Gratitude Can Become a Trap

We had a friend over last weekend for sketching, snacks, and mead, and over the course of the evening, the sentence “Gratitude can be a trap” came out of my mouth as I was discussing my life after having my daughter and leading up to losing my job. And I realized the truth of the statement. If you always feel grateful for what you have, even when life turns extremely difficult, the gratitude can easily become an opportunity to not process emotions properly or to allow situations to continue long past the point they should. At least, that’s how it worked for me. I have a wonderfully supportive and hands-on co-parent in my husband and my mom took time off after the baby was born, on top of help from other family and friends. So when I felt overwhelmed in my recovery, I buried those feelings in gratitude and told myself “It can be so much worst, I have no right to complain.” And I believed it. And because my previous employer allowed me to have the baby with me, when the nigh impossible job I had actually became really impossible, rather than complain, I just kept plowing ahead and told myself how lucky I was to get to have the baby with me. It became this kind of feedback loop that helped contribute to tunnel vision that got so severe I couldn’t even tell when I started working myself sick.

I don’t want to downplay the role of gratitude in my life. It’s really important. But it’s a passive virtue, and therein lies the crux of the issue. The passive and the active have to be balanced against each other, rather than allowing either one to dominate your life to an extreme, and I think the action that should accompany gratitude is another ‘g’ – generosity. Generosity of spirit. Generosity of love. Practiced both outward onto the world and inward toward one’s self. Because if you are generous towards yourself, you won’t allow people to drive you to your breaking point. You won’t drive yourself to your breaking point.

What are your thoughts on gratitude? Have you ever felt yourself in a similar situation? Do you find yourself falling more into a passive or active attitude toward life, or are you fairly well balanced?

The Flint, MI Tragedy Or When Human Lives Matter Little

I first heard about the Flint, MI water issues early this past fall, on Tumblr of all places. After investigating it a little online, I reblogged the initial post to spread awareness a little, but mostly I just kept an eye on it from time to time because raising Internet awareness often seems a fruitless task, and there seemed to already be many warriors in the fray on this one. When the mainstream media finally broke with the story, when the government finally admitted to there being a problem, they were showing photos and clips from months before as “breaking news”. How much extra irreparable harm was done because of the delayed reaction and attempt at cover-up on the parts of those groups? I’ll post the link to the Wikipedia article on it, as it seems to give the broadest overview without a particular slant (difficult to find these days).

It is appalling that this situation has happened and that it’s all over water, one of the very essential things to life. Water, I might add, that was being paid for by the citizens, that is STILL being paid for by the citizens, toxins and all. Not a government handout, though one could argue that clean, potable water is a human right and not a luxury. Especially in a nation that many who live in it still cling to the notion of being “the greatest on Earth”, which is laughable if you look at any statistical comparisons.

People have taken to using this situation as an opportunity to take potshots at opposing political sides, which is not helpful to the situation at all and ignores the bigger issue here. We have a population that realized relatively soon that the water was unsafe to drink and it took them way too long to get the situation even acknowledged, let alone begun to be addressed. We have a population essentially trapped where they are now, as they are unable to sell their property and required to still be paying their water bills. We have proof of how much power and control we as citizens have in our current corporate oligarchy we live in, and the answer is “not very much”. This should be raising alarm bells across the country, and it isn’t. This could happen anywhere, whether because of deliberate destruction or greed or gross negligence.  It has happened in the past, with different agricultural and industrial communities. It will happen again in the future. But this is maybe the first time that we can clearly see how far things can go against us as citizens of the United States. And if normal, every day people like me can see it, so can those that are really in control.

I have seen suggestions that perhaps our government is simply too inept to run public works like water supply, and that maybe we should privatize water and allow independent businesses to take over. To that I simply post this link with information to the gas leak currently happening in SoCal. And the thought of companies like CocaCola/Nestle and Pepsi handling our water supply is terrifying. Water traded on the open market in barrels, like oil, isn’t a distant dystopian fiction but a potential reality and one that I don’t want any part of. Privatization isn’t going to fix anything. Holding everyone responsible in these situations that are responsible will. Raising a population that is educated and morally (not religiously but truly morally) upright will. Bowing down a little less before the almighty dollar will. And people willing to get a little more angry about their rights and freedoms and safety being compromised and a little less angry about their favorite sports team losing may just help a little bit too.

