There is a Try

“Our business in life is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits.”                         – Robert Louis Stevenson

I’ve returned to this quote over and over again, but it’s only recently that I feel like I understand it. I think the word fail is a little strong. I prefer to substitute the word try. We can do or do not, as a wise little green creature named Yoda once said, but we shouldn’t be afraid to try.

We don’t know what is possible unless we give it a go. Sure, we can rest comfortably and safely in the security of the known, but we’ll never see what’s possible unless we move beyond. It takes courage to move forward and go about our business in life. It is bold to try.

When we try, we increase our confidence, we prove ourselves capable, and we often decrease our anxiety. One of the most anxiety provoking things for me is the unknown or the worry about what might be. When I move through a process, when I show up and put in an effort, I eliminate that factor and often the outcome is far less horrific than any of the scenarios in my head.

Trying helps us to see what works and what doesn’t. It helps us to see what truly matters to us and to see where our skills lie. We see what is no longer worth our time and what would be a better use of those minutes and hours. It is in the trying that we learn and grow and develop a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Not to say that success is a bad thing, but we can’t succeed unless we try. If we don’t try, we don’t give ourselves opportunities to make changes or discoveries. If we don’t first fail, we won’t achieve a larger level of success.

Try, accept the (possible) “failure”, try again, learn from the experience…keep repeating.

Living in the Middle Ages

I feel as though I’ve turned a corner recently. I ordered some comfort shoes recommended by my doctor. My body has decided to stop agreeing with things like coffee after 10:00am and more than one cocktail per sitting. People are calling me “ma’am” more.

I’m less than a month from my birthday and I’m feeling a bit unsettled about turning another year older. This is not a milestone birthday. I’ve already hit 21, 30, and 40. This is is 44 and it feels odd. It feels mature, adult, responsible, slightly boring…old(er). I feel that I’m these things. I feel that I might be a little less bright, a little less magnetic, a little less…young.

I don’t remember stressing out over any of those previous milestones. I do remember being a bit weirded out by turning 27. My feelings then were not dissimilar to now. Adult. Mature. Not so young anymore. Not able to use youthful ignorance as an excuse. My glow a bit more dull.

I am now the adult in the room. For better or for worse, I am older, wiser, and more self aware. I am better able to process my emotions and feelings. I am better able to respond to the needs of others. I am better able to cultivate relationships and choose to spend time doing what is meaningful to me. I am more than willing to release the crap in my life, both physical and emotional.

And still, the prospect of getting close to checking a new age range box is a bit strange, a bit unwelcome.

Deep breath. I am looking forward.

Most Optimistic

I might have mentioned this before (I’m too lazy right now to go back and check), but I was voted Most Optimistic in high school. (I was also voted Class Clown and Class Fashion Statement, but who’s counting?) For the longest time, I wasn’t willing to own the title. Sure, I’m not overly negative or gloom and doom, but I never felt all rainbows and glitter either.

Over the years, I’ve realized that I initially had an over simplistic view of optimism, reducing it to thoughts of a perpetually happy and blissfully unaware person. I’ve come to understand that optimists are, more often than not, fully grounded in reality, aware of what is going on around them, and able to deal with what life hands them. I’m happy to be an optimist.

I was writing in my journal last week (again, highly recommended as a healthy self care habit) and couldn’t help but think I was receiving some sort of affirmation of my optimistic tendencies when a rainbow fell across the page. I have a mirrored picture frame that catches the light just right in the late afternoon, but I’ve never had it line up so perfectly. It highlighted the line “I’m looking forward”.

And really, that’s what optimism is to me. It’s not positive thinking that drowns out things that are less than ideal or ignoring the bad things in life. It’s taking note of all of those things and looking forward. It’s moving in a positive direction. It’s hope. It’s believing that things can and will get better. I’ve started to use “I am looking forward” as a personal mantra. You’re welcome to borrow it, too.

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Look Who’s Back….

I believe in New Year’s resolutions. I also believe that there is no wrong time to resolve to improve areas of your life that you’re unhappy with. Make St. Patrick’s Day resolutions if you want, or use the feeling of freedom wrapped up in Independence Day to make some changes…whatever works for you. There is no wrong way to resolve.

