Making The Best Of Difficult Times

I’ve been so taken up with our unsettled world and what is happening in our own country that I’ve gone over the edge once again … waking with the dreads, a general malaise, and a burning need to break away from all that unsettles me. It’s also been raining here … a lot. I’ve sometimes wondered if the sun is still up there. When I lived in Vermont I suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder from November until April. The way I’m feeling right now is very similar, but I think it has more to do with what is happening around me than the light. As an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), I easily pick up on the vibes out in the world and need to take action to get myself out of the dumps. It’s exhausting to allow myself to get so involved in things I cannot control.

So what do I do about it?

I meditate. I let myself cry if I need to. I turn off the radio and the tv and turn on Pandora to listen to classical guitar while I do my Egoscue exercises, or jazz it up with Dave Brubeck, David Sanborn and others when I need to add some energy to my day. I’m also a fan of Yo-Yo Ma, Frank Sinatra, and the likes of Ella Fitzgerald. For me music is a cure-all and a necessary part of my days.

I’m watching for signs of spring.  Since I have the smallest garden I’ve ever had, I’m thinking small and am beginning to plan a container garden mostly for herbs. I do have space for the helebores, irises, and peonies I dug up from my last home before we moved. My friend and garden helper, Maria, has been overwintering them for me and she will be coming soon to get them in the ground. I can’t wait!

Keeping my creative energy flowing is also important so last week I pulled out a beading project I had started a couple of years ago and then forgot about. It’s been sitting in a plastic storage bin since then and I’ve been anxious to get back to it, especially since it will take a good while to finish it in time for the fall. It’s a styrofome pumpkin that I am covering with tiny seed beads using Peyote Stitch. I started a collection of fruit and vegetables using this technique a while back. I find it quite relaxing. And the shifting and mixing of slightly different colored beads makes for imaginitive brain work.

I’ve also started setting aside one day a week and labeling it “MY DAY,” on my calendar. I do not plan anything ahead of time. It’s simply a day when I can do whatever I want to do rather than what I have to do. When I began writing my memoir, I did the same thing, but at that time the chosen day was reserved for writing and activities geared toward getting it published. It quickly turned into several days a week and then a rigorous work/writing schedule. This time around I’m using it just to get my creative juices flowing and I’m looking at getting a canvas set up and slapping paint on it sometime soon.

So while I’m still paying some attention to what’s happening out in the world, I’m happier, more relaxed and feeling more positive than I was just a few weeks ago. And I continue to remind myself that in order for change to happen, sometimes things have to get very ugly and depressing before we notice the light at the end of the tunnel. It is happening whether we realize it or not. It’s what life and being human is all about and I’m trying to make the best of it.  While I’m still paying attention to what is happening out there in the world, I’m spending more time in the present and worry less about changing what I can’t.

Use It Or Lose It

My cross-trainer that hasn’t been used in way to long.

As the years pass I’ve continued to say, “I don’t want to be a ‘rockin’ chair granny.’” But it appears that unless I get my ass in gear, that’s exactly what I’m going to be.

Over the last year, I have used every possible excuse to slowly let my exercise routine go by the wayside. It began to happen over a year ago when my FitBit died. I had been walking well over 10,000 steps a day but not enjoying it. I was dizzy and exhausted after my treks, and developed aches and pains. It was suggested that I was overdoing it. So when the slave-driver I wore constantly on my wrist quit, I decided to just bury it. Besides I was in the thick of writing my book, and time to sit in front of my computer being creative was at a premium.

Last year, when the going got really tough and I was in the midst of beginning to market my upcoming memoir, my then four to five 30 minute walks a week turned to two or maybe three. I continued to go to my yoga class and worked weekly with my pilates coach. All of that seemed to be enough. But I was still tired most of the time. And frankly it was just easier to sit at my desk and do what I had to do. I was constantly behind and stressed by that.

After my book launch in September, I crashed and spent most of my time resting and beginning to find my way back to a more relaxed life. Sitting and doing the daily crossword puzzle, reading, or napping took a lot of my time. When I did go for a walk the aches and pains returned. I knew that I needed to get back into taking short walks on a daily basis, but my lack of energy told me that yoga and pilates were enough. I started getting stiffer and stiffer. And I got depressed.

