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What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? It’s not just all in your head. Your experience is valid. Even if no one else shows up to support you, remember to show up for yourself.

Walk out of the room where negative notions gripped you. Keep walking until you find the room you’ve designated as Home Base. A grace-place where all is well, no matter what else is going on in the world. 

Search online for deep breathing techniques and calming music videos.

Watch a live stream from a cat cafe.

Breathe in through the nose. Out through the mouth. 

Remind yourself: You’re here, not there.

Be here, where that virtual cliff’s edge isn’t. Be where the worst that could happen, hasn’t.

Be in this breath. This breath is blessed.

Do something symbolic, like stretching toward the sky, reaching for the clouds. Light a candle. Watch old sitcoms. Go to Mayberry, or even Petticoat Junction. Everything’s okay there.

Talk to your own mind. Stay here. Don’t go down that dark alley that doesn’t really exist yet. In the peaceful place of yes, you may find the antidote to that no. Shelter in place until the looming doom passes. Keep the faith: The sun will rise again.

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Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder just whom I’m looking at. The face, the body…none of it seems familiar to me. I don’t just mean the wrinkles that cross the bridge of my nose or drag down the corners of my mouth. It’s more than that. I find myself looking for recognizable signposts: the purple mark above my right knee, the scars from a childhood double-whammy of chicken pox and rubella. Getting older is scary. Good thing we don’t have to do it alone.

The hands I know, but they are my mother’s;
the square face an artifact from Germany, I think.
My hair — impossible curls after a lifetime
of lying listlessly but reliably straight.
I cannot find myself in my own face,
though I search for traces like a dog
sniffing clues. Who is this strange woman
haunting my mirror like a cautionary tale?
I have not chanted “Bloody Mary,” yet here
she is, her visage a map of days, of years.
Where was I during this time? Asleep?
But Sleeping Beauty never aged like this.
Or perhaps I was inside, cleaning house.
I hope I was. One day, my soul will rise
to meet me, as familiar as the ache
in my ankle when weather turns cold.
She will lead the stranger home.
And I will know myself at last.

When I was driving my son and his friends everywhere during his school years, I couldn’t wait for him to reach driving age so I wouldn’t have to be their chauffeur anymore. As it happened, soon after he got his license, I had to take myself off the road due to my visual impairment. It turned out to be a tough decision, though, since not being able to drive anymore really limits your — wait for it — autonomy.

As I thought about all of the things taken from me by my MS, I’ve come up with a theory. Instead of calling them deficits, I’m wondering if it isn’t really just the unorthodox method by which my psyche has tried valiantly to protect me.

Trauma from the past we’d just as soon forget getting us down? Inner me waves a wand. Poof! Don’t remember things anymore! Have some memory issues!

Don’t want to feel this bad ever again? Poof! Don’t feel things. Have some neuropathy!

So what if I have to Google “how to hard boil an egg” every time I want to make an egg salad sandwich. I’ve let go of the guilt of not being able. Everyone else can do X. I can’t. Okay, I’ll focus on doing Y. What I can do is tell you my stories and offer encouragement to get through your own hardships. When I’m not sure if my thoughts make sense on the page, I can always rely on Lori and SueBE to proofread for me. Find your team and you’ll find your way. I focus on what I can do, and do it.

We’ve all got our share of dark clouds in life, but the silver lining is this: you’re still you. You’re still here. You’ve got the chance every day to carry on.

After doing a bit of introspection, I’ve decided that I’m an old soul, but I’m young at heart. I feel like I was born old. I’m 53 now, but I’ve always been a homebody. Don’t like to travel. Really don’t like change (in my pockets or in life). Love cats, knitting, classic movies. Love my son with all my heart, and am always coming at him with positive platitudes. “Always do the right thing, son,” I’ll tell him. I know what you’re thinking: That’s so Mayberry!

At 21, I got sciatica. At 36, I got a macular hole. Around that time, I was diagnosed with MS as well. I got the medical issues that normally occur later in life, earlier than expected.

There’s always something hurting, somewhere in my body. There’s always a bill on the counter I can’t yet afford to pay.

If that’s just how it is, I decided, I’ll work around it. I’ll be in a good mood. Not as good a mood as circumstances allow. You can’t make the situation your supervisor. It doesn’t get to decide how you feel right now, in this moment. You do.

When you set down roots in the place where peace resides, you’re safeguarding your own soul. Until you improve a situation, at least don’t make it worse by focusing on that problem alone. Take your mind off it when you can. Give yourself permission to be okay. And in that positive frame of mind, you might just change things for the better.

Started out the day with cereal, a cup of coffee and a knot in my stomach.

My feet hurt. The fence needs fixing. How will I….? What do I do if….?

Paused.

Had to take a moment just to be in the blessings I already have.

You can’t come at troubles with a troubled mind and make them better.

Not to be redundant, or repetitive, or say the same thing in different ways, 🙂 but, looking at a problem through a problematic mindset won’t solve the problem.

If your mind is churning, unsettled, anxious, that’s problem number one to address. Calm your mind. Leave the room where you sat, wringing your hands. Go into a room you designate as your peace room. For me it’s my sunroom, but it can be any room you choose. Breathe deeply. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

Be where you are right now. Not in the fearful future yet to happen. Get to the place inside where you know all is well. That’s not to minimize the issues you need to address. But you can only do that when you’re in the state of knowing the world hasn’t ended. Gravity still works. So does grace. Your feet are still on the ground. The sun is still shining.

In that peaceful place, an idea may come to you. If not a solution, a stopgap measure. Be still in your blessings and listen for an answer. Some way will find its way to you.

