Disconnecting, Mental Health, mental well being

The Power of Disconnecting

Offline wooden sign with a beach on backgroundTwo weeks ago, my S/O and I packed our bags, my daughter, and his grandson, and headed out for the airport to embark on a much needed vacation across the country.  We landed in Phoenix and drove about an hour away to his parents’ house, situated in a town in the Sonoran Desert.  We spent a day there, and then everyone loaded up vehicles and his parents’ boat, and drove north to the White Mountain Apache Reservation, destination, Hawley Lake.

The drive was nothing short of breathtaking.  Although I’ve spent quite a great deal of time in the southwestern US, I’d never been so far as were going, and the landscape, as we drove north, became bigger than life.  I couldn’t help but think that it’s vistas like these that helped inspire pre-Christian man in their own spiritual beliefs.  It was impossible to not see where the gods and myths came from.

As we headed up, the elevation growing higher, my phone’s battery began to swell, and at about 8,000 feet (2,438 metres), the back of my phone popped off completely.  Besides the obvious confusion and concern this inspired in both myself and S, I took it as a sign.  We knew that service would be all but non-existent once we arrived at Hawley Lake, our final destination, and we knew that there was no Wi-Fi or television either.  But apparently, my phone decided to go on strike well before that and so I was the first to become disconnected.

I was worried about the kids too.  They both had games loaded to their Nintendo Switch (each has their own), and S brought his laptop and some DVDs, but both kids are, like most kids, really attached to their gaming consoles.  How would they react to not having YouTube or being expected to play outside or socialise with family?

As it turned out, I need not have worried.  My own daughter discovered a love of fishing and willingly spent the days doing so, either in the boat or at the shore, from breakfast to lunch, and then again until sunset.  She also spent time with her newfound family playing card games and camp games, and when she wasn’t doing any of that, she was drawing at the picnic table on the cabin porch.  S’s grandson did spend more time swapping out game cards and watching movies on the laptop, but he spent a good deal of time playing outside as well.

As for me, my only regret in not having any connection to the outside world was that I was unable to take pictures and capture some of the more engaging moments and scenery.  Even then, I was reminded of the idea that we have become a society so consumed with capturing the moment in the most Instagrammable way, that we’ve stopped being fully present in those moments we try to capture, and our memories aren’t forming as well around them anymore.  I spent most of my time memorizing the landscape around me, breathing in the cold mountain air, and doing my best to be right there, right then.

The effect was energizing and palpable.  Neither myself nor my daughter wanted to leave the lakeside cabin, but the day came where that’s exactly what we had to do.  When we returned to the desert, my battery deflated and my phone was usable once again…but I had no interest in it.  Things had happened in the rest of the world while I was gone, and I didn’t know about them.  I felt wonderful in my willful ignorance.  After all, I could have logged in to Facebook or Twitter or even IG and read the news, but I wanted to hold on to that sense of being whole, complete, and happy a little longer.

It took over a week after getting home before I uploaded the trip pictures I managed to get, or were sent to me by those whose phones were working, to Facebook.  It took 9 days before I finally took a tentative scroll through my newsfeeds as well…and I was struck almost immediately at how grateful I was to have been forced into that willing exile from social media.  So, I did the most rational thing I could do.  I put the phone down and let it be.  I think it’s going to remain there for the foreseeable future.  I have no desire or inclination to inflict anxiety or anger on myself, especially after realising just how grateful, and how much happier I’ve been without it.

How about you?  Do you take breaks regularly from social media?  How do you disconnect and how do you feel after?  Let us know in the comments!

Mental Health, mental well being, self-care

Life in the Raw

Blog QuoteI have to admit, for the last few weeks (OK, maybe a bit longer), I’ve been struggling.  I’ve been struggling with writer’s block.  I’ve been struggling with artist’s block.  I’ve been struggling with bullet journaling block, letter writing block…I’ve just…been struggling.  I finally had to admit that I seem to be showing signs of depression.  Usually, my depressed states are obvious to me, and I know what I need to do in order to get out of them.  That’s not to say it’s easy to take that first step, but when I can see what’s going on early, it’s easier than those rare times when I slowly sink and don’t recognize what’s happened until I’m well on my way to the bottom.

