The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season has become a time of year I dread. This year I am having an especially hard time. I literally feel like the Grinch – which is so unlike me! Unfortunately, my mental illnesses have a grip on me this time around that no amount of meditation, yoga, baths, water, or wine has been able to remedy.
With so many commitments, the days fly by. Personally, this makes the time we spend with others feel less authentic and more like we’re just going through the motions in a valiant attempt to make everyone happy. Always watching the clock for the next place we need to be. Small talk. Eat. Small talk. Games. Next event. Repeat. Sound familiar? Not necessarily my style. Certainly not a series of events that is good for my mental health when I’m running on empty.
Some years I have the strength for this routine with a genuine smile on my face and in my heart. But to be candidly honest, this year is not one of them. My Advent Calendar is counting down the days until all of this is OVER, versus a countdown in anticipation of the magic of Christmas. With so many large group interactions on the calendar (my worst nightmare) paired with an already depressed outlook over the next few weeks I can feel my brain joyously preparing to overanalyze and vilify each moment, making me the bad guy in every situation. If this doesn’t happen to you, trust me, it’s the absolute worst and is only amplified by the weight of the holidays.
For me, getting through this period will require taking one day, one event, at a time. Attempting to be kind to myself following interactions that I have major anxiety about and reminding myself to be realistic about them along the way. I’m holding on to the hope that if I continue to come from a place of kindness with no intentional malice (it’s none of my business if someone reads it that way), no matter what I say or do should be OK. I’ll just have to show up as I can and give what I can. Which doesn’t feel like a lot at this point!
I wanted to share my experience with you before the holidays because I hope that it encourages a sense of empathy within you towards those in your life who have a known mental illness or are simply acting a little “off” this holiday season. We all carry a certain level of stress during this season, but for someone with a mental illness, that stress can trigger feelings that send them spiraling into a blinding black hole. <Slowly raises hand.>
Sometimes you can seemingly “have everything to be thankful for,” but when you are dealing with mental illness, gratitude for what you have can be hard to feel and express. Being surrounded by lots of family can be suffocating. Simple interactions can feel too heavy. A lot going on, in general and in the moment, can completely drain someone.
Here are a few things I’d love for you to keep in mind this holiday season as you spend time with family and friends who may have a mental illness:
Although my view of the holidays may be through tainted lenses right now, believe me when I say I do truly hope you all have a wonderful holiday season that fills your heart with happiness and joy!
One of the best things I've done for myself in this stage of my life is sign-up for the Master Gardener course through the Iowa State University Extension & Outreach Office in Black Hawk County.
Plug the word "garden" into the search bar of my blog and you will find that gardening has become a huge passion of mine. It has always been an interest, but until I had the space of our acreage, I didn't have a chance to explore it fully.
I wanted to start the Master Gardener journey now versus later (most members are 50+) because I thought having a formal education about gardening would benefit me tremendously as I continue to expand our little farm. Having "book knowledge" to combine with my practical knowledge and apply to my future experiences will be wonderful.
When signing up, I did not know what I was getting myself into. After taking the required pre-assessment before classes started, I REALLY didn't know what I was getting myself into. Essentially, the pre-assessment taught me that I knew NOTHING about gardening. I was a complete rookie. Which was humbling, motivating me even more to do well in this course.
Our classes were primarily in the classroom, watching educational video presentations by experts from Iowa State University. Sprinkled in were a few live classes ranging from private gardens of Master Gardeners to established greenhouses. Those classes were my favorite because hands-on experiences are the what my brain absorbs best. These trips were also the most inspiring to me, seeing how others were applying their knowledge about gardening in so many different ways.
Our trainings all led up to a hands-on class on the Iowa State University campus. Over 300 Master Gardener trainees from across the state came together to learn and share their knowledge. It was amazing! I got to know the people in the Black Hawk County group better (funny how we never talked in class but when put into a new situation we were inseparable!) which was very nice.
I loved every minute of the on-campus training. The dots started to connect for me when we were able to apply what we learned in a variety of different labs.