One of my resolutions is to start writing more. It’s been almost a year since I’ve visited this space and I’ve missed it. 2019 was a year of me taking charge of my mental and emotional health. It was out of character for me, but I dialed back my online output in order to save my energy. It took work and commitment, but I ended it with a framework in place to keep me healthier and happier than I had been when the year started.

The three things that have helped me stay relatively balanced, and better able to cope with what life throws at me are meditation, yoga, and journaling. I have meditated for 587 days in a row and have done yoga for 582 days. Sadly, I missed a day of journaling recently, and so I’m currently on a 4 day streak.

When I decided to focus on these habits, I set some non-negotiable ground rules. My bare minimum was five minutes of meditation and yoga everyday. My journal rule was even less strict, I just had to write a sentence, if nothing else. I found that taking the pressure off myself made it easier to work these things into my day, but also prevented me from making excuses to get out of it. No matter what was going on in my life, I could find a total of ten minutes to help myself. The result is that I am in less physical pain and am better able to recognize and process my emotions. My depression and anxiety will not go away, but through these practices, I am able to see them for what they are.

We often make grand declarations for our resolutions. We get focused on the big picture or think that if it’s not a major, earth shaking change that it doesn’t count. Not true. Meaningful, important, and lasting change can happen with small, dedicated motions. As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. Focus on what you can reasonably do to get to make the changes you want to make. If five minutes of meditation seems overwhelming, try one minute of sitting quietly with your eyes closed. Instead of filling a journal page, try writing one sentence. It doesn’t have to be deep. Take one minute to stretch one part of your body that could use it. There is no wrong choice. Remember, no pressure on yourself.

Maybe these aren’t your goals, maybe your goals have to do with eating better or moving more. In that case, maybe your small steps would be to try a new vegetable every week, to drink one extra glass of water per day, or to walk for at least five minutes each day. Five minutes seems to be a sweet spot for me. As I said, it’s hard for me to weasel out of that amount of time and if I do five minutes, I’ll often add another five.

This year, I’m resolving to make each habit a ten minute habit. I’ve proven that I can do five, why not ten? And now that my mental and emotional health are in check, I’d like to start working on my physical health. I’m dealing with an ankle injury at the moment, but plan on starting an outdoor walking habit when it’s healed. Moving more would help me immensely.

Resolve. Find your bare minimum. Commit. Do. Enjoy the benefits.

I’m Thankful That I’m Not a Robot

Like any good student of self care, stress management, or wellness, I have a daily gratitude practice. Every morning or early afternoon (because, really, there’s no wrong time to be grateful), I write down a few things in my life that I’m thankful for.

I’m not going to lie, for months it’s read like a Gratitude Greatest Hits. Notable, good, sometimes even authentic, but also overplayed and lacking in meaning the more I cycle through the usual list. The list has become automatic. My home. My dogs. Schweetie. My friends. My neighbors. My family. New opportunities (a wonderfully vague way to be grateful without actually having to come up with anything). Now, I am actually grateful that these things are in my life. My world is bigger, happier, brighter, and more filled with love because of all them. However, I was just parroting these same few things back to myself every day. Anything overdone loses its power and its intended effect. I realized that there must be more. There must be some finer points of gratitude…Gratitude B Sides or Deep Cuts (to continue the album analogy), if you will.

And so, I’ve spent the last two mornings looking for the lesser appreciated moments in my life. The smaller things. The little instances that are bright and beautiful and perfect. Taking the time to zero in on new and less obvious things has helped me to feel more connected and truly appreciative.

I noticed how delightful the sun is when it shines brightly through my bathroom window. I’m thankful for the stranger on the street that wished me a hearty “Happy New Year!” in a moment where I was feeling a bit out of sorts. I am grateful for a relatively healthy body that allows me to take a walk each day.

It feels good to try being more specific with my gratitude practice and I am thankful that I feel renewed and reconnected to it.

First Resolution of the New Year: No more robotic gratitude lists.

I’ve Meditated for 187 Days Straight

And boy, is my mind tired! (Ha ha!)

But really, I have. And I’ve done yoga for that length of time, too, give or take a day or four. And this is why I started and why I’ve kept up with it….

