Shifting My Sleep Cycle

I’m attempting to shift my sleep cycle to get up before my kids do in order to do yoga/some kind of exercise and a little journaling. It is tough because I generally like to have a little time to myself in the evenings, but the truth is I’m pretty wiped out by the time we get done with bedtime routines and nightly chores anyway, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to create post-bedtime unless I’m really on the crunch for a deadline. So, it is going to be a rough couple of weeks, but if it works, it will be much better for my mental health and my ability to deal with day-to-day stresses. And hopefully that will energize me during the day for being more present for my kids and more focused during the few hours I do get in the day for creative work. Part of this stems from committing myself two weeks ago to do inner work that includes meditation

I finally had a physical, my first in over a decade. I’m starting to try to figure out some of my autoimmune issues. My suspicion is that I have the beginnings of psoriatic arthritis, and I’m meeting with a rheumatologist in September. I want to avoid any pharmaceutical intervention as long as possible, since I’m not yet 40, but having a diagnosis will help point me in the direction of life changes I can make to help myself.

I start a new part-time sew-from-home job tomorrow too, just ten hours a week to start, which is all I can handle while simultaneously taking care of the kids’ schooling and trying to slowly build up originalsbykatharinetracy.com. I’ve got one costume commission and two prom dress alterations I’m doing right now too, so it’s been a busy time, and more difficult than it should be because I’ve gained a little wait and lost some pep and vitality this year. Working on sharpening my mind and body so I can give more to my family, my community, and all my creative endeavors without burning out is important.

My husband also kindly picked me up a half-day relaxation package at a local spa for Mother’s day/early birthday gift that includes time in a massage chair and a 60-min float tank session, which I am definitely looking forward to. It might be a month or so until I get around to using it, but just imagining an entire hour of sensory deprivation and a couple more hours of pampering is enough to keep me going.

So big personal changes for me. Adjustments and fine-tuning to help me grow as an individual and as a member of this crazy human race. Looking forward to what may come creatively out of all of this.

On Aging Gracefully

Last Friday, I found my first gray hair atop my head. I have had a few pop up in my eyebrow line in recent years, very white, which I jokingly referenced as “finally growing my unicorn horn”, but this was the first in my hair. By Sunday, two more had appeared. My first feeling was actually excitement, because the single strand of silver was very pretty against the rest of my hair, and I showed it to my husband. Then I felt a little disappointment that I will soon no longer be mistaken for being a decade younger than I actually am, and I’ve been really thinking deeply the past couple of days about being a woman, questioning how others will view my worth once I’m “past my prime” and less an object of sexual desire, and how tired I still am along with all my other mom-friends with young children and just beyond caring.

Older Katharine Hepburn with gray hair

Katharine Hepburn, my namesake, has been my ideal for aging for a long time. Her entire life was lived the way she wanted, she had a fantastic career well into the later part of her life, and she didn’t fall into the trap of trying to be something other than what she was. And she was a striking woman, right up until her death. But now that I find myself at 36 starting to transition more fully into middle age, I find myself feeling a little insecure. I think it may be due to the fact that I know I don’t have the option of hiding the grays at this point. Even if I wanted to dye my hair, due to my allergies and chemical sensitivities, my only option would be to use henna (even organic dyes use harsh chemicals that would set off my inflammation), and I’ve used henna once and liked the result, but it lasts for so short a period of time that I do not want to get into that kind of maintenance schedule.

So my hair will slowly get streaked with silvery white, and I am okay with that. My husband has assured me that he will also be okay with that, especially since he has been adding silver to his hair for several years now (but men look so sexy with that gray at their temples…). I am embracing this next stage with more wisdom and clarity than I ever could have had in my youth. I think a big help has been having women as friends in a wide range of ages, from late teens to their seventies. Feeling that chain, observing the different stages of growth… it has been so beneficial.

And as I embrace middle age-hood, I am recommitting myself to self-care. My body, my mind… both need nurturing and tending so that I can last a good while longer yet. Life is too interesting to throw it all away neglecting myself.

