My life is absolutely amazing, but I cannot sugarcoat it. My life has been challenging. In fact, last summer tested everything that I knew about dealing with stress and coping with adversity. Despite the three jobs I was juggling at the time, I was faced with post-divorce financial issues that were mounting monthly. The hole was getting deeper. Life was only becoming more challenging as the days went on. But with that said, I also thought my sons, then 15 and 10 had been through enough, with our family being traumatically torn apart, so I tried really hard to remain hopeful and positive demeanor, at least on the outside.
I kept on a brave face, while my ex-husband and I argued frequently and resolved little. Being divorced didn’t make our interactions or exchanges easier or less frequent, but rather, more intense and less caring. I swear, I didn’t know how things could get any worse, but for the boys, I really tried to keep a stiff upper lip. And then things got much, much worse. Worse than I could have imagined when their dad, my ex-husband of 15 months and partner for more than 20 years, died suddenly from heart complications in June 2018.
I write and talk about this often, in part to process all that has happened but also to share the things I have learned and continue to learn. If I do nothing else, I will learn from this. In order to not only survive but to live a full and rich life, without getting overwhelmed, I have had to learn to do a number of things, so that I can be the best possible version of myself.
1. AVOID PERFECTIONISM
Life hadn’t turned out to be the idyllic, charmed, suburban life I’d planned for my children. We had the house in the suburbs with the Rainbow Direct swing set in the backyard, and for a while we led the Facebook-perfect family life, until the day I got served with divorce papers by a soft-spoken older gentlemen, who stepped out of a dark-colored sedan that pulled up beside me, as I took out the garbage.
I think it was in that very moment that I realized I’d have to admit my life was not social media perfect, and that I had to learn that I didn’t have to be perfect. I bathed my boys and put them to bed, and then I fell apart. But by morning, I was ready to go. I had two boys to raise and to help get through what I thought would be the most difficult journey of our lives together.
I began to understand that no one was grading me on life. I was being faced with problems that would require inner strength. There was no longer room to try to be “perfect” or “ideal.” We needed to survive. I learned to let go of the need to be perfect, so I could get things done and leave more room for personal writing, exercising, evening walks and extra long hugs with and for the boys, things that we needed to nurture our souls.
2. WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING
I once had the prettiest looking notebook that was intended to be a reflection of my social media perfect life. But once things cracked, it became a repository for difficult emotions, and also where I would shove receipts, try to balance the budget to keep another check from bouncing, and write sloppy sticky note after sticky note to remind me of all the things I sometimes really wished I could forget. Trying to remember anything at all caused me anxiety. I wrote down everything and still do. My BK Dashboards provide me with a place to make weekly lists and keep relevant notes and I actually use my plastic sheet to hold the dozens of sticky notes I write, so I know where they all are.
3. APPRECIATE SIMPLE JOYS AND CELEBRATE THE SMALL STUFF
Simple rituals, like filling my fountain pen with bottled ink, provide me with simple joy and I embrace them. When it comes to joy, I am purposely and intentionally low-maintenance. It serves me no good to be difficult to be pleased. A pretty, handwritten note can fill my heart with enough joy to last me a year. I am easy to please, which means I am more often pleased, and thus, more often in a happy mental space.
In addition to being moved by simple things, we also celebrate the small stuff. If my ex-husband’s death taught us anything, it is that we are not promised tomorrow. We all know this, but I don’t think we all take it to heart daily. If we did, then fewer of us would be wasting time worrying about things that don’t deserve our attention or time. And we’d certainly spend more time celebrating our small victories because they are worthy of celebration. As challenging as life can be, sometimes the simplest things are huge achievements and deserve a party.
4. LIVING LIFE SLOWLY
I singletask a lot. Look at that; singletask is not even recognized as a word by MS Word, but multitasking is. Boo. The world seems to value being busy and getting as much done in the course of the day as possible. I value slow-living and peace vs. that harried, stressful feeling that comes from me trying to do EVERYTHING and do everything perfectly. I try to do the things that I choose to do very well, with intention and care. That takes time and focus. So rather than doing a lot of things in the course of a day, I try to put a lot of love into the fewer things that I get accomplished and accept that as good enough. My kids are going to remember things like my patience and the smiles they get when the look over at me to see if I’m regarding them. I doubt they will look for and comment on my to-do lists.
5. PUMP MUSIC AND GREAT SMELLS INTO THE AIR
It is difficult for me to write, play great music, and have the room smell awesome, without letting my troubles slip away and without feeling more grounded. Certain things, such as the action of writing, the sound of music, and the olfactory stimulation of a great candle or essential oil are mood altering for me, and when I can change my state, I can change my energy. This kind of self-awareness keeps me moving and grooving, literally.
Knowing how to pull myself out of ruts, make myself feel high energy, and lift my own spirits is empowering. Find your magic remedies, ones that are healthy and safe and that will put you in a better place and use them. What keeps you from feeling overwhelmed?