habits · organization · self-care

A List, not a Litany.

11.8.18“You’d tell me if I had B.O., right?” I called across the house.  

“Why?  When was the last time you took a shower?”

“Errrm, I can’t remember.”

*Chuckling* “Yeah, babe, if you can’t remember, then it’s a sign to take one.”

As these mornings have unfolded in the new house, even though it’s closer to work, I’ve still been barely managing to make it to work on time.  Partly this is because J and I take some time in the morning to talk and be cute, partly it’s because I’m living out of a handful of shopping bags that I’ve moved over from Oakland so nothing feels routine, and partly because I have that drowsing in my head that says, “You live closer to work now, you have more time, go slow!” so maybe I’m not quite as rushed as I felt in Oakland…which was and is part of the luxury of living here in the first place!!

So, this morning, I began to write down a list, not a litany.  (The other day, J intoned to me, as I rattled off all the things I needed to do, “A list, not a litany,” as I’ve chanted to him!  Damnit that he listens to me!)

On the list is (yes) shower, talk to boss, exercise, call a mover, look up a Roomba, holiday cards, call my Dad (for his birthday which was on Tuesday and I didn’t call)… and, frankly, the list does go on.

But at least it’s there.  When it is a litany, it is unmanageable and unactionable.  There’s no toe-hold to make movement from when I’m rattling and lamenting.  But, with a list, there are concrete steps, even if they feel overwhelming as a whole.

One checkbox at a time and many of the items will be ticked off.  The move is temporary, the 7th grade trip will be confirmed, my dad only has a birthday once a year.

Sure, several of the items are daily (or should be!), like showering, blogging and meditating, but it reminds me only that I need to re-print and re-start my Habit Calendar, which had helped me to keep track of all the daily, weekly, and monthly items I needed.

A list trumps a litany any day.  A list connotes order.  A list infers completion.

So, first, dear reader: A shower.

 

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habits · self-care · worthiness

And the caterpillar intoned:

8.31.18.jpgIn the hurricane that is the beginning of school, it can be tough to remember to “center.”  With the additional duties I’ve taken on, voluntary and mandatory, I have several fewer hours for pausing, reflecting, planning — for me, basically.  And so I’m going to have to become much more intentional about the time that I do have for “me.”

I don’t know why self-care is coming up as a vivid theme right now, but in its absence, I feel cranky, overtired, gluttonous, slothful — basically the whole range of mortal sins!  And this is in stark contrast to the easeful, calm, focused, progressing person I’d like to be (and who is touted in my deepak/oprah meditations, like today’s on “daily happiness”).

I sometimes feel (fear) that the ideas of happiness and self-care are self-indulgent.  I mean, of course they are!  That’s their definition!  But I suppose what I mean is that, in our culture, happiness and self-care — fulfillment — can curdle with a negative, airy-fairy dismissiveness.

Who am I to contemplate feeling calm in the middle of a work day?  Who am I to contemplate homeownership in the middle of a gentrification/displacement era?  Who am I to want to dig further into my gifts and talents when others are simply trying to survive?

Well, darling self, I’m alive — that is my punch card, my ticket, my birthright.

Simply by the object of being born at all as a human in this lifetime, I am allowed to contemplate, desire, grow, forge, and “become.”  I don’t have to, sure.  I can be shut down, numb, depressed, isolated, hopeless.  I can be any and all of these things in a day!

But I have to know that it is a choice!  I have a choice to seek my own happiness.  Whether or not I’m taking advantage of that option.

There seems to be a pattern or blueprint for me toward forward movement (one that includes stillness).  That pattern is one I’ve previously discovered via habits.  When I determine a regularity in my life, day or hour, I have an anchor, a root system from which to grow.

When I find a moment, like one this week when I didn’t have to be out in the play yard, but chose to go because it was OUTSIDE and sunny and vibrant, that is a pebble I can stack in my Positive Habits Jar.

Enough of those pebbles stacked together and I can begin to do what enlivens me without as great or momentous effort.

As I build my path into and through this school year, what habits do I want to form?  I’m gonna need something!  For all my high-fallutin’ writing in that “Teacher’s Prayer,” I can assure you that I’ve done little along those lines.  Praying to remember to take time for myself is not the same as actually taking it.

So while I need the reminder, I also need the action.  And for me to take action … well, it’s time to break out the habit calendar.

Color coding, here I come!

 

insomnia · self-care · stress

Self-care is inconvenient.

8-30-18.jpgWhen I got into teaching full-time in 2015, I was asked to take on 3rd grade.  I had never taught students that young in my adulthood; though I’d taught kindergarten in Seoul after college, most of that was pre-set curriculum and students who were very used to following directions.  But, I’m game for most things (plus I needed work!), so I said yes.

