The goal of therapy is to heal or resolve problematic issues, whether they’re physical or psychological. While I’ve certainly paid my fair share of professional therapists over my lifetime, lately, I’ve been having everyday therapy that comes free of charge, from my experiences. Continue reading
I love a memoir. It’s one of my all time favorite genres, and I read it obsessively. Yet, within the genre, I’ve noticed that I tend to read two fairly specific types of memoirs, memoirs by women with hard knock lives and memoirs by drunk writers.
Is the Universe trying to tell me something? Undoubtedly, so I hope I’m listening. Continue reading
Weekly Musings – A summary of the week’s highs, lows, and in betweens…
I subscribe to a gazillion sites and get the associated emails, which usually leads me to unsubscribing, because of the sheer volume of mail I get. But, one site I continue to subscribe to (after a few years, including paying for the electronic magazine subscription) is tricycle.org, which sends a Daily Dharma with a quote straight to my inbox. I like these daily messages, because I can quickly scan the quote (I mean it’s 1-2 sentences) and see if I want to read more (click on the link) or not. Yes, this is a Buddhist magazine/site, but you don’t have to be Buddhist (I’m not) to enjoy the words of wisdom and reflective essays on the site.
Here are some examples of Daily Dharmas:
“My practice is teaching me to embrace imperfection: to have compassion for all the ways things haven’t turned out as I’d planned, in my body and in my life; for the way things keep falling apart, and failing, and breaking down. It’s less about fixing things and more about learning to be present for exactly what is.” Anne Cushman, Living from the Inside Out
“When I walk into my fear, practice there, sit upright in the middle of it, completely open to the experience, with no expectation of the outcome, anything is possible.” Judith Randall, The Hidden Lamp
“On the spiritual path, there’s nothing to get, and everything to get rid of. . . . The first thing to let go of is trying to get love, and instead to give it. That’s the secret of the spiritual path.” Ayya Kemah, What is Love?
My life is in the midst of enormous change. Big, old, scary, in your face change both in my work life and in my personal life.
On a lark, I sent a post to HealthyPlace.com, knowing that they are a mental health website with blogs, and they pay for blog posts. Well, they liked my post and they offered me a contract to write for their Living a Blissful Life blog. As you can probably guess from its title, the blog is aligned with my own message – connecting with others to share our common experience, in my case my struggle with depression and growth out of the darkness and into the light, and grow to our fullest potential. I’m psyched to get more practice writing, I’m challenged by having a hard deadline to meet, and I’m pleased to have someone else editing my work. Of course, this job is more work on top of the rest of my crazy, full life, but it’s moving me in the direction of my dreams, becoming a paid writer, so overall it’s a great thing.
Home: We are working on leaving Munich. Yes, you read that correctly. Can you just see me doing my happy dance? It’s been 5 years of living abroad and it’s time to move back to the States. In my opinion, it’s past due. So, we’re doing what we need to do to make an international move happen. This means lots of transition (my daughter’s school, my husband’s job) and a lot of unknowns (when? where? how?), which I’m not very good at dealing with. I’m trying to learning to live with the uncertainty, with not having a plan that goes on my timeline or in my way. Letting go of my need to control those aspects is hard for me. It’s anxiety provoking, but I’m getting there, even if at infinitesimally small steps.
What I’m Reading Right Now
I just finished reading It Ain’t so Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (disclaimer: Firoozeh is a very good friend of mine and I love her and her work). The book shares the experience of a child who immigrates from Iran to California in the late 1970s. The main character is trying to fit in and be accepted in her new homeland, which is difficult enough by itself given that she’s entering middle school, but is complicated by the Iran-US hostage crisis of 1979. Suddenly, Zomorod and her family, 7500 miles removed from Iran, are viewed through an anti-Iranian lens.
This book is classified as a children’s book, but it contains an important message for everyone. It highlights the need for kindness and tolerance. We all need to be reminded to do this. Remember my recent post about choosing to practice love? Distrusting and hating entire groups of people because they are different from us or because of the actions of a few radicals in the group is the foundation of bigotry. Kindness, people, practice it. And read this book.
Those are my musings. What about you?
What did you tell yourself this week to inspire you, motivate you, or help you on your path? What words of wisdom has someone else (through reading, a podcast, a talk) shared with you? What are you grateful for in your life? What are you struggling with? Feel free to share here.
