A not so new normal

I was at acupuncture earlier this month, updating my provider on our vacation, how well I’d done and how proud I was for not only surviving, but surviving well. And she was like, Of course you did well. That’s the normal you’ve worked hard to achieve. It’s only your mind that thinks it’s five years ago, when that was not your normal.

I sat there, completely flabbergasted. She was right — I have been feeling well. I have worked hard to get here — it’s been 12 years in the making, actually. That’s when I decided, on my 35th birthday, that something had to change. Um, because I couldn’t get up off the couch and I had a 2-year-old and an 8-year-old who needed me.

All the head meds, all the reflexology and acupuncture, all the doctor’s visits and learning how to eat for my gut, as well as how to manage my anxiety — that’s all paid off. And the truth is I’ve been feeling well for a while now. Setbacks have come when I tweak my diet or life inevitably throws me a curve ball. But overall … I am well.

I am well. I can’t wrap my mind around that fact. I need to flip my thinking so that I look at my life from today’s vantage point and not c. 2007, afraid of what could happen on the gut and anxiety fronts, expecting the worst day in and day out because that was just my reality.

But how do I flip the switch in my mind so I expect to feel well vs. always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next IBS attack, for the next panic attack?

Hell if I know.

Well, maybe I do: Maybe, it’s like any habit I have attempted to form, when I make a conscious effort to reframe my routine — and eventually, it does become routine. Maybe it’s as easy as setting the intention each morning to be well. To recognize that I am well each night before I go to bed.

(That seems too easy, really, but I’m willing to give it a go.)

I don’t know, this is interesting to me because I am not a naturally optimistic person (nor am I a pessimist — I’m just a realist who expects the worst 😉 ). I like thinking about reality vs. perception, what’s really true and what I think is true. And I want to be well. I’m enchanted by the idea that I could expect to be well, all the time.

How different my outlook will be if I can master my thoughts.

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Morning routine, summertime edition

I am a creature of habit, as I’ve often proclaimed. It’s an understatement to use those words because it’s more like I’m deeply entrenched in the day to day routines I’ve established and any varying of those routines sends me into a spin, from which it takes me a ridiculously long time to recover.

I’ve gotten into a routine this summer of waking up early (sometimes as early as 5:30, although it’s generally more like 6:15, even on weekends. Um, not on purpose. I think it’s all the light), making my coffee and heading to the porch with my backpack of treasurers, aka Freida the laptop and my journals and pens. I may or may not do a guided meditation or breathing exercise a la the Tide app. And then I just write.

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Bean is also a fan of the porch.

It’s nice outside in the cool morning air, listening to the birds and the orchard noises and even the traffic. Seeing what Mount Hood looks like that particular day, watching the cats tumble around and vent excess energy by racing halfway up the oak trees. Sorting through the events of the previous day and recognizing any areas that might need a little extra attention on my part, whether that’s because it gives me something new to think about or because I need a little (or a lot of) grace.

After porch time, I get ready for my day and head to work feeling ready to face whatever comes. Which sounds cheesy, I know this, but when I race out the door and straight into work — a job that’s chaotic enough — I feel out of sorts. Centering myself in the morning means I am more apt to stay calm the rest of the day.

When you live with anxiety, that’s huge.

I can take this time because it doesn’t really matter when I head in for work — journalist hours are whatever the story requires — and I only have my schedule to contend with in the summer. And my kids are older and require less attention. I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep it up when school starts up again and the weather changes. But I’m not worrying about that right now.

I’m just out here enjoying my coffee.

On traveling

When we accept our limits, we go beyond them. — Einstein

I am a terrible traveler.

I haven’t always been. I am a homebody and I love routine and I hate surprises, but my memory tells me that I used to not mind traveling so much.

I think what happened is this: I had a kid who made traveling a nightmare (looking at you, Abs — the stories I could tell!) and my stomach issues got trickier. So now, when I think about going anywhere for an extended period of time, it makes me exceedingly anxious.

Blog Waterton

Very true, Waterton Starbucks!