My favorite labs were Botany:
And surprisingly, Entomology:
I also really enjoyed Plant Pathology, identifying diseases in plants. I didn't snap a photo of that because we had to circulate through 10 stations really fast!
Overall, the experience was even better than I expected. It was nice to be with like-minded people who daydreamed about their gardens as much as I do.
I passed my post-assessment (WOO-HOO!):
So what this means is that I am now an official Master Gardener Intern. I'll complete 40 hours of volunteering and 10 hours of continuing education in 2019. In January of 2020 I'll officially be a Master Gardener. It will definitely be worth the work and the wait.
I will be honored to hold the title and share what I learn with others. I can already tell this is the beginning of a fulfilling journey! My heart feels full. Like I'm doing something I'm meant to do. And that's nice.
Hit me with your plant questions, I'd love to help you (probably learning a thing or two myself while I'm at it)!
Joel and I recently celebrated our NINTH wedding anniversary! We’ve been together almost thirteen years total. I have repeated this fact to myself over and over again the past few days. It seems surreal. Especially since I never thought I’d get married in the first place! But goodness, am I glad I did.
We always take time around our anniversary to stop and reflect. Escaping for a few days to explore, our favorite thing to do together.
This year was one of the best anniversary trips we’ve taken! We traveled around Iowa and Wisconsin over five days, our primary home base being my family’s cabin in Lansing, Iowa.
Before I dive into what we did, I want to tell you how the morning of our vacation started before we left because I think it’s important that some real life gets thrown into this shiny, happy post! We got water in our basement. A LOT of water. The dogs lost their minds at the vet, Madison had to get muzzled. I had a nail in my tire that needed to be fixed before we left. The dogs lost their minds again at home and pushed a glass platter down the stairs, breaking it. Something come up at work that they needed to contact me about. All before noon. After some big breaths and an undying will to continue on as planned, we made it out of the house!
We started out in Madison, Wisconsin. We both love Madison. Great city. College town. Pretty hip. Lots to do. We didn’t have much time to wander around this time because we were in town to see Jeff Tweedy from Wilco perform at an art museum. I had been to a Wilco show before and Joel is constantly listening to them so I had a good idea of what we were getting into. But wow. What a show. I was in tears several times. Jeff is a king lyricist. And for as serious as his lyrics are, he’s actually a pretty funny guy. Time flew and neither of us wanted it to end!
We had to venture home after staying the night in Madison because Twins had a show in Des Moines. So on our way back we hit up Chris Farley’s childhood home in Madison and then the Field of Dreams in Dyersville! I had never been to either, so it was pretty neat.
The following day we traveled to La Crosse, Wisconsin – our favorite Wisconsin city hands down. We hit up our regular haunts, napped in the park (beyond relaxing), and then ended the day taking a walk with “Mark Twain” as he told us about the Mississippi River. This one man, outdoor play was wonderful. I never realized that Mark Twain was a humorist. For a humorist, he was quite an insightful man. Some of the lines spoken were extremely moving and very relevant in our current political state.
We finished the trek where three different rivers intersect at the end of the La Crosse river walk. Mark Twain said this is a sign of a sacred space according to Native Americans. We were in a hidden garden. The sun was setting over the water. Ducks were peacefully swimming nearby. I was with Joel. Mark Twain was standing in front of us. A sacred space indeed.
On our last day before packing up to go home, we went south into Wisconsin. We checked out some spots just outside of and in Prairie du Chien. We stopped by an apple orchard/pumpkin patch, walking away without any fresh fruit, but with a bag of fresh bakery items instead! Then we ventured into an area that we hadn’t been before, off the beaten path. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but essentially we found a large equipment graveyard. I may have broken a couple of rules and committed a minor crime while we were there, but I made it out without being arrested!
We were also excited to find an antique shop we hadn’t seen before. If you are in that area and like reasonably priced antiques, check out Checkers Antiques! Nice people, amazing selection, open for 50 years – so they know what’s up.
