Doing New Things – Three Things Thursday

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19 NLT
That moment when you break 18 eggs all at one time 😱

Friends, this week has been a constant mess, from breaking an entire carton of eggs to fighting with the tiny human about school work and getting chili oil in my eyes. Normally at this point in a week like this, I’d be done – so over it that I would just cruise through with the minimum effort needed to get to the weekend so at least the schoolwork arguments would end for a few days.

BUT…

I only cried when I got chili oil in my eyes.  I didn’t even lose my crap when the dog took a nap in actual crap and tried to come inside with crap all over her shoulder.  And all those eggs I broke Monday?  We had delightful quiches for breakfast this morning.  (Yes, I just said “delightful” about quiche, and I feel just as weird about it as you do now.)  I feel okay in spite of all the mess, and that’s a new thing for me.

I finally feel like there is a very real pathway through the desert for me, and there is a river flowing through the dry wasteland that is depression brain (besides the chili oil tears from my eyes).  So here are the three things you should know this Thursday:

1. There is always hope.

I know from my own experience that it doesn’t always feel like it.  I haven’t ever really been suicidal, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought the world would be better off without me.  But that was a lie from the pit of Hell that is never something God would say to you or want you to say to yourself.  We are each specially designed by God and valuable as his work of art and destined to fulfill his purpose in our lives.  Never stop believing that.

2. I had to make changes for the better in every aspect of my life and be consistent with those daily actions to see this giant improvement.

I started with a few things and built on it, but God isn’t just interested in our spiritual health.  He wants us to be healthy and strong in our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our work, and our faith.  You may have to address the biggest fire first, but it takes a whole being approach to reap the biggest change rewards.

3. At some point, I will relapse and have depression symptoms again.

I’ve dealt with it long enough to recognize that I will not be one of those people who has an episode or two and then gets over it.  I will need to treat depression like a chronic disease for the rest of my life.  It sounds a tiny bit depressing just saying that like a fact, but it is a fact, and acknowledging the fact means I can manage it like any other chronic illness can be managed.  I can expect good times, and I can expect relapses.  It’s just a fact of life, so when it happens I can remember that it won’t last forever and it’s just part of the illness (not a mental or moral defect).

So, when life cracks all your eggs, make a delightful quiche.  And when life cross contaminates your paper towel with chili oil that you then wipe your eyes with, may your tears form rivers in the dry wastelands and may your milk be cold and close at hand.

It’s a good thing they’re cute.

WIP Wednesday 9/2/20

I try to show an art or writing related WIP when I share these, but this week, my biggest WIP is me. I try to be transparent about my mental health struggles so that other people may feel safer to share their own problems or at least know they aren’t alone, so this week the WIP is me.

My average morning face

Right now, after months of social distancing, it’s hard not to feel alone. The constant changes in our work and school environments, the stress of dealing with the threat of a mysterious illness, the ever growing cacophony of political posts and angry people on social media… It’s all taking a toll on me, and I know I’m not the only one. The tragic loss of someone I’ve counted as a friend several weeks ago reminded me that I need to take my mental health seriously as the potential life-threatening disease depression can be.

This summer I already made myself a list of things I knew my counselor would tell me to do, and I’ve been trying to do them daily. Last week, I added a diet element to it that’s shown a lot of potential in the few limited clinical trials that have been done. This week, I sat down and wrote out care plans for daily preventive care, acute symptom care (when I start feeling mental and physical symptoms of stress, depression, or anxiety), and rescue care (when it’s all a bit too much, and I need immediate relief).

After several months of intentionally doing my “preventive protocol,” I can definitely say it’s helping me stay on more equal mental footing. The addition of the diet angle and the mental safety net of having plans written out with behavioral triggers to put them into action has been a huge and quick improvement, enough so that I’m committing to sticking with the diet plan for the foreseeable future.

Sometimes, the WIP is me.

And that’s a good thing. I am a valuable creation of God, and I am worthy of taking care of myself. Depression brain wants to tell us that we have no value, no worth, nothing to offer. That’s just not true.

You are valuable, you are loved, and you are worthy of being your own WIP, too. What do you need to start doing today to grow and feel better?

Three Things Thursday – I Wrote a Book! Edition

Three Things Thursday – I Wrote a Book! Edition

#1.  I haven’t been very active here on the blog for several months, but I was getting the final editing and design touches completed on “A Psalmist’s Guide to Grief.”  So I may not have been very productive at writing much else, but I’m ALL DONE WITH THE BOOOOOOOOOOOK!!!!!

