Relaxing my grip on goals.

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”

…is a true statement, and also antithetical to pursuing goals, when you think about it from a certain angle.

I haven’t achieved all of my goals yet, but I will one day… and then what? What happens when you’ve achieved everything you’ve set out to achieve? What do you do then?

I’ve flippantly said that I’d die without goals, and in my darkest moments, I’ve believed it. Something’s shifted in my thinking this summer, though, and now, with the season changing and the year just about 3/4 over, I’m approaching my 51st birthday thinking that goals don’t matter as much anymore. How can they matter when I’ve been busy discovering how crazy exhilarating it is to conquer the present moment?

Let me tell you, it’s been so damn satisfying and fun making changes rather than running after goals. I guess what I’m saying, really, is that once I get my shit together, then I can laser-focus on future goals. That’s where I’ve been. I’ve been in the moment, but I haven’t been floating along in it all serene and zen. I’ve been shaking it up.

I still have goals for the future, of course, but I like what I’m doing right now. I don’t want “life to happen while I’m making other plans.”

Onward!

I’ve got the following slew of pics because I heard you when you said that you wanted to see: selfies of me in tees not included in my t-shirt post, pics of me with Geronimo, and more than one selfie at a time. I tried, anyway. I took all of these pics late this afternoon! The lighting is different in the interior pics because change of location means a change of natural lighting, and I don’t care to spend time messing with my selfies to make them look differently. I take it, I post it, that’s it. I’m wearing a Nine Inch Nails shirt today.

This one’s in my office – I’m sitting at my desk (with my back to it), and there’s a glow on the left side of my face from the pink salt lamp just below:

 

In my office

 

This next one is in my dining room, which is brighter and warmer in tone than my office. Yeah, I’m as awkward as ever holding a selfie stick. Eh.

 

In the dining room

 

Here’s my first attempt at getting a selfie with Geronimo! I had to point the phone down in order to get him in the picture.

 

With my scale-baby!

 

Callaghan took this one. You can’t really see Geronimo’s face, because the whole pic is hazy with the late-afternoon sun behind us. In fact, now that I look at it, can you even tell that he’s a tortoise?! I’ll work on these pics with Geronimo, for sure.

 

Courtesy of Callaghan

 

Until next week!

 

 

These are exciting times. (Mental health updates post!)

Since the weekend, I’ve been so stoked about rearranging the desk part of my office that I’ve forgotten to write. Then over the last two days I’ve been engaged in catch-up work on personal bookkeeping and accounting, and I’ve been so excited to be doing that that I kept forgetting to write even more. As I may have mentioned, I’ve been wrangling with depression to a slightly higher degree than usual these last few weeks, so being productive in creating new spaces and organizing numbers and files felt like a party.

One interesting thing I discovered about myself during this last little slump (which I’m sure was triggered by not having worked out in a while due to wound-healing) is that I get super sensitive to color when I’m in that mental state. I realized this the morning I put on one of my favorite t-shirts and immediately took it off because I wasn’t feeling it, or, rather, the wrongness of the color for that moment felt like a physical aggravation. It was definitely the color. I felt that if I had a super soft, thin, plain black t-shirt for every day of the week, I’d always be comfortable. (I have just one.) The other shirt I have that always feels right is this equally soft, thin shirt that I’m wearing at the moment:

 

Perfect.

 

The picture on the back is Donald Duck’s back, in case you were wondering.

Speaking of t-shirts, one of you requested to see my top 10 favorites. I would’ve taken those pics for today’s post, but I was too busy whooping it up rearranging furniture and organizing invoices and looking at my budget and accounts and shifting things around and whatnot. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll take pics of my favorite shirts so I can post them on Thursday!

Anyway, I’m feeling better now that I’ve been back at the gym consistently since two weeks ago Saturday, re-filling my empty feel-good fuel tank. Working out is straight-up medicine, guys. If you think you’re already in a good place, you’ll be surprised to find that there’s an even better place to be when you get your body moving. I’m always surprised by it, anyway, even though I know it.