I try to live each day with hope for the future. But I always have kept in the back of my mind the question of “what would be the tipping point for us as Americans to really get off our butts and restructure the way our nation is run and our lives?” If lack of potable drinking, and being required to pay for the toxic water offered in it’s place, isn’t enough to mobilize our citizens, what is? I truly wonder. Are there too many people asleep now? Too many complacent cogs in the machine? I don’t know. I truly hope not.

Coffee/Caffeine Detox is Not Fun

I am on day two of no coffee/caffeine. It is painful. I suffered a big headache yesterday, and I’m all cotton-mouthed and pale today. I’m having a terrible time focusing, and my intestines have started hating me.

But, last night I slept the deepest and soundest that I’ve slept in a very long time. And the response to my withdrawal of the stuff even after a week of drinking only one cup per day to wean myself a bit shows how bad the situation was. I’ll be monitoring the effects over the next month or so and then deciding if I want to add in the occasional cup of coffee or tea or even get back into daily drinking of it.

I miss the cup already though. Sitting down to write or make art with a hot cup of coffee was something I really enjoyed. Buying local beans and grinding them ourselves, really savoring the taste with just a splash of organic cream… I miss it. But I’ve often said that anything you can’t imagine going more than a week without, let alone a day (other than basics needed for survival of course) means that there is probably an unhealthy attachment to that thing, so this is as good of time as any to put that theory to the test.

I’ll probably be miserable and not as productive as usual for another week. Then we’ll see.

In Pursuit of Happiness

I was sent the following infographic from TopCounselingSchools.org, and I decided to share it with all of you.

Infographics are kind of fascinating to me. They lay out statistics in a way that makes it easier for people to grasp. The better ones do it without pushing an agenda too much. In this particular one, what jumps out at me is the difference between the US rating of life satisfaction at 7 verses Switzerland at the top of the heap at 7.8. I know I’ve said before that the US should be looking at the top 3 nations in the world for happiness when it comes to improving life here, but if you really think about that, it’s the difference between a C- and a C+ grade, which is still only satisfactory. There are no nations in the world with above-average life satisfaction for the majority.

So what does that say? Is it a reflection that our modern lives don’t allow us to be more satisfied no matter where we are? Or is it a reflection on our human nature, that we will never be truly satisfied? And does the lack of satisfaction drive us to pursue our goals or make us more unhappy, or is it a delicate balancing act between the two?

Another thought – it is thrown around that humans should “follow their bliss” to live happy lives, which is kind of a parallel to Thomas Jefferson’s mention of “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. We humans may be more satisfied in life if we focus on the action of those phrases and if we learn to build societies and governments that give us the room to follow and pursue, instead of feeling trapped. It’s not enough to just look at the micro of the individual or the macro of society, but to change both, in my opinion.

What are your thoughts on happiness and satisfaction in life?

Non-Medical Sinus Remedies That Work! (For Me At Least)

I have been lax on several of my duties, including updating this blog, for the past week, and the main reason is that I’ve been battling some sinus issues. Every year in September, there is a 1 to 2 week period where I get an autumnal plague, just when I start wanting to kick into super-productive mode. I don’t know if it’s allergies, the weather shifting, or germs circulating more freely with children going back to school – maybe a combination of the three – but going back through my Morning Pages of recent years reads the same each time (“Ugh, my sinuses… I feel like crap… I’m so tired…”). I, of course, didn’t help matters this year by staying up really late to finish a project last Thursday and then staying up the two following nights for socializing (skanking at a wedding reception while snuffily didn’t help matters either, I’m sure).

I am someone who likes to keep my mind as sharp as possible, and I prefer to allow my body to fight off infections and bugs on it’s own whenever it can. Antibiotics are over-prescribed, allergy meds severely alter my mood and leave me feeling dizzy and “bubble-headed”, and even over-the-counter cold and allergy medicine have their effects. So I only rely on them as a last resort. So, slowly, in the past decade, I’ve developed a routine that works to get rid of my symptoms quickly and gets me back to full-productivity. I’ve decided to share my list with you, so maybe you can test them on yourselves.