Overall, it was a very relaxing trip. In between adventures we made sure to reaffirm our commitment to one another, celebrate victories, learn from challenges (like the five in a row we experienced before leaving!), and look into the future.
I’m lucky for this man and all he brings to my life. We seem to feel happier each year we are together, which I am immensely grateful for. Being by his side is my favorite part of living. We’ve built a simple yet incredible life together that only keeps getting better. Here’s to staying aligned and in love for many more years, J! Glad you’re on my team.
I can’t get hate off my mind.
I’m really trying to understand it – and the people that feel it so deeply that they think, talk about, or actually hurt others because of it.
We just went to see the movie BlacKkKlansman and I was MOVED. I was sobbing by the end. My soul was shook. I wanted to write this post right away, but thought in doing that, I may say something I regretted. I was deeply hurt about those out there that have had to, and still do, deal with unfathomable hate cast towards them. For doing nothing but existing. Again, for doing NOTHING but existing.
I’ve never experienced this (that I am aware of), and for that, I am beyond grateful. I can’t even imagine what it feels like to be talked down to, treated poorly, and possibly threatened simply because I was who I was. Because of the color of my skin. Because of the religion I followed. Beliefs I carried. Sexual orientation. Groups I was associated with. The list goes on and on.
I started to think a lot about my views about others. And although I don’t carry the extreme hate in my heart those I’ve been alluding to do, I am human, and it creeps in from time to time. Sometimes it is the easiest reaction to have because by responding with hate, we are pushing away. We are putting our hands up trying to protect ourselves or hidden parts of ourselves that are reacting negatively to the person, place, or thing at hand. I think hate comes from a place of insecurity and uncertainty. There is something about whatever hate is being thrown at that is poking something deep down inside of a person, and from there it is fight or flight. Unfortunately, hate favors both.
Another thing that came to mind is how am I fostering hate? The answer was easy. By staying silent. By allowing others to put a group of people down and deciding it will just be easier to say nothing than start an argument. But you know what? There doesn’t have to be an argument. I can simply say, “I’d prefer if you didn’t talk about this with me.” Or “This conversation makes me uncomfortable and I’d rather not engage.” If you don’t have the energy to talk through it, shut it down. By staying silent, I’m allowing the hate to go on. Even by simply interrupting the conversation, I may prompt the other person to think about what they are saying, question their own views, and reflect on the “why” tied to their feelings.
I’d love to talk to people out there that passionately “hate” one or more groups of people. I would first ask them, “Why do you hate them?” I feel like in many cases, there would be stumbling over words that sound a lot like whatever B.S. they were fed by their parents, grandparents, friends, etc. over time. Learned behavior. Peer pressure. I would then ask, “What did they do to you to make you feel this way?” I feel that a small number would respond with an experience involving the “hated” group or groups doing something directly to them. Again, again – hate felt towards others for doing NOTHING but existing.
It just isn’t fair. It breaks my heart. It makes me feel terrible for the people on the receiving end. It even makes me feel sorry for the ones carrying the hate, because it can’t be pleasant. I can only imagine what GOOD they could do with all of the time and energy spent thinking about, taking action towards, even building organizations around, the groups they hate.
I think I’ve said it before, we’re all just human beings doing our best to get through this life. None of us are perfect or “better than.” We are all on different tracks. Let’s make the moments when our tracks intersect be worthwhile. Smile. Say, “Hello.” Make others feel seen. Time spent sitting with hate is time wasted.
I just ran across this video and wanted to share it here as it goes along with where my mind was at with this post. This is Beto O’Rourke who is running for the Senate in Texas:
I’m giving the project addict in me a tiny bit of a break for the rest of the Summer.
We resumed outdoor projects on our acreage the moment the weather felt the slightest bit like Spring this year. Since then, we’ve been busting our butts in the limited spare time we have had to continue our progress on fixing up our almost 100-year-old home. And you know what? We’re tired. Our minds and bodies and budget need a break. So we’re taking it!