Back in June of this year, I felt like I was losing my grip on my peace of mind, my emotional balance, and my overall world order. I wanted everything to stop so that I could take a break for awhile. I wanted to wrap myself up in a blanket and rock back and forth to save my soul. I wanted to be left alone, but I also felt lonely. The funny thing is, there was nothing really specific happening other than I was alone for almost two months straight while dealing with a rescue dog who wasn’t a perfect angel right out of the gate. That made me feel even worse. I felt like I was overly anxious and emotional without a “good” reason to be so. (If you read this, BoBo the Chiweenie, please know that the problem was me not you and you’re an awesome doggie!)

I’d had the feeling before that I was experiencing anxiety, maybe even panic attacks. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, much less talk about it with others. I’d feel a pressure like a fist squeezing my chest. It would hurt. It would be hard to breathe. I’d get very light headed, almost faint. I would break out in a sweat. When I look back, I see that I’d been experiencing this type of thing off and on for most of my adult life. The frequency of these episodes had been steadily increasing. I have pulmonary issues because of my autoimmune disease and these attacks do not do my lungs any favors. I used my emergency inhaler just in case.

I was feeling this way again in June and knew that I had to get myself back on track or I would be headed toward an unhealthy place that I had no interest in visiting. I had a flash of something I thought could help, something that my body and mind seemed to be asking for when I sat still quietly enough to listen. I decided to commit to 30 days of meditation and yoga. I set a minimum goal of 5 minutes of each daily, figuring that no matter what was going on, I could find 10 minutes in my day to care for myself and my mental health. At the time, it was so important to me to get myself better, that a daily practice was immediately non-negotiable. I used guided meditations from a variety of sources. (Still do! Having someone else talk me through it gives me something to focus on so that my mind doesn’t wander too much.) Initially, I focused on reducing anxiety and achieving a calmer mind. Within a week, I was feeling more calm and able to focus. Within two weeks, I realized I was happier, more optimistic, and starting to feel less physical pain. I kept going….

And now, here I am at 187 days straight. I am even happier. I feel more balanced. I still have periods of anxiety (I had one this morning!) and I assume I will for life, but they are less frequent and less likely to be triggered by something trivial. I am better able to manage the episodes that I do have. I stand taller. I am more confident and less socially anxious. I reduced my reliance on things like alcohol, social media, and retail therapy. I am in considerably less physical pain and have been able to reduce medication that helps me manage it (this was Ok’d by my rheumatologist). I’m thinking about becoming a vegetarian (again). My skin is clearer and my eyes are brighter. I feel more grounded and connected to the world outside my head. If I feel my chest starting to tighten or my heart starting to beat out of my chest, I immediately turn to focusing on my breath or, if location and time permit, I run through a yoga sequence. I’m going to keep going. Can I make it to a year straight? Can I make it to 1000 days?

Through this journey and process, I’ve had a lot of realizations and have been able to process patterns of behavior, choices I’ve made, and aspects of my personality that I’ve never been in love with. I’ve been able to release things that it does not serve me to put energy toward and I’ve been able to better consciously choose what I bring into my life. I’ve become clearer about that all important life goal: “the Purpose”.

It is my intention to start sharing what I’ve learned about myself and how I’m dealing with life after the acceptance of the role anxiety plays in it. (I should probably be super spiritual here and express gratitude to my meditation practice for connecting me with awareness for how anxiety was manifesting itself and disrupting my life, but I’m not there yet. Maybe I’ll be grateful after 374 days straight, but at Day 187, I’m still not thrilled.)

 

Now is Not the Time to Knit That Sweater

As a person that wears a lot of hats, one of them being someone with an autoimmune disease, I often struggle with overwhelm and getting burned out quickly. I can feel like a superhero if I go grocery shopping, walk the dog, and do laundry all in one day. In fact, the ability to complete basic household tasks without needing a day to recuperate might be an autoimmune super power.

Sometimes, I overwhelm myself with things that are potentially good for me. “I’m going to start this yoga challenge and revamp my diet and journal and meditate every day and start painting and read all of those unread books and put on real pants all right now!” I can be very all or nothing. Needless to say, I can also burn out very quickly.