It’s not a dirty little secret, because I’m not into AA anonymity. Hiding the ugly parts of our lives may keep everything looking good, but in the long run, it’s neither practical nor helpful. We all suffer. We all have baggage. Try as we might to maintain the façade, it’s not going to last. And what’s the point anyway? To show everyone else you’ve got it all together or to convince yourself that everything’s okay when it’s not? That’s more work than it’s worth.
It’s not a dirty little secret. I just hadn’t told everyone (meaning all 479 of my FB friends). I told my closest friends, my family members, and my writer friends. I told 50 or so people. Then, in the last 2 weeks, 2 people I know from my professional world asked me about it. Out of the blue. Just making conversation.
“Are you still writing your blog?” one asked me.
“I saw you have a blog,” the other emailed me.
Deer in headlights. Wait. Say what? How do you know I have a blog?
Although my name is not on my blog, I wrote a guest post for MindBodyGreen a few months ago, and it got re-posted on various sites, and the bio has my name and blog URL. Google search. There are no secrets on the World Wide Web.
My name’s Silke, and I write a blog.
My blog is about my life – the shitty stuff, like my struggles with alcohol and depression and my issues with my father, but also the good stuff, like my work toward health and happiness. It’s a mixed bag, but that’s life in general, ups, downs, and in-betweens. And if you know me, then you know I will tell you my life story because that’s the kind of person I am – no filter, heart on sleeve.
But…not everyone knows my story. Not everyone has seen my mental and physical stretch marks.
This blog is my space to say what I’m thinking and process what I’m going through. It’s a very public diary. I write it, because it’s therapeutic for me. I write it, because I love to write. I write it, because I believe sharing our collective story connects and grounds us. It’s breaks down the walls we put up and forces us to see who we really are – fragile humans muddling through life, trying to do the best we can.
Am I afraid of risking my professional life by writing the blog, afraid that my colleagues will take me less seriously? Am I worried that people will talk about me behind my back?
No, because it’s not a dirty little secret. It’s out in the open, and it’s my truth, my life story.
So the last few posts have been downers, right? Lonely old me with no friends where I live. Poor old me with the sucky dad who screwed up my head.
Obviously, these are just snippets of what’s going on in my world. In the larger picture, if you’ve been following the blog or chatting with me in real life, is that I’m doing phenomenally better in terms of my mental health and outlook. [So much so that my doctor and I have even talked about my getting off my meds (that is for another post because it is a whole lotta stuff to deal with).] So it’s time to infuse this blog with some positivity. It’s time for a post about being grateful and happy.
Remember my post about choosing your attitude? It takes some work, but last year I participated in 2 groups that helped. I started 2 practices in those groups that I continue to use to help my outlook. I name the things that make me happy, and I name the things for which I am grateful.
I joined this Facebook group called 100 Days of Happiness, in which every day for 100 days you post a picture of something that made you happy that day. This is a public group, and several of us have continued beyond the 100 Days. See, here I posted that picture of my bike on Day 118 of 100 Happy Days. I put that fake flower on my bike and when I see it, it makes me smile. That’s a little thing, but so important.
I also joined a private Facebook page my sweet sister set up for me called 100 Days of Gratitude, in which every day for 100 days my friends and I would post something we were grateful for that day. On Day 79, I posted about a boring old, Friday morning. Nothing earth shattering. I was in bed, reading a book. But, man, I am so grateful for mornings like that.
Of course, not every day is sunshine and roses and little babies smiling at you. Some days, many days, are hard and cut into you and make you want to cry or scream or hit someone or develop a drug habit. You have a fight with your spouse. Your child screams that she hates you. You screw up a project at work. You burn dinner. It’s those days when you may have to work to find something to be happy about or grateful for, but it’s still totally possible. Yep, it’s possible amidst all the crap to find some teeny tiny sliver that is good. And that’s what we have to do. That’s what I have to do.
The gifts we choose to witness to help us in being grateful and happy don’t have to be lottery winning moments. For example, once I was taking a shower and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m so lucky, so grateful, that I can turn on this tap and clean water comes out. And I can make that water warmer or colder to suit me, and I can stay in here for 30 minutes if I want to, and the water won’t run out.’ You know what? That is a luxurious gift. Many people in the world don’t have that convenience, but it’s something that I take for granted 99.99% of the time. Last week I showered 2 or 3 times a day because it was so hot. I didn’t give it a second thought that I might have to go to sleep with dried sweat on my body or with dirt encrusted feet from playing in the sand at the park with Emmy. Whenever I want, I can get in my shower, cool off, and get clean. Thank you, clean, running water. You make my life so much better.
