Can you imagine how much we’d all get done if we just focused on our own lives and stopped worrying about everyone else?
But…Michelle! Then the bad guys would take over!
How? If we all were taking care of ourselves and the people closest to us, wouldn’t that spread out over the world like a virus? Here I am, putting on my own oxygen mask first, making myself stable and secure, then I look to my partner, my children, my family, and friends. Each of their lives is made a little better and then they do the same. It spreads across the world.
Too simplistic you say. So, you do nothing. Instead, you sit in your house and gripe. You watch TV, scroll through social media, and see all the things so far away that you can’t do anything about. You demand that somebody do something about those horrors. You decide the best thing you can do is make a poignant post about how awful people are and that if we had only elected this other person or passed this law, all of this would be better.
Meanwhile, your partner is lonely, you don’t know where your children are, the house is a mess, your mom could use a phone call, and there’s nothing to eat in your fridge. You are tired, grumpy, and overwhelmed because you’re not taking care of yourself. All of these are things YOU could do something about right now, but you’re too busy following politicians and arguing with strangers about why they should be thinking a different way.
What can I do to make the world a better place right now? Take care of myself and then the space and people around me so that they can do the same.
Don’t just “start” with yourself, focus on yourself and stay right there. Do what you need to do to be healthy, happy, and strong right where you are. Then move outward and support others on their journey to be healthy, happy, and strong where they are.
This came up in my meditation app this morning and I wrote it down to remember it.
I’m not having the best of emotions today. I feel pretty damn crappy actually and for no reason at all, which makes me feel worse than if I had something to be unhappy about. I’m unhappy that I’m unhappy and that makes for a pretty shitty day.
Am I acting on them? I’m not sure. I’m not changing anything. I’m not calling to tell people how crappy I think they are. I’m not on social media making the snarky comments I want to make. I’m not canceling all my plans.
I am making myself busy though. I stopped around noon today and thought (as I mindlessly scrolled through social media feeds, one right after the other), “This is a nasty feeling, maybe I should do something about it.”
Or maybe I shouldn’t.
I can’t always be thrilled to be alive. There isn’t always a reason or a trigger for a bad mood. It just is and no amount of tortilla chips and Pepsi is going to make it better (but I did get some anyway, just in case).
I focused on getting busy. I got one corner of my livingroom cleaned up from Christmas. I’m attempting to declutter the whole house and I did mutter “someone just burn it all down and help me start over” as I sorted through the old and broken ornaments. The dishes are done. Dinner is in the crockpot.
Maybe I’ll go for a walk in a bit. Or get me a nice shot of tequila on ice!
I know I’m dating myself here but my best friend and I used to go dancing every weekend and not the kind you’re thinking of. It was the 90’s and (to us) country music was the thing and clubs that catered to line dancing, two-steps, and waltzes were in abundance. There were three right in my neighborhood. We’d show up right as the place opened and stay until they played the last song.
Two single girls on the prowl for young men? Looking for love? Or at least someone to take us out to dinner once in a while, someone we didn’t meet at work, someone not involved in the entertainment business at all? Not really. In reality, all we were looking for was to dance all night long with someone that knew how and that was generally the older, mostly married men, that were mostly interested in the same thing. I’m not saying we didn’t find a little love along the way but it wasn’t the driving force behind the activity!
Every Friday night went the same way. We’d arrive early and head straight to the bar for a shot of whiskey and a beer each. I’d buy the first round and she’d buy the second, then we’d take our beers to a spot we had scoped out by the dance floor. The reason we arrived right as they opened and not later in the evening when the place really filled up? There were dance instructors out on the floor for the first hour! We were not great dancers, to say the least, and could use all the help we could get. Line dancing was great mostly because we didn’t need a partner and it gave us the chance to warm up without looking like wallflowers. The whiskey gave us courage, the line dancing gave us confidence, and within a few songs, we had partners lined up for two-steps, cowboy cha-cha’s, and waltzes.
The music built up faster and louder as the night progressed and quieted back down during the slow songs. Sometimes we were right at the top of the wave, dancing our hearts out when the music would change and we’d reluctantly exit the floor. It was a forced rest, an instilled break from the pace, that we used to our advantage, in the form of rest and bathroom breaks, and the bar’s since we tended to buy more drinks when the music slowed down. Besides, a slow dance with a strong partner was a great break in the evening too. You don’t want to break your stride completely, just change up the pace and rest a bit so that the night lasts longer.