Love who you are, where you are, even while working to move to where you might want to be. You are worth it.

Healing Sleep Finally

My body has all of a sudden been craving a lot of sleep lately, and I have been going to bed soon after my children, sleeping in as late as they will let me, and sleeping very deeply in the time I have. And in this deep sleep, I feel like my body is repairing itself in ways that I’ve been longing for.

I couldn’t understand why I was so achy, but I think I was getting minor readjustments all over because this morning I woke up feeling amazing. My psoriasis patches that I’ve had since December 2016 are finally shrinking up. I’ve started vividly dreaming again these past couple of weeks, which has been sorely lacking. And I feel more grounded than I have for a long time. The only downsides are that I’m having a really hard time focusing through this process and feeling achy last week was not fun. And I still struggle with feeling like I’m “wasting” time by going to bed early and not having that time to create or to spend with my husband or to clean the house. But it isn’t wasted. My body is doing what it needs to do to allow me to live my best life while I’m awake.

So, listen to your body. Don’t abuse it. All pieces of yourself should be working together as a team to achieve what you want out of life. This is a lesson I continually have to put into practice for myself.

Stepping Out of the Chaos

the_inner_maelstrom_by_katmicariI finished working as set costumer on my first feature film, and rather than feel my usual depleted of all energy and on the edge of sickness or post-project depression, I am mentally energized to jump back into all the good things I had started to do for myself. Which is awesome, and while I am honestly nervous about seizing control of my destiny and not having a reliable routine, life is too brief to settle.

I had another one of those profound self-reflections during the work on the film, and that is that I have always had a really easy time stepping outside of the chaos of our shared reality and becoming an observer of it. This ability used to make me feel really uncomfortable on occasion, as I would feel like an outsider for not being a part of the group (not participating in the “crazy”), and I would get really upset that I wasn’t able to fix the pain people were inflicting on themselves or others. But in the long run, this is a gift, and I have been able to utilize it so much more, which really does give me more opportunities to live a healthier life myself and to encourage others to find their own path when they feel ready themselves.

I shared my painting of “The Inner Maelstrom” above to show how chaos feels to me.

So, I wanted to offer some tips to you for practicing lifting yourself out of the stream. Even just trying to do this for 30 seconds in a stressful situation can help you immensely.

  • Turn off the guilt. Is whatever chaos going on your fault? Probably not. If it is, then learn from your mistake and stop creating chaos. If it isn’t, then don’t create more problems by internalizing it.
  • Remember not to take things personally. This goes with the above. People bubble over with anger and stress. Acknowledge any truth you can see to what they are saying, but don’t engage unless it’s to defend yourself or another in an abusive situation.
  • Take a few deep breathes, focus on the quiet spaces between your heartbeats, and find stillness.
  • Really think about the situation. Observe what is going on. Is there anything helpful you can offer to what is going on? If so, do it, but most of the time, people are creating the chaos for reasons that are beyond your control (lack of communication, lack of planning, sheer exhaustion). I am a firm believer in helping as much as possible, but you also have to protect your integrity and safety as well.

Anyway, normal organic chaos can be beautiful. I’m really talking about the disorganized extra chaos people bring to themselves and others. We don’t need to engage in that. Again, life is way too short for that nonsense in our lives.

Drained

So, I almost worked/exhausted myself sick again. My inflammation has gotten really bad, causing joint pain that I haven’t felt in a long time. My daughter has been teething her molars still and is going through a huge cognitive growth (her vocabulary has doubled in like a week and she’s started teaching herself her letters!), and waking up every 1 to 2 hours for over a week now, and I’ve been pushing myself to work past midnight every night for over a week too. Last night, my body said “nope” and I went to bed right after my daughter, which was helpful, and I was able to rearrange the delivery date of one of my projects to make my week better, so I should make it to bed at more reasonable hours for the rest of the week (except for Friday – I’m working til 9:30PM then going to have to finish packing for our trip to my interview, so I’m sure I’ll be up late).

