Tag Archives: Mental Health

Peace and Cats

There is perhaps nothing more peaceful than sitting in a quiet house after a long, rather unfulfilling day at work and being surrounded by cats. Sleeping cats.

Just to my right is Pudge, our big, grey tabby cat, whose breath could knock out a rhinocerous, but he’s snuggled right up against my right thigh and purring softly as he sleeps. When he’s awake, his purr is the most amazing thing you’ve probably ever heard. You can actually feel it from quite a ways away, like the new $8,000,000 speaker we have at work that thumps and vibrates on the display table.

A bit further down the couch is Frodo, our “little” orange, toothless cat. He had to have all of his teeth pulled at once, so he just has two sticking up from the bottom or down from the top—he never lets me get close enough to see what’s up with the remaining ones—and he eats big chunks of dry food like it’s going out of style. He snores, but very quietly.

Three cushions down sits Kermit, Elizabeth’s Cuban boyfriend, and an all-black menace. When he was younger, we jokingly said his Mafia nickname was Pubes, because he has white chest, underarm, and pubic hair. He snores loudly and likes to stick his very white butthole in my face whenever he can. When E lived with us, she would also say he looked Cuban, like he needed one of those straw hats and a cigar. He does. She was right.

Across the room, on the floor, in her special spot, is Spaz, and it’s a mighty miracle that she’s not here in my lap, prohibiting my typing. She smells bad, her hair is constantly and magnificently matted, her teeth fall out occasionally, and her claws are very pointy in all the worst ways—I have numerous pairs of pants that have been ruined by her affections. She is my love, my harbinger of peace and wellness. We hold paws whenever possible, a habit that began when I was tired of being skewered, but that continues because having her paw in my hand heals me. Every time.

I look around and there are four animals within eye sight that don’t care if their electronic devices aren’t working; they don’t care if their email syncs or if they don’t know what their home button is. And I think we, as humans, have it all wrong. Life is about naps, food, and love. Life is about resting, snuggling, and love. Did I mention, life is about love?

I am so lucky to have a beautiful old dog and five odd cat children who love me unconditionally and who show me every day what life is really about.

Beauty and peace and love are where we find them. For real. And usually we find them right below our noses wherever we last look.

Mental Health

For the first time in my life, I called in to work and said I was having a bad mental health day. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more honest about my mental health, so I was honest. I didn’t say I had fallen down the back steps, I didn’t say I pulled a muscle in my back while shoveling, I didn’t say I had a migraine, and I didn’t say I had food poisoning from the Chinese buffet I didn’t stop at on the way home. See, there’s one thing I will lie about, just one, and that is what is hypothetically wrong with me so I can take a mental health day. Well, no more. I struggle, sometimes, and there is no need to hide it.

I am in the bell jar today. I called in sick today, because I was certainly not going to be my best self for my customers today. As much as some of them get on my last nerve, they deserve the best me I have to give them.

Today wasn’t that day.

Some days I don’t have a best me to give.

Today was that day.

I got to spend way too little time with my friends and family in Indiana, and then I spent 13 hours in the car on my way home watching countless cars slide off the road, sit in the ditches, and be pulled out of the ditches. I contemplated the government shut down and what that means for whom. I listened to podcast after podcast. I took some pictures. I stopped for some food and beer. I listened to more podcasts. I contemplated more politics. I got angry. Then I got sad. Then I got inside my own head. And couldn’t get out. I was stuck in a metaphorical snowbank in a metaphorical ditch inside my own head.

Usually Bec can drag me back out of there—she hitches up her tow chain and gives a few good pulls (did I take that metaphor too far?)—but I only saw her for about an hour before we fell asleep last night.

Before I left for Indiana, I put Facebook back on my phone, so I could communicate through messenger with people whose phone numbers I didn’t have, and now I’ve taken it off again, because I was checking it compulsively, just to see. And, sadly, I broke my own half-hour-limit resolution, and I spent way too much time on Facebook over the weekend, reading the nonsense that others were posting and arguing about. I know my self worth doesn’t rest in social media, but you know sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking I’m not good enough, smart enough, fast enough, beautiful enough, articulate enough, or popular enough. I quit my PhD, I quit my Ironman pursuit, I quit my ordination, I quit my diets way too fast. For being someone who was raised never to quit anything, I’ve quit a lot of shit since adulthood hit. I even quit my own half-hour Facebook limit! I wrestle with that. I wonder constantly where I’d be if… If I had finished my Phd, if I had kept pursuing ordination, if I had just sucked it up and done what it took to get my teaching license when we moved here, if, if, if…

So, I’m sitting here after shoveling paths like my own personal labyrinth around my yard, drinking a delicious small batch roasted Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that my brother gave to me, snuggling with my cats, and trying to get right again.

