When You Hate February

For most of my adult life I’ve hated the month of February.  I don’t use the word hate often because there is very little in this life I hate, but I really have hated  this month with the possible exception of Valentine’s Day.  Why?  I used to think it was because of the weather, the part of the country I lived in. anything but my own biology, until I found out about SAD (seasonal affective disorder).  It used to be quite frustrating to feel the downward spiral and not know what to do about it.  I could feel the sadness and depression coming, and it felt like there wasn’t a thing I could do about it other than hang on for dear life until spring came.  Spring seemed to be the magic elixir for all my ills, so I learned to hate the times I felt like my emotions and mental health were out of my control aka February.  In March things always took a turn for the better because we celebrated two of my sons’ birthdays, we had basketball tournaments which got the adrenaline pumping and there’s March madness.  For this basketball loving mom, it was exactly what I needed to pull me out of my yearly funk.

 

As the years have passed, I learned that there are several ways to cope with the downward spiral and occasionally avoid it all together.  Before I had children, I nearly always vacationed in February where it was sunny and warm.  Those trips did wonders to ward off the seasonal blues and carry me through to spring.  After the kids came and started school, the February vacations stopped and the blues got worse, then I found out about vitamin D.  Apparently, those of us who live in the northern hemisphere tend to be deficient in that particular vitamin, and some call it sunshine in a bottle so I tried it.  It helped.  Then I upped the dose, and it helped more.  February became bearable, and I was so very grateful.

My light box sitting on my kitchen table

 

 

A couple of years ago, I learned about light therapy and how sitting in front of a full spectrum light could help with SAD, and thanks to the greatest husband ever, I got a full spectrum light box as a Christmas gift.  Now I understand that some women would be insulted by a gift like that because they told me they would, but I was delighted.  To me, that meant that my husband not only believed that what I experienced was real, he was willing to do what he could to help me, and he did help me.  I use that light box nearly every day in February, especially when the days of gray and dreariness seem to go on without end.  That box along with yoga, meditation and everything else I’ve mentioned not only make the month bearable, they make it possible for me to shine.

Two of these books are the result of That Curious Love of Green’s Creativity Bootcamps

 

Last year during February, I felt good enough to take part in a creativity bootcamp which boosted my spirits even more.  I didn’t finish the manuscript I was working on but in addition to writing, I colored, sketched and painted, things I hadn’t done since I was a child.  Truth be told, most of it looked pretty childish but it stretched my creative muscles and brought me great joy.  I actually enjoyed February.  Yay!

This year there is no creativity bootcamp, and over the past couple of weeks, I could feel the downward spiral coming.  Add a little family drama, and it is amazing how quickly the darkness can descend, but I learned something from last year’s bootcamp.  I learned the value of having something to do that engages me in a different way than I’m used to.  This month, I began a 60 day spiritual journaling journey.  Each day presents a new question to ponder that is designed to help you think about your life and where you would like it to go.  It feels like a perfect winter activity and reminds me that while the weather looks dim and the plants may look dead, there is still so much activity going on underneath the surface just waiting for spring.  I feel that way too.  I’m writing more than I have in a while, but most of it will never be published because it’s personal and only for me.  When the funk lifts, I know there will be a burst of activity and it will be beautiful, exactly like the spring flowers I love so much.  It keeps me going and helps me to be gentle with myself on the days that life seems more difficult, and it gets me through to days like today that are brilliantly sunny even though it’s snowy, cold and windy.

 

 For those of you that struggle this time of year, I encourage you to find your own place of joy.  If you’re a physical person, exercise a bit longer.  Go dancing or walk at the mall if the weather’s bad.  If you’re an emotional person, watch a few feel good movies where the good guys/girls win, or if you’re a Disney lover like me, watch any of their movies and remember the first time you watched them.  If you’re a spiritual person, find a new path to explore and see what new revelations come to you.  Bake for someone.  Send a thinking of you note to a friend.  The options are endless, and occasionally take a day to do nothing if you need the rest.  Taking a day of rest is still the most difficult for me.  I’m a doer and mover, and it’s my nature to push through whatever is bothering me, but sometimes the best response is to rest, to allow yourself a day of downtime even if you have a million things on your to-do list, especially if that to-do list is getting longer and your list of accomplishments is getting shorter.  Give yourself a “me” day and you might find that the next day you’ve found the person you’ve been looking for.  Even if you don’t, you might feel better just from the break.  In any case, it is my privilege to share what I write with you, and I thank you for reading.  I also than you for being you and wish you a great day.

Kitchen Tables and Colonoscopies

 

It happened again.  The pattern repeated itself, and I found myself with a cluttered kitchen table once more.  I wasn’t sure what to write about last week because there is so much going through my mind; parenting, my journey to better health, where I want to go with my writing, keeping up with the house, the economy, the inauguration, how angry the world seems to be about our political situation.  As a writer, there is no lack of subject matter, and I wonder if this table theme has been overdone, but I also wonder how many people have a pattern like this in their own lives, a recurring pile or mess that signals the need to address something beyond the mess.