As we’ve slowed our pace a bit, we’ve actually been able to step back and appreciate all that we have done in a little over two years. I wanted to share some of our outdoor progress with you in the form of some before and after shots!
Front of House
Back of House
Around the House Paint & Landscaping
I’ve also spruced up some awkward spaces on our property with vignettes and flowers:
Hope you enjoyed a little look into the work we’ve been doing! I think I’ll pull together a post that shows before and afters of the interior of our home as well, since that has evolved so much in two years as well. And even though I said we’re taking a break…I have a few DIY projects that I want to complete and share soon.
Have a wonderful and relaxing rest of the Summer!
Becoming a gardener has been one of the most rewarding hobbies I’ve ever stumbled upon.
Flowers have always been my favorite. I worked really hard in the yard and flower beds of our first home to establish landscaping that made me smile each time I was outside (while adding charm to the exterior of course). When we moved to our second, and potentially forever, home on two acres of land my head started swimming with ideas of what I could do with so much space.
In a little over two years’ time, my plants have been the best teachers. As I’ve sweated over landscaping around the entire house, planted a huge vegetable and wildflower garden, and made plans to fill in spots begging for the chance to host perennials – nature has spoken to me.
There is so much to learn from the simplicity of the outdoors. It exists. If you allow it the basic necessities to live – off it goes. No pomp and circumstance. In its own time and at its own pace, it grows.
I spent a few hours in my vegetable and wild flower garden last night since I haven’t been able to be as hands on with it as I was last year. I was missing it. And you know what I realized? Even though I wasn’t there to pluck every single weed, prune every little tomato shoot, or thoroughly water every one of the plants – there they were – growing stronger before my eyes. The control freak inside of me softened. There were weeds, the tomato plants were out of control, and it could have used a watering – but it was my garden and my tiny seedlings were well on their way to bearing their fruit without any handholding from me.
In their own time, they will bloom.
And sometimes…they won’t. Enter – the humbling part of being a gardener.
I tried starting seedlings this year. I was off to a great start – everything was sprouting. And then it wasn’t. I tried more water and less water. Airing them out. Time outside. Every combination I could think of. Unfortunately, only six green bean seedlings were the sole survivors out of 54 pods of seedlings. The seedlings that once showed promise shriveled away and the egg shells I started them in were worked into the dirt around the seedlings I was forced to buy. Ouch. My mighty green thumb wasn’t as mighty after all. Turns out I’m not naturally good at everything. Sometimes, even if you use all of your charm and try all you can, you fail. Fall right down on your face. Into a pile of dried up seedlings.
In addition to pride, humility, and more patience – my plants have given me a feeling of purpose and contentment.
If you have read my blog, you know I’m my worst critic. I beat myself up a lot. But since becoming a gardener, especially at our new home, one of the most comforting things I can say to myself is, “You may not be good at everything. You might not do everything perfectly. But you are good at something. And after you’re done with X, Y, Z – you can come back here, to your garden, and you’ll be OK.”
Having something in my life that makes me feel that way is truly priceless. I suppose you could say I’ve found my happy place in the garden. The place you can close your eyes and visualize and smile about.
I hope you’ve found your happy place, too. And if you haven’t – take time to reflect on what makes you feel and keeps you grounded. Run towards it. Throw everything you’ve got into it. I promise the lessons it teaches you along the way will be worth it.
I’ve written recently about “going through instead of around.” This has become my primary mantra for a variety of different reasons.
But you know what? As necessary as it is, going through is TOUGH. My feet have been dragging when I get to the point of having to go through, and because of this, I have a lot of ickiness going on inside. I don’t like it, but I also don’t want to start reflecting out of fear that I’ll hate what I uncover. Along with being tough, going through isn’t always much fun, either.
A lot of my current physical and mental struggles have to do with being way too busy, but not knowing what I can weed out for the personal time I need. Everything seems equally important and the people pleaser in me is out in full force. Social events that I continue to deeply struggle with keep crashing into me, non-stop, forcing me to be “on” all the time (if I can muster the brain energy – sometimes all people get is my physical body in the same space as them, nodding and smiling along). Breathing exercises during car rides to and from commitments are “my time.” And that’s not enough.
