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The fog is lifting February 21, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Depression, life, thoughts, Uncategorized.
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I’ve been a bit distracted the past week or so and my writing has suffered. . As my last post indicates, I spent much of the week in a fit of depression. I’m not often hit by those crawl-under-the-covers-and-call-in-sick-to-life spells. There have only been a small handful of times when I just couldn’t face the world. Those episodes usually hit the day after a particularly emotionally grueling issue with my ex or kids. On the other hand, I have for years struggled with a constant, vague unease and even called myself a “high functioning depressive.” I recently found out this actually has a name — Dysthymia.

According to Web MD, the symptoms of dysthymia are the same as those of major depression but not as intense:

  • sadness or depressed mood most of the day or almost every day
  • loss of enjoyment in things that were once pleasurable
  • major change in weight (gain or loss of more than 5% of weight within a month) or appetite
  • insomnia or excessive sleep almost every day
  • physically restless or rundown that is noticeable by others
  • fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness or excessive guilt almost every day
  • problems with concentration or making decisions almost every day
  • recurring thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plan, or suicide attempt

One of the main symptoms is this is a chronic condition, lasting for years. I once read a line from Dustin Hoffman where he said “”It’s not that I’m really depressed, I’m just a little bit sad all the time.” (I’m sure he said that much more eloquently–I’m going on memory here and I can’t remember where I read it. I can’t go back and verify and I’m not finding the quote easily online. I did however find this statement that I totally identify with:  “It’s tactile, a green knot in my stomach”. That doesn’t really fit in what I’m writing here but I  couldn’t leave it out entirely. It captures perfectly how I felt for years, so here you go. Now, back to the subject at hand…) I’ve lived with that vague sense of sadness far too long, telling myself that what I felt was normal, or that it would get better soon. Meanwhile the reality was that I trudged through life as though I was wading through hip deep mud.

Last year I decided I’d had enough and talked to my doctor. We worked out a plan to address the depression and it has been working well. At least it was working well until a couple of weeks ago when it was as though someone flipped a switch that knocked all the wind out of my sails. There it was, staring me in the face again. I called my doctor, we adjusted the plan, and here I am, making my way out of the fog.

In the midst of the fog, life has continued marching on. Valentine’s Day, possibly my least favorite holiday, came and went. In my opinion, the best thing about Valentine’s Day is the half-priced chocolate on February 15. Half Price Chocolate Day is a holiday I look forward to eagerly. I confess–some of that chocolate made its way home with me.

I’ll post an update soon on my grocery adventures and the relative success of my no spending money year. Soon, but not tonight as it’s past my bedtime and that darned alarm goes off way too early. Sweet Dreams my friends.

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Depression is a hard taskmaster February 14, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Depression, thoughts, Uncategorized.
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Depression feels like skimming the surface of my life, knowing there is depth but unable to engage. Able to begin things but unable to complete them because I lose interest or am dissatisfied with the result. It brings my biggest faults to the forefront and hides my best traits. It keeps me off-balance all the time, as if I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Bad news seems imminent. Those who say “happiness is a choice” cut me to the core. Do you think I choose to feel this way? Yet I wonder… what have I done to bring it on? Is it something I’m eating? Not enough sleep? Do I need supplements? Is this a spiritual problem? Intellectually I know it is not true, but Depression tells me I am a failure. I’m sure I’m about to be fired for not meeting the mark. I want to hide and sleep is ever appealing because I can literally pull the covers over my head. Sometimes even in sleep there is no rest. My dreams are full of anxiety, of being chased and trying to hide. My day is spent putting up a good front, hoping no one suspects and I go home exhausted from the effort*.

Depression is a hard taskmaster.

*This one is partly depression, partly introversion. I’m not shy and like being with people (most of the time) but, as an introvert, it’s also draining.

Gratefulness January 29, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Gratefulness, Thankfulness, thoughts.
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I belong to a study group that meets periodically and earlier this month we were given an assignment. At the end of every day we are to reflect over the day and note what it is that we are the most grateful for and what we are the least grateful for. It might be an event, big or small, that made an impact or perhaps it’s considering how I made an impact on others. I started doing this a week or so ago and it occurred to me, that I don’t really know what “grateful” means. Is it simply a synonym for “thankful” or is there a real difference between the two?

Dictionary.com to the rescue!

grate·ful

adjective

1.
Warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received;
thankful:
I am grateful to you for your help.
2.
Expressing or actuated by gratitude:
a grateful letter.
3.
Pleasing to the mind or senses;
agreeable or welcome;
refreshing:
a grateful breeze.