 

 

Intuition: a partnership of gut and brain.

On a bloggy note, about half of what I plan to write doesn’t get written or completed. Today’s post is such a deviation, because today, I’m thinking about disciplines and organizations that taught me simple tenets I’ve never forgotten:

(From piano lessons) Hold back

(From Girl Scouts) Be prepared

(From the Army) Stay alert to stay alive

(From boxing) Keep your hands up and your chin down

Years ago, this young boxing-gym guy (18? 19?) I didn’t know very well refreshed me on all of these lessons together in one second. Our coaches had us sparring, so our mission was to try to hit each other while avoiding getting hit. One of his punches landed through a weakness in my defense. It was a solid right hand. The hardest hit I ever took was from him, and it was my fault, not his.

No one who’s seriously training in combat sports faces their sparring partner thinking, “This person isn’t really going to hit me.” Regardless of who your opponent is to you – friend, gym comrade, etc. – you expect them to try to hit you, and they expect you to try to hit them, and you both think about this as you mentally prepare your respective defense games… and that’s the whole point of the sport. The rules in a combat sports ring (ring, cage, dohyo, whatever) are clear-cut.

Unfortunately, the most treacherous ring of all is the world, itself. When you enter a combat sports ring, you know you’re going to get hit if you drop your guard or make poor strategic decisions. You know that the other person is there to destroy you, and that the only one you can trust to come to your defense is yourself.

In the ring of the world, we don’t know who’s going to do what, or if, or when. The hits we take in real life come in all forms. Every day brings news reports about crimes committed by people known and often loved by the victims, but still, you don’t go around thinking in defense mode around friends and loved ones. You trust that they won’t hurt you, because you have a relationship with an undercurrent of that trust serving as the foundation of your bond.

Trust is scary because it’s easily betrayed. Fortunately, we’re inherently armed. Whether I remember to use it or not, I know that I have one weapon to hold my trust in check: my intuition.

My intuition is a weapon of self-defense that I got for free because I was born with it. Humans are equipped with inner alarms critical to survival, yet it’s so easy to disregard them. Deception or bodily harm. Strangers or people you know. A “bad feeling” that changes your mind about going somewhere you’d planned to go, and then a fatal multi-car crash happens at the time you would’ve been there. Intuition is a partnership of gut and brain, and we all have it built inside of us.

It’s hard to always hear and heed intuition when there’s this other part of the brain that wants to override it for one reason or another.

 

Muntjac deer – my spirit animal (photo credit: L. Bruce Kekule)

 

It’s easy and even natural to drop guard, to read about a murder and say, that can’t happen to me.

Thinking about intuition always brings me back to those tenets I was taught in piano lessons, Girl Scouts, the Army, and combat sports training: Hold back. Be prepared. Stay alert to stay alive. Keep your hands up and your chin down.  

And listen. That’s the most important lesson of all. Our parents usually teach us that one.

 

 

Why I scroll past mental illness denial memes. (Thoughts on happiness as a state of being.)

Self-help has good intentions, but I think it’s gotten a little out of hand. I mean, I shouldn’t be, but I’m still kind of astonished when I scroll through social media and see that suddenly, everyone has become a life coach.

Wisdom wrapped up in little square boxes. I post memes, too, sometimes. The last one I posted said, “Reading can seriously damage your ignorance.” Most of the few I’ve posted have been fitness-related.

My pet peeve of the self-help meme universe is the genre I think of as “mental illness denial.” At the tired center of this genre, you get phrases like, “Happiness is a choice.” “Happiness is a choice, not a result.” “Today I choose to be happy.” “Happiness is not a feeling, but a choice.” And so on. I know that these are meant to serve as motivational, but I have a hard time with this category.

Happiness isn’t always a choice when you’re clinically or acutely depressed. The opposite of happiness is depression, and depression isn’t a choice, either. Happiness and depression are states of being, states unalterable by neat and tidy little happiness instructions. Glib quotes like “happiness is a choice” or “today I choose to be happy” can’t loosen bleakness embedded in your consciousness.

