Thursday, November 9, 2017

Post write31days blues

I am back at the library. My computer situation is in a state of limbo, and I don't have enough energy to address it in a "get this sorted out" sort of way. Plus my daughter loves spending time at the library, so our time here is a miraculous solution to our opposing introverted and extraverted ways.

I have nine minutes of computer time left. Computers shut down 15 minutes before the library closes.

My brain is a scattered mess, and the usual fixes or balms are yoga and writing. I have been doing neither. Not even journaling. This is not good for my well-being.

Two friends said as much yesterday as my poor, frazzled, weary brain took my body through a wave of panic attacks.

Seven minutes.

So I'm here chronicling this low point. One of the friends commented how funny it was that I recently finished an entire series on self-care.

"I've been doing other forms of self-care," I suggested.

"Yes, but not the kinds that do you the most good when you're in this state," she countered.

She's right. I know she is.

Before I started this post, I jotted down my ideas for next October's writing series. At least on that front, I'm ahead of schedule.

Five minutes.

She believes that I am coming to the end of a particular season, and so my anxiety has gone into high gear. Oh please be right, I told her.

Either way, I've been here before. I have better coping skills now and have practiced them. This round is the advanced level, and I have to prove to myself that I'm up to the challenge. Yesterday I asked for help. I also worked on the things that were causing stress and today went better.

Three minutes.

I am being evermore refined by the fire of life. I know I will manage.

Two minutes.

Time to close and hit publish.

More thoughtful posts to come.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

31. The writing has changed me.

I have come to the end of my third #write31days series. I learned so much from the previous two years that I don’t feel exhausted as I have in the past. I am proud of finishing it only three days past the official end of the month. I’ve actually enjoyed the time I’ve spent going to different library branches to sneak in some writing in the midst of my busy days. I feel gratitude in that “be grateful for everything that comes your way” sort of way that my laptop broke before I’d finished the last few posts. It gave me the opportunity to measure my walk against my talk. I’m delighted that the two match.

I implemented self-care techniques whilst writing about how to take care of myself. The universe has such a sophisticated, nuanced sense of humor.

A friend caught up on reading the series and texted: “There’s been a change in you. It’s obvious in your writing…”

I texted back, “The writing has changed me.”

He told me that the sentence was the title of a blog post. I decided it was the right title for the final post of the series. Ultimately, writing has served as one of the most crucial self-care tactics I have employed.

I spent months of 2017 writing stories that I needed to put to rest. By writing them, I exorcised them from the nooks and crannies of my heart and mind. I’d been carrying doses of poison in my body for years. I was so used to the toxic elixir that I didn’t notice its noxious effects on my ability to care for myself. Writing those things diluted the concentrated toxins. Now I’m free. The burden is diminished and I feel lighter and happier than I’ve ever been. I feel hopeful and optimistic about the future.

There were times that I sought publication of these stories. But as I received multiple rejections, I came to understand that that writing was for me. The writing process helped me look at the stuff that brought me pain. Giving it form and shape, turning it into art, helped me face my demons, acknowledge them and to ultimately make peace with them. For so long, I had sought validation and acceptance outside of myself. The writing confirmed that my self-validation was enough. More than enough. WRITING DID THAT FOR ME.

The writing changed me.

Two years ago, I couldn’t imagine being where I am now. It’s exhilarating to no longer fear the unknown—in parts two and three of Astrid’s story and in my own life. I am embracing everything as an adventure. I know I can handle everything that comes my way. I trust that I am never alone—that Calliope is on this journey with me, and that together, my gut and I can rise to every challenge that presents itself.

I’ll keep buying myself flowers, getting massages, and reading for hours when the situation calls for that kind of Sabbath. I’ll relish and prioritize sleep. I’ll continue seeking wholeness and opportunities for extending generosity. I’ll keep practicing yoga, set boundaries, and speak kindly to myself and others. I’ll keep setting goals and asking for help. I’ll keep expanding my playlist and enjoy the artists and musicians whose offerings soothe, motivate, and inspire. And I’ll keep holding my own hand.

These practices will remain the same even when life changes and things feel unfamiliar.

And I’ll meditate on the wise words of others. Especially of people like Martha Beck:

“The compasses inside you will always be pointing the right way, even if you forget to check them, even if you fail for a while to hold your course. You can begin again at any moment, and the instant you turn back toward true north, every mistake you’ve made and every minute you’ve spent following the wrong path will become the raw material of wisdom, compassion, and joy.”

30. What neuroscience says about being happy

I like reading articles with lists of suggestions. I read them specifically to determine where I fit on whatever spectrum the article is exploring. So when my friend Dan sent me thisarticle, as referenced in my massage post, I was delighted to see that according to neuroscience, I’m doing pretty well in the happiness department.