Please note: I am not a medical doctor. I do not have any medical studies to back up my list, although they may exist if you decide to hunt for them. I’ve just tested various remedies on myself, and these are the ones that work for me. If they don’t work for you, don’t blame me.

  • Sleep is the most important thing you can do when you are suffering sinus issues (or indeed, any kind of ailment). As you can imagine, this is difficult for me to succumb to, but it is necessary. A lot of the further steps on this list merely relieve the sniffle/drainage symptoms enough so that you can get the rest you need.
  • Fluids – lots of them, and good quality ones. Water. Herbal teas – I use nettle tea for my allergy symptoms normally and just up my consumption, adding in some echinacea when I think it might be a cold). Pure juices but you should limit these or water them down as excess sugar can inflame the sinuses and worsen the mucous. Bone broths, I cannot rave enough about bone broths, for the vitamin and mineral content and the fat. I also like apple cider vinegar tonics, mixing in either cool water or adding 1 tbsp to hot water with 1 tbsp of local honey if my throat is sore from the drainage. Yes, you will get bloated, but all of that liquid helps flush the gross stuff pouring down your throat and into your stomach.
  • Zinc lozenges – I use one that also has vitamin C in it, but primarily it’s the zinc that helps, and sucking on a lozenge over taking a pill allows it to absorb better. Just be careful of the kind you pick, you don’t need to be adding fake sugars like aspartame or sucrolose in your body at this time (or ever, really, but that’s another discussion).
  • Steam treatments – if you don’t have a fever, you can soak in as hot of a bath as you can stand and this will help relieve any aching muscles as well. If you do have a fever, boil water in a tea kettle and pour it in a large bowl that can stand the heat. Drape a bath towel over the bowl to trap the steam in, and put your head under the towel to breathe in the steam for as long as you can stand. Take a break when you have to, and repeat for about five minutes, or as long as you can stand it. Both in the tub and at the table, you can add a few drops of lavender and/or eucalyptus oil, which will help open the sinus passages more and allow drainage.
  • Hydrogen peroxide in the ears – this is one I have no idea why it works, but it does. Lay on your side and put a few drops of hydrogen peroxide (whatever strength you get at the pharmacy for normal cosmetic usage) in one ear. I wet a cotton ball with the peroxide and squeeze it over my ear until it feels like no air is really getting in. Now, the sensation is very strange. Depending on how congested you are, or how much build-up you have in the ear canal, you will hear/feel the peroxide start bubbling away. You can also occasionally get vertigo, as your body adjusts. You will, quite suddenly, feel massive drainage from your sinuses, and yes, it is gross and disgusting, but the relief is immense. After about five minutes, sit up and drain your ear by tilting your head, then repeat on the other side.
  • Neti pot – now, there is some controversy regarding the neti pot. I actually don’t use a real neti pot but instead use an infant nose bulb and a little glass bowl. I start with distilled water, boil it to kill any bacteria it might have picked up from sitting on the grocery store shelves, and add in salt right before use. Suck up some water in the nosebulb and squirt it up my sinuses. Since leaving my office job, I have only had to rely on this once (far fewer allergens and germs that I’m exposed to). But if you try this, definitely be careful. It is painful but cleans out the nasal passages really well if an infection has started.
  • For severe nighttime congestion, I like to mix a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil with coconut oil and smear it under my nose – homemade vaporub! Test a sample on your skin to make sure you can stand the tingling sensation, and if you’ve been blowing your nose a lot, the area may be too sensitive for heavy use. But this helps keep the nostrils clear.

I hope these help you in the coming cold season! I’m on the mend myself now, but the rest of my household has succumbed. So there’s a bit of misery still around here. I’m getting impatient to get back to my full energy levels, because I have so many things I want to be working on. As usual.

Edit: I thought these were homeopathic remedies (albeit not the sleeping part) but was pointed out the error of my ways, so I changed the title. I’ve been using the word wrong all these years. The more you know!