Dear Everyone Living with Mental Illness:

It’s not your fault if you can’t attain happiness by simply waking up and stating an intention to choose it that day. You’re not a failure. We know that “Today I choose to be happy” can’t account for a day that hasn’t happened yet. We know that a conscious navigation of our thoughts toward a mindset of happiness just isn’t possible all of the time.

Scroll on by those pebbles of wisdom online, because the last thing you need in front of your face when you’re struggling with depression is a meme suggesting that it’s your own fault if you’re not happy.

I get you.

What we might be able to attain is a state of being okay in specific instances; it’s worth floundering between anger and sadness in the process of talking ourselves into okayness with the situation. We have to get brave and get real with ourselves, and this can be difficult. It comes down to mental strength, an especially relatable concept for the mentally ill, as “okay” is more of a mindset into which we can will ourselves. For us, “okay” is “well.” Wellness is a solid aspiration.

Happiness is a state of being. It’s my humble opinion that the declaration “Happiness is a choice” cheapens the experience of being happy. I think it makes happiness superficial. (I may be interpreting the word differently than you do. Do you feel that happiness is the same as joyfulness? As contentment?)

We all have our definitions, interpretations, and strategies to get us through. A few of mine:

1). I work on reaching a state of okayness, and then I seize on that and do what I can with it. Okayness is a good foundation for me. It’s something I can top off with music, for instance… and then I can derive joy from those moments. It’s always the little things.

2). It sometimes helps to throw together a list of joyful little things, just quickly, without thinking about it. Reading over such a list can be soothing. I free-wrote a list for this post. It came out looking like this (in no particular order):

music.
poetry.
stories: fiction and creative non-fiction, whether depicted on the page or on a screen.
plants.
animals and their rights.
fitness and combat sports training.
paranormal, horror, thriller, action.
lipstick, band shirts, skin care.
sumo and mma.
desert and the sea.
black, gunmetal gray, periwinkle and other blue-violets.
tortoises.
cats.
volcanos.
albatross!
the zombie emoji.
food writing.
zodiac.
blueberry scented anything.
anticipation.
buddha.

3). I take a cliché of vague resignation like “Life is full of mysteries” and I tag “mysteries make life interesting” at the end. Then I have something of intrigue to ponder, rather than the hopeless quality of the mystery, itself.

4). I take optimism carefully. I’m all for optimism, but I’m even more for cautious optimism.

“Happiness is a choice” – not that easy. Such declarations in these self-help memes don’t account for we who battle depression. Don’t let them make you feel worse. We know we can experience moments of happiness… days of happiness, even. As for those other days, well, we shouldn’t be hard on ourselves. We know that we’re trying.

