Productivity and a Positive Turn

Over the last couple days, I’ve been slowly rebuilding some positive frameworks in my life. One such framework is to do one task every hour to help me feel like I’m actually getting stuff done, and it’s helping.

The key to this is my phone and its noisy reminders. I am the kind of person who does not think to look at written reminders and planners–if it doesn’t make noise at me constantly, I ain’t bothering with it, LOL! So I set a reminder to go off every hour and bug me every minute until I do something productive.

It kinda ticks me off sometimes, and I usually end up shouting “shut up!!” at the phone a few times (LOL). But that annoyance most often leads to me getting up and choosing a task from a written list I make every day. The first day I did this, I completed 15 tasks in one day!! This after two months of absolutely nothing getting done–I call that progress!

I find that this is helping with the crushing depression I’ve been suffering for a while. I hate feeling non productive, so maybe this burst of productivity will help turn things around in my head. Who would have thought an obnoxious reminder could do so much! Haha!

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A Different Life

Has anyone else had that feeling where everything you used to do seems to belong to a different person and a different life?

That’s what’s going on with me these days. Even writing and music seem to be part of another woman’s life, a part of a self I forgot. Sometimes I can recapture it for a moment, but it doesn’t last. I know this is depression, and really bad depression at that. It’s worse than it’s ever been, and that’s saying something.

I tried to get help last month, but the therapist I was placed with kept going on about how I wasn’t doing enough to change my circumstances…kept throwing all these advice things at me like I’m supposed to just magically have the energy to do it all now that someone else has told me what to do. Sorry, dude, that just ain’t flying. Also I don’t like being subtly blamed and guilted for having this numbness and nothingness in my head. Pardon my French, but fuck that. I got enough negative shit in my head without someone else adding to the pile. I tried being my own therapist for a few weeks after that, since I’m often called on to help others through their crises, and I’ve been told I’m pretty good at it. But alas, my words don’t work on me; they’re just hollow advice that reeks of desperation and clutching at straws. It was a long shot but at least I tried.

Even though I hate the thought of it, I think it might be time to try medication. I’ve tried modifying my behavior, but it never produces any long term change…I always end up numb and empty again no matter what I try, and I’ve tried a lot of stuff over the last three decades. If I have to take a daily pill to be functioning again, so be it–I already take a daily pill to keep from bleeding to death, so I guess it’s not that big a deal. (Part of me wants to feel shame at needing meds to survive, but I’m just too damned tired for shame anymore.). I just want my life back–maybe I don’t have to chase all the different lives I’ve led over the years, but I do want to finish my books, get them edited and published, and progress more in my vocal training. I also hope to be married sometime this year, but I have to survive that long first. (we’re waiting on some hopefully good news coming through soon, so I’m pretty sure the anxiety of waiting is making the depression temporarily worse. Doesn’t make it easier to slog through every day though.)

A Pleaser’s Personal Hell

Pretty much everything I’ve ever done, everything I’ve ever achieved, has been because I did it for someone else. I really wish that was an understatement right now.

This covers a lot of things:

  • Getting good grades through school: please family & teachers, have good standing with authority figures
  • Doing kind things for others: please them so they won’t get angry/hurt me later
  • Attending church: please fiancé’s family, have good standing among members/community
  • Participate in exercise: please doctors so they’ll stop banging on about my excess weight
  • Allow ex boyfriends to push my personal boundaries (putting it delicately): please them, keep them from cheating/abandoning or hurting me
  • Engage in various hobbies: please cool other people who also do the hobby, make friends to feel less alone

About the only things I’ve ever firstly done for myself are writing and music, and even my joy in those has been ruined now because I found out I could please others with them. Now every time I write, every time I compose or sing, I’m haunted by the thought that “someone else might not like this,” or the opposite, somehow more devastating thought: “who even cares anyway? I’m the only one who’s seeing/hearing this.”

It seems stupid, maybe, but I have never really lived outside this pleaser mindset. I just flat don’t know what it looks or feels like to do something just because I’m committed to it for myself, just because I alone care enough to make it happen and I’m the only one it will affect. Even stuff like brushing my teeth is done because I was tired of costing my parents excess money at the dentist’s getting cavities fixed. (So I basically do it because I’m cheap…wow.)

