My Sunday Reset

When met with stress and hard times, people develop interesting coping skills. Whatever works and feels good, really.

Without really planning it or meaning to, I’ve developed a covid coping skill around taking hot baths. Like, ridiculously long, hiding-from-my-family marinating.

Pre-covid, I’d only take baths as a special treat, usually on Mother’s Day and any other random day I needed to feel pampered. Two-three times a year. Last spring, I decided out of the blue that a hot bath was in order. Maybe this started with Mother’s Day 2020 and I just kept going? Quite possible.

Back then, I’d dump in whatever bubble bath my kids had in their bathroom and I’d make the water as hot as it’d go. I’d drag in my hamper and place my laptop on it so I could watch a movie. Or I’d bring a book, my phone, or have all three. You know, just in case. I’d light a smelly candle whose scent my husband can’t stand, and I’d be in business. I’d soak until the water was cold and my hands were wrinkly, and then I’d soak some more. Eventually, I’d actually clean my hair and body and then rinse off all the soapy residue in the shower before reentering the real world.

Once winter started seeping into my bones and soul, I upped my game. I ordered proper Epsom salts and for Christmas and I asked for a bathtub pillow and one of those fancy bathtub trays so that I didn’t have to drag in my hamper and crane my neck to the side in order to watch a show or twelve. By the time New Years rolled around, I was feeling bloated and junky from too much sugar and probably dairy (the jury is still out, but that’s another blog post entirely) and my husband and I started walk/jogging at least four miles every Sunday – rain or shine but mostly rain. The only exceptions were when we escaped to the beach for my birthday and when Oregon froze over (not nearly as bad as Texas, but too many Oregonians are STILL without power). So, I’ve been taking a scorching hot bath every Sunday after our run in the cold and wet.

Sometimes – often – I spend some time in the water being still and quiet. No screens, no words, no distractions. I breathe and I let my arms float. It’s like returning to the womb, being vulnerable and suspended in warmth. Evoking my high school freshman English teacher, the water here and the ritual in which it is used is a symbolic rebirth of sorts. It’s my attempt to wash myself of my stress and watch it flush down the drain when I’m done. I shut out the noise and the world and just be. Hopefully emerging feeling refreshed and clean and rested and calmer, more centered.

That’s what’s become of my Sundays.

What coping skills and rituals have you developed since covid hit?


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Only a Hippopotamus Will Do

Today, I did something that I am pretty sure I’ve never done.

I listened to Christmas music way early.

I know, I know. Some people do this all the time and some people are chipper and some people can bite me.

It’s not that I don’t like Christmas music – I do! It’s just that I love Halloween more, and I respect doing holidays in order, and I don’t want to make Christmas music feel less special by overplaying it. You know?

At any rate, today I was daring to feel thiiiiiis much more hopeful about the outcome of the election (I kid you not, I’ve literally been breathing more easily today. I’ve felt lighter.) and I started working on Christmas lists for myself and my kids. I asked my daughter what she wanted for Christmas and, without hesitating, said “a car.” She’s three.

From there, I got “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” stuck in my head and so then I needed to hear it, and after that YouTube took it from there. I was dancing and singing and shaking my butt and it felt so wrong and yet so right.

As an afterthought, I’ve also begun to realize that I’ve been doing things early (for me) and speeding things up in an attempt to try and make time pass faster because, in my mind, if time passes faster, the sooner this pandemic will be over and I can hug my friends and family again.

Usually, I’m the type of person who lingers. I like to savor moments and try to stretch things, wringing out all possible enjoyment. But this year, the day after Halloween was a Sunday and I…just found myself cleaning up the decorations. I never do that. But I had decorated early in the first place, and it was a weekend day so I had the time and I just…felt…done. Like it was time to move on.

Just like now, where I’m so done. We’re heading into winter and dear lord I need some cheer in my life. So if that means extending the Christmas holiday, so be it.

Also, a hippo would either trample you or eat you alive. Zero stars, do not recommend.


