Happiness depends on how you handle the day

This past weekend, I was catching up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. One, like me, has been going through some medical things lately. Completely different issues, but very similar paths in The Hunt for a Diagnosis. It’s led both of us to some problems with anxiety, and in my conversation with her, I told her something that she found very comforting: You can’t control what happens, but you can control your reaction to it.

In my case, I can’t control what my body is doing. I can’t control the pain or the ridiculous journey I’ve been going through. I can’t change anything that’s happened. I can’t turn any of the negative tests into positives just for the sake of a diagnosis. I can’t go back and tell people that I know it could be worse, but that this battle I’m fighting is no less real just because it’s not cancer and I’m not dying. I can’t go back in time and tell myself to calm the eff down about life, because stress may be what brought this all on to begin with.

But what I can control is my reaction to it all, and what stressors I decide to allow in my life now.

It’s something I’ve really come to grips with in the past month (two? three? I’m losing track), but I haven’t really been able to articulate it particularly well. I should’ve known that my favorite band (Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers) would be able to put it into the words I couldn’t come up with:

“Happiness depends on how you handle the day.”

I don’t think anyone fully understands what I’ve been going through since mid-July. No matter how hard they try to get it, or how hard I try to explain it, no one can truly know how this has all affected me in ways other than the outward, physical manifestation of pain.

And it’s something I’ve been hesitant to talk about or write about in a public forum, because mental health in our society is a scary subject. It’s almost taboo. I’ve been terrified to talk about it for fear of being judged, for being seen as weak.

Last week, Nicole (who is a bit of a blog rock star in my world) wrote about mental health battles (read that, seriously), and after wiping the tears out of my eyes, I emailed Nicole and poured my heart out to this amazing woman, who simultaneously felt like a stranger and a best friend. I told her that I could relate to her situation in a myriad ways. That my life, in which everything was finally going so amazingly well that I could hardly believe it, had come to this grinding halt and that aside from the physical health concerns, I have been having real and debilitating mental health concerns. I thanked her for being so open and honest about mental health battles.

And lastly, I asked her to carry me with her across that finish line on race day, along with the many others she is carrying in the fight for mental health care in this country.

I felt infinitely better having emailed Nicole, and I was content with that step alone. But then she emailed me back, one of the kindest and most sincere emails I’ve ever received. We’ve exchanged a few more and the conversation with Nicole has been a huge inspiration for me.

This week, I’ll be taking a step forward in getting the help I need with the mental and emotional effects of what I’ve been going through physically. You all know my penchant for self-help, but sometimes, you can’t help yourself well enough and you need to bring in outside resources.

And that doesn’t make me weak. It makes me strong, because I’m trying to make it better. Weakness would be giving in to it and letting it consume me.

My beloved Stephen Kellogg is right: Happiness depends on how you handle the day – one day at a time. And I’m determined to get that happiness back in my life for as many days as I can.

To the friends and family who have been helping me handle these days the past two months, I cannot thank you enough. I haven’t always handled it gracefully, but I’m working on it. I’m no longer allowing myself to stress about who has or hasn’t called or texted me. Or about how I’m going to pay the medical bills. Or about all the social events I’ve missed out on. Or about whether they’re getting on OK at work without me. Or about how difficult my first run back is going to be. Or about how outsiders are viewing me and what I’m going through.

I’m focusing on my health – physical, emotional, mental. My complete health, my whole self. Because if I don’t get myself healthy, none of that other stuff matters.

And to Nicole – thank you for having the courage to speak out about mental health, and for encouraging me to do the same. I only hope our society as a whole can learn to see it for what it is and work to make mental health care a basic right. You truly are a rock star, lady.

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“Gamble on yourself. I’d gamble on you.”

If you asked me whether I thought a quote from Modern Family would ever be the inspiration for a blog post, I probably would’ve said no, except if it was just hilarious and absurd and part of a “this made me laugh” conversation. (Or in reference to Cam’s “sleepclowning,” which made my childhood nightmares come true this week.)