When it comes to doing things for others, however, I push myself very hard to always come through. I often can do more than they asked for, even, because I want them to be happy (and because I don’t want them to be mad, to be honest). I’ve done some amazing things with motivation that comes from others’ expectations and hopes. But when it comes to doing things just for me, I cannot muster that same energy. The place where I usually reach inside myself for motivation is empty; I end up talking myself out of doing it, because “I’m the only one who cares anyway,” “I guess it doesn’t really matter,” “meh,” etc. Even writing for this blog has been like this. I go through times where I’m REALLY motivated to write, get a few posts out…and then I slip into days and weeks of inactivity because very few seem to care, and if they don’t care, how am I supposed to? Without the shrill, harrying call of “OTHER PEOPLE EXPECT THIS SO DO IT NOW DO IT NOW DO IT NOW”, all I’m left with is just…tired.

I am sick of giving up on personal projects because of this soul-tiredness. I’m sick of being exhausted of life itself, of having to fight just to exist. If this were my best friend going through this hell, I would be at her side counseling her, listening, encouraging her…but because it’s me, it just doesn’t take. I can hear the fakeness, the hollowness in any encouragement I try to give myself. My voice, my words, my music–all seems stifled by this feeling that if it’s not pleasing to others, it’s not worth a damn. (Maybe there’s also an element of “I don’t matter enough to take care of.”)

I’m fighting through this to go to voice lessons, to pursue my interests, see my friends, to seek happiness wherever I can scrounge it up, but again and again I come up against this utter absence of motivation. I want my damn SUCCESS already, the reward I’m owed for what feels like decades of hard mental and emotional work for other people, but instead I’m 34 years old, pretty much unemployed, facing defeat or lack in every direction, now looking up at a sheer cliff face called life, and I have no climbing gear. And no one else sees this mountain but me. 💔

The Most Heartbreaking Thing About Being Disliked

(This post is a bit all over the place, sorry!)

Often when people write about others disliking us, the “others” are described more as a faceless mob, just “haters,” unimportant to our daily lives. It seems a bit easier, at least to me, to brush off the negative opinions of others who don’t really know us. But what about when the people who dislike you are also those you loved and trusted? How do you deal when you still care about them and love them, but they greet you with sneering hatred or disapproval?

I have spent a large part of my life dealing with various folks who ended up hating or disliking me, even though I treated them with as much love as I knew how. The heartbreak of each of those instances still resounds in me to this day. Some, I later learned, were jealous of my talents and accomplishments; others were justifiably afraid of me and the overwhelming emotions I suffer; still others just apparently didn’t like me being who I am, creative and weird. But I still find myself thinking about these people, these former loved ones, and feeling weird guilt/regret for how negatively things turned out.

I never want anyone to feel active dislike/hatred, anger, pain, or fear because of me, because I know how hard those negative emotions are. Yet I am human, and thus capable of causing this kind of suffering in others without meaning to. I know I can’t control others’ emotions and reactions, but I’m still left raw by how they feel, too. Days like this, I find myself revisiting these messy heartbreaks, some of them almost three decades old, and wondering how I can ward off a situation like them in the future. At 34, I still am not sure how to guard my heart and mind against others’ emotions and reactions to me, and I don’t know how to get rid of the resulting guilt and regret. (I can pretend it’s not there, but not forever.) I also don’t really want to turn off my compassion and caring, either.

Anybody else ever struggled with this? Kinda feel like I’m talking all around it, lol, but maybe this makes sense?

My Surprisingly Fun Evening Routine

I never thought I’d be the kind of person who has a routine for nighttime–back in the day I just fell asleep whenever I managed to get my brain to hush, with no preamble. But a combination of factors has given rise to my slow accumulation of nighttime systems that make me feel better come morning.

Since I just finished my 30-minute evening routine for the night, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on all the practices I do at night to get better prepared for bed. There are some unexpected practices here–read on to find out some road tested ideas that help me have a much better night. Here’s what I do, in order:

Tooth Care

This was the first step I adopted, and for good reason–I was tired of getting cavities and having to have thousands of dollars in dental work done! Since adopting this routine, I now very rarely get cavities anymore, and I experience little to no gum pain and bleeding like I used to. Getting rid of all the food bits and bacteria before I do nothing for 6-8 hours is key!

To begin, I usually pull up either a playlist of music or an interesting YouTube video I can listen to. Then I begin brushing with my child-size toothbrush (great for folks like me who have small mouths!), moving always in small soft circles angled toward my gum line, beginning with the front teeth, top and bottom. Once done there, I will either go to the bottom left or bottom right section of teeth depending on my mood (LOL), brushing the outside surfaces, biting surfaces, and inside surfaces. Usually I’ll finish off the back sides of my bottom teeth on this run too. After that I’ll move to the top section above the ones I just brushed, then the back sides of my front teeth. Then I’ll do the opposite side of my mouth the same way, bottom section and then top.

