The Fundamentals of Personal Growth: Appreciation

It may not be in the best form to start off a piece of writing with word definitions, but I’m going to do that today because there’s a lot of overlap in acceptance and appreciation and I want to determine the difference.

While both accept and appreciate, denote some kind of action, I think of appreciate as demonstrably more actionable than accept. Accept, which means to give approval, is, in my opinion, more of an inner choice; while appreciate, which means to be grateful for or value highly, is, in my opinion, more of a behavior.

Appreciation is synonymous with gratitude.

When I’m grateful for the sunrise, I stop to watch it. When I’m feeling grateful for my husband, I let him know. When I’m grateful for a clean house, I light a candle and melt into the couch. I express my gratitude for beautiful things and people, but it’s a little harder to do that for myself.

Appreciation, in regards to personal growth, is a little bit like self-care, and self-care is a highly personalized routine or process, so rather than generally suggest ideas, I’m going to share some things that I do to appreciate and care for myself.

1.Keep track of my positive qualities

I have a habit of glomming onto the negative, and because I’ve been doing it for so long I have to make concrete attempts at noticing the positive. It feels hokey and cheesy to say phrases like “I’m good at ____,” or “I’m proud of myself for doing ____,” but the more I’ve practiced it, the more genuine it has become.

“Your real self moves with inconceivable rapidity as your thought moves.” – Prentice Mulford

2.Focus on my strengths

Besides just keeping track of my positive qualities, I try to focus on them above my weaknesses, which is a difficult balance because I have a habit of ignoring, too, but if I can tip the scales in favor of my strengths, then I have more motivation, energy, and peace.

most-of-the-shadows-of-this-life-ralph-waldo-emerson

3.Express gratitude for who I have been and how that has made me who I am

There are times where I find myself in deep regret over my past. In high school, I completely withdrew from the world. I thought my social anxiety was a phase and that I’d grow out of it in college, so I waited. I didn’t grow out of it. Sometimes I wish I could go back and shake myself. Sometimes I wonder who I’d be if I had tried harder to have more friends or do more normal teenager things, but then I realize that it’s probably all for the best. I was so lonely in high school I probably would have done anything to fit in. That shy, timid girl made me who I am today. Eventually, she showed me what it means to struggle and overcome. She gave me some unwavering values, and I can be grateful for that.

border

This was a short post because, I have to be honest, I ran out of steam. I think that the last fundamentals I have lined up for the year will be more varied and provide more interest. I hope.

What do you do to appreciate yourself? Besides trying to be positive in your self-talk, as I’ve outlined here, I’m curious, do you take yourself out for coffee? Run a hot bath? Order pizza?

Advertisements

How to Escape the Burden of Time

Throughout the course of my day, I find myself frequently looking at the clock and thinking about what’s next. With the exception of the morning, when time feels limitless, I’m stuck on the numbers on the clock.

Time begins to feel like a cage.

This is a little contradictory to my post last week, where I mentioned that I like structure and routines, but I think that, like all things in life, there is a balance.

While I find freedom in routine, I also have a tendency to create harsh, arbitrary rules for myself within that routine.

I’m able to find some balance, and escape from this self-made prison, when I allow myself to live in the moment.

One way I can cue into mindfulness is by asking myself sensory questions about my surroundings:

mindfulness-questions-live-in-the-moment-sensory-cues

This particular set of questions is best for when I’m taking a break from my routine so that I might recharge and find focus again.

It takes a little bit of effort to stall the racing thoughts in my mind, and redirect my attention to the world in front of me because my thoughts have become so routine and habitual that they feel familiar, even when they aren’t comforting. The effort to focus my thoughts is well worth it, though.

When I can bring myself to the present moment, time becomes less relevant.

find-your-eternity-thoreau-quote

In the practice of mindfulness, my heart rate slows, I appreciate each sensation for what it brings me, and I gain energy.

border

I find the eternity in the moment when I’m reading a good book, finding my flow in a creative project, cuddling my husband, snuggling the dog, watching the clouds, graciously sipping coffee, marveling at nature, or spending time with the people I love. Where do you find your eternity?

How to Spend Time Meaningfully

My husband likes to give me a hard time about supposedly not being able to relax. Whenever I fall a slight bit ill, he is quick to blame it on my stress.

The thing is, while I acknowledge that he is partially right, I also find it hard to totally agree because I have had a tendency to merely maintain an appearance of business by wasting time, rather than actually working to get anything meaningful done so that I can fully relax later.