The last week of June, our little family plus my mother-in-law rented a van and made for Canada. It was a trip that’s been in the works since at least the beginning of the year, as my in-laws wanted to take us somewhere for a once in a lifetime experience. We decided that what we really wanted to do was take the girls to Banff — Eric and I went in 1997, but the girls have never been any farther north than Washington State.

Maybe because this trip had been on my radar for so long, I had plenty of time to worry — and plenty of time to wrap my head around the fact that I could make or break this trip for everyone, just based on my overall outlook. Moms have power, yo.

So here’s what I did: I decided to look at it not as a Trisha, but as a traveler. Every day, I woke up and made the intention to be open to whatever adventures and experiences came our way. I was the designated recorder for the journey, which meant I also had my journal and my camera (or phone) with me at all times so I could keep track of everything from how much we spent on gas to what we were doing.

I enjoyed going to Mass in Kalispell, Mont., in a gym with the tabernacle underneath the basketball hoop. I enjoyed the hot tub at the hotel. I enjoyed Glacier National Park even though it was raining. (I’ve been there plenty of times and it was kind of fun to see it this way.)

I enjoyed staying at the Prince of Wales hotel in Waterton Lakes and tried not to be scared by the ghost stories we heard during the historical talk that evening. I enjoyed walking around the town of Waterton and taking in the views, seeing a black bear and a waterfall. I enjoyed my coffee the next morning in the hotel dining room (and my Lara Bar) as the family had breakfast and the discussions on whether or not we were haunted (Abby said definitely, Johanna said no way, Joni was disappointed her ghosts turned out to be the people walking around upstairs).

I enjoyed standing in line at the Lake Louise overflow parking area, waiting for an hour to board a school bus that would take us to the lake, then another half hour for the bus to fill before leaving. I enjoyed talking to the Scottish tourist who sat by Eric. I enjoyed our time at the lake, taking photos and laughing because all kids, regardless of country of origin, act the same.

I enjoyed the gorgeous scenery of Banff, our condo and the town. I enjoyed seeing all of the recycling and trash bins on the side of the road, as well as the wildlife overpasses that crossed the highway. I enjoyed a carriage ride around town and listening to Abby chatter about how awesome she felt about getting her first legal drink. (Drinking age in the US is 21. Not so in Canada. She was thrilled to be carded.)

I enjoyed our trip to Jasper National Park and walking on a glacier, then a skybridge. Okay, I did not enjoy the skybridge because I’m afraid of heights and walking on glass does not seem wise to me, regardless of how much steel is holding it up, but I DID IT. I enjoyed seeing admittedly scraggly mountain goats and a marmot.

I enjoyed looking for stickers to decorate my journal in gift shops and buying postcards. I enjoyed writing about the experience and having time to read and relax in the evenings. I enjoyed finding ketchup chips and the reactions of the family as they tried them. I enjoyed seeing everything in English and French and hearing all of the different languages being used around us. (I’m used to hearing a mix of English and Spanish, so it was at once familiar and jarring.)

I enjoyed the naps I took in the van, the chatter of my girls, my weighted blanket at night, and the fact that my reusable coffee cup was accepted everywhere. I enjoyed the look of Canadian currency and the general friendliness of the people we met. I enjoyed not looking at American newspapers or websites to see what craziness was going on back home.

When we got back, Eric said he was proud of me — he knows how hard this kind of thing is on my general constitution. I was proud of myself. This trip was super fun and I’m working on a scrapbook for our family and my mother-in-law so we can remember everything we did. The overall lesson I’ve taken away from this is that not being Trisha on vacation is genius and that accepting our limits means that we can go beyond them. (Thanks, Einstein.)

Ten out of ten stars, would go again.

Processing grief

I was stopped at the grocery store, again, recently when I passed an acquaintance who wanted to tell me how sorry she was to hear about my father-in-law’s passing. I keep saying the same thing over and over: That he gave us enough time so we could all gather, we were all with him at the end, it was super peaceful and super fast, and that is a blessing. That it sucks for us, but was the best case scenario for him, and we are at peace.