I am posting this to say: I had a beautiful weekend with everyone in Indiana, I had a beautiful run on Saturday night, my drive was good except for the last 3-ish hours, and I’m snuggling cats, but I have this gnawing feeling that what I do and who I am isn’t good enough. I keep hearing these voices say to me, but you could have been so much more if you had just applied yourself, like an appliqué, to your studies, to your art, to your church, to your athleticism, to your…

I call bull shit.

What I do and who I am are good (enough).

Now just to convince my brain of that. Maybe a run will help; shoveling certainly did.

July 4: Independence Day, Veganism, Goal Fulfilling

I’m reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams, and the words are helping me see how very far I’ve come since November with physical, spiritual, and mental wellness, but I’m also learning how very far I have to go to be completely well. This year I am using July 4, 2017 to become independent from social media. I’ll be staying away from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram until January 1, 2018. I’ll still write here occasionally, but I want to really experience things in my own way, not filtered through the lenses of comparison, argumentation, and whatever else happens on social media that makes me feel yucky inside and draws energy from my experiences of joy. 

I’m not putting my head in a hole in the ground, because I’ll still follow the news and interact with friends through texts, emails, and phone calls, but I am buffering my experiences with jealousy, anger, and sadness for six months. My 25th high school reunion is on August 5, and I want to be in the best mental health possible, so I can have a blast with some people I haven’t seen in 25 years. Please be sure to direct message me if you want my contact information to text, call, or email.

I haven’t written here in a while, and it’s mostly because I spend a good portion of my day, when I am not at work, sitting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, watching the feeds go by with the same information I saw just a few minutes ago. I mean, I seriously sit on the couch, going from Facebook (refresh) to Instagram (refresh) to Twitter (refresh) and back again and again. Last night I spent about three hours working on some digital art; I’m trying to design bike jerseys for me and Bec for our 100-mile ride in July, and it was so fulfilling that I was reminded how joyful I feel when I am reading, or writing, or creating. 

I am not good at just “taking a break” or “logging out for a while,” so I will just remove the apps from my phone and change the passwords to something I won’t remember. I’ll write it down, so I can come back and visit in January. This is the thing I am adding for July to my wellness and mental health changes I am making this year. I’m also trying hard to invest more in those people who also invest in me, and that isn’t necessarily happening on social media. I feel as if I am investing shallowly in a lot of people, but not deep and meaningfully in a few people. 

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Because I haven’t written here in a while, well, I haven’t written at all in a while, I feel like I have so much to say, but I also feel like I’ll just ramble and babble and not make any sense. So what’s new?! 

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I became vegan (again) on May 4, because of a challenge at work, and I am in love with my lifestyle. What I love is that I am being very healthy about it. I’m eating nearly all fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans, and almost no “vegan food products.” 

I eat an occasional Boca burger, breadsticks, or French fries, but for the most part, on the day to day, I eat fresh veggies like carrots, snap peas, and tomatoes, fresh fruit like apples, oranges, and cherries, and some hummus and avocado. I am trying to limit the amount of GMOs I’m eating, and I’m also limiting my wheat and soy intake. What I consume is 90% organic. 

I also have smoothies for breakfast, which are pretty lovely, with spinach, soy milk, and Vega protein powder. I feel good, I look healthy, and I’m living as cruelty-free as possible, which helps my spiritual and mental health. This has been a long (repetitive), slow journey, but I am getting where I am supposed to be. 

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Since November 25, 2016, I’ve lost 40 pounds, and my immediate goal is 20 more, which is coming off slowly. More importantly to me, I’m able to walk 8 miles with no problems, I can bike 30 miles on a regular basis, and I can still swim like a fish. I haven’t had a drink since January 19, and I’ve made changes slowly and consistently, so they’re becoming part of my life, instead of a thing I’m doing.

For July, I am also adding in weightlifting, which I was supposed to have already added, but I get intimidated for some crazy reason. I start second guessing myself like I’ve never lifted weights, and I don’t belong in a gym. Dumb. My goal is: Mondays and Thursdays will be biking, Tuesdays and Fridays will be swimming and lifting, and Wednesdays will be trail running, Saturdays will be running then walking with Bec, and Sundays will be a leisurely walk with Bec. 

I’m meditating more regularly, but I still need to be more consistent, because I feel so much better when I calm my monkey mind by focusing on my breath. I’m trying to be more mindful of the ways in which my actions impact others, and I seem to have more cognition of that when my mind is calm from meditating, rather than when it is full of many thoughts that are walking laps inside my brain like big cats in a zoo cage. 