 

I first wrote about my kitchen table five years ago last week.  I posted a picture of my beautifully clean table with a lovely bamboo plant on it and seeing that picture makes me smile.  The picture above is a picture of what my table looked like as of a week ago, not a pretty site, but seeing the memory helped me decide the direction of that day and several after.  When I finally dove into the pile that had been building over several days, I knew it would be more than just a clearing of the decks physically.  It always has been and this mess was no exception.

 

Last week I found out our former high school principal died.  He was involved in a terrible car accident that left him with spinal cord damage and paralysis.  While in the hospital, they found a malignant tumor on his kidney and removed the kidney.  He died of complications from the surgery leaving a wife and eight children with no husband/father.  This was a kind man, a good man, and I struggle when kind and good people suffer so greatly.  It also gives me great pause when a father leaves a family behind, and a woman is left to raise her children alone, and since my own father was dying of kidney cancer when he was my age, it strikes an even deeper chord.  Even more poignant for me was facing my first age related procedure this week, the dreaded colonoscopy.  To say I was on edge would be putting it mildly, but I have a history of colon cancer in my family.  My grandmother died of colon cancer.  She also suffered a severe depression after my grandfather died and barely left the house for a couple of years.  She even told my mom, after reading an article on how the state of our mind is connected to the state of our health, she thought her depression might have contributed to her getting cancer.   So, I’m dealing with some personal demons on the subject of mortality and how I want to live what’s left of my life, not that I’m planning to leave anytime soon, but who knows when that is?

 

I think everyone wants to live a life that matters, but I think what matters is different for everyone.  Anyone who knows me is aware that being the best wife and mother I can be tops my list.  This year, I’ll be adding mother-in-law to that list, and I have a great role model to follow for that.  I only hope that I can be as wonderful to my future daughter in loves (yes, that’s what I call them) as my mother in law has been to me.  I have also made having a nice home a priority.  I’ve never been a fan of housework, but I see the blessing of having a home that is clean and tidy.  I think better and sleep better when the house isn’t in chaos, which may be why I’m struggling right now (that damned table again), and then there’s the writing.

 

There was a day I hesitated to call myself a writer because I wasn’t making a living from it, and now that makes me laugh.  I’ve written three books, one about parenting, one about motherhood and one about the holidays.  I love those books, and I am proud of them because each one was a triumph in some way.  I also love blogging because I think many of us go through similar situations and knowing how someone else deals with life can help us deal with things better as well. Writing also focuses my wandering mind because when I write, I let the muse take over and see where the words take me.  I know that may sound strange to others who don’t write, but I liken it to being “in the zone” for an athlete, in the creative flow for an artist or getting lost in a book for those who read.  I love the feeling of it and sometimes I am as surprised as anyone where it leads.  This past week it led to my kitchen table, a task I was sure would be done in a day, but is still lingering a week later.

 

I spent several days going through paperwork and facing things.  I called to make appointments.  I wrote checks.  I did holiday follow up and pushed through procrastination.  I also faced real fear about the procedure that was approaching and what the doctor might find.  My head knows that I live a healthier life than my grandmother and father, but my imagination can get the best of me.  I don’t fear death, although how my family suffered through cancer is seared into my memory.  But I have so much more living to do, and this is the part of mortality that I’ve learned to use to my advantage.  Because I know that life can throw you a curve ball at any moment, I’ve learned to say “the heck with it” and follow my dreams, but that journey isn’t a smooth, straight path.  It is windy, steep and curvy with underbrush of all kinds.  It’s paperwork and bills to pay and fear of being sick, but it’s also transatlantic video chats and collaborations with people who make my heart sing.  It’s progress rather than perfection.  It’s living each day with as much meaning as you can.  It’s letting the almost clear table be good enough.  It’s sharing the struggle in a week late blog post, and it’s encouraging everyone to see that every obstacle can lead you to your next best place.  For me, that was getting a clean bill of health, brainstorming for my next book and finishing this post.  None of it changes the world at large, but it changes my corner of it and inspires me to keep chasing my dreams.  Trust me, it’s a great way to live, and I hope you’ll join me by chasing your own dreams, whatever they might be and as always, thanks for being you and have a great day.

 

Finding Meaning and Letting Go

Inspiration can come from the most interesting places.  This week I was inspired to live better by an article about dying.  This was an article in the New York Times Magazine about a man who runs a small hospice in San Francisco and wants to change the way we go about dying.  This is when I love the internet.  I live in the Midwest, and I’m reading an article from a New York City newspaper about a man in San Francisco.  This would not happen for me without the internet.  I wouldn’t have looked for something like this, but here’s the kicker, it was posted by a Facebook friend of mine who lives in Australia.  How amazingly cool is that?  So what’s the big deal about an article called One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die?  The big deal is that every article you read about the dying seems to say one thing.  The biggest regrets of the dying are the moments they missed to truly live.  The dying get very clear very quickly about what is important, and if they have time, they learn to live every moment as fully as they can.  This article is no exception.  It tells the story of BJ Miller, a doctor and triple amputee, who founded Zen Hospice that helps people live their last days the best they can.  It also tells the story of a young man who travels through Zen Hospice and how the staff helps him live every on of his last days.  It was all interesting, but at the end of the article I read a sentence that gave me chills and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  It basically said that when people know they are dying, they often get very good at keeping what is meaningful to them and letting go of the rest.  I don’t know about you but that hits me right between the eyes.