I have to give myself credit, though, because I’ve been getting a whole lot better with time management as I’ve been seeking employment, as I’ve become more serious with my writing, and as I’ve gotten to know myself better, but wasting time is still something that plagues me. Now, though, it’s more because I have a broad definition of what it means to waste time, than because I’m actually still sitting around wasting a lot of time.

When I’m honest, wasted time is only time that’s spent on things that don’t bring me joy.

When I’m being a harsh self-critic, though, wasted time is anything that doesn’t produce some sort of quantifiable result.

This is where my husband likes to prod at me about relaxing, and this is where I can agree that he’s right.

I picked up this desire to remain ever busy, or appear to be ever busy, from my dad, who picked it up from his dad. I admire my dad and grandpa, and I want to make them proud, but they are a little too extreme in their efforts to spend their time purposefully.

My grandpa has been the property manager of a block of apartments for as long as I can remember, and he always has a project to do over there. When he’s not working hard on the apartments, he’s got a project at home. My dad has a long list of projects, too, lest he be caught idle for one second. I have a distinct memory of him, having just barely recovered from back surgery, hastily planting a tree in the backyard. He didn’t further injure himself, but if he had, then he really wouldn’t have saved any time by getting to work on the yard sooner than the doctor recommended.

When I was younger, if I didn’t have something that I had to do, I was constantly bored.

I even had a list of activities, much like my dad and grandpa have their lists of projects, so that I could stay busy when there wasn’t anything to do. But, I didn’t usually enjoy the way I spent my time. It always felt like I was doing things just to fill the hours until there was something I had to do, which is a habit that stretched long into my adulthood.

As I’ve discovered more about myself through writing and challenging myself to try new things, I’ve grown less anxious about wasting time.

the-time-you-enjoy-wasting

This is largely because I’ve developed hobbies that aren’t mindless scrolling or binge watching, and because I actually enjoy these hobbies, I’ve stopped seeing them as ways to waste time.

I can now sit down to read, more often, without thinking “I should be working harder on my own novel,” or I can sit down to write without thinking, “I should be doing the dishes,” or I can sit down to practice my calligraphy without getting antsy to clean the house, or do those chores that I used to feel were more important.

Plus, in getting to know myself better, I’ve learned that I thrive in a more structured, routine environment, and I can relax better at the end of a day if I’ve accomplished a few goals. Sometimes those goals do involve cleaning, but more often, now, they’re creative or personal goals.

I’ve been able to create an effective structure for myself with these four strategies:

1.Set Intentions

At night before I fall asleep, and/or in the morning while I journal, I make a plan for the day. It doesn’t have to be in-depth, and it’s usually nothing more than: “Today I will ___ and ____ and ____.” But, even having a few intentions for the day helps me to accomplish meaningful things, which helps me to relax easier when I’ve fulfilled those intentions.

2.Limit or eliminate multi-tasking

I’m terrible at multi-tasking, as I think we all are, but it’s always a good to have a reminder to stay present in the moment and focus on one task at a time. The more energy I put into the task-at-hand, the more I can get out of the process, and the sooner I can move on.

3.Experiment

I’ve tried different kinds of daily routines, different browser applications to block the Internet, and different timer techniques. Nothing has stuck, but I continue to experiment. Some days, I need to set a timer to get things done, and some days I don’t. I used to have email and other distracting sites consistently blocked for several hours during the week, but I would just find workarounds by going to different browsers, so now I only use the option where I can block the Internet for an hour or more at a time when I’m really struggling to stay focused, but, to be honest, since I took the daily block off the Internet, I haven’t needed to to block the Internet much. I guess it’s the whole, what is forbidden becomes more appealing concept.

I continue to experiment with ways to avoid distractions, and I have found so much freedom in allowing myself to try different techniques, rather than relying on one.

4.Stop to reflect instead of deflect

I mentioned something similar in my last posts about goals and procrastination, but I’ll mention it again because it has been working so well! When I start getting incredibly distracted, it’s most helpful when I shut things down or turn things off, and consider why I’m having so much trouble focusing, because when I deflect, I waste time.

It seems like reflecting would be the real time waster, but it’s not.

Maybe I’m working on the wrong thing that day. Maybe I need to take a prolonged break. Or maybe I just need that moment to reflect, and then get back to working on something meaningful (or those occasional obligatory tasks).