Thus began two full years of insomnia.

In the very first week of class, I began to have trouble falling to sleep.  This wasn’t terribly abnormal, as I’d had a few difficult sleeps following most large transitions in my life.  So, I took it in stride (very caffeinated stride) and took an over-the-counter sleep aid, figuring it would even out after a few days.

As days strung to weeks, and now I wasn’t falling to sleep until 3 or 4 in the morning, I began to get concerned.  Then came the nights when I didn’t really fall asleep at all.  Sure maybe I “drifted” as I called it, but as to “put your head on the pillow, next thing you know it’s light out,” those days were far in the rearview.

So started a sickening amount of trial and error: eastern doctors, western doctors, over the counters, ayurvedics, prescriptions, sleep studies, hypnotherapists, foot soaks, acupuncture, dream apps, forest bathing…  And lots and lots of tears.

I began to lose words, much like “mommy brain” affects parents of newborns, thoughts sluggish and unfinished.  My hormones became imbalanced and I gained weight.  My stress levels were astronomical.  Even in the summer breaks, I was awake awake awake awake.

All.  Because.  I was teaching 3rd grade.

I say this with certainty because you know what happened last Fall when I began teaching middle school?

I feel asleep.  And stayed asleep.  All night.

And so it’s been, for all of the past year.  Put my head down, wait a little, feel that blood-level “click” where I can feel whatever sleep hormone flood my system and in less than a minute, I’m out til morning.

So it was particularly jarring this week at our middle school retreat on Monday through Tuesday to find that it took me until nearly 1am to fall asleep while there and after we got back on Tuesday night.

I do know/believe 2 things about my insomnia years: I wasn’t sleeping because I was taking on the stress of my students, and could not for the life of me put up an energetic boundary strong enough to shake off their emotions.  I took them in, a permeable mess.

I also know that the one and only month during my 3rd grade tenure that I slept was the month during which I exercised every single day for 30 days.  After about 2 weeks, I was falling and staying asleep.  But every day was very hard for me to keep up and I backslid.

As to this week, I know that spending 36 hours non-stop with students, particularly ones finding their way in the wide world of middle school—and doing so with … less aplomb than they’ll need to “make it”—is an acute stressor for me.  It makes me aware that my boundaries are still extremely permeable.

I am apparently not cured of my insomnia; I just get reprieves from it.  I learned a lot over my 2 years of battling and devolving under its battery assault, particularly about how I care for myself and my own stress levels.  It’s clear that I need to call on that learning again.

Further, though my commute is much longer than when I taught the younger kids, it is going to be imperative that I find a habit that includes regular exercise again, as I haven’t yet settled into one for this school year.

I am grateful that last night I fell and stayed asleep — like viciously grateful — but I know there are huge red flags my body is throwing up.  And if there’s anything a cancer survivor learns, it’s to watch those goddamned flags — and to heed what they’re telling me no matter how much extra mental or physical effort it will take.  The alternative was a hell I never want to revisit.

reality · self-care · vulnerability

Vul-Hole

8-20-18-bad-hiding-under-box.jpgIn the storied flurry that was my late teens, I had a girl friend who got stuck in a K-hole.  For the uninitiated, a k-hole can result from taking Ketamine, a prescription drug meant for anesthesia but used recreationally for sedating fun (eek).  She related to me afterward that, for several hours, while everyone else simply saw her sitting on a couch unmoving, unresponsive to the world, she was locked inside her head.  She was trapped in a box on the side of a hill.  She was terrified, screaming, clawing her way out.  (Don’t do drugs, kids.)

When, yesterday, I shared my blog “A Teacher’s Prayer” with some select folks at work, I swandove headfirst into that box!  I compulsively refreshed my email while spiraling down into thoughts of: Oh g-d, why did I do that.  It’s not good, they won’t relate, no one will reply, I should have kept it to myself.  It’s too vulnerable, too honest to share.  This is work, what were you thinking?!

“You did a dumb thing,” in essence.

Then, finally, I stood up from my laptop, walked out of my kitchen, and began to talk to myself (occasionally aloud!):

Molly, you’re a good writer.  Molly, who cares what they think of it—it’s important to you.  Molly, you’re a 36-year old woman with a wealth of experience, and you’re on your way to a date.  You are a writer, singer, friend, teacher, human.  You are more than one emailed blog post!  Let it go.

Be in what’s happening right now.  You are not locked in a box on a hill with your negative swirling thoughts.  Don’t be an asshole to yourself.  Jeez.

And, so I did what I was taught: The next right thing.

