The mind is a wanderer

This is part 2 of at least 3 posts. Read part 1 here.

I’m adding a disclaimer to this particular set of posts. I am not a mental health professional. I have only one degree, and it’s in Secondary Education. I never used it. Instead, I have my own experience with four different therapists, several years of struggling with depression, and an obsession with desire to analyzeing myself stuff like this.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about feelings. Specifically mine – I’m not really an expert on anyone else’s.

Some days I wake up feeling rested and content with my life. If I got to bed on time and slept a full eight hours, (This is quite necessary for me. I hope you can get by on less, and occasionally I do, but if I go more than a few nights without adequate rest, it really starts to affect my attitude. I learned this from having babies.) if we’re in a good routine with the kids and there’s not a great amount of busy-ness or financial stress or some major family struggle going on, chances are I’ll have a good day. I’ll get up and do chores around the house, I’ll go grocery shopping, or call a friend. I may even do some writing. On those kinds of days, I’m good. I can handle nearly anything that comes my way. Even if I get in a fender-bender while I’m out running errands because someone else wasn’t paying attention, I won’t lose my cool. I’ll handle life with grace and humor, I’ll walk down the sidewalk like I just stepped out of a salon. The background music will be dynamic and bouncy.

Alright, back to reality now. Most days I don’t, or can’t, always control all the variables. Too often I stay up late reading, so when it’s my turn to get up and take the kids to school, I’ll hit the snooze button more than I should. Then we’ll rush around the house trying to leave on time and I’ll yell at the kids to get their stuff together, but try not to be too loud so we won’t wake up John, or Ben, so John can sleep in. Then we’ll get in the car and Sam will say the phrase “Oh no, we’re gonna be la-ate!” no less than twelve times in the first five minutes of the trip. I’ll respond by telling him I’ll drive faster. He’ll respond by telling me I should’ve gotten dressed quicker. I’ll remind him that he doesn’t eat his breakfast if I don’t sit and watch him, then he’ll say that I should buy better cereal, and I’ll look back at Laney and tell her to brush her hair again, then I’ll turn on some music, but Sam won’t like it so he’ll turn down the volume and then I’ll have to grip the steering wheel with all ten finger so I don’t reach over and smack that pre-adolescent moustache off his pouty upper lip!

Finally, we’ll make it to both schools and I’ll have a completely empty car and I’ll turn my music back up. Then I might be a little distracted by my jam, or still groggy from lack of sleep, and it may take me a few extra seconds to interpret all the flashing lights and whistle blowing from the policemen directing traffic as we exit the school line. To which the cop nearest me will respond with a shout. To which I’ll respond with shrugged shoulders and lip-synched “I’m sorry” to which he’ll respond with a “stupid lady driver” head shake. Then I’ll say, out loud this time, “I’m sorry,” but I still won’t have moved my car yet, so he’ll get pissy and glare and yell at me so that by the time I’ve finally crossed two lanes of temporarily paused oncoming traffic, I’ll be trembling with hurt and embarrassment. Then I’ll look at the gas gauge and realize there’s not enough to get home and the thought of getting out of the car, in the cold, in my sweats, with unwashed hair, will be enough to prick my eyes with tears. And by the time I’ve pumped and got back into the car, I’ll be a sobbing mess.

Yet still, if I’m not in a state of depression, I can bounce back from a morning like that. I can have a good cry in the car. I can go home and tell my husband what a jerk that guy was and how I didn’t deserve to be treated that way simply for making traffic stop a whole five seconds. He can pat me on the head and make me some scrambled eggs. I can eat, take a hot shower, and the world will realign itself again after all. These are regular days. These are normal set-backs which everyone experiences sometimes. For me, they happen once or twice a month ... with startling regularity. Days 12 and 27 to be exact. And generally I can get back on track with  an hour or so of self care. Occasionally, it takes a couple of days to repair myself; and that's okay too. We're allowed to give ourselves a break every now and then, ya know. Now, I didn’t know all this stuff ten years ago. It’s taken several months of journaling and tracking my moods, and before that I needed medication for awhile to show me what normal even felt like.

As I said before you can’t flip a switch and change your feelings, but I do think there are ways to adjust the dimmer to a more preferable setting. One that reflects the truth about what you believe and know to be true. I call these adjustments self care, and here are some that work for me:
  1. Allow yourself to experience what you’re feeling; try to name it.
  2. Let the feeling out. If you’re mad, go do something energetic like running. If you’re sad, cry. If you’re   scared, pray. Write down whatever you’re feeling or thinking. Get the voices in your head out of your head by putting them down in black and white. No matter how silly it feels. No one else has to read it – you can tear it up when you’re done. If you still can’t let go of your inhibitions, try writing with your left hand.
  3. Treat with truth (i.e. Scripture, wisdom from friends you trust) until you begin to feel better.
  4. Take a bath or go lay down someplace warm and cozy for a nap (I can’t necessarily recommend a tanning bed to everyone, but it’s been known to bring me comfort on occasion.)
  5. Make yourself a cup of tea, or eat something nourishing (notice I did not say ice cream or chocolate – save that for emergencies!)
  6. Listen to your favorite music. And sing along. Try a song with honesty, like this one.

Next time we'll talk about what it means when none of these suggestions work, or when you can't bring yourself to even try any of them. Stay tuned!

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