 

How many times do we fret over things that do not matter in the grand scheme of life?  I have worried about bad hair days, badly prepared dinners, whether someone likes me or that stupid thing I said.  I’ve worried about paying a bill, how clean my house is, how other people feel about my children, my marriage and my life, and you know what?  None of it matters.  None of it is meaningful, and I’m learning to let it go.  At another time in my life, this might not have been so profound, but this year, I will turn 54, the age my dad was when he died.  Now, I’m not planning to die anytime soon, but reaching the age that one of your parents died gives you pause.  It hints at your mortality, and if you’re lucky, it gives you courage especially if you have watched someone leave this world that lived much less than they could.  There is so much I could say about my dad’s passing, and I’ve shared before that his cancer was a gift to both of us.  It gave us time to talk and to heal from years of anger and hurt, and when he passed, we were at peace, but there was so much of his life he forgot to live, and it has helped me to follow my dreams of writing, blogging, traveling and spending as much time with my children as possible.  It has helped me live without regret on many levels and keep reaching for more.

 

So what would your life look like if you focused on what was meaningful and let the rest go?  If you have a family, can you see having a meal together, doing laundry or cleaning as sacred work?  If not, can you find a way to get that done so you can do something more meaningful to you?  In my case, it means the TV is off more which gives me time to write, connect with others and just be.  I am still working on getting enough rest, but I’ve recently brought yoga back into my life, and it has helped me so much.  My meaningful life looks pretty much like this:  I spend time journaling and getting myself centered and spiritually prepared each morning after sending my family off to school and work.  I spend an hour or so taking care of our home, practicing yoga and planning my day.  On days that I’m home that usually means some extra effort on writing and taking care of our space.  On days I have commitments outside the house, that usually means adding some errands to my day.  Afternoons are for connecting with my youngest and getting him squared away academically and otherwise and for making dinner.  Evenings are the area that have changed the most for me lately because they’ve gone from being wasted hours in front of the TV to an opportunity to make progress on something that improves our lives in some way.  We have small and large projects that never seem to get accomplished and this year we have a plan to make that happen, not by spending hours, but by spending a few minutes daily and weekly making a difference.  We have no lofty ideas of spending our evening hours doing major projects every night because we understand burnout, but we can commit to 15 minutes to make a difference by installing a showerhead, putting up a blind or two or decluttering the office.  I love the saying that people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year.  We are setting our sights on a year and seeing where that leads.

 

Consistency is a beautiful thing, but for most of us, a missed day or two can derail everything.  I know this from my own experience. It’s so easy to give up and so hard to get back to it sometimes.  I know people who have worked out for over 365 days in a row and that impresses me, but what impresses me more is the video I saw of a man named Arthur who was a paratrooper in Desert Storm and as a result of his injuries and weight gain couldn’t walk without assistance.  He accepted his fate until he found a yoga instructor who helped him get healthy with yoga.  I don’t know if Arthur did yoga every day.  That wasn’t the point.   What was impressive was that Arthur couldn’t even stand unaided at the beginning, but he decided to see how far he could go at his own pace and he amazed himself and everyone around him.  That’s how I want my life to be.  No matter where I start, I want to keep moving forward and keep making a positive difference as much as I can.  Right now that positive difference if focused more on my family and myself, but that time focused on my family will be over soon.  My boys will grow up and have families of their own, and my husband assures me that he will be happy to become my assistant when I make more money than he does so he can retire from his current job and we can travel the world together. 

 

There is one more thing that I think is imperative to create a meaningful life and letting the rest go, and that is having a dream or maybe even more than one to keep you going.  I have accomplished some of my dreams and some are still out there waiting.  I’ve written books, but there are more books to write.  I’ve traveled but there is more to see.  I’ve worked at a job I love but there is more work and more fun to be had.  This year, a group of creative folks I admire are planning to meet in Ireland in October.  I want to go very much.  If I make it there, I desperately want to make a trip over to England to meet with some folks I’ve been online friends with for a very long time.  To get there I need to save a substantial amount of money, but it’s amazing what I can say no to when I ask if it’s worth giving up Ireland to have this item.  It isn’t about earning it.  It’s about what is meaningful to my life and travel has always been meaningful for me.  Learning about others’ lifestyles and seeing new cultures is a joy for me.  Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable because I learn how others perceive our nation or even my part of the nation in a negative way, but it also gives me the opportunity to share a different side of what people think they know and learn from them at the same time.  In this time of turmoil, I find that type of bridge building to be our greatest hope.  I love that all of these thoughts about living come from an article about dying.  I love that a man who nearly lost his life uses his gifts to help those who are dying.  I mostly love that because of him and the article, I will find more meaning in my life, and I will be able to let the meaningless things go.  That, to me, is an amazing way to live.  I hope you are inspired to find meaning in your life.  I hope you can let go of those things that have no meaning to you.  I hope you live well every day of your life and as always, I thank you for being you and wish you a great day.