And that’s the truth. We are. Even my mother-in-law.

bean for blog

This post is kind of heavy, so here’s a picture of my Bean to lighten the mood.

Processing grief is … well. I had a really hard time with this one at first. I couldn’t reconcile the sight of my father-in-law unresponsive in that hospital bed with the man I knew to be an unending ball of energy. But as the week unfolded and the inevitable occurred, that feeling of anger and denial were replaced with gratitude. For the love and support we were shown (I mean, my friend Beth and her husband Jess actually left the funeral reception to get me a Trisha-friendly lunch. They asked the girls what I could eat and presented me with a bag. I can’t even tell you what that meant). For the memories we have of my father-in-law. That the Walkers are a close-knit bunch and readily support and love each other.

This is the easiest grief process I’ve ever experienced. And at first, I was wondering if maybe that meant I was weird or that some sort of something was missing in me, if I wasn’t still a wreck two months after the accident.

But I’ve realized that grief is different in every situation. I completely lost my shit at my grandfather’s funeral. It took me two years to get over my Grandma M’s death — which surprised me a bit because she had dementia issues for several years at the end and wasn’t even really the same grandma anymore; you’d think I’d have already processed the grief of losing that relationship. (She called Abby “Trisha,” and Johanna was “Trisha’s sister.” Well, she did rather love me a lot.) My lovely Aunt Jan passed away in February, and there is sadness there, but we also knew that was coming. (Although there’s grief in knowing ahead of time and coming to terms with it.) My Uncle Bob’s passing seemed like the end of an era.

There have been more losses, of course — some more intangible, like the miscarriage I had in 2003, and I would even count my jealousy at couples with two kids in this category, that loss of something that you never had, before I got pregnant with Johanna. And each has had varying degrees of grief.

I’m an English major, not a therapist, so I don’t have any grief tips or websites you should look up to help you “get over” a loss. I hate that phrase anyway: Get over. Screw you, I’ll take as long as I need, but you never “get over” something like the loss of a person, so why is that even the goal?

What I’ve learned from this latest loss is this: That it’s okay to feel what you feel as you feel it. That there are no rules for grief. That death might be inevitable, but it is still surprising. That all I can do is embrace this messy existence.

Accepting the unknown is hard for me — I don’t like surprises — but that’s another lesson this experience has taught me: It’s all unknown. All you can do is react. And positive or negative, that choice is yours.

Scarcity myth

Abby and I have a tradition of Friday Lunch when she’s home from college. We both work downtown, so we meet up and walk to a nearby coffee shop. It’s a chance for us to hang out and catch up. And it’s fun.

During our most recent lunch, the two of us got onto the topic of journals and planners and how we keep track of our days. She talked about using hers to journal and get into a healthier routine; I’m sort of over my planner because it’s got a self-help aspect to it and, since my father-in-law’s death, I’ve just kind of decided I’d rather enjoy the moment instead of constantly feeling like I need to be working towards some goal.

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Scarcity mindset: That there is never, EVER enough. Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash.

And then Abby was all, Well, that’s the scarcity mentality, Mom. It makes you think there’s never enough time or money and that you constantly have to work to improve your situation. That you’re never good enough. And I was like, WHAT.

Because I’d never thought of it like that, in terms of why I always feel like a hamster on a wheel. But lo and behold, the answer is simply that we’re bombarded with messages that we are not enough as we are.

Case in point (and I’m still kind of pissed about this, vaguely): We went to the big city recently to buy an eighth grade promotion dress for Johanna. While in the mall (wow, nothing like going to a mall to remind you why they suck), a salesman called me over and tried to sell me all manner of beauty product to improve my skin in general and lift the area under my eyes in particular. ‘Cause I’m noticeably middle aged, I guess.

And then, as I was walking away, a saleswoman tried the same thing. I was fuming. Eric was like, They’re just doing their job, and I was all, Yeah, point taken, but why, as a woman, am I supposed to give literally any shits whether or not I meet some unattainable definition of beauty? They aren’t calling YOU over.