Then January came. A new year. Time to get into gear again. I promised myself I would take at least 30 minutes a day to stretch and begin walking for short periods of time. I didn’t keep my promise and my sad self gotten even sadder. As the last week in January approached I got angry with myself. I beat myself up and made promises every day that tomorrow would be the day I’d start taking care of myself again.

One morning I was so sick of myself that I went for a neighborhood walk and was out for thirty minutes. I loved it and felt so good afterwards. The next day I was out for a little longer and the next day and the next. My depression was going away. But suddenly the knee that I’d been favoring for months got swollen and I was in tremendous pain. Yikes! What had I done?

I hadn’t started out slowly. I was pushing myself too hard. I am an overachiever, if you haven’t noticed. And I wasn’t stretching enough. My muscles weren’t happy and I was creating my own disaster. I visited my doctor, and I’ll start seeing a physical therapist to begin the work of getting back in shape. I need to be sensible and careful as I return to healthy activity levels. It is possible to do that, but it takes more than a promise. It takes not being lazy and simply doing some work everyday.

Here is as interesting article I found in the Washington Post, last week that has inspired me to get rid of the occasional thought that maybe I’m just getting too old to exercise.

Do you have a regular exercise routine that you stick with? Have you ever taken time off from it and found yourself stiff, with aches and pains? And even depressed?

Keeping The Spirit Alive

Making Bone Broth

Making Bone Broth

In the past few months I’ve been a bit OCD about keeping up with what’s next on my to-do list. I’ve been pushing myself and being ultra serious about going beyond what is possible in order to get my book off the ground. I’ve been working nonstop and getting tired of it all. It’s what I tend to do when I’ve got something big going on. Whether being a caretaker to my mother, or getting my my book off the ground, I always overdo.

After the book launch, which I enjoyed immensely, I had a hard time separating myself from my book. I asked, What happens now? Do I go back to the way I used to live my days, taking breaks to read a good novel, taking long walks, napping, and keeping my garden tended and in bloom?

I’ve been very tired, needing time to process what has been happening and where I am today. I’ve kept finding more things to do to keep my memoir in the forefront … writing new content, doing more guest blog posts and updating my website … never feeling satisfied with what I’ve done.

When I’ve thought about taking a break I felt guilty. I’d invested so much time and energy in this project, how could I not keep up the momentum in order to make my book a success?

In the meantime I forgot about some very important things. I neglected to take care of myself, my home, and my relationships. I hadn’t seen friends in a very long time. I’d been too busy to go out to lunch or have a cup of tea with those I’ve missed being with. I didn’t take time to water the garden when it was noticeably wilting. I started binging on chocolate and did everything I could to keep my eyelids propped open when I really needed to take a nap. I felt very resentful when I needed to cook a meal, do the laundry, or go grocery shopping. I don’t normally dislike doing those things and actually love to cook. If someone asked me for help, I got pissy. Don’t they know I’ve got work to do?

Experiencing more anxiety and imbalance than ever, I’m slowly coming to my senses. I’ve declared my home a NO SHOULD ZONE. If I feel I need to take a nap, I take a nap. If I can’t wait to get into that great book I’ve been longing to read, I start reading. I do a little bit of book promotion, write a blog post, take care of a few chores, and then give myself a reward.

Laughing through a facial.

Laughing through a facial.

This past week I took time for a pedicure and facial. I had lunch with a dear friend I haven’t seen in years. (We live less than two miles apart.) I took time to clean out the freezer. I put all of the roasted chicken carcasses I’d been saving into a big pot, along with an onion, carrots, celery, lots of herbs, dried mushrooms, and a few other secret ingredients, and simmered it on the back of the stove for the better part of a day.  As a result I’ve replenished the empty shelves in my freeze with healing soup stock. It all felt so good and my malaise about doing anything that felt like work began to ebb. In taking life too seriously and burning myself out with unending work is not helping me live a balanced life.

It feels wonderful to just putter through my days. Birthing my book has been a long row to hoe, but it’s done and it’s time to relax. I am by no means planning to stop the continued work that still needs to be done, but taking time to watch the sun rise, share laughter with a friend, or keep the garden well tended is as necessary as writing new content to keep my book in the forefront. And it keeps my psyche running smoothly.