But this week, there was a moment between Jay and Phil, which, if you watch the show, you know is a big deal.

Not from this episode, but another Jay/Phil moment.

The following conversation occurred as Phil was trying to decide whether to leave his steady job to become a partner at a new firm:

Jay: “Do you want this?”

Phil: “Yes.”

Jay: “Then gamble on yourself. I’d gamble on you.”

Cue tears. Maybe this is a message we are all waiting for, or one that we’ve been too stubborn to hear.

We’re waiting for the approval from our loved ones to take the risk, to make the leap, to double down on that hand on that big, hairy, scary dream of ours.

To accept that while failure is a possibility, we will be the better for it in the long run. We will learn from it. We will know better next time. And even if we do fail, our support systems will still love us. We are so conditioned to think that failure is the end, but really, it’s just the beginning. It’s the beginning of figuring out a new solution, a new path, a new adventure. If we succeeded at everything all the time… damn, that life would be boring, right? Probably rich and lucrative, but boring nonetheless.

When you go to Vegas, sure, it’s fun if you start winning right away. But eventually, you’re going to lose a little bit of money. It’s then that you start to appreciate the winnings. You’ve gotta take the risk, put yourself out there, and see what happens.

My family and friends have been nothing but supportive of me and my decisions over the past year. But I haven’t taken full advantage of that. I’ve been humbled by it, touched by it, but not quite as inspired by it as I should have been. They’ve all told me, in different words, that they are willing to gamble on me. That they would place that bet that I can hit the jackpot on this idea or that idea. That they have faith in me.

I’ve just been lacking that faith in myself. That ability to accept the possibility of failure. That fearless nature to put the big bet down, cross my fingers, close my eyes and see what happens.

Maybe it’s time to make that bet. If everyone else is willing to gamble on me, I should sure as hell be willing to gamble on myself. After all, I’ve got a lot less money to lose than most of the others!

Filling in the holes

If you didn’t see, I’m participating in National Blog Posting Month, mainly due to the indirect peer pressure skills of my lovely friend Mary. And here goes post #2 to get me caught up…hopefully I post #3 on the 3rd!

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I’ve been struggling the past couple of months. Struggling with time management, multitasking, motivation, self-confidence and just plain feeling like myself. I haven’t been taking the time for myself that I need.

Writing? It’s essentially disappeared. Planning my next big move? Gone. Putting effort into “dating”? A passing fad.

The things I haven’t lost the focus on are working out (my saving grace) and taking the time to remain connected to those I care about. Obviously I dedicated my time, heart, soul, brain (and liver) to running the 5k last month. It took a lot out of me, but gave me back more than I could have hoped for.

But I’ve been feeling a few holes in my life that I want to start filling in. The writing is a HUGE one – think Grand Canyon. So NaBloPoMo is definitely going to help me with that. But there are others too. And I think the Race for the Cure was such an inspirational experience that I can take that “runner’s high,” so to speak, and use it to fill in these holes.

I know nothing about "Holes," the book or the movie, but I felt like I couldn't NOT put this image in... via tvtropes.org

A sense of belonging…purpose, meaning and worth. A sense of job security and of achieving the dreams I’ve always had for myself. A sense of security that everything is going to work out OK. A life to call mine. A new adventure. A new home. I want so desperately to move somewhere new and “start over,” (although I’d love to have a plan in place to do so!) but I have no idea where to go…or how to figure that out…or how to be sure that I’ll be happy there.

And then there’s that evil word. Love. I can say all I want that I am OK with being single. That I don’t need to be loved by anyone other than myself, my family and my friends. That I don’t need a man. But as more and more of my peers and friends settle down…the more I think damn, that would be nice. I’m not ready to settle down yet, by any means. But it would be nice to be loved. To have a date to those weddings and social events. To not be the 3rd, 5th, 7th or 9th wheel. To have someone who makes my heart race and who feels the same way about me.

Cliche single girl thoughts? Sure. But I’m 24, and this hole is starting to feel a little bit bigger with each passing day.