My marriage is feeling it. My work is feeling it. My relationships are feeling it.
I need to start going through. UUUGGGHHH! But I don’t want to. But I want to. But I really don’t want to…But I should.
I have a precious five hours to myself one morning this weekend that I’m hoping to take advantage of for a good ol’ self-check-in – reevaluation of my current priorities, and dissection of my physical and mental state. (All while I try to get my garden planted.) I’ve let things go a little too long. I’ve avoided going through one day, one week, one month (or more) too many.
Life is something, isn’t it? Sometimes no amount of gratitude for what we have can relieve the pressure it puts on us. With or without our permission.
It’s the journey through that counts. If you can put things into perspective, the trenches are some of the best places to trudge through because that's where the true strength that each and every one of us possess comes out. Takes care of us. Gets us back on track. Maybe even onto a better track that we didn’t even know we were looking for. Bring it on – let’s go through!
I recently had the great honor of taking a trip to Washington, D.C. on behalf of the nonprofit health care clinic I work for. I felt very undeserving, having been with them for just under three months, but beyond grateful nonetheless.
My husband and I have always been interested in politics. We often have conversations about American history, current political events, and our favorite Presidents. We’ve also talked about visiting D.C. at some point, so I felt kind of bad that I was making this trip without him! He was happy for me and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll make it back together.
Before I left, I was mapping everything out. Where I was staying, where the Capitol was, where the conference was. I then happened upon maps showing the National Mall. My excitement shot through the roof when I realized I’d be just 10 driving minutes from the White House! And from the White House, I could walk to the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial – two things I said I had to see before leaving. Any doubts I had left me in that moment because I felt so lucky to be taking this trip.
Getting to D.C. was a breeze. Round trip I was able to see four new airports I’d never been to. I had downloaded transportation apps before I left – Super Shuttle, Uber, DC Taxi. Uber was my favorite but Super Shuttle got me from the airport to my hotel. When I arrived in D.C., I had just 30 minutes to get checked in, freshened up, and driven to my first destination. I got there right on time, was inspired by the conference’s opening session speakers, and met others from Iowa who work at other community health centers before heading to a (long) dinner with them. After waking up at 4 a.m. and traveling for eleven hours, I was SO TIRED. Although I enjoyed dinner, getting to bed felt better than it had in a really long time.
My second day was the one I was fearing the most – meetings with legislators on Capitol Hill. Although I was just there to observe, not knowing what I was walking into was bothering me. I figured if I didn’t puke or poop (which I didn’t), I’d be golden! Sadly, this the standard that helps me put high anxiety situations into perspective. Anyway, the day ended up being amazing, I felt bonded with the Iowa folks who attended with us (because we were all nervous as heck), and walked away with a new perspective on how politicians and Congress work. I got to experience a view of the inner workings of our congressional system in a way that many will not have the privilege of doing.
Here are just a few photos I snapped inside some of the House and Senate buildings (I didn’t want to be too touristy):
As a reward to myself for a successful day, I planned to sight see that evening after reading D.C. at night is a must-see – which was so true. During drinks with our colleagues, I mentioned to my boss that I was going to catch an Uber to the Lincoln Memorial (look at me sounding all fancy). I was surprised when she said she’d like to join me! And I’m so glad she did.
Here’s a quick recap of what we saw and how it made me feel:
The third day was great, but won’t be interesting to most of you. It was conference day, back to back educational sessions. My head was bursting with new ideas by the end, which is exactly what I wanted and needed to happen.
Overall, the experience was just wonderful. From what I saw and learned to the people I met and bonded with. I felt very proud to 1) be an American, and 2) be a community health center advocate.