I feel silly for letting myself get in this situation, and I can blame some outside factors for holding me up on my original schedule, but I never want to work myself into being bedridden again. So that’s something for me to bear in mind if I continue trying to freelance while still having such a young child and working a full-time job. I can’t do it all. I have to practice self-care, especially when I’m going on so little sleep. Otherwise I can’t be present for my family or present for the bigger issues facing us a society.

The Importance of Listening to Your Body

So… I came down with a really bad bug over the weekend, almost exactly one year from the time I started getting sick and then pushed myself to keep overworking for a couple of weeks and then literally collapsed. I’m on the mend now, feeling much better today after spending most of yesterday sleeping, but I was silly and started trying to push through Saturday evening and Sunday morning, including taking it upon myself to deep clean my tub so I could take a bath later in the day, and my body just kind of said “nope” Sunday night and I was knocked off my feet for 36 hours. Feeling much better today, with just some lingering sinus fuzzyheadedness and drainage, so thank goodness.

What that means, though, is that last week’s loss of energy and creeping in of self-doubt was mostly due to the bug coming on. I’ve noticed this pattern for a long time now… any time I am in the early stages of getting sick, I get super down about life and really start laying into myself badly. Going forward, I need to pay attention to that and start taking care of myself immediately – get more sleep, eat “clean” (no inflammatory foods), limit caffeine, do some nurturing. Then maybe I won’t need to get knocked down entirely in order to heal.

Our bodies talk to us, and I think, for the most part, we ignore what they say because we want to continue doing what we want to do, regardless of whether it’s good for us. But if all the parts that make us up work together, we’re going to be at our best, which is the happiest way to live life. So duly noted, body, and I will be paying attention to you more closely. I do not ever want a repeat of last year.

Breaking Free from “Lack”

I have had to do a lot of healing and reflection this year, and I wanted to share one of the tools I used to lift myself out of the funk of being in recovery mode so maybe you can test it out in areas of your life to see if it helps you.

One of the down sides to getting fired after working myself ill and being on unemployment was really feeling an overall feeling of “lack” – lack of funds, lack of health and vitality and energy to do what I want, lack of social contact/loneliness, etc. I was doing the self-care I needed but couldn’t muster my usual motivation and inspiration and drive.

So what was my trick to get over this? Here it is: anywhere I felt a lacking in my life, I would find a way to give that to others. Easy to say but a tad difficult at times to put into practice, so I’ll give examples.

With my monetary lack, I had to find some way to give something materially without costing us in the process. So one thing I did was donate breast milk to a milk bank that primarily gets the milk to premies. That satisfied me in many ways because it meant milk I had pumped but my daughter wasn’t using was going to good use. I also heard about some families in need in the area and gifted baby items and children’s clothes to them. And recently I collected items for Puerto Rico aid, a drop in the bucket for what they need, but since I could afford to purchase some things now as well as donate a little money, it is good to see how giving back grows. Doing just those little things made me feel useful and made me feel more materially secure in that I had something to give.

In the lack of social contact, when I felt lonely not being at work with other artists, I made an effort. I contacted some friends to see if they’d want to exchange letters, I reached out to some local friends that I saw were also isolated to set up times for coffee dates, and I made plans to see out of town friends, and by taking the steps to initiate, I got out of the doldrums so fast. I also made sure to not take offense when plans fell through or people didn’t want to write because it wasn’t about me or even them but about the connections. And I made a real effort to connect with some of the clients at my new job, which is a big step for me outside my comfort zone.  I know we all get into that “nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms” thinking sometimes, and once in there, it is difficult to get out of it. But really, there are so many interesting people in the world, and there is a very good chance someone finds you interesting too. So it is worth making the effort.

So, my challenge to you. Ask yourself where you are most feeling “lack” in your life, and what can you do to relieve that lack for someone else? I really believe by taking the focus off ourselves, we can sometimes do a great deal of good both for ourselves and others simultaneously.

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.