I am six feet tall (truly, that’s not program height 😉 ) and I weigh 138 pounds. And I still feel like my body isn’t thin enough in the right places. I don’t color my hair, but I keep it trimmed and thinned, and I use a flat iron religiously because it’s very thick and that’s the only way I can keep it from puffing out. And my skin care routine is basically a bar of soap and some sunscreen, but I wear makeup because then I feel presentable.

So basically I was fuming because it made me confront all the ways I DO give a shit. Self-realization is hard, yo.

But Abby’s words made it seem more … I don’t know. Like, I could understand the tendency on a fundamental level. It’s just that I wanted to actually know why this is even a thing.

So: I started researching “scarcity mentality” to try to figure out more thoroughly what it means and what it does to a person’s overall health.

Most of what I found had to do with financial issues. Finding information on the mental and emotional aspects was harder and I never really did come across anything that struck me as an explanation as to why we do this to ourselves. I did find a book called “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” which I have added to my reading list. But otherwise, the closest I came was this paragraph:

Having thoughts and feelings of scarcity automatically orients the mind towards unfulfilled wants and needs. Furthermore, scarcity often leads to lapses in self-control while draining the cognitive resources needed to maximize opportunity and display judgment. Willpower also is depleted, which makes one prone to feelings of giving up. People in this state attend to the urgent while neglecting important choices that will have a drastic effect on the future. (LINK)

(That was the only part of that article I found helpful, incidentally.)

What I found ironic about my (admittedly quick, we’re talking a couple of hours) research is that most articles were linked with ways to create an abundance mindset — and I have no interest in that, as it seems like one more think I need to feel bad about: My mindset isn’t abundant enough! Better add that to the list of self-improvements!

So my overarching questions did not get answered immediately is what I’m saying. What did become clear to me is that this scarcity mentality is probably why minimalism is still considered an alternative lifestyle choice (and again, easy for me since I’m not financially strapped), why I sometimes make terrible decisions on everything from adding to my closet to what I put on my plate, and why we live in such a need-based society — why we’re never satisfied with what we have and where we are (we need more money / recognition / socks / knickknacks / travel / friends / health / etc.).

My limited search did make me think of this on a grander level, as in people I know, as I’m sure we all do, who never give but always take and/or why women have such a hard time rooting for each other, as if someone else’s success somehow takes away from our own. Why sometimes I don’t want to give. Why I have to make a point to remember I want us all to win.

And that maybe, much like I shout I CHOOSE PEACE when I find myself in a negative mental loop, I need to start yelling THAT’S A SCARCITY MENTALITY when I catch myself wondering if my neck is too wrinkled or thinking that I need a certain object to make my life better or catch myself feeling angry that I have to donate $5 to that person’s office birthday fund when everyone knows she doesn’t donate herself, even though $5 means nothing to me.

Uh, I might have some unresolved issues to work through.

I find this quite fascinating and I’ll follow up after I read “Scarcity.” I would really, truly love to hear your thoughts on this topic. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this after one conversation with my brilliant kid and a quick search.

Link HERE: The NPR story on the authors of “Scarcity” and what they learned in their research. It’s a quick read.

Restarting routines

I am a creature of habit. And I know what they say about routines cutting down on decision fatigue, but really, my days are all the same because that’s the way I like it.

Surprises? No thanks.

Our lives have been, shall we say, a bit on the rogue side lately, with routine completely out the window. And that’s been hard. So this past week, the focus was settling back into normal life. And I mostly succeeded. I worked a full week and managed to cross a few projects off my list. While I didn’t do any FlyLady zones as planned, I did get some general cleaning done, which always makes me feel better. The sun was out and I took lovely lunches out on our deck, soaking it up with an army of cats.