By the last dance and closing time, we were always exhausted and happily played out. Like kids on their way home from Disneyland, we rode that high all week at work until the next weekend rolled around.
Those night club dancing days are long past but they came to mind over the last few weeks of holiday preparation and execution. As I rushed from one event to another, one completed shopping list, one more baking day, one more quick run to the grocery store, I realized how busy I had become. By the time Christmas was over I longed for a break in the music, for a slow song to come on and push me off the dance floor for a bathroom break and a cold beer. And then I got one.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is notoriously slow. It’s that “nowhere” feeling that you’re not sure what to do with. This year I decided to use it to my advantage and relax a bit, but plans were inevitably made and the pace slackened a bit but did not slow to a crawl as I had hoped. I made a promise to myself to slow down again this week and I’ve already had to reluctantly say no to invitations, twice. I want to keep dancing, but my body says I need a break and without a good DJ to force the issue, I have to slow the beat myself or pay the consequences.
This coming year, I plan on making a more conscious effort to take those breaks from the dance floor. I plan on looking at my calendar and blocking off work times, play times, and nothing times. Those nothing times must remain sacred if I’m going to have more productive work and play times. I have built a habit of dancing until I drop, which may have been feasible when I was younger, but these days is getting harder and harder to maintain. Building in breaks, time to stay home and literally do nothing but relax with a good movie or a book, is something I have to do to maintain my health and stay productive. The old way of just working until I felt overwhelmed and then dumping everything, even the things I loved most, has never been healthy and it tends to ruin relationships. Time to build some new, more effective habits. Busy doesn’t mean productive. And taking a rest is not an option, it’s a mandate.
Without a good DJ, the music only gets louder and faster until the bar goes broke from lack of sales, exhaustion sets in, and everyone goes home early. Be your own DJ. Build your own volume and pace, bring it back down, build it up again, and know when it’s time shut it down and clean up for the next event.
Holy crap…we’re twenty years into 2000! I’m fairly certain that 2019 was the fastest moving year I have ever had. I mean it. It also happens to be the oldest I have ever been. I’m not sure if the two are related but it is suspicious.
This past week, I was organizing pictures as I usually do around the end of the year. I take them off my phone to store them on my computer, safely backed up as well, organized by date, event, and place. I should probably do that monthly. Maybe I should tag pictures as well. Oh well. This year was weird though. I kept thinking things like, “You know back when we were on that camping trip last fall.” And then finding out that trip was the Fall before. And saying, “When my son was in Germany.” And then realizing that was over a year ago now.
Each January, I buy a printed book of my personal Facebook posts. Last year I didn’t. I was broke after Christmas and thought I’d get to in February, but BAM! Here we are in January again. What happened? I feel like I crammed two years into one!
I guess it’s true. Time flies when you’re having fun. It’s been an amazing year of good times for our family. I’ve read a lot of great books, met some new friends, and went on great adventures. I wrote more than I ever have. I’ve been mentally happy for more days in a row.
And 2020 looks like it will be another year to remember or forget because we’re having so much fun that we forget to document any of it and remember. Strange to think we have to put so much effort in remembering the good times and so little into holding onto the bad times.
There have been some downs as well. But I do consider myself pretty lucky. It’s not like we planned out our life perfectly so that everything fell into place. Some of it was luck, some of it was attitude, and a small portion was brought on by good choices. Sometimes we made good choices but that was just luck too. Sometimes we made bad choices and lucked out with the results. I guess what I’m trying to say is, most of it is just being happy with what we have, choosing to see the positive side, and trying to be nicer to people, a little more forgiving and a little more understanding even when I don’t understand.
I started to see some talk on social media this week about how crappy 2019 was and how happy they are to see it go. I’m starting to expect those posts these days, but they always make me sad. What if this was the last year you had people? Cheer up! Enjoy the day you’re in, the life you have, even if it’s shitty. I mean, if Victor Frankl could see the bright side from a concentration camp in Germany, you can too! If you haven’t read his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, you should, like right now. Get it on your Kindle and read it over coffee in the morning. You will not regret it!
I may not be partying like it’s 1999 this evening, but I do have a bunch of stuff exciting things to do like finish my cup of coffee and do the dishes, maybe make my bed, but before I go I have one more thing. Have you ever wondered why so many people make such a big deal out of New Year’s resolutions? I mean, you can start a diet or go for a walk any day. You can get fit, read more, whatever you want on any day. New month, new week, new day, new hour for that matter! But why do most of us get angsty and want to start something new in the new YEAR? Even I do it and I hate the whole idea of resolutions.