How about you? How do you keep your life well balanced and your spirit alive?

 

If you missed it check out my guest blog post over at Susan Widener’s blog Women’s Writing Circle, here.  It’s about writing difficult stories.

Managing Stress In An Insane world

I stay sane by working in the garden and taking in the beauty of the natural world.

I stay sane by working in the garden and taking in the beauty of the natural world.

Earlier this year I decided to avoid the news as best I could. I didn’t want to hear about the presidential campaign; especially the words of one whose name shall not be mentioned here. He upset me greatly and when I started yelling  at the television it was a sure sign that I needed to turn it off. I do still tune in less than an hour every day because I want to be able to make informed choices. But I leave the room from time to time when I want to avoid talk from certain people.

Managing my stress is an important part of my self-care. I do not want to live with constant anxiety which turns my gut into a churning cement mixer filled with rocks. I get jumpy, depressed and feel hopeless. At the ripe old age of seventy-three I want a life of ease. I can’t afford the damage that stress causes to my mind, spirit and body.

I’ve been a news junky for as long as I can remember. I absolutely had to watch all of the heart breaking reports when JFK was assassinated. I tuned in constantly when Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were taken out. On the morning of 9/11, I wept and felt like it was the end of the world. On all of those occasions my gut churned away. I had no appetite for food. And for at least a week if not longer, I sat in front of the television reliving the cataclysm of 9/11.  Every news channel replayed the fall of the twin towers, over and over again. I was depressed. I had trouble sleeping. Like everyone else, I was sick at heart. At the end of that week I realized I was harming myself, not helping myself.

I needed to find my center. I needed to smile and laugh. I couldn’t go to NYC and help with the cleanup but thought perhaps if I lightened up and started believing in goodness, my depression would go away. I gave blood. I went back to working in the garden. I helped to prepare the downstairs apartment in my home for my mother, whose health was failing. She would be moving in with us in late October and would spend the next six years being in residence with us before she broke multiple bones and died in May of 2007. I knew it was going to be difficult and wanted to ground myself before she moved in.

I felt much better until Mom’s health started going down hill rapidly. I began watching hours of news again, and woke to NPR every morning. While I peeled potatoes, prepared meat loaf, or kneaded bread the TV was on. I listened to how the world was falling apart. It was easier to watch the world in turmoil and spout off on how to fix it, than it was to give my attention to what was happening in my own household as Mom moved toward the end of her life.

Later I was told I suffered from PTSD. It was suggested that the horrific news about climate change and the continuing saga of war in the Middle East were making me more stressed out than I was to begin with. But it was hard to turn it all off. I was too invested in the news and what was happening around the world.

I started meditating, said no to events or movies that I knew would upset me and set some boundaries For myself. But it was still difficult to stay news free. How would I know how to live if I didn’t know what was happening in the world? I was especially anxious about the mass shootings occurring so frequently around the country in schools, movie theaters, military bases and shopping centers. But even through those events I did fairly well at turning the boob tube off at the first sign of my being upset. I worked at staying positive. I reminded myself that beyond the negative is a beautiful world filled with good people who are kind and doing good deeds.

Then “you know who” decided to run for the presidency. My stress and anxiety levels began growing by leaps and bounds. I was sure the end of the world was nearing. I was afraid for my country. I feared what would happen to my kids and grandkids in the future if that man got into office. I yelled at the TV during debates and the nightly news. I cried some nights as I tried to fall asleep. Finally I said, “Enough. I can’t do this anymore.”

When I woke to the tragic news of the shooting in Orlando, a few weekends ago ago I was surprised by my reaction. I had no need to see the grim photos or know the numbers of innocent people killed and wounded. It was so unlike me. I asked, What is wrong with you? Why aren’t you reacting the way you usually do?

But I knew there was nothing I could do. Would sitting in front of the television all day taking in this heinous act of violence help to keep this kind of event from happening again? I knew that all it would do is make me feel angry, hopeless, and extremely heart sick. I decided to turn the news off and go about my day. I worked in the garden, cooked a delicious meal, and finished reading a book that I was completely immersed in. During the following days I signed petitions and made a donation to one of the sites involved in bringing an end gun violence. And after a bout of angry posts on Facebook, I decided to stop that too.