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My brother and I leave on June 30 for a trip to swim in all five Great Lakes. We’re hoping to complete our trek in about 12 hours and spend the night in Toronto. I’ll keep you posted.  I cannot tell you how good it felt to write this, even though it is super disjointed, not very pretty, and kind of like nacho vomit in word form. 

My Hips and Knees Are Sore, So I Must Be Running Again

If you follow me on here, you know I set a few goals for this—my forty-second—year, and you know I said I’d check in on each goal every month on this day. I have to admit that I am not super inspired to write today, but I am going to give a run down of how my goals are progressing.

RUNNING: Let’s start with running, since that was the goal that sparked all of this. Running is both a blessing and a struggle. It’s frustrating to me when I look back at old photos and see myself 50 pounds lighter and a lot better at running, both faster and farther. But I’m doing it. I’m building my way back up to being a runner, instead of someone who simply wants to run and never does. This morning, for example, I ran 48 minutes on some fairly difficult trail at Afton State Park. Don’t ask how (not that) far I ended up going in that 48 minutes, because I’d be embarrassed to tell you, but I did it. I got up. I went to the park. I ran. That goal of running 26.2 in less than 6 hours seems so far off, I can’t even fathom it at this point, but I know I can do it. With my friend Molly supporting me and cheering me on, I can do nearly anything, even if my hips and knees get sore.

COMPASSION: The vegan diet part of this one is going really well. I’m kind of disgusted with the meat industry, so this part of the compassion goal is much easier. I never have a problem having compassion for animals; their sweet faces make it so easy to love them. Self-care and compassion is always a bit more difficult for me. Have I been to church regularly since I wrote these goals? No. And every Sunday, I say I’m going to go and then I don’t. I need to try harder in regards to my spirituality. I’m letting a lot of opportunity fall through the cracks. It’s a good thing I’m checking in on these goals I’ve set, because I have been neglecting a lot about this compassion goal: I’ve not been meditating every day, like I planned, and I haven’t been praying while running. Here is a place where I can do some serious focusing and bear down to accomplish wellness.

PAY IT FORWARD: Now that I look at this goal, it’s closely coupled with my goal of being more compassionate. I’ve been focusing on the work part of this goal, and trying to look at each customer with the love, grace, and patience I’d show my grandma. God rest her soul. I’m finding that my vocation to love is becoming easier and easier to practice, even when people can be difficult. Recently, I’ve been more able to think about how we all can be difficult and about how we all have faults. Whenever I think about how irritated I am able to get with other people, especially if my irritation is over someone’s inability to understand, I am reminded that I am likely irritated with my own insecurities more than I am irritated with that other person. In fact, I am reminded of this Thich Nhat Hanh quote: “If you are not yet able to love yourself, you will not be able to love your enemy. But when you are able to love yourself, you can love anyone. When you do this, you will see that your so called enemy is not more or less than a human being who is suffering.” The more I work on my own wellness and self-love, the more I am able to love those around me.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND CREATIVITY: I have been off of Facebook for over two months now! And, I am finding that I really don’t miss it at all. Do I miss some of the people I interacted with through Facebook? Yes, but then I think about how easy it is to find other ways—ways that are less invasive and less public—to communicate with them, and I know I made a good decision. Have I written any memoir or drawn any illustrations? No. Have I read read any books? Yes, I have been reading so much that I finally remember what it’s like to simply read for the sake of enjoyment, instead of reading to analyze text. Of everything I’ve changed in my life, reading more is the best part! I even joined the library!

FINANCES: Um, yeah. These are goals, and, um, I am certainly a work in progress in this regard. We’ll just leave that there.

Peace and cheers!

Giving Thanks and Counting Blessings

This year I am thankful for so many things, and I am trying to get into the habit of counting my blessings each and every day, instead of waiting for a holiday to prod me into it. Here is a solid list of things I am grateful for, and they are in no particular order.

1) Mental Health: As I look back through this blog, I notice my thoughts and moods look like a roller coaster (not a fun one), going from high to low, back to really high then back to really low, and there are some flat places like where people stand in line to get on the coaster and then off again. Only I never got off again. I just stayed on the thing and rode it again and again, like when my youth group went to King’s Island one year and rode the Adventure Express ten times in a row, seeing the same sights over and over again. Then when we got off a couple of girls puked in the trash can. That’s an accurate portrayal of how I feel about my life for the past five years or so, but the past year from about August back to the August of 2013 was especially excruciating. Seeing the same sights over and over again began to kill me. Slowly. And definitely made me want to puke in the trash can.

Unknown to most people I was suffering. I thought about killing myself at least once or twice a week, and the thought wasn’t a fleeting whim of considering suicide. I dwelt on it. Sometimes for several days at a time. The days were dark, my thoughts were heavy, and I didn’t want to go on.