I think it might have something to do with that weird week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. We got all geared up for Christmas and spent all our money one week BEFORE the end of the month. School is still out. Lots of things are closed or their hours are wonky two weeks in a row. The month is over but it’s not. We’re just sitting here in stuckville waiting for the New Year and on January 1st we’ll watch the parade and THEN start a new year. I think we all get weird in that week, reflective. Maybe we should be.
It’s not just the annual trip around the sun. That could be any day. It’s that weird week between Christmas and New Year’s that makes us think about making changes. The world is on hold. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, the country officially does. Everything is closed. The trash truck comes a day late. The grocery store isn’t open. And the mail doesn’t come. And then we wait for a week for it to happen again.
Oh my greatness…it’s a hard boot of our whole system. What if we consciously took that week to think, reflect, make changes, rest, whatever we need to do to get ready for the coming year? That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing this week. I’m getting excited to see what I can accomplish this year!
Will you let me go feral for a time? Will you take the reins and tame me again when I return? Will you be the stable I can return to, hot and sweaty from my run in the wild? Will you hold me tight, wash the dirt and sweat away, and bed me down?
A magician playing the game of “guess my card” is what I think of when I think to work on my fears.
I know. Everyone faces fear at some point in their lives. Some of us live with it daily. What mine? Ridiculous, to be completely honest. Generally, my mind is filled with “What if?” questions that can never be answered. The ones that everyone tells everyone else to ignore. I try to put them out of my head and live in the moment I’m in, but they creep back in again, along with wondering what would happen if we all paid a little more attention to the potential consequences of our actions instead. Wouldn’t it make the world just a little nicer? I mean, if other people paid more attention to what they were doing and how it could affect the people around them, maybe I wouldn’t have so much to worry about, damn it!
Sometimes I worry about the bigger things. Things like, am I raising my kids to be civilized and responsible adults? Will they grow up and be independent, decent people? If I make the choice to buy a new car, will I be able to afford it a year from now? Can I juggle my relationships in a way that makes us all happier and healthier people, or am I ruining the lives of those around me?
Then there are the silly things that I get stuck on. If I go to the grocery store today, will I just have to go again tomorrow? What if I start buying more things online? Am I bothering the person driving behind me with my slow-ass VW? Should I call my friend and bother her or let her come to me if she needs help? Should I stay or should I go now? …starts singing in her head…
It becomes overwhelming at times, but it passes pretty quickly. I’ve learned to take a break when I begin to feel the creeping sensation of anxiety. I sit alone and meditate or go for a long walk to clear my head. Talking about it helps too. Walking and spilling out all the bullshit ideas to someone who won’t take any of it too seriously and won’t tell me that I overthink things helps me more than anything else.
I can’t just shove it all aside and ignore it or quietly allow all the negativity to release into thin air. It’s just not helpful to me. Those things eventually float back down and attach themselves to my psyche like I’m a magnet for my ugliest thoughts. Not until I voice them do they begin to dissipate and dissolve. In my head and unspoken, they swirl around and build on each other like a snowball rolling downhill. Voiced into the world, these crappy ideas just can’t hold their shape and are crushed by the positive reality around them, vanquished.
So what can I do to create a safe space to release this negative energy without destroying those around me and ruining any sense of peace in my relationships? Two things. The first is to write it out. I type it out in my journal or open up a notebook and get a pen. Pen and paper is my preferred method. I draw pictures, spell out elaborate curse words in bold letters, express all the things I want to say to everyone I want to say it to in the worst ways, without regard for anyone’s feelings or well-being. These paper journals may terrify someone some day. I have plans to put them in a box with an explanation on the lid, so that if I die suddenly, no one will come across that ugliness and wonder what went wrong. This therapeutic writing helps a lot, most of the time. But sometimes I need more.
My second, and most favored, form of release is to walk and talk with a safe person. That’s usually my sweet husband. When I’m walking and talking the words and ideas aren’t nearly as harsh as when I write them. Something about the physical exertion helps tame them. I talk out all the things that weigh on me and he listens and walks beside me. Rarely does he try to fix it for me or express concern for my sanity. He just listens. And I feel lighter at every step. It feels much like a miracle. By the time we get back, my mood has improved, nothing seems so terrible and impossible anymore. We get a drink of water, relax into the couch or porch chairs, rest up a bit, and then continue with our day in peace.