The next right thing was to text my Goals Group ladies that I was feeling super vulnerable.  The next right thing was to shower, get dressed, and get out of the house.

Further, when I returned from the date and only two emails had come through, I booked a workout class for 20 minutes from then.  GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD!  Move your body to move your emotions!

Vul-Hole, you bugger.

Because here’s the final result: 6 hours after I emailed out that blog, my “big boss” replied to thank me deeply for my words … and then asked if I’d read it at today’s staff meeting.

Are you sh*tting me?!

The ultimate lesson however needs to have nothing to do with the result.  The fact that my boss, and several of the other faculty, emailed me to say they really appreciated my words has nothing to do with how I felt about it.

The true lesson here is about how I treat, and treated, myself while I was in a Vul-Hole.

Phase One: Feel elated, and kinda proud, at the courage it took to send it.

Phase Two: Feel deflated and self-immolating at what I’m now calling hubris, not courage.

Phase Three: BE IN MY DAY.  Don’t get mad/sad — Get Moving!

Phase Four:  Come back to my self.  Remember I’m a whole person with ups and downs, and that this event is one microscopic stitch in the tapestry of Time.

Phase Five: Feel pretty damn proud of myself for getting out of the Vul-Hole and acknowledge that my ability to do that is more than any accolades, likes, or dates could ever offer.

 

aging · curiosity · self-care

A Silver Fox with Twinkle Toes.

8.18.18I moisturized my toes last night.

Perhaps like you, I don’t give much thought to the care of my feet or toes, but as I was preparing for bed last night, Creme de Corps in hand, I figured why not.  They’re looking a little … well, wrinkly.

Last week a friend came by, and due to some sudden weight loss and new “in our 50s” naked time happening, she’s concerned about the crepey-ness of her belly skin.  (Hmm, I don’t usually moisturize my belly either!)

Reading Druckerman’s There Are No Grown-Ups, I reflect on the French ideology summed up as, “Être bien dans sa peau” — To be good in one’s skin.  To feel comfortable, confident, at any age. 

I’ve picked up copies of More magazine, geared toward women over 40, for a decade.

My first memoir was Anne Kreamer’s Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters.

To say I’ve had my eye on how to age in a way that feels humble, appreciative, and graceful would be accurate.  To say I still fall into thought-traps about body image would also be accurate!

My friend is not scared of her aging, but aware that it’s different.  I’m aware I can’t eat dessert every day without seeing it on my body the next.  I’m aware there are more lines, more crepes, more gray on the lady carpet.

I’m aware of an excitement, too.  What will it be like next?  What new feature will I notice?  I like to age.  It’s a constant, every-day science experiment!  (And as a cancer survivor, it feels like a blessing to “get to” age and discover at all.)

Aging is ultimately something I can’t choose to do.  But it is something I can choose how I relate to.

Which is why I’ve gravitated toward learning from others what it’s like for them, their experience and their coming to grips.  Like most things in life, it’s all a matter of perspective.

enjoyed massaging cream into my toes last night.  I liked paying minute attention to who and how my body is, this lifelong partner, passenger, and driver.  This body houses my entire ability to be here, and I want to witness it with awe.

(And, sure, I wish my butt held any “cushion” at all but, “If wishes were horses…”!)

I don’t mean to sound Pollyanna (though I know I do, and that’s okay), but embracing my body and its aging—nay, development—is like embracing Time: it will happen.  Full Stop.

What kind of a person do I want to be when it does?

 

action · inspiration · self-care

That’s Better!

3.28.18

Not usually one for a “day in the life” blog, but it seems essential following yesterday’s declaration of time limiting my literary indulgences.  So what did I do yesterday with all my “new-found” time?!

Firstly, on the drive to work, I did listen to The Success Principles… but only after I tried to listen to NPR, to music, (dontwanna dontwanna… oh wow, this is really inspiring).  And so it was.  The author, Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame, was describing the “principle” of delegating anything that is not in our “core genius” or core competencies.  (I immediately texted my girl friend to ask for the number of her house cleaner!)

At work, during my break, I went outside where it was sunny and hot and I could watch my soon-to-be-graduated 8th graders play basketball while making gangly attempts at flirting with one another;)

On the drive home, my copy of The Year of Yes had expired, so I went into podcasts to see what Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations had for me — and they had Lin-Manuel Miranda.  *swoon!!*  I think his interview has been the most authentic of those I’ve heard, and I was thrilled to listen as I slogged through the traffic home, where we were all set upon by an awful accident that increased my 45-minute commute to 1.5 hours… BUT!  After Lin-Manuel, I began the Stephen Colbert interview and by the time I parked out front of my house, it was still sunny, warm, and light out.