There are definitely some clues here. What are some of the words that jump out at me?

Appreciative

Kindness or benefits received

Refreshing

Pleasing to the senses

Even though “thankful” is up there as part of definition one, I think I’m beginning to see how gratefulness is different. I love the third definition… agreeable or welcome… a grateful breeze. It seems to allude to peacefulness.

Looking a little deeper on the definition page I find this contrast:

Thankful describes an appreciative attitude for what one has received.

Grateful indicates a warm or deep appreciation of personal kindness as shown to one.

Thankfulness seems to be a response to getting or having stuff. I’m thankful for a warm, dry place to sleep, for plenty of healthy food to eat, for good music to keep me company and for delicious coffee to drink.

Gratefulness, on the other hand, seems to be a response to the thoughtful actions of another person. I’m grateful for the note left on my desk, for the thoughtfulness and caring behind the perfect gift, for a meal prepared with love, or for a door that’s opened while I’m fumbling for my keys.

The meanings of thankful and grateful definitely overlap and in many cases could be used as synonyms, but I’m beginning to see a difference between the two.

Right now, in this moment, what are you most grateful for?

Do you hear what I hear? January 25, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Centering, Listen, randomness, thoughts, Uncategorized.
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I was having one of Those days today: Car issues — the cold this week hastened the demise of my car battery and since it’s going to the shop for that, I may as well ask them to fix that slow leak in my tire. I only need to add air to the tire every three weeks or so, but that’s about three weeks too often. Computer issues — couldn’t stay connected to work and had to reboot three times. I’m losing badly in one of my Words With Friends games (somehow that doesn’t seem to balance that I’m winning another game by a huge margin). Too much to do for work and too much distracting me at home. Would I make it to the library in time to pick up my reserved books or would they send them back before I got there? Do I need to pick them up today or by tomorrow? Is snow expected tomorrow when I need to drive to Chicago? Will the shop fit me in and get the battery switched out today or will I have to wait until tomorrow? Just how much is it all going to cost me anyway? It wasn’t a bad day so much as just an unsettled one. I just couldn’t get my mind to slow down enough so I could focus on any one thing.

I’ve learned a little bit lately about slowing down, centering, being mindful, meditating…. Call it what you wish, I call it sanity. I’ve been trying lately to live in the moment. Yeah, I know that sounds like some New Agey, Hippie, Wacko talk, at least if you come from my Fundamentalist background. Meditation was seen as a bad thing, something those other religions practiced. People who meditated were somehow giving up control of their minds and opening themselves up to demons. Sometimes it’s hard to shake the things we’re taught when we’re young. Not that I ever really believed that about meditating, but those early tapes can be darned difficult to erase or record over. I’m no expert, goodness, I’m barely a beginner. I’m a pre-school meditator or maybe, if I stretch it a bit, a K-4. I know just enough to pull myself back from the edge of crazy once in awhile and to add a slice of peace into a hectic day. I want to learn more and I will, but this is where I am right now.

When my mind was jumping from one topic to another and I couldn’t focus enough to decide what to address first, I remembered to listen. It can help calm my mind if I take a deep breath, close my eyes (or not) and simply listen…

The hum of the computer… yes I hear that… that’s louder than it probably should be… I know we switched out the fan a few months ago and that helped but it still seems too loud… I wonder if I should have someone look at that… or I suppose it would be have someone listen to it… oh yeah… I’m supposed to be listening…. oh sigh… good, that’s another deep breath…..

The drip, drip, drip of the yogurt as it’s draining… man I’m glad I started making yogurt again and doubly glad I discovered Greek yogurt. It’s silly that I waited so long to try it, thinking it was just some trendy fad that I wasn’t going to buy into. Not me! I’ll take my yogurt thin, thank you very much… it’s kinda comforting listening to it drip… I wonder what I can do with the whey that drains off… maybe put some in my soup tomorrow?… I really hope I don’t burn the soup like I did last time… did I remember to take some sausage out of the freezer?… Hey! Brain! You stopped listening and started wandering again! You knock that stuff off!

I seem to be sighing quite a bit today… is it my frustration with the day in general? Sighs are deep breaths… maybe my body is telling me something… telling me what? I’m not sure, let me listen…

I’m cold… cold is not a sound, you’re supposed to be paying attention to sound. Well, it’s difficult to feel centered and mindful of the moment and listen when one is cold! Ok then, pay some attention to the cold… where are you cold? hmmm…. body scan…. my heels. My heels are cold. Seriously? Have you never heard of socks?