How do you deal with fear? Do you release it into the wild? Suppress it? Reason it away? Or do you give into it and decide fear is there to warn you of danger and avoid what it is your fear most?
I know you’re tired and grumpy. I know you are frustrated with yourself. I know you want so badly to do better, to complete more tasks, to be more organized, to eat better, to be stronger and healthier.
I know you want to run out into the world screaming obscenities. I know you want to connect with other humans on a deeper level, to spend quality time with real friends, and to run away and hide at the same time.
I know you’re thinking, last week was so good, why does this week suck so bad? Why can’t I stay on track? Why can’t I keep up the pace? Everyone else seems to be able to do so much and here I am grumbling. You feel lazy and “out of sorts.”
I know you don’t want to hear this but you are enough right where you are. Your house is clean enough. Your family and friends love you just the way you are. You honor your commitments. You love people unconditionally. You do your best.
Life is a big series of cycles, ups and downs that keep things interesting. Imagine how boring it would be if every day you got up and felt the same way? Even joy starts to get depressing if its all you ever experience!
The kids are distracting you. Embrace them. They’re teenagers. They’ll be gone soon, just like the exhausting babies, the disruptive and messy kids, and anxious and annoying preteens they used to be and that you miss so much when you see those old pictures.
The weather has changed, and you can’t go outside and do the thing you were doing last week. Notice and enjoy it. Remember last month when you sat there crying for cooler weather?
You’re feeling blue and less than productive. Look at the amazing week you had earlier this month and the not so productive one you had before that. It’ll come back. It always does.
Don’t ruin today worrying about tomorrow or lamenting yesterday. Find something positive to focus on. Or, even better, make the conscious decision to enjoy the moment instead. Grab a cup of tea, your book, and find a place to hide for a bit. Sing along with those crazy teens practicing guitar in the middle of the living room where you were trying to vacuum. Write out some words of encouragement to yourself and post it. Forget dinner and order a pizza. Harass your husband to go for a walk, even though it’s cold. And be thankful for what you have, who you have, and what you can do.
Take care of yourself, love. I love you, every messy, tired, pissy, and confused piece of you.
We all have stories about how things are supposed to work out. We get them from our parents, our extended family, friends, education, entertainment, everywhere. The trouble is, they aren’t always true, or at least they aren’t true for everyone. What happens when we run into a reality that conflicts with our established narratives? Motion sickness.
I’ve always been very susceptible to motion sickness. I was the kid in the back seat of the VW bug complaining that it was too hot and turning green on the way to the grocery store. I was the one that had to sit in the front seat with the AC on in my face. I’m the one using every trick in the book, from deep breathing to focusing intently on the road ahead, to keep from having to pull over and rest on the way to anything. And not just on mountain roads! I can get sick just driving down the freeway if someone asks me to look at the map!
Motion sickness is said to be caused by a conflict between your eyes and your ears. Your eyes tell your brain that you are still, but your inner ear says that you are moving. Conflicting information causes your body to rebel and become nauseous. I’m not sure what evolutionary help this is, but it does cause someone like me to reflect on the bigger picture.
As we grow we all create these personal narratives. They make it easier and more streamlined to deal with all of life. This works like this. He acts like this. This relationship works this way. We don’t need to think about those things as much. We put them in the back of our head and work on the new things.
But what if the story we’ve built in our heads about how things are supposed to go doesn’t match the reality of the situation we are currently in? Anxiety, anger, depression, that nauseous feeling that something is horribly wrong!
Just like when I start to get motion sickness, it’s time to focus on the reality and take some deep breaths because things are about to change. It’s what I have learned to call a “growth point,” the place in my life that I learn something new, my world is about it become bigger. It can be so scary though. What if reality isn’t nearly as good as my fantasy? Then again…how can one live in a fantasy permanently? Life, no matter how complicated, is much easier to deal with when we accept the reality, or at least as close as we can come to it.
Change is unavoidable. How we deal with those changes is what makes the difference in our lives.
Do we hold on to what we believed to be true and ignore reality? Do we get angry and blame the people around us for letting us down? Do we walk away from situations, people, environments when they fail to meet our expectations? It doesn’t seem very productive. If we keep searching for the world that matches our narratives as we know them, we may never find it. We may just keep walking away from the very people and places that are offering us the opportunity to grow into something better.
