grief

When You’re Just Not Feeling the Joy

This morning I woke up with a pit in my stomach. It’s one of those mornings when things just feel off, and my heart is unsettled. Often I can pinpoint the cause, but sometimes it eludes me. I will try to distract myself or medicate it away with sleep, sugar, caffeine, mindless tv, or more sleep. I think this feeling is not uncommon, particularly as we get close to the holidays.

It’s supposed to be a joyous time of year, but sometimes we just don’t feel like rejoicing. Is there something wrong with us?

Let’s look at the messages we are taking in. We are bombarded with commercials that tell us that we are unhappy and that our lives are less than perfect unless we buy a certain product. On social media, people are posting holiday pictures and discussing family, but for many, it is not a happy time of year, and it can be magnified when we feel like everyone else around us is happy and festive. And to be honest, the state of the world and the amount of social and political unrest is unsettling, particularly as things become more and more divisive.

We can feel uneasy or unsettled at any time, not just during the holiday season. So this morning I am going through my mental checklist, because if there is something significant and I don’t deal with it, it will show its ugly head later, so it’s best to just deal with things now, if I can. Perhaps this checklist will be helpful for you as well. Here are some things to think about when you’re feeling unsettled and you don’t know why:

  1. Do I have unrealistic expectations for the holidays? Am I looking for THIS holiday season to make up for any unpleasant or unsatisfactory experiences I had growing up or in the past? Or is it something more basic, not necessarily connected to the holidays?
  2. Is it a gnawing conscience? Sometimes when there is this uneasiness in my heart, it’s because I’ve said or done something hurtful or insensitive, and I need to make amends. Have I been hurtful, unkind, or insensitive? Do I have unfinished business with someone, and my heart isn’t letting me ignore it?
  3. Is it shame? Did I say something out of turn, or behave in a way that I wish I hadn’t? Is it legitimate shame (where I have truly done something that I shouldn’t have) or is it misplaced shame, put on by myself or others, to make me feel ‘less than’? Is this a sign that I am looking for significance in the wrong place, or letting outside forces determine my worth?
  4. Is it undiscipline? Am I putting off a duty or responsibility that I need to be working on? Am I distracting myself from some things that must be done with things that are unnecessary? Am I spending time on things that I call ‘time sucks’ – like social media, Pinterest, mindless tv, binge-watching Netflix, etc – rather than prioritizing the important things that I should be doing?
  5. Am I not setting good boundaries? Have I said  “yes” to something because I felt obligated rather than called to do something? Have I said “No” to something or made excuses when my heart knows I really should have said yes? Have I let someone have more power in my life than they should? Am I allowing another’s actions or words to affect my sense of self?
  6. Am I placing my sense of personal significance in the wrong place? Am I basing how I feel about my own worth on the opinions of others? On whether or not I have convinced them how awesome I am? On how many likes or comments or views I get? On whether or not someone agrees and supports my opinion? Am I comparing myself or my experience with others online (whose real lives are likely completely different from what they portray online)?
  7. Am I connected and in community? Do I have people with whom I can share my heart? Am I lonely and missing loved ones? Is there unresolved grief? Is there loss that might feel particularly strong at this time of year?
  8. Am I living my purpose? Am I just going through the motions, or am I living a meaningful purpose, fulfilling what only I can do in this life? Do I know what makes my life meaningful? (okay, getting a little too deep, time to move on to the basics)
  9. If you still cannot pinpoint what’s causing you to feel unsettled, look at the basics: Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthy foods? Are you eating too much sugar (studies show sugar withdrawal mimics depression)? Are you getting outside and getting some exercise? Are you spending time in the sun? (or if it’s dark where you live, are you getting enough vitamin D?) Are you drinking enough water? Are you spending time with those you love? Are you working too much? Are you practicing good self-care? Are you spending time each day having fun? When was the last time you laughed? If you’re a spiritual person, are you staying connected spiritually by praying, reading, meditating?

Often just thinking about and labeling the cause will help to put things in perspective. It also helps me to talk to a friend – sometimes just processing things out loud helps you see things in a different light. I’ve found that sometimes the answer is as simple as taking a break from social media. I don’t think people realize the amount of angst it can create until you step away for a time.

Sometimes the feeling of being unsettled can signal anxiety or depression. This can be temporary, but if the feeling doesn’t dissipate, you may need to look at outside help and get some counseling and see a medical doctor. If you need to seek help, do it. You’re worth it.

Wishing you a holiday filled with love. And joy.

 

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Excuse Me, I Think I’ve Lost My Passion

It seems as if everyone around us is living their dream or pursuing their passion. It’s everywhere, and with the prevalence of social media, even more so. The pressure to live interesting lives, have thrilling adventures, and at the  ‘have it all together’ is tremendous. In just one our, I have seen the following on my Facebook and Instagram feeds:  many of my friends are writing for the #write31days challenge; three of my acquaintances just published their first magazine articles; two friends are writing their first book; one friend posted an amazing graphic that she designed herself; another friend is starting a health and fitness program for young kids; and yet another is photographing Yosemite. I could go on and on, but I don’t have to. You can see it yourself in your own corner of the world.

sea-beach-holiday-vacation

happy familymountain climbing

 

But what if our dream, our passion, is dead? Or numb? Or hidden away so deep, we can’t even figure out how to find it? One dear reader, responding to the questions “What gives your life meaning? What are you passionate about?” responded, “How weird is it that I have no earthly idea?”

