Since the day I could form words on paper I have loved to write.   I enjoy the artistic part of crafting the letters together to form beautiful script.   I play with words until they create the perfect image in my mind.  Then I actually write them and my script looks like chicken scratch and my word images become a jumble that really don’t do justice to what I had created in my mind.  But that is OK, because when I write in my personal journal, I don’t care what others think, because it is not for them.  It is for me.  It is my safe zone to unload all that boils in me all day.   Now one big problem I have is keeping my writing to something less than the length of  “War and Peace”.   That is why I have the journal I use.

It is full of prompts that focus me on the important parts of my day.  The space to answer those prompts is large enough to allow a couple of sentences, which forces me to really think about my answers and to distill my thoughts to their purest form.  The back of each page of prompts is a plain pages with lines so that I can free form anything that was not covered in the prompts.   Often I use that page as a gratitude journal.  One of the struggles of depression is finding the good in a day, especially when buried under the dark feelings. My mother gave me the exercise when I was a child, to report to her one good thing about the day when she was tucking me in at night.  I have carried that forward to my journal and I have found, even on my darkest days that I stop writing the good things only because I have run out of space on the page.  Not every day is that easy, but as long as I keep up my journaling and writing, it becomes a habit to focus on the good and identify it before I identify the bad.  My snarky sarcastic jabs lessen and I become a much nicer person.

I had fallen away from journaling for quite a long time.  When my dad’s cancer came back this last time I knew I needed to dig my journal out again and start writing.   But I was having a really rough time and just could not get motivated.  So I checked my e-mail and found a 50% coupon at one of my favorite craft stores,  marched myself in and spent the whopping $3.50 on myself and bought a pen that creates lovely writing even out of my scrawling hand!

As I write I imagine I am a regal lady who has wonderful history to record for posterity instead of a working suburban mother of 2 just trying to make ends meet.   In reality, though, when I write with that pen my writing becomes art, it becomes more important, if to no one else but me.  And at that moment, as I pour out my day onto the page and work to make sense of the struggles and celebrate the victories and fulfill my mother’s request to find something good at the end of the day, I am writing a unique and priceless story because no one else will ever do the things I do or feel the things I feel in exactly the same way.   And by filling in the blanks on the daily page I empty myself so that the next day I can once again be filled with the love, laughter, and joy that my family brings to me each and every day.


Falling Apart

Over the last few months I have felt like I am falling apart.  When I set my New Goals back in November I was doing pretty good.  Since that time I have had a string of pretty major health issues.  Part of the onset, I am sure, was influenced by the stress of my father’s progressing illness.  Stress, as we all know, has a massive impact on not only psychological and emotional health, but also physical health.

My body chose one of the worst days in the world to revolt and send me to the Emergency Department – Presidential Election Day.  Please trust me when I say there is absolutely NOTHING on TV during an election.  Sure, I am interested in the results,  but after the first 30 times of hearing the exact same numbers, I am sure I could manage with only the ticker along the bottom of the screen!  Anyway, I ended up there with chest pain.  I know all the protocols for someone entering the ER with chest pain.  But it is totally different when I am the patient, not the nurse.  Not only that, I knew exactly why I was having chest pain, and it had nothing to do with having a heart attack!  I just needed a medication adjustment to help control my heart rate.  But the staff had to follow the routine and I had to submit.  I do have to say that they staff was really good and took my teasing and light-hearted complaining all in stride.  After spending the night in the hospital I had to take a couple of weeks off from vigorous exercise to allow my medication levels to rise.  During that time I was fairly (OK, moderately to majorly) sedentary and made the mistake of taking up soda consumption again.  Subsequently, my old friends, kidney stones, came to visit.  I started showing symptoms right before Thanksgiving.  I finally passed one stone that I know of the last week of November.   Because I knew I had passed the stone I could not figure out why I was still having so much pain.  A CT scan showed an inordinately large amount of stones.   I was given the option of trying to pass them or have surgery.  Since it was 2 weeks before Christmas we made the decision to go ahead of surgically remove them.  Good thing we did, because the size of the stone that was causing the majority of the pain was not going to pass by itself.  I was healed and healthy for Christmas.

I relate these things, not to get sympathy, but to discuss the emotional impact this has had on me.  As I said before,  I really believe that stress had a huge impact on all of this.  Stress causes the release of the “fight or flight” hormone – the one that makes the heart race, causes muscle tension and creates a sense of alertness.  Some stress is normal and actually somewhat beneficial to our bodies.  And the “fight or flight” response is great when a mountain lion is about to attack. But long-term stress wreaks havoc.  It can cause high blood pressure,  lead to a suppression of the immune system,  aggravate skin conditions, trigger the onset of diabetes or worsen diabetes in those who already have it, and can even influence fertility.  (The Physical Effects of Long-Term Stress By JANE COLLINGWOOD)  Those are the physical effects that occur naturally within the body.  That does not include the poor habits developed over life to cope – over-eating, eating the wrong thing, etc.  There are also mental effects such as being unable to concentrate, racing thoughts, negative thoughts, and inability to problem-solve, to name a few.  Long term stress can also result in depression, withdrawing from family and friends who can provide support, and ceasing to participate in stress-relieving activities such as hobbies and exercises.  (The Impact of Stress By STEVE BRESSERT, PH.D.)

You see, I had ALL of those symptoms, but I did not heed my body’s warnings.  I had to wait for them to get so bad that I ended up in the ER and cascade to surgery before I started to listen and become proactive.  My work life depends on my being proactive.   I need to move that proactive mindset to my personal life.  It is much easier to be proactive while I have the energy and the mental resources than it is to be reactive when I am rolling under a wave of stress.

In future posts I will be exploring ways to once again move to the proactive.  I would love to have a “discussion” about ways to actively negate the effects of stress before they become a problem.  So please chime in on the comments section!

Reality Check

I was looking at the stats of this little blog, wondering if I had more than 4 readers and looking to stroke my own ego that someone out there was actually even interested in this blog when I found a neat little place that showed where readers were located.  I clicked on it and up came a map of the world.  Wow!  I have people outside of my country reading this?  I thought I would be doing good to find anyone outside my zip code!  Then I looked at what countries had pinged off my blog –  Indonesia, Argentina, and a few other small countries.  While I understand that these hits were probably just the pings of a blog crawler from a spammer, a simple but for me profound thought occurred.   Here I am sitting in my middle class house in one of the richest countries in the world concerned about what I would have to cut OUT of my diet and what activity I would have to INCREASE in my life to get to a healthy body composition while my blog was getting hits from countries where people are happy to even HAVE food and they would love to be able to sit down and rest during the day.   It made me ashamed at how all consuming I think my problems are when there are people who would gladly take my problems just so they could survive.

This does not change my goal of getting healthy.  It does not change the fact that I have to continue to make very real choices that are at times hard for me to make.   But it did change my outlook.  That extra helping of carbs I am craving…. instead of bemoaning the fact that I have to deny my desire, I need to be grateful that I have more than enough.  When I dread getting dressed to workout, I should be rejoicing that I have a sound body that works.  When I complain about parts of my job, I need to be thankful that I have a job that does not require me to put my life in danger for pennies.

I am still working on defining my little goals.  But now I need to change my focus from can’t to can and from dislike to grateful.