(See how easy that was?)
This practice of being grateful and happy isn’t just easy, it’s empowering. Like a lot of practices I’ve written about (meditation, expressive writing, relationships, forgiveness, mantras), being grateful and happy is linked to increased health and emotional resilience – improved quality of life. In other words, it’s free therapy, people. Use it and make your life better. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Here are my happiness/gratitude lists for today.
I am happy
- To have my husband back after a 3 day business trip.
- To have the morning to myself while my husband takes our daughter to dance class.
- To write a blog post. Writing makes me happy.
- In 5 weeks I’ll go back to the States for a 4-week visit. Yahoo!!
- The weather is gorgeous today.
I am grateful
- I get some alone time with my husband this afternoon while our daughter is at a birthday party.
- For endless cups of coffee.
- That I work freelance and have a ridiculously flexible schedule.
- For my mommy. She is the best.
- For my friends. They are my rock.
Need More Inspiration for Being Grateful and Happy?
and have a happy day!
I’ve always liked the idea of keeping a journal, chronicling my life as it happens. And, over the years, I’ve kept one on and (mostly) off. Looking back, it seems that my periods of journaling corresponded to times when my life was in turmoil. Did this writing help? Did it serve any purpose other than rehashing what I was going through at the time? And would it be worthwhile to write during other times?
Delving into the research, I have found that writing about yourself and your experiences can significantly improve mental and physical health. I could cite a million papers if you were interested, that’s how overwhelming supportive the research is, but I’m going to focus on 2 researchers who spearheaded the work in this field.
Back in the 1980’s, Dr. James Pennebaker (at UT Austin, where I got my Master’s degree in Neuroscience) pioneered this work, establishing that writing about a traumatic, emotional event for 20 minutes a day for 4 days has dramatic effects on health. In the immediate short-term, this type of writing lowers mood, but in the long-term it boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, increases happiness, reduces anxiety and depression, and improves emotional resilience. In addition, patients suffering from various medical conditions (cancer, AIDS, arthritis, e.g.) show improvements specific to their individual condition. In other words, getting your negative, emotional experience out on paper, even if no one reads it or you end up throwing away whatever you wrote, is much more beneficial than keeping it in.
Why is expressive writing so helpful? For starters, this type of writing is a self-reflective tool. It forces you to to explore whatever your issue is and manage your feelings about it. Also, because the writing is spread out over 4 sessions (you could do it 4 days in a row or once a week for 4 weeks, the research doesn’t differ in terms of net results), you tend to move beyond your own perspective of the event and are able to see that of others, which is beneficial.
As for how often to write, Pennebaker found that writing fewer than 4 days cracks the surface of the issue but doesn’t allow the writer to go any deeper, so it’s kind of like tearing off a scab but not knowing what the underlying injury really is. On the other hand, writing more often creates the potential for rumination and over analysis of the trauma, neither of which is helpful. Four days isn’t a rule, but it’s a good starting point and what has been supported by the science.
Adapting Pennebaker’s work, Laura King (at the University of Missouri) was interested in finding out if writing about something positive might confer similar effects as writing about something negative. King utilized the same writing session length (20 minutes every day for 4 days) and conducted a study in which participants wrote about their future best possible self (BPS). This is essentially your idealized self, a personalized representation of everything you’d want or like to be. King’s results were similar to those of Pennebaker in that overall health and mood improved. But, King found that mood improved significantly more when writing about BPS than about past trauma (her experimental groups wrote about BPS, past trauma, both, or a neutral event), and there was no negative short-term effect when writing about BPS.
Like writing about a traumatic experience, writing about your BPS forces self-reflection. This type of writing helps you to identify, organize, and prioritize your goals, and doing it on a regular basis can increase your positive expectations about the future.
I love the idea of writing as therapy – and not just because it doesn’t cost anything, and it doesn’t take a huge amount of time to reap the benefits. Since I’ve started blogging, writing on a daily basis as part of my own therapeutic experience, I’ve definitely benefited. I’ve written about my own past trauma but I’ve also written about life goals and changes I’m working toward. The combination has helped me develop self-compassion and feel more connected to others, which ultimately makes me happier.
King, L.A. (2001). The Health Benefits of Writing About Life Goals. Pers Soc Psychol Bull, 27:798-807.
Pennebaker James W. and John F. Evans. Expressive Writing: Words that Heal. Enumclaw: Idyll Arbor, Inc., 2014.
Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: the effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 73-82.