Full Catastrophe Living

I only made it officially through one book in February (which is an all time low for me), but one powerful book is better than two or three crappy ones, right?


It all started when my colleague was complaining about her new-age instructor for an education leadership class. Apparently his love for dream-catchers and meditation was his answer to being a great principal. The more I asked about him, the more I grimaced at the thought of sitting through the class – but I was still curious about the “required reading.” One of the texts was by John Kabat-Zinn, and through a bit of surface level Googling, I impulsively purchased one of his other books, Full Catastrophe Living.

What’s it about? Here’s what the back of the book says:

“Stress. It can sap our energy, undermine  our health if we let it, even shorten our lives. It makes us more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, disconnection and disease. Based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s renowned mindfulness-based stress reduction program, this classic, groundbreaking work—which gave rise to a whole new field in medicine and psychology—shows you how to use medically proven mind-body approaches derived from meditation and yoga to counteract stress, establish greater balance of body and mind, and stimulate well-being and healing. By engaging in these mindfulness practices and integrating them into your life from moment to moment and from day to day, you can learn to manage chronic pain, promote optimal healing, reduce anxiety and feelings of panic, and improve the overall quality of your life, relationships, and social networks.”

First off, I read anything like this with a grain of salt. However, the traditional medical treatments when I blew out my knee seemed very limited – one time the doctor even held up his hands and said, “I don’t know what to do with that,” when I described a horrific pain in my foot after knee surgery. But chiropractic and naturopathic treatments have worked in slow, steady increments (in fact, my chiropractor fixed my foot with a simple touch later that day). Admittedly, the acupuncture that required wrapping my knee in chainmail and tin foil was dubious, but I feel generally fantastic since prolotherapy.

You see, I’m just not the kind of person who wants to just take a pill. There’s got to be another way.

During Full Catastrophe Living, I found myself saying out loud, “Yes! That’s me! I understand what you’re talking about!” Although I’m not dealing with terminal illness or the tragedy of losing a spouse, I do feel daily aches and pains that I know are related to stress.

But also – my mind keeps me up at night. Whether it’s the burden of being a public educator, or I’ve just spent too much time on Reddit reading about MK Ultra, I wake up at night with too much going on in my brain. Donald Trump isn’t helping.

giphy.gif I already use my Headspace app regularly, but that feels a bit surface level. What I appreciate about Full Catastrophe Living is that it goes into the research of mindfulness and meditation, as well as gives a lot of practical strategies.

If anyone can relate to thinking that this is all ridiculous fluff, I can. A few years ago, I laughed in my naturopath’s face when she suggested I meditate. It wasn’t until I worked for a raging bully and was considering a medical leave that I thought, Maybe I need to give that meditation thing a try. I even mediated in secret because I was so embarrassed – and now here I am blogging about self-help books, for all the world to see.

“Catastrophe” to John Kabat-Zinn does not mean disaster, it just means that we have all these things going on in life – and learning how to manage them in a mindful way can make people realize that the things that feel overwhelming can actually be rewarding. For instance, people complain about work, but many people who are chronically ill or incapable of working would give anything to have a job. It’s a matter of perspective.

If you think mediation is boring or you don’t have time, they say “That’s ok,” and give 30 second strategies. If you have been meditating for awhile, it gives more advanced strategies (of which I am so far from being able to do).

As many people know, the stress of dealing with my dad’s house has been paramount in my life right now, but I’m working on experiencing the catastrophe rather than fighting against it. Speaking of which, the house goes on the market in three weeks.



The Fred Meyer Incident

Right around this time last year, I had an immensely stressful week at school. The sun was finally shining and the kids went insane; we were in the midst of high stakes state testing; my boss was ignoring me in all forms of communication; the other teachers were equally stressed and my room was a revolving vent session everyday after school. The week ended with breaking up three different fights in the hallway, and right before the end of the day, my boss suddenly acknowledged my presence by sending me an email questioning my students’ low scores on the state test. 