Having a structured routine in which I can accomplish some goals has, paradoxically, given me freedom.

When I went about my days without any intentions, I was much more rattled by anxiety about “getting things done,” and by the evenings, I would feel bad that I hadn’t accomplished more with my day. While I don’t think it’s wise to only permit myself to do things I enjoy after I’ve accomplished a certain amount of things, I do find so much more joy in relaxing and exploring my hobbies when I’ve worked at a few goals or fulfilled a few intentions. When my husband badgers me about relaxing, he’s not saying that I should sit around and do nothing, he’s saying that I should invest my time in things that bring me joy, and I can agree with that.

border

I’m curious to know about your relationship with time and routines. Do you find yourself worrying over wasted time, or does it not phase you? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

How Better Breathing is Improving my Anxiety

One of the biggest pieces of advice you’ll get for anxiety is: breathe.

It’s one of those annoyingly simple and seemingly dismissive rehearsed mantras that you’ll have heard a million times if you suffer anxiety, but the thing is, it can truly make a difference.

When I finished grad school in the heat of this past Summer, I felt an immediate sense of panic and hurry. I wanted to move on and get to the next phase of my life immediately.

In the rush, I forgot to slow down and breathe fully.

My shallow breathing was making me weak, tired, and more anxious. I found myself suffering new physical symptoms of anxiety like an ever-present tightness in my chest and difficulty swallowing.

I kept forcing myself to be positive about what was next.

I  thought that being positive would make the anxiety go away. I thought that if I wasn’t, the Universe, or God, or whatever wouldn’t bless me.

Then, I started accepting my worries. I changed the track in my mind from “it’s going to work out great” to “I’m worried, but that’s okay.”

As I stopped forcing myself to think only positive, forward-thinking thoughts, I reconnected with my natural breath – slow, steady breaths through the nose.

breathe-in-deeply-to-bring-your-mind-home-to-your-body-thich-nhat-hanh
– Thich Nhat Hanh

Slowing down my breath to my natural rhythm has, in turn, helped me to be more patient.

My body doesn’t feel so rushed, and now, neither does my mind.

Of course, I am not saying that breathing better has cleared my head of all worries. It hasn’t. The increased oxygen supply to my body from deep, nasal breaths has, however, given me more clarity and focus.

border

No matter how often I learn of my body’s connection to my mind, I am still blown away by it every time. When I take care of my body, my mental health improves. When I take care of my mental health, I am motivated to take care of my body. And to think, this cycle of self-care can all begin with a deep breath.

Tuesday Treat: Today is a Good Day

today-is-a-good-day.png

This morning my Dad sent the family a quote in our group text message that read:

“If we have the attitude that it is going to be a great day, it usually is.”

– Catherine Pulsifer

I decided that today will be a great day. That doesn’t mean I’ll deny any negative feelings in favor of a great day, it simply means that I will savor the day for all it’s worth.

What will you decide about today?

I Hate Uncertainty

Have you ever experienced restless legs?

For me, restless legs occur from a sensation of throbbing or aching or pinching that gets so intense that I feel like I can’t sit still. I’ll get this achiness that feels like all my muscles have curled up and are begging to be stretched out.

I start to wish that my legs were made of rubber so I could stretch them for miles.

For the past week, I’ve been noticing this restless leg sensation in my entire body. It starts with a shakiness underneath my skin, and I begin to feel physically unfocused. The longer it goes on, the more this surreal but frighteningly real feeling takes hold – like I want to unzip myself and walk around the world in my bones – a new kind of naked.

(Naturally, I took to Google to see how psychotic I am. Turns out, I’m average).

I’ve considered that there are physical possibilities for this, but it’s not a consistent occurrence and it’s worse when my anxiety is worse, so I have to assume they’re related.

I think that this internal restlessness is resulting from the fact that I’m in a place of uncertainty right now and I’m panicking about my future.

What if I don’t get the job I want? What if I don’t get any job? What if everyone else is better than me and I get passed over for the rest of my life? What if I’m unemployable? What if my student loan repayments are unfeasible for our budget? What if I’m never satisfied?

I see other people sorting their futures out, or it seems like they already have their future sorted, and I feel like I’m behind. I’m sick of the dead-end jobs that have occupied most of my adult life. I’m sick of being in a holding pattern because of school, yet I’m terrified to graduate and hit the play button because I’m worried that it will be broken.