My Schweetie is currently out of town for five weeks for work. I was looking at this time as a way to finally do all of those things and more. (Side note: I’m SO amazing at putting on real pants now!) One of the things I had planned was to start to knit my first sweater. I tried. I started and restarted about 4 times. I asked for help. I consulted with a very knitterly friend. I spent an entire Sunday trying to start knitting this sweater correctly. It wasn’t happening. I was frustrated and defeated. Then that spiraled into all of the other super awesome things that I was supposed to be doing to be a super awesome person while Schweetie is out of town.

Then it hit me: Now is not the time to knit that sweater.

In fact, now is not the time to do all of the things, even if many of those things are good for me. It’s time to focus on what is important and to even decide what hats to take off for a bit.

I started to think about what my main goals are for the rest of the year (only about 8 months left!) and I started to think about how I could comfortably make progress. As much as I like to be a creative, idea generating tornado, I thrive best when I have structure, a schedule, and clear expectations. I decide to operate from a list of my Can Dos, Have Tos, and Want Tos.

A Can Do is a thing that will move me toward a goal. They’re more free form choices and are usually remotely enjoyable. They include things like researching business card designs, studying information for a course I’m going to take, or contacting friends to ask if they’d be willing to let me practice skills with them. I try to keep the tasks short and sweet. This blog post is a Can Do.

My Have Tos are the less fun things. Much like the title says, they are things that I have to do. Things like checking my email, returning a business phone call, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, or household things like laundry.

I use these lists to determine my Want Tos. I ask myself: “Out of these things, which do I want to do today?” Note that the Want Tos are still focused on achieving goals and getting work done, it just makes it a more comfortable process for me. I’m motivated to keep moving forward because I’ve got specific actions to choose from and most of them I really want to do.

I try to pick three to four things to tackle in a day. After those are completed, I might decide to take on more. After that, I do something just for fun…something that I really want to do like play with my dog or read a magazine or watch the latest episode of America’s Next Top Model or online shop for more pants.

 

One Foot in Front of the Other

Whether we like it or not, we’re always moving forward in life. Constantly. Every day moves us closer to something new. We grow older, hopefully wiser. We’re constantly in motion.

We set goals for our journey. We have dreams. We hold the pictures of our ideal destinations in our hearts and minds. They’re often big and wonderful, and feel like they need to be done in total this minute, or they’re not going to happen…ever. “I need to sell everything and move to Montana and buy a tiny house and write a novel RIGHT NOW!” These goals can feel so big that they become overwhelming.

Sometimes it’s not our dreams, but the circumstances of life that overwhelm us: An illness, a death, a job loss, financial issues. We don’t feel like we can ever move past these things. We feel stuck, stagnant. We definitely don’t feel like we’re advancing while dealing with the very real things we’re given. Life itself might feel impossible.

In both cases of overwhelm, things slow drastically. Maybe we spend days on our couch watching re-runs of sitcoms, eating takeout, and not wearing real clothes. Maybe we withdraw from the world and feel like we’re spiraling downward. Maybe we don’t feel like moving forward anymore at all.

In 2009, I was experiencing a whole lot of overwhelm. All kinds of doors were closing around me. I’d lost a business. My first marriage was ending. I fractured my spine. These are just some of the events I was dealing with. Nothing seemed like it was going right. To say I was overwhelmed might be an understatement. I spent plenty of time on the couch eating junk and wearing my pajamas. I definitely wanted to stop moving forward. I wanted everything to stop.

Somewhere during this time, I had to go pick up some medication from a pharmacy. I pulled my car into the parking space, shut off the engine, and I broke down. Full on sobbing…out loud…in my car…in public. It was a wailing, ugly cry that surprised me. I knew there was a bigger, better world for me, but I was tired of moving through all of the crap around me. I wanted good things to happen and bad things to stop. Neither felt like they were happening quickly enough and I felt like I was drowning in stagnant water.

Then a thought came very clearly to me: All you have to do right now is go pick up that prescription. That’s it.

The smallest thing I had to do to move forward in a positive direction was to walk into the pharmacy and pick up medication that would help me feel better.

It was a revelation. First, realizing that action makes things better. Second, realizing that the action didn’t have to be huge and immediately life changing.

I still use this to focus and ground myself when things feel like they’re out of control in either a good or a bad way. I step back, find some quiet, take a deep breath, and ask myself:

What’s the smallest thing I can do in this moment to move forward in a positive way?