And so the day progressed. Every time I tried to slow my mind, it went off in another direction. I did learn a couple things… if I put some music on, I don’t hear the hum of the computer fan (Songs of Water, how I love you), and that there is a lot going on around me that I rarely even notice. Probably because it’s fighting for attention with all the noise in my brain.

Today is the day January 23, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Comfort Zone, life, thoughts.
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Today is the day.

Today is the day I stop playing games with myself, thinking I can pretend I don’t know what I’m doing. If I say my goal is to eat healthier so I can lose weight and BE healthier, then I need to reach for that goal. Eating cookies for breakfast is not a healthy choice. Cookies are a treat, a once-in-a-while, special occasion treat. They aren’t breakfast food (and they weren’t that exciting either).

Today is the day I clip on the pedometer and notice how much I’m moving, even if I happen to be working from home and only moving from my chair to the coffee pot and back. If at 2:00 the pedometer tells me I walked only 344 steps, then I need to face the truth that I walked only 344 steps. Pretending I’m somehow being more active does not help me on my journey. I need to be honest about how much I’m moving or not moving today because then maybe I will see the need to change.

Today is the day I begin to learn to do only one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is well and good when it means the dishwasher is running while I’m working because I loaded it when I took a break. Multi-tasking is the enemy of peace when it means I cannot focus on any one thing because I’m trying to do too many things. I cannot participate on a call, format a report and respond to e-mail at the same time and do any of them well.  I need to be in this moment, giving myself fully to whatever I am doing now. When I attempt to do too many things at once everything is shortchanged.

Today is the day.

Re-entering Reality September 16, 2012

Posted by phoenixhopes in life, lists, thoughts.
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I used to be a bit suspicious of hermits. After all, isn’t someone who chooses to go off by themselves for long periods of time, without even an internet connection, a bit of an odd duck? Truthfully, I’m an introvert by nature and require time alone to recharge my batteries. I’ve been known to spend a weekend holed up in my apartment, without talking to another person (as long as “talking” is defined as using my voice — I still plug in electronically via e-mail, Facebook and text). Instead my days are spent reading, creating, puttering, sleeping. Exactly what I was up to during that time was not important; the fact that I was doing it alone was the good part. But those people who go for weeks, months or even years without engaging another soul… I just couldn’t fathom it. Until now.

At this moment my brain is full and my heart is overflowing. I’m on overload and need time to process it all. There are so many thoughts I need to get out of my head and onto paper (or into the computer as the case may be) that it’s difficult to compose even a list, much less choose what comes first. I’d like to curl up with a journal and write until my hand cramps so badly I need to use the other hand to pry the pen out of my fingers. Once the Advil kicks in and my hand recovers from that writing session, I’ll move to the keyboard and empty more of my thoughts into the the digital archive. Maybe after a week or two of brain dump I might be ready to make sense of it all and format it into something intelligible. I want to ditch my normal life and hide out and become a writer. I think that means I want to be a hermit.

For now, this is only a fantasy. “Real life” is calling: back to the office in the morning, e-mail and paper mail to sort through, checking the news to find out what happened in the world while I was away for the weekend, catching up with family and friends. I wish I could wait a little while before entering that world. Unfortunately, I’m out of vacation time for awhile and can’t justify calling in sick so it’s back to that reality I go. And yet… and yet… I must find a way to make the time to write, to get the words and ideas and beauty and pain out of my head an into a language others can understand.

I started my journey this year with the goal to simply be more mindful in my life. The first month of the year is barely half over and already my direction is changing. Perhaps it is more accurately stated that my direction is expanding. Yes, I want to be mindful, but what does that mean and what does it include?

This morning I sat outside with my coffee, breathing in the country-style quiet, listening to the bird calls and the breeze in the leaves, and considering what it was I didn’t want to forget. I pulled out my phone and sent myself a text. (Please tell me I’m not the only one that does this — I send notes from my phone to my e-mail with some regularity.) This is what I want to see in my life and by extension, what is likely to show up on this blog. It’s not a complete list by any means, but it’s a partial list of what is important to my journey today.

Live mindfully

Give generously, with an open hand

Love freely, without judgement

Listen to the wind

Ponder, and document those ponderings

Say yes as much as possible, but don’t be afraid to say no when appropriate

Remember what is important; let that shape my life

A vacation into hermitude might be nice to jumpstart my creativity but it is rather unlikely I’ll be given that opportunity any time soon. Or any time ever. Rather than becoming a hermit my challenge is to apply that first item and live my life in such a way that that I have time to write. I can’t stop life and take a season to do nothing but write and process my thoughts. I can remember that writing is important and learn to structure my life in a way that shows it’s priority.