I’m worried that I’m broken – like a puzzle piece that’s had a corner chewed off by a dog – I don’t quite fit.

I’ll fit somewhere, just so there are places for other puzzle pieces to attach, but I won’t quite fit.

brokenpuzzlepiece

Catastrophic thinking like this takes up space in all areas of my life, but it unravels when I have to wait. While these thought patterns aren’t catastrophic in the sense that I’m imagining disasters, I am imaging the worst, most negative possibilities. I get hung up on the details of how everything is going to unfold. I jump into decisions in a mad dash to hurry up the waiting. I can’t stand the way my brain spins disastrous tales and I think I can fix it by sorting out my exterior world with a job or a plan, but what I really need to do is seek inner clarity and calm.

I feel guilty for taking my time in planning the next steps in my life, but I also recognize that I’m blessed to have the space and time to do it, and what’s worse – using the space and time, or not fully appreciating it because I feel bad? If I’m rash and quick to decide away the next several years of my life, then I still won’t quite fit into the puzzle, anyway.

This skin-deep restlessness has been driving me up the wall, but my body is trying to tell me something.

I think it’s telling me to slow down and accept the broken bits of myself instead of trying so hard to fix them with temporary solutions, and I ought to shut up and listen.

border

Do you spin worst-case scenarios in your mind? One strategy I’ve heard to combat this is to consider – what is the worst possible thing that could happen – and is it actually really that bad? I don’t know if that works for catastrophic thinkers as we can imagine such horrific things, but it might work if you’re like me and your biggest “worst-case scenario” situation is that you won’t get the job you want.

I Hate the Afternoons

If I could create my ideal day, it would be one that obliterated the afternoon.

In my ideal day, if this could somehow be possible, the whole day would be a morning.

To me, mornings feel limitless. 8:30AM feels like it could be 8:30AM forever, in a good way. It’s like I have no idea that time is moving forward.

I don’t yet feel any pressure or guilt for what I haven’t accomplished.

I feel a heightened sense of calm because I’m not yet plagued by anxiety. My heart rate is slow. My breaths are deep and my sense are alert.

Mornings carry a sense of possibility.

rise-and-shine

The thing is, because time feels so limitless to me in the mornings, I am more easily distracted and I don’t always accomplish all that I hoped to do. Mornings might feel like they’re full of possibility, but that means nothing if I don’t act on it.

Once the afternoon hits, I begin to feel guilty for what I never accomplished earlier.

My heart rate increases as anxious thoughts invade my mind.

The guilt and anxiety make me feel tired and sluggish, and though I would like to accomplish what I never got to in the morning, I have such little motivation.

Afternoons are the time of day when I’m most fraught with indecision and apathy, and it’s exhausting.

I’m tempted to adopt the practice of afternoon siestas.

Some mornings I wake up to anxiety provoking thoughts, like what if I never accomplish my goals or what if I’m a talentless hack and I’m just fooling myself? but it’s easy to swat those thoughts away as I make my coffee and take the dog outside for his morning stroll and plug away at whatever needs to get done. It gets harder and harder to fight my harsh self-doubt, sense of uncertainty, and spiraling anxious thoughts as the afternoon creeps in.

I know that I’m not alone. Many people experience an afternoon slump. There are plenty of commercials marketing products like energy drinks which seem to have the sole purpose of helping us through this time of day. My playful dog even seems to get the afternoon blues between the hours of 2 and 4.

Afternoons should be full of possibility, though.

They’re just an extension of the morning.

Sometimes, I’m able to trick myself, in a way, into believing that a new morning has started by mirroring my morning routines, like making a cup of coffee or washing my face.

Here are some other strategies that have either worked for me or that I intend to practice to make it through the afternoon:

 Journal

  • Write about my day so far – acknowledge all that I have already accomplished
  • Write down what I’d like to accomplish with the afternoon
  • Spend 10 or 20 minutes writing down my worries, then choose one or two of the most pressing ones and create an action plan
  • Write about my dreams and aspirations

Get moving

  • Do some simple stretches
  • Do a quicker-paced Yoga practice like Vinyasa
  • Take a walk
  • Play with the dog
  • Get out of the house, run errands or walk the dog at a park

Refocus

  • Practice mindfulness or meditation
  • Sit outside with no technological distractions
  • Take a shower
  • Write a letter to a friend
  • Listen to inspiring, up-lifting, or energizing music
  • Mindfully eat a healthy snack, focusing on the smell, taste and texture of the food

Since I currently work part-time, I’m either home for the entire afternoon, or I’m leaving for work right as the afternoon begins. On work days, I don’t have to struggle through the afternoon blues because I’m occupied, but as I’m leaving for work I still experience that sense of guilt or anxiety for having not accomplished all that I wanted in the morning, so I have one last strategy for combating the afternoon blues:

  • Set realistic and actionable goals for the day

border

Do you experience an afternoon slump, or do you get full-on afternoon blues like me? What are some strategies that you have tried or that you currently use to power through the middle of the day?

