Tag Archives: Slumps

Lemons into Lemonade

Maybe it’s all the sunshine, laughs with friends and frozen boozy beverages that summer 2017 has bestowed upon me, but I’m feeling more optimistic these days. I was in a dark slump that surprised me with its timing and darkness for a few months, earlier this year and I wrote about it, talked to my friends about it, ran lots of miles in the hope I’d outrun it, then huddled up and watched Netflix with it for a while. Something seems to have shifted these days. My life situation hasn’t changed all that much but I’m starting to feel better. This may be delusional. I recently had a few weeks of a dating situation that turned out to be not very fun and kind of bizarre (Lesson: Never date the unGoogleable!!) but strangely, I still feel like I’m on the upswing. So I will just go with it, delusion or not.  When I was younger, I used to pride myself in the fact that I was what I liked to call a “funmaker.” Inspired by my love of mentos, (not the fruity ones, all mint all the time, baby) the freshmaker. I had a genius for squeezing a good time out of very little money and few resources. I knew it was mostly about attitude and willingness to try something different, or to take a new route when things didn’t seem to be working on the path I was taking. Plus, I surrounded myself with other funmakers. It was funmaking at it’s best! I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life back then (hadn’t discovered my passion for the library sciences) but I knew for sure that I wanted it to be fun.

This all seemed pretty easy to do when I was young, but man, it’s been harder as time has gone on. Life just bogs you down sometimes and fun gets pushed to the side. Everything else seems so much more important and urgent. It was particularly hard for me when my kids were little and attached to me all the time, like cute little barnacles that I would long to scrape off, but would then miss like crazy when I did. I was always exhausted and feeling like I was failing in some way. And I’d think, “This isn’t fun! I’m a funmaker, dammit. I need to fix it!” But I couldn’t figure out how. One day I was driving with the kids and I heard them yelling out numbers to each other. “Hey guys, what are you doing?” I asked. “Counting all the fun things,” my middle son replied. To my great delight, it turns out that my kids are funmakers! When we got home, we made a list (’cause I am also the listmaker) of people, places, things and special treats that we could do, see and/or have that would add to our fun. We made a bulletin board with our list and would choose things from it every day. Some things were small and easy, like playing a favorite song, eating a favorite food or watching a favorite tv show and some were more involved, like getting together with friends, making fancy cupcakes or going to a place we liked. The list made it easy to do something fun every day. I also started really celebrating every holiday that came up, especially crazy made-up ones. Elvis’ birthday, National Donut Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, etc. I took – and still take – great glee in tricking them on April Fool’s Day every year. And I researched routes on road trips to make stops at any weird, fun and unusual places that would make things exciting. I wanted so much for them to have a fun childhood and it made sense to work at it. I still do. It’s been harder over the past couple of years, but I do my best to remember to make fun a priority with them, especially now that we have less time together. These years have been so hard on them, too, so it seems even more important to choose fun whenever possible. But though I prioritize their fun, I don’t know if I’ve remembered to be a funmaker for myself. Why is that so hard?

A few years ago I was talking with one of my oldest friends and we were both exhausted and grouchy and she said, “Remember when we were young and fun? What happened?!” We both cackled at that, but it stuck with me. I’d think, “I used to be fun! Everything used to seem like a great adventure and now I’m apathetic and weary.” When I was married, for some reason it was rare for me to remember that I could choose fun for myself and not just for the kids or my husband. I forgot that I didn’t always have to do what everyone else wanted, while quietly feeling trapped and sad. Or feeling nothing at all, but tired. That was how I moved through the world for the last years of my marriage. And it wasn’t worth it. It’s not like my not being happy made anybody else happy or saved the marriage. It doesn’t actually work like that. At one point, I had a sitter for Valentine’s Day and my husband suddenly had to go out of town, abruptly canceling our plans (I could write an article called ‘Signs Your Husband Doesn’t Love You’, but I won’t, because UGH. Least fun article ever!). At first I was really disappointed, but then I had a flash of inspiration and decided that I should keep the sitter and get myself out of the house to do something just for me. Unfortunately that’s where my inspiration ended. It had been a really long time since I’d been out at night by myself and I couldn’t think of anywhere to go. I went to the library (another article idea: ‘Signs You Are a Nerd’. Yup, that one’s a winner!) and it was practically empty, as it was 7:30 pm on the biggest date night of the year. I thought “Hey it’s Valentine’s Day! I should definitely get some sort of sexy romance novel!” So I perused the shelves of books with muscley Fabio-types and ladies with heaving bosoms on the covers. I selected a few and went to the guy at the counter and he was all, “Are you having a Happy Valentine’s Day?” and then he realized the awkwardness of his question and blushed while fumbling with my pile of trashy, dirty books. And I said, “Obviously!” and started laughing. And I don’t know if that made it more or less awkward, but we both laughed about it, so it seemed to be a win. Then I took my books to Sonic and got a banana milkshake and sat in my car reading them and enjoying some quiet for a while. This may sound like a very lame night to some, but I loved it. Frankly, it was one of my better Valentine’s Days, which probably tells you a lot about my love life, thus far. But hey, lemonade from life’s lemons, y’all!

