mindfulness

Confronting Mid-Life and Embracing Wonder

This post is dedicated to Ruby Lake.

It’s no secret that I’ve been turned inward for many months now, as I touched on in my last, brief post.  Yet it was only very recently, after my last post, that I was able to finally name what was going on, and it was a shocking revelation:  Mid-life Crisis.

I had been reflecting on what I’ve come to think of as my Bonfire Energy, sometimes what I’ve thought of as Spastic Energy too.  That energy is the energy that comes in fits and starts, that prompts a thousand new ideas I have to do all at once; that causes me to over commit myself and ultimately, to crash and burn.  It’s what my dearest friend once described, many years ago, as a bright and incandescent bonfire.

There was a time, even up to about 5 years ago, when I could keep up with myself.  It wasn’t manic energy or frantic energy perse – I’ve never been hyperactive – but it was constant.  Heck, it was the energy behind the name of this page!

I still can’t tell you what, exactly, happened that caused me to curl into myself – or even exactly when – but I can tell you that I was finding it harder and harder to keep up.  I was over committing myself, trying to maintain a non-existent work-life balance, and more frequently than not, failing.  Projects went unfinished.  Tasks got migrated in a never-ending cycle in my Bullet Journal.  Stepping back and taking breaks became more frequent…

The bonfire was no longer roaring.  The fuel that caused it to burn so white hot and big for so long had been consumed.  I was no longer living off of adrenaline and stress, but I hadn’t even realised that’s what I’d been doing for so many years so I was still trying desperately to find that rather toxic energy to burn.

I finally admitted to myself that the fire is still very much burning, but it’s a tamer fire now – one you could toast marshmallows on perhaps, rather than one you stand several feet back from and hope there’s enough stone around it so the woods behind you don’t end up ablaze.

Then, my daughter texted me a picture.  It was her hand, and a dragonfly was resting on it.  She said, “I made a new fren.”  The dragonfly sat on her hand for the better part of an hour, fanning it’s wings occasionally, and she sat with it, not moving much.  Just being present with a dragonfly fren.

I called her the Dragonfly Whisperer and privately marveled at her way of attracting unexpected animals into her sphere of being, then remembered being a child and marveling at dragonflies, butterflies, fireflies, seashells, and all of the little things that make children’s eyes grow wide with wonder whilst the adults glance over and say, “Oh. Yeah. That’s a dragonfly.”

I also thought of her patience, just sitting and being…of the patience I once had, far before the bonfire roared, to just sit watching ants or caterpillars, trickling streams – and the wonder that each of those activities evoked in that child’s mind.

So it was that I came to realise that it’s time to begin again.  I’ve always believed that it’s never too late to start something new, and the time to do so is the time you realise it should be done (not tomorrow or next week or at the new year), so as I leave the Bonfire Years behind and enter the Campfire Years to come, I’ve started to let go of a lot and open my eyes, and mind, to what’s there before me.

That means stepping back and tamping down the spastic energy that still tries to rear it’s head.  For instance, when I set up July in my Bullet Journal, I decided that, with the exception of work (because those deadlines are imposed by a higher authority than my own), I would look at three things.  The first two were fairly straightforward:  What is truly important to me and my well being; and what is realistic based on the commitments I already have this month.

The third and final thing was to review the plans I’ve made for other endeavours and ask myself if I’m truly prepared to embark on them.  Do I know enough?  Have I practised enough to make launching something new a good use of my time, energy, and money?  Part of having Bonfire Energy has always been diving in with a sink or swim mentality which doesn’t leave room for a thorough or thoughtful review before turning the exam paper in – either you nail it, or you don’t.  While I’ve done well in my life using that approach (I’ve been very fortunate and I know it), Camp Fire Energy requires a more studied look.  Too little fuel and the fire burns to embers and goes out.  Too much, and your marshmallows, as well as the stick you’re toasting them with, not to mention your eyebrows, are up in flames.

So it is that, with child-like eyes, I will sit down and learn.  As I learned to form my letters, to read, and to write when I was in grade school, so shall I learn again.

Before I end this, I want to assure you that this is not some Eat, Pray, Love rubbish.  I am not embarking on a zen journey to appropriate the teachings of another culture and bring them back with me as some great or ancient  teachings, the likes of which can only be found at the top of a remote mountaintop scaled several times each day by Meaning of Life Seekers from the comfortable suburbs of any city of your choice.

What it is, is this:  It’s the result of years of incorporating a daily mindfulness practise into my life, and of privately wondering when I’d ever see something truly tangible.  It’s the result of being brutally honest with myself as I sit with my feelings and ask myself the hard questions – then answer them openly.  It is an acknowledgement of where I’ve been and who I was, and how that person has affected who I am, and who I will be.  It’s the banking of a fire, bringing it under control, and deciding that it’s time to actually use the light – not as a flare to the heavens, but as a light to read and learn by.

I think that I can happily say that those years of mindfulness practise have yielded a significant reward, and the journey is only just beginning.

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!