At first, I told myself that this lingering melancholy was surely due to the weather.  New England has been doing its level best to live up to Old England’s reputation this spring.  We’ve had 1 or 2 days of spring weather, but 21 days and counting of rain and cold.  Even as I write this, my space heater is running at full temperature and I’m bundled up in fleece leggings, a hoody, and a fleece lined jacket.  This is not normal mid-May attire, even here, I assure you.

While it’s true that seasonal abnormalities affect me in pretty recognizable ways, it took some serious soul searching, some tears, and some days and nights of inconsolable numbness before I sat down with my journal and wrote the words I’d been hiding from, acknowledging that this appeared to be a prolonged, depressed state.

I haven’t been clinically diagnosed with depression per se, although it’s an expected symptom of Fibromyalgia, as well as part and parcel of other mental health diagnoses I’ve had.  Having been raised by a generation that viewed poor mental health as a personal failing rather than an actual measure of illness, I do struggle with acknowledging what’s in front of me sometimes.  While I would never dream of telling anyone else to “walk it off” when discussing depression or anxiety, I don’t always give myself that same kindness.

So I’m here today, not to offer you products, reviews, or advice, but to honour my own vision when I created Renaissance Magpie.  A big part of that vision was that I would not be an IG influencer or a peppy, perky “Life Coach”, but that I would be someone who lays bare the realities of being a writer, an artist, a girlfriend, a mother, a friend, a daughter, an activist, and a patient.  Life is full of moments that make even the most instagrammable photos seem dull and unprofessional.  It’s also full of moments that no filter, no number of fame and followers, and no amount of Photoshop can make pretty.  The more we hide those moments from public view and focus only on #thebestlife or being #blessed, the more it seems we isolate ourselves.

There’s been plenty of research done lately on how detrimental to our mental well-being social media really is, as well as how trends like prank or unboxing videos end up making us feel more isolated, sad, and even worthless, wanting for things we can’t afford but also, don’t really need.  It all boils down to comparison.  I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:  Comparison is the thief of joy.

It’s a mantra that I nearly forgot.  As I was assessing what was happening to me, I was forced to admit that I overwhelmed myself with a sense of “no can do” worthlessness.  The more art tutorials I watched, the more I perused pages and pages of art journal posts, of spiritual posts, of beautifully written blogs, and the more I submitted my own writing and was rejected, the worse I was feeling.  The less inspired I was feeling.  The more I was quietly questioning myself and my pursuits, the less I was doing of the things that made me happy.  Mindfulness practices began to slip away too, and those are things that don’t just make me happy, but are integral to my spiritual and mental balance.  I was looking at other people’s work and wishing I could do that.  I was seeing other people’s spaces and wishing that I had them.  I was learning about other people’s spiritual journeys and wondering if I’d ever reach that point.

I can’t say to you that this epiphany suddenly made the sun shine through the clouds, or was accompanied by a chorus of angels, unicorns farting rainbows, or a rain of fluffy puppies.  What I did sense was a slight lifting of my mind and mood, and a tentative exhale.  Anyone who suffers from any form of depression or anxiety may be able to relate to that feeling.  It’s a baby step, but it comes with its own sense of relief that things may finally be turning around.  When I had that moment of clarity, I knew that I was succumbing to the very things I took such great pains to avoid, and also to counsel against.  I was comparing myself, my art, my writing, my life.  I found it lacking, but when I looked at it objectively, as an outsider might, I could see how full it truly is.  At that moment, I resolved to put one foot in front of the other once more, and return to that which makes me whole, no matter how much of an uphill climb it might have seemed.

Each day since, I’ve been a bit better.  I’ve been doing the things I need to do, and carving small bits of time for those things I want to do as well.  I know what I have to do.  I’ve had the tools all along, and I’ve shared some of them with you here before.  Nevertheless, I am fallible, flawed, and human like everyone else.  I want all of you who read this to know that, and if you struggle with depression or other mental health issues, you’re never alone, you’re not broken, and you’re not weak.  You’re simply ill, and it can be treated.

It is my greatest hope for each of you that you have the tools *you* need to see you through to the other side and happier days – and if you need reminding, or if you need help, that you can always contact me and I can help put you in touch with resources in your area.  After all, I am not a doctor, and my tools may not work for you.

On that note, I’d love to know what tools you use to stay balanced and well.  Please leave your own pearls of wisdom in the comments!