Oh, dear reader.  It is not so weird. I think these questions can elude us at many times in our lives. Particularly if you have set aside your own dreams for a season. A student finishing school. A mom with three kids under age four. An executive working 60-80 hours a week to build a career. A caregiver who has spent years caring for a loved one. One who has gone through great loss due to death of a loved one or a divorce and has to find a new normal. A woman in her fifties whose children are in their twenties and have left home. A victim or verbal or physical abuse who was made to feel that they were nothing and their feelings or dreams didn’t matter.

Maybe we have become too busy to dream. Maybe we have set our passions aside for a time to tend to more urgent needs. Maybe we have damaged so much by life crisis or hurtful relationships that we have shut down, including that part of our hearts that feels passion and dreams big dreams. If we are numb to feeling passion, sometimes it might take a while for our hearts to wake up again.

It’s time to get out your notebook again and do some writing. If you haven’t been writing the answers to these questions, I challenge you to try it. There is something about not only thinking about each question, but actually writing down each answer. Seeing it in black and white, going through the physical motions of typing out the answers, or  better yet, taking pen to paper – it reaches a different part of our brain, and adds another dimension to our processing.

paper pen

Today’s journaling questions:

What prevents you from dreaming, or finding your passion?

What is your current life station, and does that help or hinder you in finding your dream?

What negative relationships or life experiences keep you from finding your passion or your dream?

What takes up most of your time – work, children, school?

What might be distractions from pursuing finding your dream or passion? work, television, internet?

Somedays You Just Show Up: Or Why I Haven’t Been Writing

On October 1 I started a 31 day writing challenge. It was exhilarating. I had my most popular post ever. I was participating in a great blogging community, and learning new things about blogging and writing every day. I knew that I had some busy days coming up – traveling, going out of town, and I had already granted myself grace that I would not be able to write every day. Things got busy, and I was able to write one post in the middle of things. And then I hit a wall. I wasn’t only finding myself too busy to write, I was AVOIDING writing.

Today, I told my husband that I’ve been rebelling against myself. I know I need to start writing again, and the best way I know to sort through all of the thoughts swirling in my head is to write about it. My heart is in turmoil, life continues to happen, and rather than dealing with things, I am just letting them swirl in my head and heart, which does nothing to help. So here, in no particular order, are the things that are on my heart.

I’m showing up, and that is about the best I can do today.

1. I loved the writing challenge, but it was a lot of pressure. Especially because as I was writing about finding balance, challenging myself to write every day was actually pushing things out of balance because:

a) time on Facebook takes away from my quiet and contemplative time, and one of the things I had been looking forward to was getting off of Facebook for a while. However, one of the best parts of the challenge was connecting with others on the FB site, and publicizing my blog on FB

b) I started a series and didn’t want to finish it. I have one more part to the series, and then I can move on to what is really on my heart. My last part of “Finding Community” was about the importance of fun in friendship, and I was finding the whole thing boring, and not fun at all to write about.

b) I had my most viewed post ever. Going from about 20-50 views a day to over 600 in one day was encouraging, but then I started watching stats – which is something I did NOT want to do. I don’t want to have to analyze and over-edit every post. I don’t want to care about word counts. I don’t want to watch new views and visitors. I just want to write to myself and anyone who happens to decide to walk with me. (Like I said, I have an issue with balance – I’m a recovering all-or-nothing type of person.)

2. I was out of town having fun with friends at Disneyland, and then at a hospice and palliative care conference. Not excuses, just my truth. I did not want to take time out of having fun with my friends, or take time away from learning OR from the beautiful solitude and relaxation of Lake Chelan, where the conference was held.

Campbell Resort at Lake Chelan, Washington by Kristin Meador

Campbell Resort at Lake Chelan, Washington by Kristin Meador

3. I really wanted to watch Doctor Who and the season premiere of the Walking Dead. No apologies. So there.

4. There are some possible changes coming up in my life – and the changes could be major. (Jobs, homes, kids, finances – a lot of possibilities brewing)

5. I miss my kids. My oldest moved into his own home this fall, my youngest is 3,000 miles away, and my middle son is home but never here. It’s all good – they’re supposed to fly, right? But my nest is feeling big and empty. And my sweet young friend who lives with us is getting married in less than a month, and I am going to miss her desperately.

6. I spent this afternoon watching a funeral on live stream. A friend of the family died this week. She was 37 years old.  She had fought this amazing fight against a brain tumor for ten years. TEN YEARS. This was the kind of story I used to encourage others who were fighting cancer, and the kind of story that encouraged me as a hospice nurse. She had a positive attitude, researched alternative treatments, and loved and trusted Jesus all throughout this journey. This week her story changed, and she finished her race valiantly.

I think that the grief for her loss, for her husband and two young sons who are left behind, and for her brother and mama and papa who walked this path with her has hit me more than I anticipated. My heart is broken for all of them.

And I am reminded (which I know as a hospice nurse) that grief is cumulative. I wrote about this on my hospice blog, The H Word, in an essay called “Vicarious Trauma: When Your Heart Can’t Hold Any More Stories“.

I think about my own sister, who was killed in a car accident at the age of 19 almost 27 years ago. I think about the babies I lost years ago through miscarriage. I think about all of the patients I have lost over the past ten years. I have had three close friends diagnosed with cancer in three years. Grief upon grief, story upon story, they never leave you.

And sometimes the grief leaks out and takes me by surprise.

Photo credit: sethoscope creative commons

Photo credit: sethoscope creative commons

7. Another thing I am grieving is a broken relationship that needs mending. My heart is struggling between being healthy and forgiving and loving and setting boundaries versus feeling unsafe or allowing myself to continue to be victimized. What is the most loving thing? As I listened to the funeral today, one of the young woman’s friends spoke about the importance, even during the worst of times, of remaining “soft and obedient”. I don’t remember the exact words, but my prayer today is this:

How can I be a loving, soft, brave, and obedient warrior?