take. I hope that I will stick with it though. 

So, a little background. Yes, I have taken high school algebra before. In high school. Actually, freshman year I was doing correspondence high school courses and finished Algebra 1 with an A, and no teachers on hand for daily help. I went to a little mission school and there were 5 highschoolers that year, and each of us worked independently on our own courses. There was a volunteer in the class to kind of keep us on task and answer questions if they were able. I think Aunt Bernice, the principal of the school, might have sat down a couple times with me to get me over a hump, and I think they once tried to get one of the doctors who worked at the mission hospital to give me a tutoring session, but they were unable to explain things on a beginners’ level. But, however I did it, I did pass the class and got an A. But, that was in 1992-93. I really don’t remember a whole lot of what I learned. Especially since, I HAVEN’T USED ALEGEBRA for my ENTIRE GROWN UP LIFE. (Something all my teenagers have constantly pointed out when bemoaning their math classes.) 

I later took Geometry and Algebra 2 at Bethel Regional High School, up in Bush Alaska. I had an awesome teacher whose teaching style consisted of showing us how to do something at the beginning of class, giving us an assignment with lots of practice problems, then sitting down at his desk and allowing us to all work in groups and do all the problems. If our group couldn’t figure out how to do a problem, we would go ask another group. If none of the groups could figure out how to do the problem, an emissary would be sent back to the teacher’s desk. The teacher would explain how to do the problem to that One student, then that one student would come back and start showing all the other groups how to do it. It really taught us how to figure things out on our own, brainstorm, and work together. I grumbled a lot about those classes, but I think I secretly really enjoyed them. But again, I can’t remember a thing that I learned. 

Anyway, back to why I am taking Algebra 1, again. I enjoy math puzzles. I love sudoku, even though I’m not a genius at it. (My mother-in-law is genius level.) But, I was starting to get bored with sudoku and I really wanted something numberish to do. When I do math puzzles the worrying, fretting, stressed part of my brain turns off for a while. The problem solving part of my brain gets turned on, and it actually becomes quite relaxing. 

My kids have used khan academy some over the years and it occurred to me that this would be something free and interesting to do. I would not recommend the algebra course as a stand-alone course for someone who has never taken Algebra before. Mostly because they don’t give a lot of practice exercises. But, for someone who needs extra review, or who, like me, just needs a refresher, it’s a great format. 

My long time, high school math partner, Sara, will be amused to learn that I am still making stupid mistakes, like forgetting the negative signs, or copying the problem down wrong. I am also struggling with writing the letters down neatly enough that I don’t mistake them for numbers. And I am currently stuck on the last quiz in Unit 2 because the silly thing only has 5 problems, but you have to get ALL 5 correct to move on with high marks (and I’m being a stickler, not letting myself get anything but 100%). And I keep missing ONE problem because of some silly mistake, then I have to start all over again. My kids think this is pretty funny. 

I think what probably really got this whole ball rolling, was my mom making a comment a while back that she was trying new things that were challenging in order to keep her brain stimulated. And I liked that image of keeping my brain stimulated, not letting it get stagnant. And since I am such a book and history and writing kind of person, math is actually really challenging. And it feels good to challenge myself. Wish me luck on my quiz!

The Art of Mental Health

I’ve been thinking some about mental health. Our family has been going through a lot of big transitions these last couple weeks as my kids have all started back to school. My oldest son is getting ready to head off to Montana for a year, my oldest daughter is home for a quick visit after her summer in Alaska and then she heads back to Alaska for another year. 

Trying to adjust to a new schedule, new routines, new family dynamics, has been exhausting. My body’s response to lots of stress and change is to kick in the insomnia. So, lately, somewhere around 3am, I wake up and can’t go back to sleep for hours. I think I probably could go back to sleep easier if my thoughts would just stop. Racing thoughts. Anxious thoughts. Little worries that quickly turn into life-threatening tragedies. And I’m laying there just wishing my brain would shut up and go to sleep. 

I have been fighting anxiety and panic attacks since I was nineteen years old. I’ve learned some things over the years. When I’m in a full-blown panic attack I find that reciting my Creed of Beliefs out loud helps things to calm down. Writing down all the things I’m afraid of and then writing on top of those things scriptures where God has promised to take care of these particular worries is also a big thing I can do. But usually my anxiety doesn’t reach those levels. Usually I can keep it under control. 

It was only this week that I connected some dots with my behavior. I suddenly realized that some of my life-long habits are actually ways of controlling anxiety. This week I have been carrying around a book of Sudoku puzzles (very fun math puzzles!). When I’m sitting in a room with all my kids clamoring around me, telling me about their days at school, playing with each other, asking for me to watch them do a trick or look at this picture they colored, I sit there and work on my Sudoku puzzles. Whenever they want my attention I look up and give it to them, but as soon as they’ve moved on, I go back to my puzzle. So, this week, I suddenly realized that when I’m doing Sudoku all my racing thoughts go on pause. It’s like, somehow, doing Sudoku uses enough brain power that it distracts those thoughts, but I can still listen to the conversations around me. 

After this major AH-HAH moment, I started wondering what else I do that has the same effect. Playing the piano definitely does that, though it takes too much brain power to be able to still listen to other people in the room. But playing Bach is kind of like pouring soothing oil on a raw wound. It creates order out of chaos. 

Reading books is also a huge one. I have been a bookworm since I was in Second Grade. But, I can read a book in the room with my family and still hear what’s going on around me, and stop reading and engage and then go back to reading. 

Then there are the times when I can’t do these activities because I’m driving or in a meeting or some other place where those things would be frowned upon. Well, then I usually have some story that I’m creating in my head and I run the story in my mind, kind of like a movie, making it up as I go along. 

I’ve always thought I was a little weird. Why do I do these things? I have to admit, realizing that these habits are actually ways that I manage anxiety is actually a bit of a relief. I feel like instead of being a bit weird and anti-social, I have actually just stumbled on ways of being a bit more mentally healthy. And it didn’t involve any illegal substances or harmful practices. Yay! 

Of course, it would be nice if those racing thoughts would just stop. And I find that I engage less in my Habits when I’m doing well spiritually, physically, mentally. But, I’ve also discovered that I can’t control everything that happens in life. Sometimes I have lots of time and energy to focus on being healthy. But other times life starts throwing a bunch of curve balls and instead of “living victoriously” it’s more like holding on to the roller coaster with an icy grip and just waiting for those big flips and turns to be over before you hit another straight stretch. 

I thank God for his mercy and grace that helps me to soar high, living the Great Life. And I thank God for his mercy and grace that helps me to just hang on and survive when life is hard. And I’m thankful for the coping mechanisms he’s helped me to find without my even realizing it.