After all that, I’ll brush my tongue, getting as far back in my mouth as I can without gagging. (This does double duty–gets rid of bad breath AND helps with the tongue tension and gag reflex I am battling as a developing singer!)

A rinse with warm water, and then I’m off to flossing using a long-handled flosser (which is a GAME CHANGER!! Seriously, could not floss without it). In between each tooth, I run the floss a few times, angling it back and forth to get out as much stuff as possible, and I rinse the floss in between sections of teeth. Another thorough rinse with warm water after flossing, and I’m done with tooth care! This usually takes about 5 minutes total.

Face Care

Since I’m in my mid thirties now, I always put at least some moisturizer on before bed to protect my skin from drying out overnight. I very rarely wear makeup, and I refrain from touching my face throughout the day, plus if I over-wash my face I can start breaking out very badly, so I don’t wash my face every night. This takes about 30 seconds to a minute.

When my face feels like it needs it, though, I wash with some cleanser and a small, surprisingly gentle and inexpensive facial scrubber (found them at Dollar Tree, 2 for a buck!!). The scrubber exfoliates and spreads product evenly so I feel like I get a good clean. (You can definitely over scrub though, so take it easy on your face if you try this!) Paired with some super soft baby washcloths for rinsing, this routine leaves my face very smooth and soft, and ready for moisturizer. This additional step adds about 4 minutes.

Hand and Lip Care

I sleep with a fan on in my room, both for noise and to dispel hot stuffy air (my room is consistently the hottest in the house, ugh). This means that my skin generally gets super dried out all over, especially in the winter, if I don’t do something about it before I go to sleep. So to avoid “alligator hands” and “snakeskin lips”, I smooth lotion on my hands and put on lip balm, usually with petroleum. This takes about 1-2 minutes.

Muscle and Joint Care

Finally, I get in bed, turn on my TV, flip to YouTube, and pull up a video of my very newest nighttime routine: bedtime yoga! (That link is the video I use every night, and it’s great even for non-flexible beginners like me!)

Before starting this super gentle yoga flow, I generally woke up feeling like absolute dog poop–horribly sore and stiff all over? like I’d been run over by two buses and a steamroller during the night. I was also very skeptical that a bedtime yoga routine could change that. I thought I’d be bored or in pain doing these poses.

But instead, I’m actually enjoying doing yoga this time–I’m in bed, so I’m not experiencing the pressure and pain I usually feel trying to do stuff on the floor. I also get to enjoy how the fan blows over me like I’m at the spa, and the coolness comforts me as I stretch away some of the daily aches and pains. I do what I can, listen to my muscles when they holler for me to stop, and don’t pressure myself to be some kind of yoga hero.

I do still wake up feeling like maybe one bus hit me during the night, but even after just 10 days of practice, I’m already getting a bit more flexible. Hoping I can keep this up and see even more improvements over time!

Summary

I find that this evening routine helps me relax and have some fun in the evenings, even as I’m taking care of my body in specific ways. Is there anything you’d adopt from this routine? Let me know in the comments!

Dealing with Negative Opinions

Teachers, bosses, older family members, and other humans in positions of power over our lives are still just human beings, flawed and capable of bias. But it’s very easy to forget that when we are young or unsure of ourselves, and thus trust the opinion of someone seemingly “older and wiser.”

Sometimes, we hold on to these folks’ negative opinions much longer than we need to, especially when those negative opinions are about us. We hold on because we trusted them, or we may have even loved them. How could someone we love and trust lie to us about who we are, after all? Surely they spoke the truth when they told us we weren’t going to amount to anything, that we’d never be enough, that we were just bad and wrong, unfixable?

But this could not be further from the truth.

Truth is, those we trust and look up to can be cruel to us because they are jealous, intimidated by us, or just personally dislike us. There could be any number of reasons why they say and do these things, and none of them have to do with us. But especially when we are young and impressionable, it’s easy to believe these kinds of lies…which means we can find ourselves in a great deal of pain and suffering over it, even years later.

I’m currently trying to break away from similar false teachings about myself, and if you’re struggling with this same issue, I encourage you to remember this:

Others’ opinions are not fact.

It may have been a few days since “the incident,” a few months, or even a few years or decades, but I can imagine you still think about it, and it still hurts.

