In the bleak mid-winter

We’ve nearly reached the end of February, and with it the end of my patience regarding winter. A blizzard warning here today, and my reaction to that is simply:

NO. Just…no.

I’m ready for warmth and color and sunshine. I want to ride my bike. I want to go outside without first putting on 17 layers of clothing. I want to mow my lawn and smell fresh grass and see flowers blooming in my garden. I want to see Clover, the little bunny who lives under the big cedar in the backyard and know that she’s alright.

I’m sick to death of gray and white and day after day without a hint of sunshine. I’m sick of boots and gloves and having to brush off my car in the parking lot at work before I can return home. I’m sick of shoveling.

Before I could do laundry this morning, I had to wade through thigh-high snow to get to the place where the dryer vent on the side of the house was buried and dig out a trough to unblock it. When I came in I had to put my jeans and socks in the dryer cuz they were soaked through.

Throughout the entire 20-minute or so ordeal, I was thinking, “WHY am I doing this?” Other people do not live like this.

I’m winter-weary and just generally fed up.

The reality is, though, that we’re nowhere near the end of winter here in Michigan, and Mother Nature couldn’t care less about how I feel. She’s just doing her thing – same as every year – and she’s not ready to give up the cold and snow just yet.

So…I have to change my thinking. I can’t change how I feel about the weather, but I can change how I think about it. I wish I could say there were some things I appreciate about winter – that would go a long way toward thinking about it differently, but there isn’t even one thing I can think of that I like about it.

Let’s see…nope. I got nothin’.

So I’ll just have to work at acceptance, as I do with so many things in my life over which I have no power, and remind myself that it could be a lot worse. Yes, we have snow – so much snow – but we don’t have hurricanes or tornadoes. Also, most of the deadly little creatures on the planet – snakes and insects and other nasty critters – can’t live in the cold, so I have to worry less about meeting my death by inadvertently stepping on one of them than someone who is basking in sunshine and warmth right now.

So not all bad. I’m not likely to lose my house in the blizzard today – power maybe, but that will be temporary, if at all, and if I don’t freeze to death in my house without power, I’m golden!

How am I doing? A stretch, I know. Acceptance of the things I don’t like but can’t change is a toughie for me. Endurance is hard. I want change, and I want it now! I saw a quote yesterday that said, “You’re not a tree – MOVE!”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? And sometimes possible. Not for me, though, cuz the old lady is welded to this place and all its misery. Ah, the old lady – another thing I can’t change or control.

My challenge: Acceptance of life as it presents itself to me in the moment. Endurance ongoing.

Going on.

Yes, that’s it. Just keep going. Spring has never failed to come. Until it manifests itself in the outer world, I’ll have to nurture it within. Light and new growth.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus

 Only 3 1/2 months to go…

 

 

Today’s the day

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Yes. Exactly.

This was a long time coming for me, but I’m so grateful that I finally got here. Proud of myself because I didn’t give up, even though so many times I wanted to. Up until 15 years ago I never could have imagined the way I feel now;  comfortable in my own skin, forgiving of my flaws and those of others, accepting what comes as the days unfold (mostly – sometimes it takes a while…), confident that I have the ability to get through (or over, under or around) any roadblock I encounter on my path.

I would have preferred to be “normal,” I guess – to have lived life without the chronic depression that dragged me under for weeks at a time and forced me to fight for my life over and over. One thing those struggles taught me, though, is that everything passes – the good and the bad, and that – no joke – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…and smarter and more compassionate, if you let it, toward yourself and others.

Because life is hard in some way for everyone. Absolutely everyone. Always. Regardless of all those “living large, shiny happy people” posts on Facebook and Instagram – everyone struggles in some way with something. Everyone has something they hide from other people; something they think makes them different from everyone else.

I’ve learned to enjoy the good times, and to appreciate them, for I know that life is up and down and nothing lasts forever – good or bad. The “ups” are fabulous, but the “downs” can be pretty deep. Even without depression life can be really challenging and discouraging at times, with no end in sight; but I’m learning to set fear aside, split problems into manageable pieces so I don’t feel overwhelmed, and to ask for help if I can’t do it alone.

Let me be clear about this: it was easy to write that last paragraph, but it is still not easy to do those things always. But thanks to a good therapist several years ago I have tools now that help, and I learned that running away just postpones the pain, and that there is no value in “toughing” it out, either. There is a big difference between being strong and being tough.

Being tough is just bluster, blundering through, knocking things around, sometimes making things worse. Being strong is facing things head on, making good decisions, finding the way through carefully and thoughtfully, while keeping yourself whole and healthy along the way. Never backing down, but not pushing through blindly, either. Remembering always that this too shall pass.