I went home and was asleep in bed by 7:30pm, no joke. TGIF.

Yet, the next morning, I woke up early and had a great workout with my trainer at the gym. As I did ball slams with the medicine ball, I pictured myself smashing away all the bad things from the previous week. I even stayed for an additional hour on the spin bike, and then challenged myself to run a mile as fast as possible. It was an EPIC workout.

When I walked out of the gym, the sun was shining for the first time in months and I said to myself, “Let’s start the weekend!” Wherein I drove across the street to Fred Meyer to get a jump on the week’s grocery shopping. As I entered the lot, I spied a guy getting into his car RIGHT next to the front doors. I deserve that spot after such a tough workout, I said to myself and patiently waited for the guy fumbling with his keys. Families were coming in and out, blocking me from pulling in; No Worries, I said to myself, I’ve got all the time in the world.

Suddenly an SUV screeched up next to me and a woman screamed, “LAZY ASS!” out her open window and screeched off. Well THAT was uncalled for, I said to myself, and pulled into the open spot. I continued to track her parking in the far corner of the lot, and something snapped. She could have called me any other name in the book, but “lazy” hit a raw nerve. Like a movie, I saw flashes of my boss’s scowling face, my poverty-stricken students, my unhappy co-workers, and all the extra hours I had put in without getting paid. I grabbed my bag and literally sprinted across the lot towards her, my exhausted legs burning.

“HEY!” I shouted as she stepped out of her car. She looked at me and I yelled, “Nobody calls me LAZY!” She responded with some inappropriate words about my lazy parking job, and I gave her some right back about her sloppy outfit. She made a comment about my workout clothes and I fervently rehashed my hours at the gym. We continued to march toward the store, the distance between our faces steadily decreasing. I kept thinking, I’m one of the hardest working teachers I know and my boss hates me and instead of sleeping in, I got my ass up and worked out and and and….

Pretty soon we were in the foyer of Freddie’s and I put my hand in her face and said, “Don’t look at me – don’t talk to me – I’m OUT OF HERE,” and as I turned away, she sneered, “Maybe your ass needs to get BACK on the treadmill…”

I whipped around, threw my bag to the floor and exclaimed, “LET’S GO!” We were in each other’s faces and I had a feeling she’d cream me in a fight, but I could take it. Behind her, I saw a store employee walking our way and several small children with their parents looking at us in shock. I had a moment of clarity and thought to myself, What the hell am I doing? After a stare down, I put my hand back in her face, stomped off, and grabbed a shopping cart. 

In the store, I was cross comparing yogurts and noticed people looking at me, probably thinking, There’s that chick who was about to fight and now she’s buying yogurt…wtf? I decided it would be best to head home and started checking out. The cashier was handing me my receipt and I gave a big fake, “No, thank YOU!” as I noticed two police officers talking to people pointing in my general direction. Logistically, my car was at a different entrance (remember that sprint across the parking lot?) so I put my head down and wheeled nonchalantly around the corner…until I was out of sight and hauled ass to my car and peeled away.

Once home, I laughingly asked Thor if he would have bailed me out of jail, and he replied, “Hell no! I would have made you sit and think about what you did!” 

Within 24 hours, I made the decision to find another job. There was no way about it, I had to get out of there in any shape or form. It was like a switched had been turned on. Within six weeks, I had accepted my current position. Every single day I wonder what life might be life if I had stayed…and it’s scary. I have a feeling that the Fred Meyer incident was just a lead up to something more out of control. There’s a point at which all signs point to “GET THE HELL OUT” and you can’t ignore them.

This last week the sun finally started shining again, and the kids were nuts, but my new boss gave me several compliments (via email and in person) and I spent my lunches joking around with coworkers about things we’d seen on the internet. The week finished out with my school’s big fancy auction, where parents greeted and complimented me, and I was treated to free dinner.

As I am now applying for leadership positions, I am reminded how much can change in year, but you must be the impetus for that change if you want it to occur.