Drop off my bags, change into stretchy pants and sneakers, douse on some sunscreen — and text a girl friend.  I arrived home to the pair of tickets I’d ordered to SF Symphony’s pipe organ recital — THE THING HAS OVER 8,000 PIPES!!!  I’m enamored of pipe organs and would go and diddle around on the one at Mills College when I was studying there.  The one in SF is grand, gorgeous, and I had a gift certificate, so I bought two hopeful tickets without an idea of who might accompany me.

Yesterday, I finally had a brainwave (with all my extra, non-dragon-eaten braincells) to connect with a girlfriend from Mills whose been active in a group of medieval songsters.  Yeah, that sounds like the right person.

So off into the sunshine I went, for an hour and a half!  I walked the cemetery/park I used to run, and talked with a heron and an oak tree and some sparrows.  I jogged the downhill and leapt into the running/flying part I love so much.  It was light out, warm, and easy.  I remembered how much I love to run/fly.

On the walk back, I texted with another girl friend and on arriving home went straight to the couch to read.  Physics.

I’d ordered a college text in January when I thought I’d be able to attend College of Marin’s physics class, but it turns out I need the prerequisite that’s only offered in the fall.  (The math-based prerequisite.)  But!  One step at a time.  So I lay on the couch, reading the dry humor of a physics professor for an hour, watching the time tick towards 8pm when I could finally open the 5th book of the Game of Thrones.

But there was still time to spare… I couldn’t open it til 8:00… what to do??

Well, I could floss?  Okay.  I could do those dishes in the sink?  Okay.  Ah, and here’s my Mills singing girlfriend agreeing to accompany me in May.  And now it’s 8:01!

Perfect.  Truly, perfect.

 

boundaries · self-care · service

“You can’t save anyone.”

3.14.18

When ordinarily I’ve heard this phrase, I’ve bristled.  Is it something in me, something wrong with me that I can’t?  If I try harder or fix myself more, will I then be able to?  What if I really really love them?

However, last week, a friend said this declarative sentence to me, and I replied laughingly, “What a relief!”  Phew!  Jeez, that really takes me off the hook now, doesn’t it?

I can’t save anyone.  I don’t have to keep trying, adjusting, modifying, cajoling, coercing, monitoring, mothering.  I can lay it the f* down … and continue working on what I’m really here to work on: Me.

There’s not nearly as much work as there used to be, but certainly a lifetime’s worth.  Which is good, because you stop growing, you start dying!  But overall, I feel healthier now than at many other points in my life.

I feel more able to accept that other people have their own row to hoe, and no amount of my overseeing can change or improve or lessen their work.  I once told my (as of this past week ex-) boyfriend:( that I felt like a sword-fighter against his darkness, and that I needed him to take the sword.  To fight his own battle against his own internal foes.

The rub is, truly, that he never asked me to fight that battle for him, but I leapt in suit of armor and all and said, “Alright beast, let’s go!”  And then I said, “Omigod I’m tired,” and then I said, “This is not a battle I can win. Here, you take it.”

Fighting others’ darkness is a long-earned habit of mine, the daughter of an untreated manic-depressive.  When the yawning darkness of depression descends upon the woman who is to care for you, as a child with few tools, all you can do is set aside your own needs to try to fight her darkness so she can possibly help defend you, too.  And lo, codependence is born:  if you’re okay, I’m okay.

Yet though this is a long-worn caul of mine, that does not mean it fits, makes sense, is healthy, or … is sane!  And it is up to me to stop jumping in to every person’s fight.

Indeed, “coincidentally,” as all this boundary-strengthening/awareness has been taking place in the last few weeks, I’ve had 4 people reach out to me to help them with some self-help work they’re doing (yes, I see the irony there).  At some times, I would have leapt in (Sure man, let’s slay that darkness! How much of me do you need?), but these past few weeks, I’ve taken account of who I know these folks to be and what kind of energy I truly have for assisting them.

And my answer has been, No.  “Thank you for asking, but I’m full up on service right now.”  “I’m grateful you thought of me, but I’m only available to be friends on the path right now.”  “I’m very glad I got to serve for a while, but I need to leave your committee.”

There are voices within that chide it’s selfish or miserly to say No.  But, I imagine that one day, when my boundaries are more firm—when I don’t run for my longsword every time someone says, “Hello”—that I’ll be more able and available for service to people … but for today, for now, saying no to them is saying yes to me.

And that, friends, is progress.

(And yes, home sick with the flu this week—hence no blog—I’ve been reading Game of Thrones and all about longswords.) 😉