I encourage myself to rise to a challenge now, rather than shrinking from it, and every time I do that it gets a little easier. I take a deep breath, get a drink of water, pat myself on the back, and start assessing the situation:

  • Is this my problem to solve?
  • Is the problem solvable?
  • Is the solution within my control?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” I’m setting myself up for failure right from the start. Better to let go of solving the problem (getting through the obstacle), and to start working on accepting the situation as it is and trying to minimize its impact on my life and wellbeing (getting around the obstacle). Either way, I keep going on. I keep learning and growing and trying.

That’s all anyone can expect; all we can ask of ourselves in this colorful, hilarious, difficult, tasty, challenging, cacophonous LIFE:

Just keep moving forward. That’s enough.

Crushing on life

Capture

I play Candy Crush Saga™. I spend an hour or two playing most days. So out of my 15 hours of waking time, say, I spend roughly 14% playing a game. More than some, less than others, I would venture. That two hours is spread out over the course of the day – a couple of breaks at work, an hour or so after dinner most nights.

I don’t consider that to be wasted time for a couple of reasons, the most important being that I enjoy it! I have always liked video and computer games, card games, and board games. I was an only child, so growing up I gravitated toward games I could play by myself and when video and computer games came on the scene I was hooked!

The second reason is that I’m a graphic designer by trade, and Candy Crush (especially) appeals to my designer’s eye. The color revives me when I’m tired of looking at a screen all day, and if I’m having trouble coming up with an idea or working out a design problem, the colors moving around on the screen and the completely different thought process sometimes knocks a solution out of my weary brain. When I’m not at work, it’s nice just to relax and think about something that doesn’t really matter for a while.

Here’s something interesting I’ve noticed lately about Candy Crush specifically, but I’m sure it’s true of some other games, too: it translates to life.

Candy Crush is a “level” game, meaning that as you solve one puzzle, you move on to the next puzzle, which is a little harder. I’ve been playing for a while and I’m currently on level 1800-something, so they’re pretty tricky sometimes. But here’s the thing: I’ve learned skills on the way to level 1800-something that help me solve those puzzles. If I had started out at level 1800, I would have given up immediately, cuz it would just be too hard.

But on the way up over the last couple of years, I’ve solved so many puzzles in so many different ways that I feel confident that I’ll figure out the current one, too. Sometimes it takes what seems like a million tries, but sooner or later I solve even the toughest levels and I move on. I am confident that I can figure out how to overcome anything I encounter on any level because I have in the past.

What’s important about that is that in my life I’ve been a quitter, or a non-starter if something seemed too hard. “Persistent” is not a word you would have used to describe me when I was younger. Chronic depression caused me for most of my life to be overwhelmed fairly easily, and I typically melted into a deep pool of “I can’t” when faced with too much resistance.

Not with everything, fortunately. I have stayed employed with 2 companies for most of my career, and I managed to run a successful business for a few years, too. The things I gave up on too easily were mostly things I wanted, not so much things I needed. Relationships, a desire to live somewhere else (away from my family), my dreams and aspirations.

Candy Crush Saga didn’t teach me resilience or persistence. Life has taught me those things, though it took me a long time to catch on. Depression has taught me, too. I kept getting through it, over and over, hanging on when I thought I couldn’t, more times than I care to remember.

Over and over about a lot of things I think “I can’t,” but I do. My job keeps changing – new technology, new people, new ideas all the time. Everyday I’m challenged to do something I’ve never done before; something I’ve never even thought about before. I start to panic a little, and then I start a new game. I focus on the colors and the movement and I think, “no, wait, what if I tried…” and something in my brain opens up and there’s the answer to the new challenge. I’m reminded that I’ve faced challenges before – real and virtual – and I’ve overcome them.

When my home life challenges me, I sit down at the computer and I am reminded that sometimes it takes a million tries to get to the next level, but I will get there sooner or later if I just keep trying.

So a computer game didn’t teach me that, but it reinforces it everyday. It reassures me that I’ll get past this level and with the same determination, if I just keep trying, I’ll get past whatever challenge I’m facing in my job or my life, too. I have the skills and the knowledge I need, if I don’t let myself fall into that “I can’t” pool.

You can’t win if you don’t play the game, and you can’t have what you want in life if you don’t keep trying for it, over and over, until you get there. My intention now is to keep “leveling up” until I run out of time.

All this from a computer game? Yes. Life is all around us. The universe calls to us in everything we do, in everything we see. Come on and play! Every moment is precious and everything we encounter can teach us something of value. Don’t miss a bit of it. It’s there if you look, and if you keep trying to see your way to the next level.