Love,
Kristi

~~~~~

Afternote: this pic is the last you’ll see of me in these glasses. Yeah, I got new ones. New prescription, new frames. It’s the little things.

 

Retired glasses. [23 February 2019)

 

 

The question: The fight. (Mental wellness post.)

I recently got to thinking about the perception that fighting is equated to violence. What follows here is a train of thought coming from this.

On a few occasions in the past, I’d been taken to task for my verbiage. It’s damaging to be flippant with our word choices, I’d been reminded. This is true, absolutely. I know this, and I appreciate the reminder. At the same time, the expressions I’d used on those occasions… “to fight to the death.” “To slay.” … what do these sorts of expressions mean to me? To vanquish.

Fighting isn’t necessarily violent, but it’s always a struggle. The truth is that we’re always fighting.

We fight constantly in some way or sense, for something, or for someone… or maybe just for ourselves. Perhaps our fight involves grasping for meaning in our current state of being, or in our lives, in general. Even as we meditate in mindful serenity, we know that somewhere inside, we’re fighting our way through an existential crisis. In my opinion, this struggle is simply a part of the human condition.

I don’t know what you’re fighting for, but I know that you’re fighting for something, because you’re human, and you’re alive.

Being alive means that we’re in conflict. Poets and writers are keenly aware that there can be no story, no plot without a conflict. We’re writing for a human audience; being in conflict is an intrinsic fact of being human. Thus, we weave conflict into our stories in order to give them meaning.

We fight all sorts of things: boredom, sleep, traffic, fear, temptation. We fight not to laugh. We fight to keep our mouths shut. We fight back tears. We fight to breathe. We fight for our rights, and we fight cancer.

When we discipline ourselves, it’s a fight. For instance, we discipline ourselves to abide by moderation, or to get ourselves to the gym. Disciplining ourselves to go to the gym is sometimes a fight so tedious, we benefit from arranging to meet with a comrade for mutual encouragement and motivation. It’s helpful and advisable to fight in pairs… to have a partner, a back-up.

We fight with ourselves when trying to start something. We fight with ourselves when trying to quit something.

We fight for our freedom. We fight for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

We fight injustices. We fight for those who don’t have a voice, or for those whose voices have been silenced.

We have so many fights, we can’t engage in them all. We have to pick the ones worthy of our attention, time, and energy. This is our personal judgement to make, which is, in itself, a fight.

It’s easy to forget that it’s not our place to pick others’ battles for them, and it’s a mistake to judge others for the fights they choose.

But it’s hard, isn’t it? When we feel strongly about something, it’s hard to say nothing when we see others expressing their own, strong feelings… feelings that oppose ours. Then we have to fight to remain civil. This fight within ourselves can be brutal. It’s fight on top of fight, and it’s harder when we know that losing is as easy as winning.

This is unavoidable, and it’s a part of the reason why I seriously contemplated leaving Facebook. All the fighting going on before my eyes over there gets exhausting. It’s not like I’m not also engaged in various fights of my own. Not one amongst us goes around free of conflict.

When combat sports athletes get tired during a fight, they get breaks. A bell rings, they disengage, and they retreat to their corners, where their corner-people are waiting to hydrate them, tend to their wounds, and prop up their morale with forceful yet encouraging words and directives. There’s a referee to stop the fight when things get out of hand… when the fighter can still walk away. It would be great if a bell could ring on social media every once in a while so we can go to our corners and compose ourselves.

A little kindness can go a long way in creating our corners of respite.

 

Growing in the dark

 

We can also breathe a little easier at night knowing that we survived another day. This is a victory. A vanquishing.

 

 

Staying.

Your irrelevant newsflash of the day: I’m keeping my personal Facebook account. Just so you know.

This was a grand decision. I’d about made up my mind to deactivate, as some of you are aware, and then I reconsidered. Like many of you, I had more than one foot out the door; I’d stepped almost all the way out the door, leaving just my shadow in Facebook. In my opinion, Facebook has become absurd on many levels. I was relieved to have decided to part ways with it… but that would have meant parting ways with everyone.

Confession: I loathe FB.

Conundrum: FB is the only way I can stay connected to many friends and most family.

Connections won. I see friends and family too seldom as it is… I’d miss them more were I to abandon my digital hub of connections.

Still, I have mixed feelings about this.

The poet Miss Dickinson comes to mind: in her later years, she reportedly never left her house, rarely left her bedroom, and spoke to visitors only from behind her closed door. Even more than living as a recluse, she seldom saw anyone. This could be me at some point, only my closed door would be a computer screen. It seems that the digital age has encouraged our inclinations toward complacency in solitude, because we don’t feel as alone when we’re linked to each other online.