And going with that theme, a silver lining in having to end a doomed marriage that you wanted so badly to work, is that you get the space to figure out what makes you, as an individual, happy. That seems a good thing to know. Maybe other people don’t lose that in their marriages and children, but I definitely did. I didn’t mean to leave myself behind, but ten years went by in a blur and I left that marriage feeling like I didn’t know how to be happy anymore. It’s taken me over two years to figure out what I like again. I’m still learning. At first I said yes to a lot of things that I didn’t actually find fun, because they were other people’s ideas of fun and I was used to not really thinking about what I wanted and what I liked. I had trouble figuring out what made me happy. Lately, I’ve been thinking more carefully about those things. And I’m getting better at it. It’s easier for me say no to things that don’t sound appealing, despite other people’s opinions on the matter. And when I’m in the moment I’ll think, “Do I like this? Do I want this? Is this fun for me or do I need to walk away?” Sometimes I walk away. And that is working for me. I made myself a list of places and activities that make me happy and I keep it on my phone. When I’m feeling lost I break it out and make myself do something on that list. Sometimes I try a few things. I’ll admit, some things on that list are pina coladas and wine. But there are many other things as well. It’s helping. Making fun a priority instead of a luxury was a good first step to overcoming my slump. Perhaps I’m on my way to being a funmaker again? We’ll see.

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Transcending the Slumps

Nearly two years ago, my life took a painfully dramatic turn. My primary focus for nine years had been creating and maintaining a stable marriage and family and I’d poured everything I had into it. But suddenly I was faced with the reality that this life I’d been building was based on an illusion and not sustainable anymore. My world pretty much shattered at that point. But I needed to pick myself up and go back to full time work so I could support myself. Then I could start patching myself back together, while still being a stable and loving presence for my boys. It seemed impossible at the time, but somehow I got lucky and found a steady job in my field with benefits for me and my kids. It was a huge break and I am very thankful for it.

It’s definitely not ideal to be learning a new job and meeting new people when your life is falling apart. It makes small talk excruciating. You don’t want to be the freak who unloads all kinds of weird personal information onto your new coworkers during month one. Or ever, really. So I mostly kept to myself. Now I’ve been at my job over a year and have a pleasant relationships with my coworkers, but I don’t know any of them very well. It was too much of a minefield to talk about anything personal, especially at first. I never knew when I’d just burst into tears. But it turns out you can actually cry discreetly at work or pretty much anywhere in Austin, because there are always allergens in the air to explain away your red watery eyes and the way you go through a box of tissues a day. I learned to carry big sunglasses, eye drops, mascara and tissues with me at all times and I would head out for a walk if I felt like I was going to burst into tears. I think it’s pretty hard to tell if someone is crying when they are walking at a steady pace and wearing big sunglasses. You can run and cry as well, because sweat obscures the teariness, but eventually it is hard to breathe, so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. Crying in the car is a bad idea, but who can help it? Use caution. Luckily this phase does not last forever.

Sometimes I feel like I feel like I am doing really well and have my life back together. But so far it hasn’t seemed to last for very long. I fall into tailspins where I’m filled with self-doubt and I don’t feel strong anymore. Last week was a rough one: my ex acted weirdly and put me in an uncomfortable situation, my children were angry and sad and I didn’t know how to help them, some guy I don’t know very well said something rude and careless to me. All of a sudden I felt every crack in my broken teacup of a life. And everything felt wrong again. So that’s where I am right now. In a slump, I guess. I’ve been here before, so it’s not like it’s unfamiliar territory. All I know to do is keep moving. I’ll take walks at lunch. I’ll run when I can. I’ll try not to dwell on the feeling of things being wrong. I’ll move my thoughts to something else when I get too focused on sadness. I’ll throw myself into work. I’ll try to write, though as you see, nothing funny comes out. But I’ll do it anyway. I’m writing this now, on my lunch break because it feels like I’m doing something productive to get it out.  And I know a lot of you have been here, too. Maybe you’re in a slump right now. If so, I’m with you. We’ll just keep moving forward.

I’ll see and talk to the people I trust. The ones who know that this is where I am sometimes and they still accept and love me. The ones who help me see that I’m not doing everything wrong. That I am moving forward. It’s just taking the time it is taking. I am incredibly lucky to have a group of these people who help pull me up when I am falling down.

My kids’ hard time is the roughest thing for me. I want to make it better, but I want to give them the space to move through what they are moving through. My middle son is the one who is most obviously struggling these days. Last week he said he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be happy again. He’s eight. He reminds me that I can’t sink into any of this, because I have to show him how to pull himself up. I remembered an article I read that suggested that you can find “thin slices of joy” every day if you look for them. You can notice how nice the breeze feels on a walk or savor the first bite of something delicious or hear the beginning of a song you love or really notice how cute that goofy pug in a sweater is in the Facebook video your friend posted. Maybe you aren’t going to be happy all the time, but there are always little joys you can notice and that may help you get to a better place. I talked about this with my son and we’ve started trying to notice the little happy things in our lives. He’s been mentioning to me when he notices something good and I’m trying to do the same. We all got excited about the big full moon the other night. Maybe it will just become second nature to us. We’ll start automatically noticing all the little joys we are so lucky to encounter and things won’t seem as wrong anymore. We’ll learn how to be happy again. Maybe this is the beginning of the next phase.

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