On Comfort Zones and Finding Magic September 3, 2012

Posted by phoenixhopes in Comfort Zone, life, thoughts.
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On occasion, when my pastor is preaching, my mind wanders off on a rabbit trail. It starts with something she said, but then, well, I stop paying attention and go off on my own little tangent for awhile. It happened again yesterday. Clarissa quoted from the book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Gotta Get Out of the Boat (or maybe she just quoted the book title – I, uh, stopped listening for a bit) and said our Fears are our Boats. That got me thinking…. What is it I’m afraid of? Really, truly afraid and not simply unnecessarily worried? Probably just one thing/person – my ex-husband. This is the only fear that causes nightmares and it’s a healthy fear, born from reality. Although I cannot let it control me and limit my life, I am wise to be aware and to be wary.

There is so much more than true fear that holds me back, so much more that keeps me in the boat. It’s not fear but instead it’s that damn Comfort Zone. Last night, as I was falling asleep I wondered… Is there anything inherently wrong or dangerous with wanting to be comfortable? Wrong or dangerous, probably not. But it certainly is limiting. If my goal is to stay comfortable there is so much of life I will avoid. If I’m avoiding things in life, then I’m not really living it to it’s fullest.

Of course, there are some things I’ve tried and know they are just not my cup of tea. Rollercoasters. The last time I went on one, maybe 8 or 10 years ago, I decided I was old enough to embrace the fact that they do not bring me even one tiny ounce of joy. I know the scare is part of the appeal but I just don’t get it. I spend the time in line with a knot in the pit of my stomach and spend the ride with my eyes clenched shut, screaming in panic. There is no release when it’s over. I just want to collapse in the bushes until the waves of panic are done, and never, ever do that again. I feel no compulsion to challenge that comfort zone.

Or Lima Beans, the nastiest food God invented. I will never willingly eat a Lima Bean. Please, if you ever invite me for dinner, don’t serve Lima Beans.

Beyond those few things I’ve tried and know they just aren’t for me, what do I gain by staying comfortable? Perhaps the better question is – what have I gained by pushing my limits?

My Comfort Zone keeps me safe. I know what to expect. I don’t have to think much. When I’m living here I tend to eat the same foods, read the same blogs (the ones I know I’ll agree with), work on easy projects, think the same thoughts and hang out with the same people. Living in my Comfort Zone is easy. I’m not challenged (or if I am, I put my fingers in my ears and sing “La, la, la, la… I can’t hear you”).

Sometimes, living here is what I need. I pull my Comfort Zone over me like a cocoon protecting me from the outside world. It can be a place of healing and restoration after one of “those” weeks. It is the solace of an old friend who knows me almost better than I know myself. My Comfort Zone is rest.

If living inside the Comfort Zone is rest, stepping outside is growth. This is where I learn to listen, to let go of my preconceptions, to really see. It is challenging myself to try new things. When I step outside I meet new (and usually interesting) people. My world gets bigger. I learn I am braver, stronger and smarter than I ever imagined was possible.

Stepping outside my bubble is not always my choice. Sometimes those who know (and hopefully love) me “volunteer” me for responsibilities or activities I would never choose on my own. Sometimes the crap that happens in life shoves me out and barricades the door. Living outside my Comfort Zone does not always feel magical. It can feel lonely and painful and insecure and I don’t like being there. I might not choose to step outside my Comfort Zone and it may take a while to find my way back to that safety and rest but, when I am outside, in the unknown, I will always learn and grow. The bonus is, if I look hard enough, I’ll also find the magic.

Just remember, I implore you, no Lima Beans.

My Very Own Personal Fiscal Year September 1, 2012

Posted by phoenixhopes in Consumerism, Goals, life, New Years, thoughts, Uncategorized.
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Later this month I turn 54, solidly in my mid-fifties, no hiding from middle age. (Honestly, I don’t expect to live to 100 or more so shouldn’t the fifties be called something other than middle age?) The main thing that I think about when I consider my age is that I really thought I’d have my life together by now. Instead, here I am still desperately trying to figure out who I want to be when I grow up.

I’ve decided to stop trying to figure that out and simply be who I am today. I am a woman, a mother, a friend, a church member, an employee. I read for fun, for information, for escape and watch movies and tv for the same reasons. I’m an introvert who can sometimes be quite outgoing. I’m single for now (hopefully not forever but I will never again compromise who I am to be with someone). I have trust issues: I’ll trust you until you hurt me and then I may never trust you again. I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. I have a difficult time-saving money because there always seems to be something important and urgent to spend it on. I was surprised to find out I like preaching. I tend to over commit. I am a much calmer person when I have a creative outlet of some sort. Sometimes I over think things. I like reading about politics but not so much discussing it. I’m rather competitive and not a very gracious loser. I hate being put on the spot. To sum it all up: I’m a complex person and although most of the time I’m satisfied with who I am, I can see at least some of my flaws well enough to want to work on them.