Day 6

Ways I Combat Seasonal Depression

Hello, dear Psychos, and welcome to Day 8.

Seasonal Depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately SAD) is a real thing. Oregon is cold, it’s dark, and it’s freakin gray. It’s hard to get out of bed some mornings, and I often can’t get warm, even in my own house. It’s no mistake that Jo Rowling (we’re on a first name basis, people) gave the dementors, a metaphor for depression, the power to create an icy chill in their midst while sucking the soul out of their victims. When I’m cold, like that chilled-to-the-bone feeling, I’m irritable. Moody. Unable to feel contentment. I feel like crawling back into bed.

I have several tricks up my sleeve to try and keep the soul-sucking dementors at bay. I wish I had a magic wand, but I guess my Hogwarts letter got lost in the post.

Until that ruddy post owl is found, here are the things I try:

Note: This post is not a replacement for real, amazing therapy. These are simply things that work for me personally. Psychology Today is a great place to start looking for a therapist if you’re in the market, as it were.

  • My light therapy lamp

Last year, I finally went out and got myself a happy lamp! Getting up in the morning is hard for me, especially in the winter time when it’s pitch black outside. Somehow, that just seems wrong for a person to have to function in those conditions. I just got my lamp back out for the season, and I put it on my bathroom counter and flick it on as soon as I get out of bed. It’s on and shining into my eyes for about 10-15 minutes as I get ready in front of the mirror. It helps to perk me up in the mornings and makes me feel less dead inside. I wish I could get the effects for longer, but I have active kids who need to be places and I no longer sit in one place for very long. At this point I’ll take whatever I can get.

  • My slippers and hats and sweatshirts and blankets. And sometimes my cat.

Did I mention that I get cold in the winter? I’m actually always cold, but in the winter I’m knocking-on-death’s-door cold. I still can’t believe that I survived living in Boston for two years. I attempt to stay warm by wearing fuzzy slippers. I have ones with down feathers in them. And memory foam. I also have those buttery-soft slipper-socks. When I’m feeling saucy, I’ll wear slipper-socks and slippers at the same time. It’s also not unheard of for me to wear a jacket indoors, or one of my many knit hats. The couch is covered with blankets. And when I don’t hate my cat (and when she doesn’t hate me), I will allow her to sit on my lap to keep my nether regions from frosting over. When animals aren’t total assholes, they can be kind of comforting.

  • Those microwavable ricey/beany heat pad thingies

They are warm when I am not. The end.

  • Hot drinks, sometimes with sugar and caffeine

In the winter, I’ll often make hot decaf tea in the afternoons and evenings (in addition to my normal caffeinated morning beverage) to take the chill off, but also because they provide this psychological cozy boost. I enjoy feeling the warm, solid mug between my palms and breathing in the sweet, warm vapors. The Dutch call this feeling gezellig, which roughly translates to “cozy,” and I find myself often chasing it.

  • FIRE. (Candles and the fireplace)

First off, let me just say that Oregonians have a weird obsession with scented things and lighting shit on fire. Haven’t any of you heard of a spare the air day?! Having said that, I do enjoy the occasional scented candle or switching on our gas fireplace because Oregon creeps up on you after a while. It’s the warmth, but it’s also the psychological boost from the bright, flickering lights and the yummy, spicy, earthy, comforting scents that can fill up the house and my soul.

  • Music

Music is the perfect drug; there is a piece of music to induce any mood you’re after, with little to no side effects. Spooky Halloween music, cozy Christmas music, after dinner dance party music (pants optional). Music shoos them dementors straight back to Azkaban. Also, if you don’t get these Harry Potter references, consider yourself on notice.

  • People

I tend to isolate when I’m anxious and depressed, so I schedule events on my calendar to get me out of the house and interacting with humans over the age of 5, even if it’s cold and rainy and gross and disgusting outside. We might get wet or cold or muddy or all three, but at least we have a fun time hanging out with others, and then we’ll get warm and gezellig once we’re back home again.

  • HUMOR!!!!!! DEAR GOD, THE HUMOR!