I still tune into the news most nights just to get the headlines. But it isn’t causing my stress levels to rise. I’m living in a better world, taking care of myself, trying to be as kind as I can, and being grateful for all that I have.

How do you handle the gruesome events that seem to happen every day all around us?
How do you stay positive in the face of negativity?

Getting Over Hysteria

Mom and the big pan of Pierogis we just finished making!

Mom and the big pan of Pierogis we just finished making!

We all have triggers. They can be aromas that remind us of days gone by. Like the smell of onions and garlic cooking that sends me to the times when Bill, my mother, and anyone else who wanted to take part, came into my kitchen and helped me prepare our best-loved food, pierogis. This traditional Polish dish of pockets of dough stuffed with delicious fillings has always been a part of our holiday celebrations. My favorites are the sauerkraut ones, with caraway seeds, and lightly caramelized onions. There were also those stuffed with mushrooms sautéed in butter with loads of garlic.

The smell of watermelon can also set off visual memories of the days in my youth when I lived on the shore of Long Island Sound. My free time was taken up with swimming, waterskiing, digging clams for supper, and the gritty feel of sand in my shoes.

Calendars can be triggers as well. The dates when loved ones passed away can set off another round of grieving for our loss, disconnecting us from holiday cheer or a season like spring, when everything is supposed to come back to life again.

Mom in 1997 before she became very ill.

Mom in 1997 before she became very ill.

I am sometimes triggered by seeing people who look like my mother, father, or the brother I lost six years ago. There is an advertisement for a senior community on a local tv station, in which a lovely gray haired woman is looking happy and reading a book as she sits in a rocking chair. She looks just like my mother before her health started to fail. Every time I see it I feel sad wishing I could go back in time and change the way things turned out for her. But alas, none of us has the power to do that.

Words can also set me off — like hysterical. The Cambridge Dictionaries Online says hysterical is the inability “to control your emotional behavior because you are very frightened, excited, etc.” It can be uncontrollable laughter or the shock and grief you feel when when you learn of someone’s death.

In the old days the word was defined as a neurotic condition, especially of women, caused by a dysfunction of the uterus. Whenever a woman became upset and cried, she was said to be suffering from hysteria. Many a woman found herself admitted to hospital and stayed there because she was too emotional.

Hysterical is what my mother called me whenever I cried as a child. And I don’t mean sobbing or bawling. Whenever she saw a tear on my cheek she said I was being hysterical. The day she called me to say that my father had been diagnosed with stage four bladder cancer and I began tearing up and sounding unhappy, she handed the phone to my dad and said, “Here, you talk to her. She’s hysterical. I can’t talk to her when she’s like that.”

Wouldn’t most people cry when they’re told that a loved one has a terminal illness? My reaction to those comments of hers always made me angry. I felt shushed — as though my feelings were stupid and didn’t matter.

I may be an emotional woman, but I do not suffer from hysteria. My mother was also an emotional woman. She had been abused as a child and lived with my father’s PTSD for over the forty plus years of their marriage. But she never cried in public or admitted a hurt. She hid her sorrow, grief, and pain from herself as well as onlookers. She self-medicated with alcohol which released her emotions in the form of anger. Using booze, she was able to let go of her pain for a while. But it always came back and the cycle of drinking began again.

Though I use the word hysteria and can laugh hysterically, almost wetting my pants at times, I still occasionally have trouble with both words. They can come out of the blue in innocent conversations and hit me hard. Just like the way the smell of onions and garlic sautéing can get my stomach rumbling, those simple words can make me feel stupid and unimportant. Awareness of those triggers helps me overcome emotional reactions. When a word sets me off I pause, remembering it is just a word and has nothing to do with the present and its context that I carried with me over the years. I can let it go and move on.

Do you have words or other things that can trigger reactions? How do you handle them?

Read about my relationship with my mother in my memoir, Scattering Ashes, A Memoir of Letting Go, due out in September.  It is available for pre-order on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.