It’s OK to be Messy

Yesterday morning, I made a batch of banana muffins. Usually, baking banana muffins is stress relief for me. I like to bake and I like knowing that I will have a snack to look forward to all week.  Lately, though, cooking and baking have felt like absolute chores.

As I prepared the muffins on Sunday, I had banana peels and butter wrappers and egg shells and an empty brown sugar bag next to my mixing bowl, and I had this deep desire to throw each item away before I even finished stirring in the flour. I had to make a conscious effort to let that trash pile up, and I still cleaned a few dishes before I was even done.

I often engage in this “clean up as you go” process of cooking because I have a compulsion to clean a mess as soon as I make it. On days when I’m feeling especially anxious, a mess even makes me feel irritable and uncomfortable.

As I was challenging myself to let go of the compulsion to clean up while I baked, I was thinking about how much time I spend tidying as I go, and how often I act on the tidying urge without thinking too much about it.

I recognize that this overblown anxiety around mess makes me unhappy, so I challenged myself to leave my dinner dishes in the sink last night. I was watching a movie and I didn’t want to miss the soft dialogue over the sound of running water. It was truly a challenge. It was like my body physically needed to clean up. I could almost feel myself trying to reach behind me into the sink and clean the dishes as I walked away to sit back down on the couch.

Thankfully, I forgot about the dishes, and I was surprised to find that they were still in the sink this morning. And you know what? Everything was fine.

My world did not implode because I didn’t put the dishes away.

I can tolerate mess, but I really don’t like it. When I’m baking and cooking I feel like I’m split between the desire to enjoy the process and the desire to be finished so I can clean up already. This feeling has been worse in the past few weeks, but I’ve always been this way. I’ve learned to cope by telling myself that it’s okay to be messy and mess is required in order to get anything meaningful done in life. When I can direct my thoughts away from the accruing mess, I can relax and settle into the sensations of gooey dough or sweet smells. I can focus on the task at hand and stop running back and forth from the counter to the trash can.

real-life-is-messy.jpg

When I googled “blogs about being messy” to find some inspiration for my own post, I was reminded that there’s a huge emphasis on how being clean and orderly is linked with success.

Even though the content of many lifestyle blogs seems to assert that being messy is okay, the titles that make their way to the top of a Google search definitely don’t give off that assertion. Phrases like “[being clean] changed my life” and “how to stop being messy” and “staying organized [for messy people]” state that yeah, it’s okay to be messy, but you better figure out how to make it look like you’re not messy.

Many of these blogs align themselves with this idea – “outer order inner calm” – meaning that if your space is clean, then you can be happy and at peace and ultimately, achieve more success.

For me, though, being too attached to cleanliness and order has mostly slowed me down and kept me tightly wound.

I like being generally tidy, but I don’t want to rely on my environment to bring me peace and happiness. I want to be able to see a little mess and recognize it as a sign of life rather than feel a sense of dread.

My kitchen is messy because I’ve been cooking! My desk is messy because I’ve been creating!

I’d rather spend my time enjoying the process of making messes in order to create something wonderful or delicious instead of worrying about tidying up each micro mess I make as I go along.

border

Do you subscribe to the “outer order, inner calm” notion? If so, how could you train yourself to be calm even in the midst of a mess?

I’m Afraid of Becoming Greedy

A few weeks ago, I listened to the audiobook You are a Badass by Jen Sincero. You are a Badass is a self-help book with a focus on self-love. Each chapter ends with the reminder to love yourself, which is something that I really like about the book because no matter what each chapter was describing, Sincero always brought it back to what’s most important.