#2.  I think the most constant childhood dream job I ever had, whether I admitted it to anyone or not, was that I wanted to be an author.  I feel like I’ve been able to call myself a writer for quite some time because I write a lot even though most of what I write will never see the light of day.  But the title of “author” felt reserved for special people who actually publish books.  Well, today is a special day for me because the print edition is now live on Amazon. (A few days early!)

I am officially an author, which is such an incredible feeling, though I’m arguably no more or less special than I was before.  (Some of you who know me well can attest to the fact that I often act like a special kind of goober, and that is unchanged – now I’m just a goober author.)  As an official author, I have an official author page now on Amazon, too, which you are welcome to check out here“A Psalmist’s Guide to Grief” should be linked on that page, or you can click through the title, too.  Right now it’s only on Amazon’s platform, but I will be looking further out now that the heavy lifting is done.

#3. I have one giant favor to ask.  If you do read the book, I would be extremely grateful if you would leave a review.  It will help the book’s rank in searches.  To be completely transparent, it would hopefully help sales, but the bigger picture is it would widen the field of people who might actually see it on Amazon (and eventually beyond) who might need to hear the same things I needed to hear from God.  I honestly don’t care much about the sales, but I do hope to help as many people as possible walk through grief with better coping tools than I had.

There’s still a lot of work to do to keep promoting and finding good local places to sell and all those things that go along with actually selling a book once it’s written, but today is a day to CELEBRATE!  Since real parties are not exactly happening right now, let’s party virtually – share your favorite happy dance/party/anything fun GIF in the comments.

Thank you, friends, for all your support to get to this point!  These extra exclamation points are for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

One Thing at a Time – Mindset Monday

Everything can’t happen at once; it’s all a process, a one-step-at-a-time journey.

My brain is terrible at processing and accepting the fact that I can really only do one thing at a time.  At any moment, if you peeked into my brain and asked what it was thinking about, the answer is probably, “Everything.”  What do I want to write about?  Everything.  What do I want to paint?  All the things.  What task should I start to declutter and organize the house?  Everything again.  What project should I finish next for work?  So.  Many.  Things.  When do I want to do all these things?  Right now.  All of it.  Now.

Did I say do it all right now yet?  Because that what my brain thinks is possible if you ask it.

I have finally gotten proof copies of my book and read through it on paper one last time for a final edit, and it’s all ready to go for an official launch date of August 1.  The hardest part of writing the book and getting it ready for publication was making myself sit down and work methodically.  I spent probably a year outlining and researching, another two years after that writing the first half, one more year just getting the rough draft done already, and then it took me over a year to edit and format.  It sounds like a labor of love that took time to come together, and there’s some small truth to that.

Mostly, though, my brain has the attention span of a fruit fly when it comes to finishing big things.  I’ll get excited and dive into the deep end of learning everything I can about the new thing, and then, BOOM: shiny spot on the wall.

There’s a joke that if you want to find the writers at a coffee shop, you just have to shine a light on the wall, and they’ll all come to it.

Time to learn all about that new shiny spot.  But I still want to publish that first shiny thing and paint the shiny squirrel, and don’t forget about learning to play that instrument and organizing the sock drawer.

I can almost reach it!

I understand that the shiny squirrel problem is common to writers/creatives, and I understand why if their brains are wired like mine.  I love to tell stories in my writing and art, and everything around me has a story begging to be told.  It’s hard to focus on just one at a time when I can hear so many whispering to me.

Behold! The glorious shiny chicken hero!

I also know plenty of non-writers who suffer from the shiny chicken affliction, and I understand them, too, if their brains are anything like mine.  You see the possibilities of what could be done, and maybe you see most of the steps to make it happen.  None of them are too hard for you to handle, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t tackle that project.

Unless you also have to operate in the real world, as most of us do…

We have multiple claims to our time even when we’re not running on a tight schedule.  If you have family, friends, pets, a home, a job, a church, a hobby or two (or ten…), an illness to manage, or any other aspect of operating as a grownup, then you have competing demands on your time and energy.

And you have limits to your time and energy.  It’s the ugly truth of humanity that we are limited creatures.  Maybe in heaven we can do everything at once, but this side of the pearly gates, we have to manage with a linear time structure and limited energy resources.  We have to prioritize and choose what gets those limited resources.

The frustrating part of that is whatever we don’t choose will suffer, or at the very least remain on hold until we have the time to focus on it.  What do you do when you feel like the choice comes down to career or purpose or family?  How do you choose when they’re all valuable?

How do we choose what gets our focus?