I’ve been there. And I want you to know you can be free of it today.

Ball that wad of opinion up and chunk it in your mental trash can, hard as you can. It means absolutely NOTHING. Not even if it came from a loved one. Not even if it came from someone who said you could trust them. If it’s hurting you, if it’s damaged how you think of yourself, if it’s holding you back, chuck it out like the rotten egg it is! Imagine that stinking opinion flying out your mental back door. Bye Felicia!!! LOL!

(It doesn’t even matter how long you’ve held on to that opinion. If you’ve never known you could be free of that garbage thought before this moment, there’s no shame in that. There’s only the impending joy of being free. Go ahead and fling it, and laugh as it flies away. ❤️)

Whew.

Been away caring for my dad after he had a second stroke on January 19th. He’s up and around on a walker again, back in physical therapy, and improving a bit every day, but it was pretty rough for a while there.

Tonight I just had a little bit to share: I am so grateful for those in my life who help me out and give me breaks, especially during this season of caregiving. I’m pretty terrible at taking care of someone–I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough, not attentive enough, too worn out to do the job right. But when others give me a chance to rest or help me do a difficult task, it becomes easier. It helps so much to know I’m not having to do this all alone.

If you know someone who is caregiving, check and see what minor tasks you can help with. Even just running a load of laundry, bringing a takeout meal, or sitting with their loved one while they run errands will help.

No, I Can’t Actually “Decide to Be Happy”

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Anybody else tired of seeing this utter tripe go around on social media?

This might pass for pithy wisdom about life and the mind, but to me, it teaches at least 3 very wrong and dangerous ideas about happiness and emotion in general. Here are my arguments against each one:

1: Happiness is temporary, like every emotion.  It is not meant to be a permanent condition, only a fleeting feeling, so one cannot maintain it.  This image shames people for being unable to remain in a state of happiness/positivity, but that just isn’t psychologically feasible or even possible.  Nor is it healthy to keep chasing happiness at the expense of all else.  Sometimes you will be sad, angry, afraid, etc., and the sooner you can accept those emotions as part of the human experience, the sooner you can let them pass.  Trying to be happy/positive all the time is like trying to control the weather to have only sunny days –it’s not gonna happen AND it’s not good for us in the long term.

2: Emotion is not something we can actually control with our thoughts.  You can have all the good intent in the world when you wake up, and you still won’t be able to control your emotions like this image states you should.  The truth is, emotions are affected by illness, injury, allergies, stressors from family and/or work, sleep quality, the dreams you had last night, and a lot of other factors which you can’t truly control.  This fallacy is dangerous because it suggests that feeling negative emotions is a character flaw and a choice, when it is most certainly not.

3: Shame, guilt, fear, and blame are not healthy motivators for change.  The arrogant, judgmental tone in this image is what really gets my goat–it uses these four negative emotions to get across a point about waking up positive!  How much sense does that make?  We are highly motivated by these things, which is why so many teachers and writers use them, but this mentality of “you choose to be wrong, so you should be ashamed” ultimately blights our mindsets and stunts our emotional growth.  A much healthier motivator set is acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, and respect–all of which this image is sorely lacking.

Let’s not poison our 2019 with teachings that dump emotional garbage on us like this.  Let’s instead think critically about what we see and share, really dig into what others say we should believe.  Who knows, it could change our lives and our minds for the better.

P.S. For more on happiness and emotions in general, check out The Happiness Trap–I’m enjoying my read-through thus far, and it’s helped me a lot!

Out of Church at Christmas

This is something I wrote on an online forum about Christianity and church attendance, and I thought it would be appropriate to share here. Christmas Eve sure looks different to me this year!

Church is just plain difficult for me. I really tried for 22 of my 34 years to make myself like church because it’s what “good people” do; I threw myself into every ministry I could, taught Sunday school for 7 years, sat through hundreds of repetitive, interminably LONG sermons, served in witnessing and missionary work that felt more like a multi level marketing scheme selling Jesus, and yet I’m empty. Everything I did was a performance, a show I thought was for God but ended up being absolutely meaningless.

I’ve been out of regular church attendance 7 months, but the Christmas season feels strangely freeing. For the first time in years I don’t have to be part of a Christmas cantata or do anything else that makes somebody else’s season bright but makes me harried and stressed. My Sunday mornings are now my own to play my piano and talk to God as I need to. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to that trapped, passive existence in a pew, scared to make noise unless somebody asks for it.