Time to Pause, Heal, and Catch My Breath

My contract jobs in my former field finally are done, except for some cleaning up and dealing with paperwork over the next couple of weeks. It was a marathon of work – last week, I clocked over 70 hours, and over 60 the two weeks before that. I pushed myself to the limits of my strength and endurance to accomplish the job, and the entire time, I was wondering why on earth I was killing myself. The pace I set myself at was entirely unsustainable, and I’m glad to move back to a manageable 30-35 hours work week (for shop work and a couple of commissions) this week and 20-25 hours next week, to take some time to spend with my family, and to work on the creative projects that seem more significant to me.

Before I can make a true, rational decision about the next path of my life, I need to give myself some time to heal and distance myself from the projects I’ve just finished. I think maybe a couple of weeks will do it. But I am so worn out – physically, mentally, emotionally. This is the pattern I used to do in the past, take on more and more projects until I feel numb and to the point of collapsing. I use work as a way to disconnect myself from feeling too much sometimes. Which is bad. We had to put our older cat to sleep a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to process that. I didn’t have time to do anything that would help me sort out how I’ve felt about that or what’s going on in my family or in the world. The absolute worst moment was last Tuesday, when I only got 2 hours of sleep to finish something, and my son begged me not to leave in the morning. I almost lost it.

In the past, I used to literally collapse for a week or two following one of these bouts of overwork. I would say I deserved to just sit and read or watch movies, and numb myself some more. This time, I feel like I can’t let myself do that. I need to keep moving forward, nurture myself and take the time I have to work on the projects that are important to me. I need to spend time with my family and get outside and remind myself why I work so hard. So that’s what I’ll be doing.

“How Do You Stay So Thin?!”

This past weekend, I was asked the dreaded question, the one that’s been plaguing me as I’ve slowly lost the weight gained from pregnancy (nearly 50 lbs) plus an additional 10 or so on top of that. “You are looking so skinny! How do you stay so thin?!”

It is a dreaded question for a lot of reasons. First, it has always bothered me that ‘thin’ is equal to ‘healthy’ in American society, but it isn’t always true. It is more important to me to be truly healthy, to manage my allergies and psoriasis issues non-medically, to have the energy to keep up with my son and pursue my goals, to be able to fight back should the end of our civilization come in our lifetime. And actually, the last few pounds I’ve lost recently are almost entirely due to stress and being too busy to feel as hungry as I probably should be. So I’ve been losing some muscle mass, and when my contracted jobs are done in a couple of weeks, I’ll probably gain a few pounds back. When someone asks me this question, though, I’m not getting complimented on my toned legs and my muscular structure. They sound wistful or a tad envious, and they ask in the hopes that I will tell them my secret diet or pill that I pop. They are looking for the magical solution, because in their mind, “thin” is “happy”, and they want the quick fix.

Inwardly, I groan, and I say “I eat as much real food as possible”. Most of the time, I am stared at blankly, but if there is a glimmer of interest, I explain further. “Over the past several years, I’ve completely changed how I view food. I don’t demonize fat. I eat limited processed foods which has drastically cut down on the sugar and refined wheat. I avoid fake sugar and chemical additives whenever possible. But I don’t deny myself at parties or if my husband’s grandmother sends us home with a package of Oreos – if I want to eat a little junk, I eat it. But I try not to keep it at home. I eat the best quality meat I can buy in smaller portion sizes and use all of it that I can (ie. rendering out the fat, making homemade bone broths, etc). I use full-fat pastured dairy products. I don’t count calories or weigh food but just eat until I feel full.” (I don’t list it like this – it is an actual back-and-forth conversation). Their eyes start to look a little glazed over at this point, so I inevitably scale it back. “But where I started, way back in 2008, is with what I drink. I slowly weaned off having sweetener in my coffee, and I took over a year to get rid of it entirely. So if you’re really interested in losing weight, I would recommend starting there for the first few months.” And usually I get some long-winded explanation about how they can never give up their diet coke or glass of juice or sugar-and-chemical laden non-dairy creamer for their coffee or their twice weekly bout of binge drinking, and they look at me like I’m crazy for eating the way I do.