This part is the silver lining to me.  In making decisions about my priorities, I have to choose so carefully that I must limit my field of vision to just the most important things for that span of time.  If I made the decision that those things were the most important tasks, it gives my shiny spot/squirrel/chicken finder permission to put on some blinders for a while so I can see just what’s in front of me.  Prioritizing gets me over the hurdle of feeling like everything has to happen all at once.

Prioritizing makes me think harder about what my real values are and whether what I’m planning to work on or spend time doing reflects those values.  I can say I value my daughter, but if I never spent time with her, my actions would demonstrate otherwise.  (Sounds a lot like James 2:14-18…)  Choosing my tasks with this big picture view ensures that I am intentionally living within my faith and moral code.  It also limits my focus to a few big tasks each day so that I work with all my effort rather than in random spurts.

One step at a time isn’t all bad.

One shiny step at a time…

I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to completely ignore shiny spots on the wall, and it’s certainly inevitable that a shiny squirrel or two will run past the blinders.  It’s not chicken-proof, but my mental tool to get back on task is to allow the thought to pop in my head for a second.  Even if it’s ridiculous, I write it in an idea journal (or make a note on my phone if the journal isn’t handy) to save it for later.  When I have time to take the blinders off, I can always go back and look at the shiny chicken later.  The idea journal gives my brain permission to see a shiny spot, record it, and then get back on task quickly.  I can let the new idea go for a while because I know it’s safe in the journal.

What mental tricks or tools do you use to stay on task?

Gratuitous naked chicken.
Because what is seen cannot be unseen, and if I had to see it, so do you.

WordPaint – Three Things Thursday

Today’s profile is a woman who started out as a coworker, became a friend, and is always a force of nature.  I admire Emily Johnson for her drive, her commitment to faith, and her brilliant smile that can light up a room.

I highly suggest falling in as a recruit. You get a rank and all the product updates!

Most recently, Emily launched WordPaint Cosmetics where she blends (See what I did there?) a fabulous line of cosmetics with her faith in one of the most creative concepts I’ve ever seen.  I am very much in love with her web site, and you will be, too.  While you’re there, definitely shop the Armory, and be sure to read the other pages.  It’s so good and so fun and so smart.  (There’s your three things, in case you were wondering.)

I’m always amazed by the creative works of people when I can see they are doing exactly what God designed them to do. Knowing Emily and working with her for years, I love seeing her shine with purpose. It’s beautiful.

You can follow Emily’s WordPaint HQ on Facebook (@WordPaintHQ) and on her WordPaint Headquarters web site.

Literary Healing Arts – WIP Wednesday

Salaam Green, maybe more than anyone I know, recognizes that we are all works in progress, and she uses her gifts to help others heal and grow.  I first found Salaam’s writing work in a Facebook group for writers, the See Jane Write Network.  I instantly fell in love with her storytelling and the images her words spun up in my head.

As a writer who loves to encourage people to be creative and use that creativity to grow, I dearly love Salaam’s work of using journaling to heal. She founded the Literary Healing Arts Foundation as a way to help people write their healing into reality. Please check out her web site for the Literary Healing Arts Foundation. You’ll find her blog and a page with prompts as well as a way to submit writing for healing feedback.

You can also find Salaam on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/salaam.green), Instagram (@redcouchwriters), and Twitter (@salaamgreen1).

Amplify – Mindset Monday

I stumbled upon a celebrity social media post about doing the #AmplifyMelanatedVoicesChallenge this week. (I saw it on Glennon Doyle’s Facebook page, and it was created by @blackandembodied and @jessicawilson.msrd) The idea is that you mute your own voice and amplify the voices of black women. I can think of no better way to process what’s happening in the nation right now. Writers write to understand the world, and I will journal like crazy, but what I should share publicly is something that could actually make a difference rather than add more words to the cacophony of the moment.

I think the best place for me to start is to amplify the women in my life who have helped me, who nurture me with their talents or acceptance or friendship on a daily basis. Monday is usually when I write about a mental health mindset tool, so today is all about a friend whose life work is the mental health of others.

Danna Perdue-Melton is one of the kindest, funniest, and smartest women I know. I love every minute we get to spend together. She’s also a licensed counselor who works with children, adolescents, and adults with issues related to anxiety, depression, toxic stress, trauma and PTSD.