I’m happiest that this trip lit the political activist fire within me. I’m learning politician names, parties, districts. I’m paying attention to their words vs. their actions. I will say I’ve already been disappointed my one of the Iowa politicians I met. The words he spoke and the character he portrayed DO NOT match up with his recent actions. I was sad this happened, but it has led me to take some additional steps to stay informed, hold these people accountable, and take action in getting others to VOTE people like him out.
I’ll share a couple of the additional steps I’ve taken so far before closing:
“It’s about building a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. It’s about truly living the way you want, not what’s expected of you. There’s a difference between enjoying life and escaping life. Build a life you want to BE in.”
Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times, YES! Although salt baths and chocolate cake can be part of the life you want to BE in – we shouldn’t depend on them to act as periodic band aids for “getting through” life.
The phrase “self-care” has been thrown around a lot lately. Including by yours truly. I think it’s extremely important. I also think it’s extremely complex.
Self-care is so personal to each of us. Many times it is marketed to us as one-stop-shop remedies like salt baths and chocolate cake, when really, it is deeper than that. Or should be deeper than that.
We normally cry, “I need time for self-care!” when we’ve reached our limit, something has pushed us too far – when we need to escape. Not always, but many times. And in my opinion, true self-care means diving deep, feeling those things I don’t necessarily want to feel, and figuring out how to fix or change the root of why I’m feeling that way. Going through instead of around. Pinpointing the reason why I’m trying to escape the situation or thoughts while in my salt bath eating chocolate cake (or truly, drinking wine or a Coors Light…I’m real classy).
This is tough though. Really tough. Mainly because it’s not where our mind goes first. To feel or “sit with” uncomfortable feelings. But you know what, that’s where the good stuff lies. So we have to start training ourselves to feel life. The good right alongside the bad. Listen to it. Ask ourselves the difficult questions. And then do the work to build that life we don’t want to escape from.
In order to continue building a life I’m proud of, I’ve been trying to dig into the tough stuff more and more lately, especially regarding the things in my life that will most likely be there forever. The constants. The things that make me cry, “Tap the brakes. I need time for self-care!” A few that have bugged me for years, continue to bother me to this day, and will fester within me for the rest of my life if I don’t do the uncomfortable work of figuring out why, and then how to come to terms with them. They are things I can’t bow out of – so how do I repair and prepare myself to see these out of my control situations in a way that fits into my big picture?
This leads me into my other thought about a big part of self-care being what we tell ourselves. Perspective. If we can’t fix or change something, how can we look at it differently so that it doesn’t send us running for the hills? What can we say to ourselves to make the situation feel OK? Make ourselves feel OK? Allow it to exist inside our life peacefully vs. trying to escape from it every time it presents itself? Using perspective to protect ourselves in a way that allows us to reshape the “unsavory” parts of our journey into something that doesn’t necessarily fill us up in a genuine way, but doesn’t drain us either.
I think to do this takes consistent practice and strength. But ultimately, this type of internal work is the best type of self-care you can give yourself. It’s yours to protect. You can’t allow external forces to have a voice. You have to be fiercely persistent.
Make the baths and cake – or exercise, oils, movies, travel, animals, nature, whatever your heart desires – part of the life you want to be in, just don’t use them as crutches to help you hobble away from or around the real life stuff that is at hand.
Make it right with your soul. Self-care at the soul level. Soul-care. Get your soul-care on!
I wanted to share a quick mindfulness tip that I apply to my daily life that I hope you find helpful.
I am a little impatient, especially when I’m in a hurry. And sometimes even when I’m not in a hurry. I usually blame those moments on being hangry.
A long line. Slow traffic. Service that’s taking forever. The list goes on.
Instead of allowing myself to become consumed with unnecessary rage, I look at the situation as an opportunity vs. an inconvenience. In most cases, my only option is to wait it out. So why not use that time wisely, in a way that benefits my mind and body?
By the time I’m through with this short routine, the circumstances causing me to feel poorly most times have passed. And if they haven’t, I’m in a better place, able to handle the wait with more tolerance all around.
Give this a try and let me know what you think! If you have any other good mindfulness tips, I’d love to hear them.