It started with a drive home. I dropped my son off at an event in the next town and rode back looking at all the Christmas lights.
I’ve lived in this town almost thirty years. I barely see it anymore. It remains a beautiful place, but after a while, you stop thinking about it. I’m not sure why my attention was caught by the Christmas lights that early evening, but for a few moments I really saw the beauty of an ordinary drive I’ve done more times than I can count. I was present, and content; the first time in a while I felt truly happy to be living here.
I’ve written about aspects of this before, but it has been a hard couple of years. Between getting laid off, health problems, huge medical bills, the politics of the age, and family-related stress, I went into self-protection mode and dropped out of everything. The health stuff was brought on by panic attacks, so my response was to remove myself from anything that might exacerbate my anxiety. I spent months feeling as if under siege, I needed to rest and to recover my equilibrium.
I do this from time to time. When I’m hurt, exhausted, embarrassed, or otherwise in need of emotional restoration, I retreat. I’m very much an introvert anyway (until you know me, then I seem like an extrovert), and people exhaust me. Every year I take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day and hermit myself away from the world as much as I can. At the end of that time, I am usually ready to go back to work.
This time, my self-imposed exile has lasted about two years. I’ve been in a mental and emotional limbo both waiting for this transplant to move forward and wanting the “second half” of my life post-transplant to move in a different direction. Most of what set me on this trajectory two years ago has resolved itself or at least become less of an issue. The family is stable; I’ve managed to stay out of the hospital for months now (knock wood) because I know more about managing my Afib episodes. We’ve just had one of the most pleasant holiday seasons ever. It was low key, but everyone in the house approached it with the same spirit.
This year, there’s no work to go back to. I’m still keeping my eyes open for something, possibly part-time, local or remote, so that I can have some money coming in, but avoid an exhausting and expensive commute. I’m still trying to write more regularly. I’ve been at a standstill for two years, frozen in place, stuck. It’s past time for me to get moving again.
I worked briefly with a therapist earlier this year and soon came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a match. She was more focused on the practical day to day stuff, and less about how I felt and how I could cope. I struggled with how to end the sessions and then I discovered that the deductible for counseling services with my health plan was enormous; decision made. I was relieved, but no better off.
Driving home that night before Christmas I decided I need to experience that present and contented feeling more often, and that by deliberately seeking those “moments of light,” I might be able to help get myself unstuck. I might be able to start changing my mind. I’ve been thinking about how I might help myself do this, and here is what I came up with:
Movement – This is the probably the most important effort, but also the toughest, particularly in the winter when the cold air can make it difficult to breathe. I was never an athlete, but I used to walk everywhere. The myriad health problems I’ve been dealing with have put me in a state of de-conditioning (that’s what the cardiologist called it). With osteoporosis running in my family, and the effects of my rheumatoid arthritis meds, I need to start battling back to regain my strength. When I was doing yoga regularly, I always felt this peace at the end of a session. I need more of that now.
Dial down the carb-reliance – I don’t diet. I don’t need to lose weight. I don’t eat a lot of junk food or fast food or fake food; but I love pasta, bread, potatoes, and other carb-heavy ingredients. I put sugar in my tea and I’m a fan of the occasional soda. A small chocolate treat is a staple of most late afternoons. I absolutely need more protein, particularly at the start of the day. I’m very curious to see if tweaking the balance here has any noticeable effect on my mood and energy levels.
Gratitude / Appreciation / Observance – After the last two tempestuous years, things have calmed down enough for me to notice and appreciate moments of family harmony and growth. Sure there’s still plenty to work through, but reason and cooperation are more frequent visitors to our home, and they are most welcome. I have been trying to be on the lookout for things that support this feeling – whether it is the the boys working together to decorate for Christmas, the birds at the feeder, or the flowers I buy to fill our home with something natural.
Confront Shame – At a workshop a few years ago we were asked to think about some of the messages we heard or internalized growing up. My parents had quite a few snarky sayings that stuck with me, but I came to realize that a major theme of my childhood, between school (nuns), church, parents, and the society of the age, was “It’s not okay to make a mistake.” That got me to thinking about how much we used to control children by shaming them. We still try to do this to a lot of women. On some level, I rejected these attempts at control (hence my allergy to authority), but I know they made a huge impact on how I see the world. I know that a lot of my paralysis, a lot of my impulse to cloister myself comes from a sense of shame.
Engage, Create – I do need to get out more, and since 2016, I have been searching for a way to have better impact than I did as a School Committee Member. I’m not a protestor or petitioner, but my interests have moved from education, to health care and transportation. Next week I will be going to a talk on Medicare for All, to try to understand, and see how much the proponents understand about our current health care system and a plan to move forward. Of course I will write about what I have learned. I am still hoping to find a role in the community, I’ve talked with a few people, but now I feel like I can be less tentative about it, and get myself out there.
Social Media Diet – Another tough one, especially for someone as hermited as I can be. For my own sanity I declared a moratorium of all things Trump for the holidays. I don’t want to hear him, I don’t want to hear about him, I don’t want to listen to the Sunday talkies, or other news programs, I’ve mostly stayed away from Twitter and Medium this week. It’s been glorious, and I feel so much less anxious. I’ve taken to leaving my phone upstairs for most of the day when I’m trying to write. I’m happier and less distracted that way. Writing longhand first is usually something that helps my creative process anyway.
I can’t call these resolutions. Rather, they are behaviors and ways of thinking that I want to use to check in with myself about regularly. I’m really hoping that this time next year, I will feel perceptively unstuck and moving forward.