According to neuroscience, happiness is better achieved by participation in the following:

  • Asking what am I grateful for? (I do this as a general practice.) Off the top of my head:
    • My daughter
    • My tribe
    • Travel memories
    • Getting handwritten letters in the mail
    • Belly laughs
    • Marisa de los Santos’ books
    • Watching Top Gear and America’s Funniest Videos with my daughter
    • Autumn
    • Writing
  • Labeling negative feelings. Dan calls this embracing my discomfort. It’s also become a general practice. Calliope and I work together to name whatever I’m feeling—disappointment, fear, anxiety, worry, shame, exhaustion—and then we sit there feeling that emotion for awhile. Naming it helps every time.
  • Make that Decision. I have become vastly more decisive in the past three years. This week alone I have been presented with two technology-based problems: a phone that no longer charged and a ‘service engine soon’ light on my car. In the old days, I would have stewed and freaked out thus making the problems worse. But on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning (everything seems to strike at once!), I faced the challenges head on. Tuesday evening I walked out of the Sprint store with a new phone without too much damage to my budget. Wednesday evening I discovered that the engine light was for something that needs to be replaced to pass the emissions test, but isn’t going to keep me from being safe on the road. Knowing this is so much better than avoiding the answer and chancing it. Decisions made=happiness.
  • Touch people. I am one lucky mama to have such a snuggly, huggy child. She lives for hugs like I do. And as I discussed on day 3, in the absence of more regular adult hugs, I substitute this need with monthly massages. The benefits far surpass my need for hugs. The massages work out the kinks of too much desk sitting and the stresses of long commutes behind-the-wheel five days a week.
This article helped me evaluate my happiness in scientific terms—not something I would naturally do on my own. The four measurements are in fact self-care tactics, so no wonder my happiness levels feel higher than they have been in a long, long time. It’s good to be happy. It’s also good to know how one can influence it on days when happiness feels inaccessible.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

27. Trusting my Gut

All of this self-care has had a healing effect on me. It’s shored me up in ways I didn’t realize were worn thin. I can see now that I was running on spiritual and mental fumes for a long, long time. Some days I’m still weary, but now I know how to assess what I need and administer one of the 20 tactics I’ve discussed in this series.

Part of the knowing what I need has come by the practice of listening to my gut. In the reflection and contemplation of the past three years, I have come to realize that my gut instinct was always my true north. I simply didn’t learn to trust it. I can remember being as young as ten years old and having a clear sense of what I needed. I simply didn’t have the language or practice in exercising that wisdom in a constructive, pragmatic way.

Now as an adult learning from my past mistakes, I am moving forward in consultation with my gut. I trust her guidance and wisdom so implicitly that I’ve decided to give her a name. My gut’s name is Calliope. In mythology, Calliope is the Chief of all Muses. She presides over eloquence and epic poetry. According to Wikipedia, she is also often depicted with a writing tablet in her hands. My gut agrees with me that she should be called Calliope. Cal for short. (I love naming things!)

Rob Bell did a recent podcast where he talks about being the committee. It’s a movie reference from Chariots of Fire where a character says they’ll have to consult the committee on a decision, and another character says, “We are the committee.”

Calliope and I together make up the committee in charge of my life. We consider the possibilities, make the decisions, own the mistakes and failures, course correct, and celebrate the milestones.

This feels so different than in the days when I consulted everyone and their brother to weigh in on my decision making. How could they know what’s best for me?

This is not to say that I never ask for advice or consultation with other wise folks in my life. But it does mean that at the end of the day, the decision is mine. I run EVERYTHING past Calliope, and together we make the decision. I have learned to trust her when she tells me that my decision making is fear based, and I sit and wait, until the decision that does not incorporate fear comes to me. I know longer look for others’ approval. I know myself and what’s best and offer my own approval.

Holy crow--is this a better way to move through the world. Cal and me—we’re the committee.

Monday, October 30, 2017

26. Music

My first memory of music being a part of my life is me as a four-year-old wearing my dad’s giant white and black earphones. They were giant ear muffs over my tiny head and ears. Spiro Gyra was playing. My dad was nearby helping me keep the earphones on my head.

Later, music accompanied my dad, sister, and I every weekend when we loaded our trash in the metal drums and drove them to the outskirts of town to the local dump. Roy Orbison was a favorite every time it came on the radio because my dad sang it with a funny falsetto. It made the three of us giggle every time.

Then there was Whitney Houston, Tiffany, and Debbie Gibson.

Mariah Carey, Sting, Erasure, Sarah McLachlan, Coldplay, Avett Brothers, and Gregory Alan Isakov would come at different intervals of life and help define that each stage for me.

Words play such an important role in my life that they have appeared in various forms throughout this series. All of these artists’ lyrics have formed a scaffold by which I shore up my inner life. I have an eclectic taste in music—I have different music for different moods.

Struggling with depression and the “what next?” of life after graduation, Mariah Carey’s Christmas album was the only music I could stomach as early as October of my senior year. My poor roommate gauged my mood and outlook by what was playing when she approached our door.

I played the piano and viola as a young girl, but I didn’t practice, so those forms of musical expression didn’t stick. But they gave me a foundation for appreciating music and knowing what to listen to which remains with me to this day.

As I type I’m listening to the Avett Brothers’ The Carpenter album. The cello, banjo, and horns are such a soothing presence.
I nurture myself with music of all genres, and am so grateful for its restorative, contemplative powers.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

29. Weekend Wisdom

“We can be shiny and perfect and admired, or we can be real and honest and vulnerable and loved. But we actually do have to choose.
And I just keep choosing this real and vulnerable and honest place, not because you don’t get hurt there – because I do – but because this is the pain that grows us. There’s pain in both places, and nothing hurts as much as not being known.”

 – Glennon Doyle

Saturday, October 28, 2017