Those holes that I’ve been skipping over lately… this whole year, really… they’re really starting to get overwhelming. I know a lot of my friends and peers are feeling the same way. It’s that damn quarterlife crisis thing again. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with friends saying, “Something’s missing, Lindsay. I don’t know what, but something’s missing.” Or “I don’t know where to go. I don’t know how to be happy.” Or “When is it all going to just fall into place?”

We’re tired of jumping over these holes, hopping from one point of solid ground to the next. We want to be able to walk freely, to feel secure. To not fear that the next hole we fall in is going to be a black hole we can’t get out of.

But things aren’t going to just “fall into place.” We need to make them fit. We need to fill in the holes.

It all comes down to one thing for us (well, me at least). Fear. Fear of risking it all. Of putting ourselves out there. Of being vulnerable. Of rejection. Of failure. And of our dreams themselves.

Because once we do get all these things we want, crave and need… well, then what?

There’s only one way to find out.

It Takes Guts to Show Up for Life

When my roommate gave me “The Heroine’s Bookshelf” for my birthday, I was intrigued by it and excited to check it out, but I had no idea what to expect. When I dove into it, what I found was the reflections of a woman on the lessons she learned from some of the most beloved books by female authors, mixed in with the histories of the authors themselves and how those backgrounds influenced their works.

Some of the books were ones I haven’t read (yet), such as “Gone With The Wind.” (It’s been on my bookshelf since I was like nine…I’ll get to it eventually.) And others are some of my all-time favorites, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Jane Eyre,” and “Little Women.”

I appreciated Erin Blakemore’s ability to weave the histories of the authors with the stories of the heroines, all while giving her personal experiences with the books and the lessons she learned from them.

From the books I have read, I think she really pulled out accurate life lessons from them. For example, we learned about compassion from Scout Finch, simplicity from Laura Ingalls, and steadfastness from Jane Eyre.

But as I approached the end of the book the other night, I found myself dog-earring one page in particular. In reference to Jo March of “Little Women,” Blakemore writes the following:

Ambition is a heroine’s trait only when it adds to life instead of detracting from it. Louisa [May Alcott] would be proud and happy to see that a modern woman can choose any avenue for her life’s work, that our road is easier than the one she trod so resolutely and so ruefully. But fewer obstacles doesn’t mean fewer obligations. Though we have it relatively easy, we still face the challenges of being taken seriously, of proving that our efforts have some meaning and worth. It takes guts to show up for life, to tackle what we are handed. And it takes even more strength and courage not to confuse self-sacrifice with self-sustenance.

I couldn’t help but reread those last two sentences over and over again.

It takes guts to show up for life. What a powerful statement. Life is a funny thing. It’s forced upon us in a lot of ways. We’re dealt good and bad cards. We can either just float through life taking what’s handed to us without asking questions, or we can truly show up. Be present. Be active. Have the guts to show up and participate in our own lives. Tackle what we are handed.

Things are going to be hard every once in a while. They’re going to suck. But if we truly show up for our lives and tackle them head on, we’ll be better off for it in the end.

I think that’s what I’ve been trying to vocalize for myself the past couple of months, but I didn’t know how. I wasn’t showing up for my life. I sure as hell wasn’t standing up for my life. I was just letting things get thrown at me without tackling them. Now, I’m taking it all on. I have guts. I’m showing up. I’m shuffling the cards I’ve been dealt and I’m making the best hand I can out of it. I’m growing and I’m learning. And every day is a struggle in some way, but I’m really making a true effort to show up every single day.

But as Blakemore reminded me, “A heroine’s work — growth, self-definition, barrier-smashing — is never really done.”

I wasn’t expecting to file this read under The Self-Help Files, but I don’t think I have a choice now.

I’ll leave you now with one last passage from this chapter:

Let us heed Louisa’s warning and do as Jo does, taking up the work that’s right for us instead of that which we feel obligated to pursue…

Here’s to showing up for life, to having the guts to do what is right for you, and to learning lessons from the heroines we’ve been blessed to have in our lives, both real and fictional.