Sincero-Badass

The end of each chapter was the saving grace of Sincero’s book. Like a lot of self-help books, Sincero’s comes from a privileged perspective and hampers on the idea that the universe or god or some higher power is available to bestow abundance upon you. In the vein of abundance, near the end of her book, Sincero starts talking a lot about money, as though money is the real component of self-help, not self-love. She starts talking about re-framing your money mindset and surrounding yourself with wealthy people and believing that the universe will provide for you. I was kind of picking the book apart and rolling my eyes just a little as it was, but I lost a lot more respect for the content of the book during this money portion and even more when Sincero describes purchasing an Audi before she knew she had the money available to afford it. That’s not admirable. It’s irresponsible and greedy.

I might be a harsh critic of Sincero’s approach, but I did listen to the entire audiobook and I did try and reflect on what the book could teach me since I spent five hours of my life on it, anyway. Although the money portion of her book was the part where I felt the most critical, it was also the part that has stuck with me the most because money is a topic I actively ignore and I know can’t keep resisting it.

I grew up with a frugal father and with parents who often argued about money. My parents always provided for me and my sisters, but my dad was also always looking for ways to save more money while my mom was apparently not being frugal enough.

There are a lot of ways in which I take after my mom, but I happen to take after my dad in the frugal department. I live life with the feeling that there’s never enough money and we only have enough to spend on the necessities. I often feel guilty for spending money on things that aren’t necessary like lattes and hair dye. I get panicked when I look at my debt from college and I always shut down when my husband and I try to discuss our finances because it’s easier for me to live frugally and as simply as possible than try and budget.

I don’t want to go out and purchase an Audi to overcome this mental block, but I do want to stop these limiting beliefs I have about our finances and I want to be able to talk about money without feeling overwhelmed. My husband and I have enough money to meet all our basic needs and have some fun and I don’t need to feel wrecked with guilt for the occasional latte or boxed hair dye. It’s not like I’m frequenting coffee shops every single morning or going to the most expensive salons.

What I want to do to push past this mental block is to shift my perspective on money.

I want to stop believing that money is a scarcity.

I want to start seeing our fortunate reality, which is that we have all we need.

enough-perspective-needsmet

Money itself is not evil.

There are people who use it with bad or malicious intentions, but money is not the evildoer.

If there were no money, bad and malicious people would still find ways to be bad and malicious. This is an important shift in my money perspective because I feel that being frugal and disciplined with money protects me from being a bad or malicious person.

I see wealth as a corrupter of even the best people and I’m afraid that I could get wrapped up in greed and excess if I allow myself to feel financially comfortable.

I’m worried that with money, I could become blind to the needs of others.

Being smart and generous with money makes both me and my husband feel good. We could be a lot smarter and more generous, though, if I could open myself up to talking about our finances and recognize all that’s available to us.

border

How can you challenge your personal beliefs about money?

How to Manage Deep Feelings

Last week a stray dog followed me and my dog, Scott, home.

I went inside to leave Scott with my husband and when I came back she was gone, but I peeked around the side of the house and she instantly came trotting through the parking lot. I spent the rest of the morning sitting with her on our stoop, trying to convince her that I meant no harm.

stray-dog

My first intention was to pick her up and take her to the shelter myself, but pretty soon I was thinking I wanted her to be our very own pet. I scooted closer and closer and closer to her and pet her and gave her food and treats and eventually, I grabbed a slip collar and put it over her head. She freaked out. I thought she was going to choke herself. She didn’t run away from me, though. She continued to hang out on our stoop, even after I ran inside to use the bathroom and grab a quick breakfast.

My next plan was to pick her up. I touched her on the neck, on the head, and eventually she let me rub her belly and I even put both my arms around her torso, picking her up slightly, but every time I brought my body any further in to completely lift her up off the ground, she ran away. She never left my sight, but she let me know she wasn’t too happy about what I was trying to do.

A little after noon, I decided that I didn’t have the skills needed to make this stray my pet. Plus, we had our own dog to contend with and he wasn’t too happy about her presence on the front stoop. I called animal control and figured I had given her food, water, and enough safety that she was able to rest her eyes. I had had a wonderful morning well- spent in the presence of a sweet dog, what more could I ask for? But, as I told people her story I couldn’t stop thinking I wanted to adopt her. My husband, who also loves dogs, checked the shelter for me and we began making plans to adopt her if no one claimed her.

I visualized having this pet so much that it felt absolutely real.

Then, after talking with a neighbor, I found out that our Homeowner’s Association (HOA) doesn’t allow us to have more than one dog. There are a lot of rules our HOA seems to turn a blind eye to, but I have never seen any neighbor walking more than one dog. This felt like a rule we’d easily get in trouble over.