And I am crazy, I guess. But if I can help myself ease my eventual arthritis and keep my brain and body active longer into life, then it’s worth being put into awkward situations and have people think I’m just an insane hippie.

Being thinner than I was does have some drawbacks. My stretchmarks from my son will never go entirely away. My laugh lines on my face show much more so I look older. And my boobs are no where near as magnificent as they were when I was 15-25 lbs heavier and nursing.

I do have a secret about the way I eat, though, and it’s this: once you cut out processed foods, everything else tastes so much better. Your taste buds just work better without the frankenfoods. My favorite snack is a crisp, in-season NY apple with a good size chunk (maybe 2-3 serving sizes) of NY or VT extra sharp cheddar. The flavor combination is amazing. Shhh… don’t tell anyone that I told you.

A Strange Mantra

There have been so many thoughts and feelings going through me lately. I am feeling buffeted by the recent violence, both domestic and abroad. I’m feeling a certain futility in allowing myself to follow any dreams lately.  The task seems almost herculean at this point. How much easier would it be to just give up and become numb like so many others? If it’s true that life is fleeting, and we are transient, then what’s the point? Why bother trying?

So last night, as I meditated, I felt that truth, the transience and frailty of human life, and I asked again, “Why bother trying? Why attempt to be happy? What right do I have to chase rainbows and to pursue dreams and to have ambition when there is so much suffering and unhappiness?” The answer I got back was “Why not?”.  If life is fragile and tenuous, only a brief moment on the scale of the universe, then what point is there in not trying to live a life of fulfillment? And I couldn’t answer the “why not”.

Unbidden, with a growing urgency, I started repeating internally “May I be strong. May I be grateful. If I must bend, may I bend without breaking.”  Over and over and over, until it transformed into simply “May I be enough”, and that continued repeating until I almost cried.

Then I got myself together and painted for a couple of hours, working on a portfolio piece that has been unfinished since 2007. I’m finishing it for an interview I have next week. And when I finished, I realized that I had been enough, at least for last night.

From now on, when I start to ask myself “why”, I’m going to start responding “why not”, and if I don’t have a really good response for that, then I’m just going to shut the negativity towards myself off.

The Best Laid Plans…

I was going to dive back into a regular blogging schedule, but I took a contract job and caught a really bad head cold, so after working crazy hours this weekend (with another crazy week to follow starting tomorrow), I’m just taking today to sleep and relax and heal as much as possible.

Next week is soon enough to dive into this work again.  If I push myself too hard, I’ll really be suffering later.

I Always Go Back to the Music

Yesterday was a really rough day for me.  I was a bit of a roller coaster as my day job (which I leave in 2 1/2 days!) had a farewell luncheon for me and another coworker who is moving and our VP said some very nice things about me (I’m very hard to replace, but evidently not so difficult to replace to want to pay me more money), but then I found out that nepotism at it’s worst has been going on and that chafed me.  That coupled with things being really busy job-wise and the stress of packing and moving just pushed down on me.

So I emailed my husband and warned him I might need to cry when I got home just to relieve the pressure, but then I also realized I hadn’t played any of my instruments or sang (beyond nursery rhymes for my son) in over a week.  After dinner, I had my husband wrangle my son and played the piano and sang.  I pulled out my “Les Mis” piano book and belted melancholy showtunes and voila, no tears necessary!

My music has always been my biggest stress release.  I can remember being an angsty teen and going to my flute and playing with the tears just streaming down my face.  When I’m at my darkest and saddest, the music pulls me from the abyss.  One of my friends in grad school used to send me to an empty classroom with a piano if I got too cranky or weepy.  Because even though I KNOW I need the music, I get so busy doing other things that I sometimes block out the urge to play and sing.

What kind of stress-release do you all have?  Beyond music, I like to bake and do handcrafts.  I find it soothing.  My husband likes to do dishes when he’s  angry or distraught.  And no, I don’t piss him off on purpose just to get clean dishes, but it’s a thought.  A lot of members of my family turn to food for comfort, which isn’t healthy and is something I’ve had to break myself of.  My sister rides her horse.  There seems to be some trick about keeping the hands busy and occupying the mind just enough to take you away from the stressful situation but that isn’t TOO taxing on the brain.