My pattern for the last few weeks has been to feel extremely optimistic about my productivity level on Friday night, when the weekend begins, and completely overwhelmed by midday Sunday. I was so behind on so many things yesterday that I decided to save this blog post for my lunch break today, and I’m glad I did. It feels good to write with a little peace and clarity, even if it’s later than I hoped.
It’s no secret that Melody Beattie is one of my favorite authors. I’ve mentioned various books and quotations of hers so many times on this blog that I fear I’m starting to sound like a fangirl (but maybe I am?). I follow Melody on Instagram, too, and she recently posted a quotation that stuck with me:
Work at learning to have fun. Apply yourself with dedication to learning enjoyment. Work as hard at learning to have fun as you did at feeling miserable.
My first reaction to this quote was resistance. It felt a little harsh to me, the idea that people work at being unhappy. But in the few weeks since I first read it, the quote keeps coming back to me. And my inner experience has actually pointed to ways in which it’s truthful and relevant.
I don’t think I work at being miserable, but I do think that I tend to give painful or frightening experiences disproportionate power in my own narrative. I often assume that the “bad” things that have happened are more likely to happen again than good ones. I dwell a little too much on hurts, not enough on joys. And I’ve noticed that, when I’m in a new situation in which many outcomes are yet possible, I often tell myself that the one I’d least like to happen is the one that’s coming.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to challenge this kind of thinking, but it’s not easy. A lot of it is learned, picked up long before I could be conscious of the fact that other attitudes are possible. As my therapist pointed out to me a while ago, there’s no easy road map for changing a lens we’ve been seeing through for as long as we can remember.
Time and patience, though, can work their magic in small, gradual ways. In the last few months, I’ve invited myself to give equal weight to everything I feel and experience. This doesn’t mean denying or disavowing the tough stuff, but rather resisting the urge to dwell on it–or to gloss over what’s hopeful.
One example of this is my spell of body dysmorphia in September. In the past, I might have been easily thrown off kilter by it, or spent a lot of time obsessing over what it meant. Instead, I told myself that it was like bad weather passing through and encouraged myself to ride it out. When I wrote about it during NEDA week two weeks ago I was struck by how much it already felt like a distant memory. I was conscious of the fact that it happened and curious about why it happened, but I didn’t allow the recollection of it to eclipse the many moments of feelings strong and solid in recovery that I’ve had this year, too.
The other example is a recent visit from loneliness and longing for partnership. My desire to share my life with someone is a constant, but a month or so ago I went through a few weeks of feeling that desire with particular poignancy. In the past, this too might have been something I dwelt on or used as a starting point for all sorts of projections.
Instead, I wrote about it here, which felt like a release. I let myself feel all of the things—frustrated, lonely, mad—and then I invited myself to let the feelings go, so that I could feel other things as well. A month or so later, I feel more at peace in my space and with my life as it is. I’m not minimizing how real my feelings were when I sat down to blog about them, only acknowledging that a change in feelings is real and possible, too. And it can happen quickly–from week to week, even.
I’m not sure if this is what Beattie means when she talks about working at having fun, but I think it’s connected. I tend to assume that happiness gets sprinkled onto life experience like pixie dust from time to time. And I’ve had moments like that: moments so unexpectedly sweet that they feel like an act of grace. But the older I get, the more I see that happiness can be consciously cultivated, too. This involves a willingness to let go of suffering when the time is right, to not regard pain as being any more sticky or powerful than pleasure. It’s all part of life, all worthy of attention and acknowledgment. And it all demands a little “work” sometimes.
I’m wishing you a week that makes space for everything: gifts and the struggles, laughter and sadness, pain and pleasure. Each of them just passing through. Here are some recipes and reads.
First up, a delightfully simple broccolini side with lemon caper sauce.
A mouthwatering vegan BBQ tempeh burrito. I plan to make all of it, but the tempeh crumbles alone would be a great meal prep staple.
This wintery curried potato, cauliflower and lentil salad has my name on it.
I love the looks of these easy chickpea fritters (and the bowl they’re served in).
It’s been ages since I made my own seitan, but the universe keeps sending me hints that it’s time to start doing that again. This vegan corned beef recipe, which can be made in the slow cooker, is my latest reminder.
1. A really interesting new review study links low-carb diets to greater risk of atrial fibrillation. Some of the suspected mechanisms for this pattern are reduced electrolyte intake, dehydration, and increased inflammatory response.
2. Jason Saltzman, the successful CEO of Alley, opens up in Entrepreneur about his experience with anxiety. I always love it when this conversation gets attention, and I was particularly struck by Jason’s contribution because I don’t often read about mental health in the business/entrepreneurship space.
3. On a similar note, CNN published a powerful profile of tennis pioneer Julie Heldman and her experience with bipolar depression. Heldman is able to reflect on her childhood and her experience with mental illness with incredible clarity and peace.
4. It’s standard advice not to share too much personal information at work, but does opening up ever bring colleagues closer together? Quartz reports on situations when personal disclosure, especially when it comes to stigmatized identities, may have an overall positive impact on professional culture.
5. Finally, and so sadly: there’s only one wild, free-roaming elephant left in the Knysna forest in South Africa.
Alright, friends. Happy Monday, and I’ll be back later this week with an easy baked bulgur and chickpea recipe.