What else can I do? I could stop, take a deep breath, and make some space for my feelings first. Things are changing, something is different. What is it and how can I see it more clearly? I could ask some questions. Is this person or situation failing me, deliberately hurting me, or causing me some kind of trouble? Or are they only doing what they have always done, doing what’s best for them at the moment? Will it really hurt me? Is it really wrong? Looking at the situation or person with an open heart helps. I want to understand.
What seems to help is talking to a special someone, someone that is as open to change as I am, someone that has no stake in the game. That person is hard to find and changes according to the situation. I’m not really looking for advice what I talk. I’m only looking for feedback, someone that will ask questions from a different point of view and is willing to go down some crazy rabbit holes with me. Talking to the wrong person can make my situation infinitely worse. I’ve learned to be very selective.
When I lack another human to speak with, I write. And I write a lot. I write whatever comes to mind, even the meanest and nastiest thoughts. Writing out the hurt and the angry words, the words sparked by fear and mistrust, seems to release them into the void and make space for clearer thinking. Once my narrative is out on paper alongside of the potential for change, I feel like I can think more logically. I come back to that same writing the next day and walk away feeling stronger and ready to embrace change, only to come screaming back to scrawl on the walls of my paper cave over and over again.
I talk to myself on the pages. I fight and scold and lecture, I listen and give myself feedback. Lord, I hope no one reads that stuff some day and has me committed! Some of it strongly resembles the raving of a very sick person. But maybe that’s the reality of it. At moment, I am sick. What my eyes see and what my inner ear feels doesn’t match, and my mind is reacting violently. But I know from experience, the feeling is only temporary. Focus and adjust, take a rest from the effort, and try again. It’s the only way to grow.
Oh, how I love metaphors! Have you ever talked with someone that told you their “plate was full” and they couldn’t possibly take on another project? I’m sure you have. I’ve said it myself. Have you ever looked at a person that said that and thought, “Not as full as mine, and I seem to find time to help.” It seems we don’t all have the same size plate, the same appetite, or the same strength to carry it with.
From the outside, my life looks simple and full of time to take on new projects. But to me, my plate is balanced perfectly and I work hard to keep it that way. I don’t have too much to do because I’ve made the choice not to, and when I make other choices, like adding to my plate things I think other people would like me to do, I’ve learned by experience that it never ends well.
Here’s a question for you. What if we’re not born with an empty plate at all? What if we have one, we know it because we can feel it in our hands, but the goal of living is to figure out how big the plate is, what’s already on that plate, and how to balance it so it’s easy to carry? When we take more onto our plate before we’ve figured out how to balance what we already have, or even know what we have for that matter, we cause ourselves stress.
Why would people around us give us more to put on our plate? Because they haven’t learned what’s on their plate and how to balance it, so they’re passing it to you. “It’s too much for me!” they say, and they pass it to you instead of letting it fall to the floor.
Many days, I know what’s on my plate and I can balance it easily. When someone offers more, I politely decline. “No, thank you. I have enough.” Some days I see friends and family with their plates so piled high, I feel bad and wonder, “Well, maybe I can take some of that off their plate and help.” When I do, I quickly become overwhelmed and drop it all. It’s not a good feeling.
Some days, overwhelmed friends with plates piled high, see my relatively empty plate and think, “She has barely anything and I have so much! Take some of mine, you have to help me.” I feel guilty and try to help, take too much on and ultimately fail us both.
What if instead of passing items off our full plate to someone else, we just dropped those items away and let them go? What if we did less? What if we produced less? All of us? What if we just did without those things instead of insisting that they exist and that someone pick up the ball?
What if we prioritized mastering the art of doing what we need to do for ourselves first? And then started adding more of what we want until we are at a place of balance for us alone? And allow others to learn and do the same at their own pace, with their own plates? It seems like we would all get more done and feel better about our lives at the same time.
And then there are more questions. Do we think the plate is empty when we first realize we have a life to live? We think we must start fill it with things to feel productive. What if we spent our childhood just learning the size and weight of our plate and how to balance it with the essentials we are born to do on it? What if we are overloading our children with responsibilities, more for their plate, before they’ve mastered what they already have? Could that be the real curse of losing a free and peaceful childhood? Could that be why depression and anxiety are on the rise?