You can find information about Danna’s counseling services here:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/danna-perdue-melton-hoover-al/742154

You can also follow her on Instagram @dannamp or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/danna.perduemelton) for daily encouragement. I love her posts, and she encourages me every day through them. Her friendship is a gift I treasure, and her counseling work and encouragement is a treasure for everyone.

https://www.facebook.com/YWCACentralAlabama/

Recorder to the Rescue – Three Things Thursday

The three things you need to know this Thursday are (okay, if I’m brutally honest, no one needs to know any of this, but you may appreciate knowing that, however you are coping with quarantine, you’re probably doing it with more grace than me based on these three things):

  1. I saw a friend’s FB post about how to make bagpipes with a garbage bag and a recorder (https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Bagpipes-out-of-a-Garbage-Bag-and-Reco/) and instantly decided I needed to try it myself. There was a reasonably cheap value pack of recorders available for purchase on Amazon, so I ordered them.
  2. I prefer listening to the tiny human make ungodly noises with the recorder to her whistling, so I broke out the value pack of recorders and set the tiny human up with her choice of color. She then assigned her father and I our own colors and insisted he play. (We still haven’t tried the bagpipes, but I’ll be sure to share that joy when we do. You’re welcome.)
  3. The tiny human needed to learn to use her newfound recorder powers for good, so I began internet searching for easy music and simple fingering charts for her to learn from. Then I realized color coding it to match her color coded rollup piano keyboard would be pretty smart, and then I realized that color coding the actual sheet music would be simple enough, and then….

Behold, a book!

I think it’s safe to say I have a problem. But in my defense, the finger chart is very nice, and my color coded music is fun to look at (and play – I’ve been practicing, too!) The dedication and copyright page are also moderately unhinged, so there’s that bit of fun, too.

Here’s the book if know of anyone in need of a new hobby.

See the Mountain – Mindset Monday

See the Mountain – Mindset Monday

See the mountain once a day; then focus on the trail in front of you.

Eagle Point at Grand Canyon West, Photo by Anne Weil

I don’t know about you, but I tend to overwhelm myself when I get into a big project.  I make two equal, yet differing mistakes.  First, I think too hard about the end result and plotting the perfect course that I often fail to take the first steps needed to make it to the top of the mountain.  Then, once I finally get to work, I plot a timeline/schedule for my perfect course, but it’s a breakneck pace that’s only possible if I can work through the schedule perfectly every day without interruptions.  Brilliant, right?

Many moons ago I suckered my best friend into training for a triathlon with me.  We worked really hard, and we planned a trail run/walk as a fun training day.  We were very smart and packed a fabulous picnic lunch, which we put in a cooler in one of our cars at the top of the mountain trail we were going to tackle.  We drove in the other car down to the trailhead to begin.  We had even studied the trail maps for the park and picked the one that was closest to our distance goal.  Brilliant, right?

The trail was beautiful and shady enough that we didn’t feel like dying in the Alabama heat and humidity, and we were making great time, maybe even running ahead of schedule based on our goal pace.  And then we came to the end of the marked trail we had planned to follow.  There was no parking lot with our parked lunch cooler car.  Instead, there was more mountain to hike and a sign pointing to another trail that would take us to the lunch cooler car.  And we had no idea how long the new trail would be because we thought we had already accounted for that distance.  Brilliant, right?

We were somewhere between trailheads with no plan because our perfect lunch plan had just been obliterated by this sign and the new colored trail marks it told us to follow.  We had to decide if it was better to keep going up, or turn around and go back to where we started.  We took a look up the mountain, and we decided to go for it.  If we had focused on the fact that the map was weirdly drawn and had delayed our lunch by at least another two miles uphill, that mountain would have taken forever to hike because our attitude would have made things miserable.  We focused on the trail markers and where we were headed, and those extra miles weren’t so bad.

Photo from Pexels.com

Long story, short: It’s easy to get discouraged when you see how much mountain you still have to climb to get to the top, no matter how brilliant your plan was to begin with.  By concentrating on the next step that’s directly in front of you, you’ll be able to feel less pressure from the enormity of the overall goal and focus on the task at hand.  You still need to see the big picture, but it doesn’t need to hang over you like an oppressive shadow.  Let it be motivation to keep moving and a reminder of why you’re taking this particular trail.  Don’t let it scare you into never leaving the parking lot.

Additional moral to the story: sometimes you have to change plans mid-trail, or maybe you have to find the next trail when the one you just finished didn’t get you all the way to the endpoint you wanted.  That’s not failure.  That’s being resilient and adapting to the situation on the ground.  That’s a solid marker of mental health, and it’s a good thing.

What mountain are you planning to climb?  What does the trail look like that puts you on a path to accomplishing that goal?  How can you narrow your focus to just that trail in front of you?