There were a few glitches, like there always are: Jo called in the middle of a coffee date because she wasn’t feeling well and needed me to pick her up from school; not a glitch, just that my grandma was in town and I visited with her instead of doing all that other stuff that needed to be done (eh, sometimes the ol’ list can wait); and everywhere I went, people wanted to ask about my father-in-law and how the family is doing, which comes from a good place on their end, but it’s exhausting retelling the story over and over.

Part of my morning routine involves writing — getting out my planner and seeing what’s on the docket for the day, as well as my main journal to process thoughts and feeling and whatever happened the day before. I’ve been resisting this for the past three weeks, although the rest of my routine is fairly solid. I rarely reread what I write, so it’s not that I am afraid of bogging my future self down with bad memories. I think it’s more denial. Once I write it, it’s real.

This week I’d like to get back on track with ALL of my morning routine … and my evening routine, which I haven’t bothered with for quite some time. I’ve also completely stopped my walk break routine at the office, and that’s going to be a priority as well.

I want to feel normal again, that’s why. I want to feel in control. And I don’t see how that could be a bad thing.

Let’s get happy*

Spring has never been my strong point.

I’m not one for change — give me sameness any day of the week, and preferably every day of the week — and this includes the seasons. Spring in Oregon is a mixed bag, and that’s hard to plan for: Do I need a rain jacket today or can I get by with a light sweater? Do I dare wear my pretty new mary janes or should I opt for my ankle boots AGAIN? It’s also a busy time at the newspaper because we put out a four-section special insert to coincide with blossoms on the fruit trees … as well as a home and garden insert, a review of business stories and, you know, our regular biweekly editions.

Spring break passes and everything I want is in the future: Abby will be home from school around Mother’s Day and I’m counting the days until the Walker Four is all under one roof again. I’m looking forward to the long, hot, lazy days of summer.

I strive for contentedness each spring — hey, winter is past! The hard part is over! The sun is coming! — but mostly I feel out of sorts, anxious, overwhelmed and detached.

I’m never going to be happy in the spring — I feel like I need to grit my teeth and just get through it — but this year, I am trying something different: Tackling a spring cleaning project.

I’m looking at this as a way to give myself something to focus on that produces tangible results but doesn’t take up a lot of time.

One thing that DOES make me happy is how my house looks when it’s freshly cleaned. We don’t have a lot in our house (thanks, minimalism!), but we live with three cats (hair and dust) and a kid (art projects). We have a woodstove (ash). We live here (a stack of my journals is currently taking up half of the dining room table)!

Which is how I decided on the spring cleaning project: A clean house makes me happy. I am feeling out of sorts. Plans and schemes help me feel more in control. Crossing items off my list makes me feel productive. And I don’t even have to think too hard about it, because the FlyLady already has.**

She has the entire house broken up into sections; each section is the focus of a particular week. The order of the sections never changes. You set a timer for 15 minutes and focus on one task in that one area each day. What you don’t get this time around, you’ll get next time.

I don’t know, I find that very comforting.

I found myself looking forward to setting my timer and tackling a job in the front entrance or dining room (week one zone). I detail-cleaned our main light switch. I cleaned out five drawers in our hutch and polished the (bottom) front. I dusted underneath the thing (and found a couple of cat toys, which Bean and Goose thoroughly enjoyed for 10 minutes before losing them again). I wiped down moldings and doors and knobs. I got rid of a couple of candles and a wobbly platter that I’ve been hanging onto out of guilt (I spent A LOT of money on that thing and have always regretted the purchase).

This week is the kitchen, and I already know which areas I’m going to focus on for some serious cleaning and decluttering: Two catch-all cupboards, one by the fridge, the other by the stove.

I may not be happy this spring. But I feel like I’ve at least got a plan to get through it until summer hits and I can breathe again.

*My title today comes from a song by The Cure: “Doing the Unstuck” from the 1992 “Wish” album. I like the manic hopefulness of it. Sometimes you have to talk yourself into being happy.

**When the girls were little, I found FlyLady — which is also what led me to minimalism. I haven’t followed her system in years, but I remember how helpful it was and am grateful to have it as a resource. I also like how it’s not about perfection, but about getting shit done. I can get behind that.