Humor is my EXPECTO PATRONUM!!!!!! Laughter boosts the mood and the immune system. It brings people together, and holy crap it makes me feel less alone. The best cross-section of humor and mental health I can think of can be found at The Bloggess. Jenny suffers from anxiety and depression, but she doesn’t let that get in the way of being fucking hilarious. She’s the reason I started blogging, and I love her and I met her once and she signed my DSM because that’s how deep her commitment to hilarity runs. She normalizes and humanizes mental illness, makes me feel less alone, and makes me laugh – which makes me feel better. Boom. If you’re at all interested, read her blog, check out her books – geez, I wonder if she’ll pay me for this? Shout out, Jen! Call me.

As an example to show how much Jenny Lawson just gets me, here are her calendar pages for October and November:

 

She gets me.

 

The timing is no mistake

 

Ok, I’ll stop here. I hope this is helpful for some people. TELL ME – What do you do to combat the cold, dark, gray, damp winter months of torture?!

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Tough Right Now

Life is really tough right now.

I knew it would be, but this doesn’t make it any easier.

People ask how I am doing, and what am I supposed to say?  I tell them the truth – that it’s hard and that I am doing the best that I can – but if I truly stop and express to them just how hard and just how much I struggle, then I fear I’ll just fall apart.

I need more human contact.  My son needs more human contact.  It’s good for us.  But getting there, getting OUT, is SO. FREAKING. HARD.

Today we got up and tried to get to playgroup.  I got up around 7:45.  The playgroup started at 10:30.  By 11:45 I was still feeding my youngest a bottle.  I texted to cancel.  We ended up taking a walk, by ourselves, in the freezing cold because it was the easiest and quickest way to get outside.  Yes, it was better than nothing, but man, it sucked.

And that’s the thing – I don’t expect perfection, but I feel like I am trying my hardest and that I’m still failing.  At some point in the day, I’m always failing SOMEbody.  Sometimes it’s me (because I can’t make social contact with friends), or the baby (because she’s screaming hungry and has to wait), or my toddler (because he’s screaming that he wants to go outside but has to wait), or my husband (because he listens to me complain and cry and fall apart).

I usually start the day off trying my best to cope, like today.  But the time ticks by and more and more gets in the way of reaching our meager goals (getting to playgroup), when it finally comes crashing down because my toddler kicks me in the jaw and I burst into tears, or my baby won’t nurse even though I know she’s hungry and I burst into tears.  These days, it’s rare to get through the day without feeling like the walls are crashing down on me.

I have glimpses of hope and reminders that life gets better.  I try and hold onto those.  But living in the moment requires breaking down, because the here and now is often unbearable.  That’s why I am always on my damn phone – if I can just check out for a minute, maybe I can regroup and reenter my life.  Or just pass the time; maybe when I lift my head, things will be different.  Better.

So I’m coping.  At least I am getting more sleep these days, but I am still choosing sleep over most other things.  I choose sleep over chores, over human interaction, over getting out of the house.  Because if I am not moderately rested, nothing else matters.  That may sound dramatic, but it’s true.  Here’s the catch, though: if I’m not a zombie physically (sleep deprived), then I’m a zombie emotionally (isolated).  It’s like I can’t win.

Not to mention that this winter, everyone and their mom is sick.  Everyone in my family was sick a month ago, including my newborn, and that was pure hell.  Less sleep and meeting with other people all mean a higher chance of getting sick again…so perhaps hunkering down is what we just need to do right now, even though I don’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter at the moment.  I suppose all these circumstances just mean I super prioritize what get togethers we try and attend.

Lest I begin rambling, I will simply repeat my point in closing.

Life is really tough right now.

Maybe Spring Will Come Early

About every 6 months or so I find myself rewatching Eat, Pray, Love.

It’s a story that really speaks to me.  It’s about a woman traveling physically, but also emotionally and spiritually, to find herself.  To reinvent herself.  To heal herself.  I find that message incredibly inspiring and hopeful.  So I watch it when I feel myself needing an extra injection of hope.  The book is better, of course, but I am a slow reader and I need the injection to be quick and effective.