Try that. Think about something you’re currently struggling with at the moment. What’s the smallest thing you can do to take action? Is it opening an envelope that you’re afraid might contain unwelcome news? (Note: you don’t even have to read the letter right now, if that feels too big. That can be your next small step.) Is it taking five minutes to brainstorm names for your super awesome novel you’re going to write in that tiny house in Montana? Whatever that small step is, name it and take it. There is power in action. There is a gain of strength and confidence in action.

What’s the smallest thing you can do in this moment to move forward in a positive way?

Do that.

 

Most Optimistic

A definition of optimism:
op·ti·mism
ˈäptəˌmizəm/
noun
1. hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.
One of the superlative titles that my high school class awarded was Most Optimistic. It’s a title that I won by, no doubt, popular vote as a high school senior. At the time, it wasn’t a title that I wanted and I wasn’t even sure why that particular honor was given to me.
Most Optimistic wasn’t a hotly contested or desired high school superlative. It wasn’t Class Clown or Most Likely to Succeed or Most Fun to be Around. To me, optimism wasn’t cool. It wasn’t popular. It certainly did not increase my social standing among my peers. It implied a detached from reality, Pollyanna type outlook that I didn’t connect with. My understanding was that an optimist was someone who “always looked on the bright side of life” at the expense of ignoring the truth of what was actually there. I wasn’t a negative, doom and gloom personality by any stretch, but I was certainly grounded in the real world.
Twenty plus years on, and I’ve come to better understand my optimism and what it means define oneself as such today. Often we explain optimism versus pessimism by using the glass half full/glass half empty comparison. I propose a different way of explaining optimism. An explanation that sees optimism as recognizing the beauty that there is water in the glass at all, regardless of how it is measured. Optimism is seeing the value of the existence of water, not the quantity of it. Optimism isn’t giving power to the empty space, it’s giving power to the water. It’s believing in the potential of the water to do some good (quenching thirst, sustaining the life of a houseplant). It’s not worrying about what isn’t there.
Let me say that again: Optimists do not worry about what isn’t there. It’s about seeing what exists and then seeing the best future potential. It’s rooted in reality (there is water in the glass) but also in the hope and good that the water represents.
Cheers to the water in the glass!
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Variations on the Theme (Aging, Loneliness)

I was never a person that really wanted children. I never wanted to babysit. I never volunteered to be a kindergarten class helper. I’ve been married twice and I’ve never felt the need to procreate. (I do like kids and kids like me. I just don’t want them to be my own.)

I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in 2005, and one of the first things the rheumatologist told me was that it carried the risk of having a baby with a fatal heart defect and that I would have a high risk pregnancy. That set my decision. No babies, ever.

I was also never a person that thought they’d freak out when they turned 40. And I didn’t…not really…not a full scale freak out anyway. I certainly did some reflection and life analysis and thought about what I wanted for the next 40 plus years. I accepted that I was not ever going to be younger than I was in that moment.

And then these two “nevers” collided and I realized what it might mean. I am over 40, I am married to someone that is older than I am, and, in all likelihood, I’m setting myself up to be elderly and alone. This is not a fun thought. It’s not set in stone, but it’s not fun to entertain it as a realistic possibility. Children take care of their parents, right? It’s part of the deal for a lifetime of care and support. You feed, clothe, and house them for a decade or several and then they return the favor. At least that’s how it works in my oversimplified, “perfect world” thinking. I chose not to have that support and I might have to deal with the consequences of that someday.

Reality check: I know fully well that we are not promised a day in this life and that there is no way of knowing how much time any one of us has. I still do not want and do not regret having children. But I don’t want to be alone either. I don’t want a stranger making decisions about my care and treatment. I don’t want to be the old lady in the nursing home without visitors. I don’t want to celebrate holidays by myself. I don’t want to be old and alone.

I do have a niece and a nephew who at (almost) 11 and 8 enthusiastically declare that they want to live next door to me when they grow up. That makes me happy on a deep soul level. However, I don’t want to assume they’ll accept responsibility for my elder care (or even that they’d be able to). I’m not sure there’s an answer to these concerns and I’m wondering if it’s something other people who’ve decided not to have children think about? Or it could be just me. Is it just me?

In the meantime, I’ll keep sending my niece and nephew really awesome presents. It can’t hurt.