Unknown to most people I was also addicted to several things, the mildest of which were beer and cigarettes, but there were other darker addictions, too. There will be other posts, other writings, other stories wherein I discuss those things, but not now, not when there is so much to be thankful for.

Unknown to most people, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to escape my life and do anything but what I was doing.

Fortunately, I remained.

Fortunately, there was an end to my suffering.

Fortunately, there were Zen gardens, long conversations, fellowship, and grace.

And life is not excruciating right now. Now I have no suffering. I am only blessed.

Right now, I am filled with joy, and not the fleeting kind. I am filled with that joy I was looking for this time last year. The kind I had no business of even trying to write about, because I was so far from it, I wouldn’t have known it if it had bitten me in the ass.

Right now I feel mentally well. And content. And at peace. This wasn’t a magical transformation, but a transformation of hard work, diligence, and perseverance on the part of myself and many others.

I am thankful I am not where I used to be.

2) Vocational Health: I am blessed with the ability to work a minimum-wage job with very little stress. My goal each day is to be the person who brings a smile to someone else’s face. I don’t look at my job as making a cup of coffee; I look at it as bringing grace and joy through food to a guest of my hospitality.

I can’t explain how it feels for me to not be teaching; I do miss the thoughtful conversations with my students and my colleagues, but not the rest of it. I enjoy having those same conversations with my coworkers and customers, but moreover I enjoy clocking in, serving people, clocking out, and coming home. No planning, no grading, no emails, and no bull shit. The worst thing that happens at work now is I make someone’s coffee wrong, so then I remake it and no one is harmed.

Probably the best part of my job is my manager, who is the best friend I’ve made since I moved here in July. When she is filled with happiness, her excitement is contagious. When someone does something she appreciates, she tells the person. When someone does something wrong, she has a constructive conversation with the person, not with everyone who works at Caribou. There’s no guessing where you stand with her. No head games.

People who manage other people shouldn’t fuck with the people they manage. Each person should know exactly what she is doing right, or exactly what she is doing wrong, and how it can be corrected or continuously improved.

Nebulous feedback is only detrimental to coworkers. I am so glad I am out of the land of nebulous evaluations and the RISE model that causes all educators so much pain for so little helpful feedback or constructive criticism.

I am thankful I am where I am.

3) Physical Health: This is an area that I still need to work on, but I know I can do it. On Monday, I am going to go swim for the first time since I’ve been up here. I’ve been walking pretty consistently, and I plan to start running three days a week. I also plan to move my bike and bike trainer into the house, so I can bike twice a week. My physical health goal is to swim on Monday and Wednesday, to bike on Thursday and Saturday, and to run on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. I certainly feel better when I am active, and not just physically. I can tell in my emotional demeanor when I have the chance to do moving meditation and when I don’t.

I’ve been drinking a few too many beers, been smoking a few too many cigarettes, and been having a few too many eat whatever I want days. I know this is not necessarily healthy. I also know that the opposite extreme is not healthy for me either. I do not live well on a restricted diet. I do not live well without the option of smoking a bit now and again. And I do not live well without an occasional alcoholic beverage.

I am well aware that moderation in all things is best for me, and I am striving toward a better and healthier relationship with what I consume.

I want wellness in regards to exercise and food.

I am thankful for being able to tell when enough is enough.

4) Relational Health: I have more friends than I have ever had before. I have a better relationship with my wife than I’ve had in about a year. I am more appreciative of my family than I have been in a long time. I value and cherish people in a way I haven’t before in my life.

Without family and friends, I am fully aware that I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I especially wouldn’t be so mentally well.

Every day, I thoughtfully consider that I might not even be here today were it not for my family and friends who’ve loved me unconditionally.

I am thankful I am here today.

5) Locational Health: Is this really a thing? Haha. I am so happy we live where we live. There are several state parks within a short driving distance. I frequently walk on an island, which is part of what I’ve always wanted. I didn’t imagine the island would be between two rivers in the middle of a huge city in Minnesota, but I have an island to walk around. I can drive half an hour and be in Minneapolis, or half an hour in the opposite direction and be out in the country surrounded by cows. We live in a quiet and working-class river valley, but I work up in the Heights, so I can see everything at night after work or in the morning before work, even the stars. I can drive back to Indiana in one day, so I can visit easily, or I can drive one day in the opposite direction and be in Canada.

I am thankful I live in a second place I love.

6) Spiritual Health: Advent starts on Sunday, and I am so excited to see what God has in store for me for the next year. I have been using Common Prayer before work each morning, and I love how God speaks to me through those words. I can find one phrase or idea and carry it through my day.

I am thankful for God’s grace, peace, and love.