I recently watched it again.

This time of year is hard for me because the holidays are over, my birthday is over, and I am ready for winter to be OVER.  Every spring, I feel myself reawaken with increased energy, hope, possibility.  And I just can’t wait for the spring, so I suppose watching the movie was my way of trying to tide myself over.

One aspect of the storyline is comparing Americans to Europeans in certain ways.  An Italian gentleman says that Americans know entertainment, but they don’t know pleasure.  Then he explains an Italian concept he calls the pleasure of doing nothing.  The main character then interprets this in her own way and makes a simple meal (boiled egg, asparagus, pasta, etc.) and eats it on the floor while reading the paper and wearing a lovely nighty.  In my own attempt to stretch the power of this movie as far as it will go, I made my own pleasure of doing nothing meal.  I rarely cook, so this was special and made me feel domestic and feminine.

At the risk of rambling, this movie also brings up a lot for me.  They talk about weddings.  Love.  Faith.  Travel.  Life.  Food.  I suppose each one of those could be its own post.

Lately, I’ve felt a growing urge to create and write, but I have all these half-posts in my head.  Today I sat down and just forced myself to start writing the first half in hopes that the second half would just manifest itself, as has happened in the past.  And as you can read, that didn’t happen today.  But I’m about to hit Publish because at this point I just want to put something out there.

Maybe this will get the juices flowing.  Maybe I’ll write more about Eat, Pray, Love.  Maybe spring will come early.

The Gray

Today I took a walk with Dylan, and I am so glad I did.

We squeezed it in, forced it into the tiny space of time between the end of cleaning up from lunch and the moment when D self-destructs without warning, in need of a nap.

I am glad I forced it.

Why?

Because I can feel the Northwestern winter creeping up on us all too soon and it’s freaking me out.

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We had a few days of gray and rain and coolness already, and I hoped that we hadn’t said goodbye to summer already.  At this time last year, I remember it still being quite hot, or is that just me seeing through the foggy, thick pea soup of having a newborn and carrying around the extra heat-producing baby weight and wanting sleep so badly I’d do something illegal to get it…?

I can handle the depressive gray for a few days here and there.  And when I know it’s only temporary, then I actually like a change of pace where the weather’s concerned (of course, then my therapist self reminds me that everything is temporary if you give it enough time….so there).  Last Sunday I actually started to feel that twinge of excitement and coziness that I get around Halloweentime.  It makes me want to throw on a sweater, watch movies, and consume warm, sugary beverages (as opposed to the warm months, which make me want to consume cool, sugary beverages).

This will be my third winter but only my second fall in the Northwest.  This year, approaching Fall and Winter feels different.  Last year, I had a snuggly newborn and I was overwhelmed and tired and had a great excuse not to go anywhere or see anyone.  I didn’t get dressed, and I breastfed and cuddled and snoozed and rocked and bounced and sang and ate and watched TV.  Yeah, the weather sucked, but I was too wrapped up in my own personal ball of crazy – each gray day blending into the next – that I didn’t notice.  Or maybe it was that the gray backdrop matched my gray days and so everything seemed to fit.

But now – now I have a kid on the verge of walking.  He wants to MOVE.  And go outside and see things and explore.  And as for me, I want a life, too.  Seeing the world through his eyes also makes me want to go outside and see things and explore.  But the weather.  The gray.  That makes it hard.  It’s like The Nothing from The Never Ending Story.  Sounds a bit dramatic, but I assure you, Seasonal Affective Disorder is real and it sucks.  I have to push through it and I am not looking forward to pushing.

Which reminds me why I pushed to get outside and walk today.  Because it was SO NICE outside.  It was beautiful, and for that I am very thankful.  School was just letting out, and I enjoyed getting to see all the littles getting picked up by their parents who love them.  Dylan and I watched and I told him that’ll be us in 4 short years.

Four very short gray winters from now.