Let me just affirm what you already know: Things are lousy right now. There is no equality, no justice. No hope? Sometimes it feels like it. Then I hear a little voice (it sounds suspiciously like Auntie Ruth) saying, “Focus on the bright side; focus on hope.” Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. But hope, like faith, never claimed to be rational. It just is.

Advice for those who are sinking: First
find a reed, however slender, to grasp.
If muck sucks you downward, lie on your back,
float: improbably, hope will buoy you.

I read the handbook, yet trust forsakes me.
I hover, the slough still plucks and pulls.
Hope, foolish and fleeting, throws me a rope —
faith fills my chest; my heart is a red balloon.

Have you ever had a dream so vivid that you felt as if it was a message from the universe? It happened to me yesterday at 5 AM, so I bolted out of bed to write it down.

A lovely voice was singing to the tune of Al Green’s “So Tired of Being Alone” with different lyrics.

She sang:

When you’re out of here

When you can’t go on

When you feel like giving up wherever you go

And it bothered me. My first thought was to worry that my son might be feeling this way, so before he left for work yesterday, I told him about the dream and asked him if he was feeling like that. He said he wasn’t. I said, “I’m aware that I don’t always leave open avenues for our actually communicating. Often, I come at you with tasks or concerns instead of listening.” I asked the second question. “Do you want to talk about anything going on in your life right now?” He really listened to what I said. He told me he knew he could talk to me, and that he was okay.

Who was this message for?

In that patented Nicely-Noodgy way I have, I’m now in the process of cycling through my list of loved ones and contacting them. You okay? Had this dream. Want to make sure you’re feeling copasetic.

So when you ask the people in your life, “Are you okay?” and they say, “I’m fine,” ask the second question. “How are doing, really?”

Check on your loved ones.

Don’t tune out.

Check in with your soul.

Don’t check out.

We’d love it if you stuck around. We’ll stick by you. Let’s make it better, together.

P.S. If you need to talk, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 800-273-TALK (8255).

I had a migraine Sunday night. That’s not unusual; I’m prone to migraines. But this one was different. It bowled me over, the pain exponentially worse than any migraine I’d suffered before. I prayed a lot that night and was genuinely surprised when I woke the next day, fragile, but alive. With the cessation of pain came a dawning — every one of us is so special. We are wonders.

God made you of star-stuff,
sky and earth together,
fueled by fire, awash in water.
No one can do what you do,
not as you do it. Not exactly.
You were sent to fill a you-shaped
crack; there is no one else to fill it.
Your body keeps the dam from breaking,
keeps gravity from failing, moves musically
as planets round a sun. Your individuality
is a gasp in a world of weary sighs. Stand up.
Walk. You will get there. We all will, if only we
lean on the star-singularity of each other,
wheeling through life like a night sky on fire.

Is it me, or does the world seem particularly noisy right now? Arguments abound — about who’s at fault in the government shut-down, about the kids from Covington, about how long a person ought to be able to last without a paycheck (“Just get a loan,” says one out-of-touch billionaire), about whether and how quickly political events are dragging Venezuela and England and the US and Zimbabwe (and a whole host of other countries) to hell in a hand-basket. It’s getting loud out there.

We cannot, of course, ignore current events. I mean, we can, but the minute we tentatively extend our ostrich heads out of the hole we’ve planted them in, the problems will still be there. Hiding won’t make the news go away. But being quiet and centering one’s self and getting away from social media (as Ruth has wisely done) can give us the space to get our heads together and form our own opinions. So —

Crawl into the smallest place in your mind,
the darkest, the most in-dwelling, and breathe.
Get entirely quiet with yourself.
Bring a book if you are uncomfortable with silence.
Turn inward on yourself until you are wrapped
securely in a sheet of inner tranquility.
Wait.
When you are ready, release yourself into the world.
You will be different —
one look at you and mouths will still.
This is a good thing.

We’re keeping things easy this time around, my husband and I. No New Year’s resolutions, just a loose plan to eat at one new restaurant every month. It’s simple, enjoyable and doable — we’re destined for success. And yes, we do need to lose weight, fix up the house, get organized…all of the typical fronts tackled by most folks’ resolutions. We’ve failed at those enough times to know that it’s not worth making a commitment you can’t keep, one that’s sure to end in unhappiness when you just can’t live up to it.

Resolutions are funny things. They are based entirely on what we want for ourselves. Certainly God isn’t asking us to run a mile a day or clean out our closets, except in the most general and generous of ways: God wants what is best for us. God wants us to be healthy and happy. Everything else we resolve to do is simply to satisfy our own image of what our lives should look like. Our lives should be more, better. Or so we think.

Instead, I urge you in the year ahead to do less. Take one thing off your list; excise one of the rules you live your life by. Not something central, but a tangential and self-imposed thing — the lawn must be lush and green year-round; the dishes cannot sit in the sink overnight; you must never eat a carbohydrate. Get rid of the script in your head that tells you “I’m too fat to shop for clothes” or “whenever someone perceives me to be a bad mother, I must feel guilty.” You don’t have to do or feel or think or be anything, no matter what anyone else expects, feels, thinks or chooses for you.

This year (2018) I did something difficult — I stopped dyeing my hair. And it was hard and it is hard; every time I look in the mirror, I have the knee-jerk reaction that I’ve let myself go. But…go where? What is it that I think I owe to other people when they look at me? In something as silly as embracing my natural hair, I’ve found more opportunities for self-examination than I ever guessed I might.

Take it easy on yourself in 2019. Resolve to just be happy. Because if you can’t be happy with yourself as you are, no resolution will ever make you so.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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