I decided to see the next twelve months as my very own personal fiscal year. A new birthday equals a new beginning. I want to take stock of where I am and think about where I want to be twelve months from now. My main goal is to be more mindful about my life – am I living a life that is consistent with what I say are my values? Where is my money going? How am I spending my time? How is my soul? What satisfies me?

I’ll use the blog to share the journey.

Waking Up the Phoenix September 1, 2012

Posted by phoenixhopes in randomness, thoughts.
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I’ve been quiet here for much too long. I knew I hadn’t written much but was surprised to see there have only been about a dozen posts since January 2010. I think it’s time to wake the Phoenix. 

I may not have written much here but I’ve thought about this blog almost every day. I considered never writing here again and starting over with something totally fresh and new. There are advantages to that option. It’s like seeing that new calendar every January with all the hopes and dreams for the year to come, or a new notebook with pages to fill. A fresh new blog for new adventures does have it’s attraction.

I decided to stay put because I didn’t want to lose the little history that is here. I am who I am. Even if no one else ever reads what came before, it’s there as a link to who I was and where I came from. It reminds me that I should never hide who I was but instead learn from the past and grow. (Not that there is anything juicy or earth-shakingly inspiring in the blog history. Or maybe….)

Once I decided to stay, I considered my focus. My kids are too old to start being a mommy blogger. I cook and knit and craft but the volume I create of any of those would never sustain a blog. I’m interested in politics and religion but not enough to focus on either, or to deal with the potentially volatile discussions that would ensue. I want to share the books and movies I read but does the internet really need another review site? Finally, I decided what I really want is all of the above.

I am a complex and ever-changing Phoenix – burned, broken, crushed – ever rising to new heights and new adventures.

One step at a time September 10, 2011

Posted by phoenixhopes in Goals, lists, Procrastination, randomness, thoughts.
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When I am feeling overwhelmed, I make lists. Books to read. Knitting to accomplish. Clothes to sew. Spring Cleaning projects to complete (and yes, I am well aware that it is now almost Fall), Closets to organize. Errands that simply must be run. Work projects that never end. Birthdays I don’t want to forget (but probably will). Letters to write. And on and on and on. Writing lists helps me stay sane. If it’s on a list somewhere then I can hope that someday, maybe, if I persevere and my luck holds out, everything will get done.

Lately I found I needed a new list just to keep track of the ever-reproducing stack of lists on my desk. Yes, life is busy and ever-changing. Not that this is a necessarily bad thing – busy is better than bored – but too often the busy-ness of the urgent leaves little to no time left for the gazillion and seven other important things I want to do. Like blogging, for instance.

“Get back to blogging” is high on every list of personal goals I’ve made in the past year. I say that writing is important to me, a way to process the events in my life, a way to move some things from the hamster wheel in my brain to a more concrete format, a way to remember things I would otherwise forget. But do I make it a priority? Not very often. I write in fits and starts, as evidenced by the history here. Of course, I do write things, many things, that never make their way to this public peek into my brain, but even that has been much lower volume than I would prefer lately.

Writing is only one of the items on my “Feed My Creativity” list. Potential knitting projects take up an entire page there is even a line item for “learn to crochet”. I’ve been hit by a sewing bug lately (fed by a combination of weight loss and the fact that sometimes it’s cheaper to sew than buy new clothes) and have an ever-growing list of projects calling to me. There are recipes I want to try, crafty ideas for Christmas gifts, and practicing the magic of making yarn out of wool.

I think I’ve realized that the only way I’m going to get things done is to learn to be just a bit selfish. That’s not always a bad word, you know. Sometimes “selfish” means “take care of yourself too” or “remember to feed your soul”. I’ve spent most of my life focusing on taking care of others (and let me unequivocally state I have no regrets about that!) but I think I’m moving into another phase. My kids are growing up. It’s not that they don’t need me – I think and hope they will always need me – but they need me in different and less labor intensive ways. I’m not obliged to a spouse or significant other so my time has become more of my own. My challenge now is to decide how to spend that time.

All that to say that you’ll be hearing from me a bit more often. How often? Who knows? One little baby step at a time and I’ll get back in the swing of things. My hope is that very soon writing and blogging will become a habit again instead of just one more item on my wish list.