I was devastated. I laid in bed with my husband who I’d woken up to share this awful news. We schemed and we planned and kept thinking we’d find a way to make it work. I had felt so deeply for this sweet little dog and believed so truly that we could bring her into our home and give her a happier life that when a stupid rule dashed my dreams, I couldn’t bare to simply let it go. I wobbled back and forth between my decision for a day or two and each time someone would try to offer a suggestion about how I could adopt the dog anyway, I would feel heartbroken. I felt sick to my stomach. Between the sadness of losing this dog who I’d come to view as a new part of our family and the anger I felt toward our HOA for having such a stupid rule, I found it hard to lay my emotions down and carry on.

The evening after I found out about the HOA dog restriction, I was talking on the phone to my husband and he made a comment about how he wouldn’t mind lying to the HOA and I began crying with the weight of the indecision I felt. He wanted to adopt the dog, too, but he wasn’t so emotionally wrecked by it as I was. When I feel things, I feel them so deeply. As I cried, my husband told me that it was okay that I wanted to do both things and that sometimes you have to choose logic over emotion.

Ultimately, logic won.

For four days, I rode around in my little emotional bumper car. All I wanted to do was tell everyone how excited I was about adopting the dog. Then, when that came crashing down, all I wanted to do was tell everyone about how much I hated our HOA.

Balancing my deep emotions with the obligations of everyday life has always been hard for me, but as the obligations of everyday life increase I have had to find some strategies to get through these emotional windstorms.

1. It’s okay to want two things at once.

What my husband told me on the phone that evening after our disappointment has really stuck with me – it’s okay to have an understanding of both what makes logical sense and what feels right emotionally. Acknowledging that both of these states – the emotion and the logic – can exist at one time is important to keep from trying to suppress one in favor of the other. Just because I chose the more logical path doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel deeply about the dog. It doesn’t mean that I don’t wish it could be different, it just means that I made a decision.

2. Feel the feelings. Feel them deeply.

Trying not to feel an emotion because you’re worried that you’ll feel too deeply won’t allow you to carry on with your life anymore than resigning to the fate of lung cancer while smoking cigarettes will help you survive.

feeling-deeply.JPG

After I found out about the dog restriction, I kept trying not to cry because I felt silly that I was crying over a dog (again). I’d already cried when animal control took her away, and now the HOA was keeping her out of my grasp. How many times was I going to cry over this dog? But, once I allowed myself to cry again, it was easier to move on. When I recognized that I had felt for her deeply and it made me sad when I lost her, then I accepted the feelings. I cried and then I accepted the situation. I allowed myself to focus on something else. I can’t say I’ve completely moved on because I’m still inwardly cussing out our HOA and kind of sort of thinking about ways to sneak that dog just to spite them, but I can now focus on other things besides my emotions.

3. Focus on a goal

At first, my husband and I were focusing on the goal of adopting the dog despite the restriction. Then, as we realized what kind of stress and pressure we’d be living under and decided not to adopt the dog, we found a new goal.

My husband and I have been dreaming about getting into a new house for a while now, and this situation with the HOA gave us the push we needed. We both dream of having a family one day, and our current home only has one bedroom. Our dog Scott would love to have a yard, and we only have a balcony. We’d love to find a less restricting HOA or get out of one altogether and we were given the push we needed to move forward.

The goal could be as simple as an everyday task like cooking dinner or doing laundry, but even if that’s it, my emotional energy can be funneled into that task. Focusing on a goal isn’t a way to suppress my emotions, but it’s a way to begin moving out of a heavy emotional state. If I talked about my emotions until I sorted them out, I’d be talking about them forever. After a good cry, I just have to take a step away and start carrying on with my life.

. . .

This list feels a little stilted, but that’s because I’m still learning to better handle my emotions. I’ve spent a lifetime stuffing my emotions down to my toenails, and now I’m learning how to feel emotions without being wrecked by them. I still hide them, often, because it’s hard to feel things so deeply, but what kind of experience would I be making out of life if I hid from these feelings?

During the four hours I sat with the stray dog, I discovered something – the moments in life that make me feel the deepest feelings are the most worthwhile. Feeling deeply is what it means to be human, after all.

border

Are you more likely to hide from your emotions or welcome them freely? Did you grow up in a household that encouraged or discouraged deeply felt emotions?