I’m an introvert. I love to be alone. But I don’t see that I’d enjoy the life of a recluse the way Miss Dickinson did. In “I Had Been Hungry All the Years,” she wrote:

Nor was I hungry; so I found
That hunger was a way
Of persons outside windows,
The entering takes away.

One could say that the reason Emily Dickinson didn’t feel “hungry” was that she stayed inside. She shielded herself from wanting. Physical isolation was her comfort. She did have her liaisons, though. She kept up an active correspondence with many, writing hundreds of letters and poems over the course of years. Miss Dickinson was ahead of her time in more ways than one. She stayed connected through her letters and poems the way we stay connected through the internet.

I’m content to sit at home, alone and writing, most of the day and on most days… but I don’t want to be isolated.

 

(Captured in the wild with Nenette, August 7, 2018)

 

I enjoy the physical company of others – and not just at the gym! So I’ve been making more plans to have lunch or coffee with friends. I have some time, now, after all.

At any rate, I’m not sure how this post deviated from “I’m keeping my personal Facebook account” to a reflection on the habits of reclusive poets. To leave you with an almost as-irrelevant finish: I resisted the urge to fill this post with an exuberance of dashes in further homage to Miss Dickinson. Just so you know.

“That one time I went to the shrink…” (My worst therapist experiences!)

You’ve likely had at least one negative therapist experience if you’ve been in therapy for any length of time. This is normal; no one meshes with everyone. It’s like psych medication… you have to find what works for you. I’ve been lucky to have had mostly good experiences with my counselors over years of on-and-off therapy.

I do have a couple of bad experiences to share, though, so I thought I’d go ahead and do that since I regularly discuss my mental health adventures in this space. Moreover, I know it can help to hear about others’ bad experiences!

Let me say that my two unfortunate therapist experiences weren’t bad in the usual ways. That’s how my life works. I can’t just have a normal bad therapist experience. It has to be a really freaking bizarre therapist experience, maybe more bizarre than bad.

First, there was:

  • The shrink who ghosted me.

I’d gone to this counselor for several months. I thought we had a good rapport, so I was surprised when I went to my appointment one day and she stood me up… as in, I knocked on the office’s front door, and she didn’t come to answer it. She was there. I knew she was there. I could see the light on in her office through the glass. She just didn’t come to the door! I even called her as I stood outside. Maybe she can’t hear me knocking. She didn’t answer her phone.

We later re-scheduled. The same thing happened again. I don’t remember if there was a third time, but for all of her apologies and excuses, I never saw her again.

To be ghosted by someone in your personal life is one thing. (I’ve had it happen to me, and I’m guilty of having done it, myself. Not proud of it. Just being real.) But by a counselor? A therapist? I’d never heard of any professional in the field of mental health doing this kind of thing to a client.

You place your trust in your therapist, right? Trust is a fundamental of the therapist/patient relationship. That’s why you keep going back. You’ve established trust, and you’re confident that you’re in a safe place free of judgement. Trusting this particular counselor turned out to be a mistake. After those last experiences, I felt worse than I did before I started going to her.

I might as well have wired $1,000 to a Nigerian prince to get the riches promised, only to discover the scam and find myself $1,000 poorer.

 

Next:

  • The shrink who lectured me for an hour about the evils of gluten.

He was an interim counselor, so it was the one and only time I saw him. But during that one appointment, all he did was try to convert me to a gluten-free lifestyle.

His proselytizing had nothing to do with mental health. What happened was he started out reviewing my list of medications, noticed that I was seeing a rheumatologist for autoimmune issues, and decided that I could easily cure myself of everything. All I had to do was go gluten-free. Miracles happen once you quit consuming gluten. I spent the rest of the session receiving an education for which I never signed up.

And I mean, he went on at length into biochemical detail, even showing me anatomy graphics to illustrate how gluten was wreaking havoc on my immune system and destroying my body from the inside out. His conviction was profound. A true evangelist, he made sure to pull out a pamphlet for me to take home. His passion for the gluten-free lifestyle bordered on fervor that almost edged me out of the room, but I sat frozen in awe. Without a doubt, this was the most bizarre and unhelpful counseling session I’d ever attended.

Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried! Rest assured, most of my experiences have been good, if not excellent. The two that I’ve shared above are anomalies… don’t let them deter you if you’re thinking of seeking assistance. Talk therapy does many worlds of good. It does help.