Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Advice. It bothers me a lot that the well-intentioned sometimes tell us that we "need to move on," "become more positive," or "handle and cope with our lives better than we are doing." It is very easy to cast a critical eye on someone else because you think you would or they should be doing something else. Most times, a concern is expressed and that is that. We've been told that we're lacking in some way and now we need to change. Oh, if it were just that simple. How do we accomplish it? May I suggest that if we're going to advise people that they need to think or do differently, that at least we can offer some suggestions.

So, in that spirit, here are some of my observations. I have been noticing that I can seemingly cope better, physically and emotionally, when I am active and exercising, even a little. Getting up to face the day and not staying in bed or in my pajamas, also helps. Having a goal list of tasks to accomplish during the day provides structure and takes my mind off dwelling on the negative. Getting some fresh air, even in this brutal cold is life-affirming. Reaching out to someone else, even simply to send an email, also takes the focus off self. Choosing to read uplifting or positive books vs. dreary, depressing ones can make a huge difference. Taking the time to do anything, however small just for me because it makes me happy; e.g., baking some banana bread is well worth it. So is socializing or being with people, even if that means simply mingling in with the crowd at the grocery store.

These observations come from the past few years having been in and out of depression as the result of active grieving. I won't kid myself that there might be days in the future where I stay in my p.j.s or can only manage to eat BLT sandwiches. It's a given. I am prone to depression and life is challenging. Two loaded bullets waiting to be fired off. I'm not going to tell myself that I can never go into that cave again - that would be fooling myself. In fact, there are times when that is where we need to be. But my list of helpful hints is for when I need to start climbing out of that deep, dark cave of despair and rejoin the land of the living again.

This last bout of depression in December was a tough one. Looking back, I can see how my inactivity and despair kept feeding on itself. It was hard to break the cycle. I was distraught about losing the house, having to move the boys, not being able to afford a Christmas, and experiencing financial hardship. It was a lot on my plate. I had to grieve it all first. That part could not be skipped.

But at the same time, I can see how dwelling on the hardship perpetuates the anguish and keeps me down in the cave. At some point, I reach a place where I realize it is time to come back up. And using my arsenal of past experience as to what has assisted me caused me to come up with these actions. I am going to focus on them now because they have worked in the past.

1. Greet the day with the intent of facing and living it fully.
2. Just get up out of bed.
3. Take shower, put on makeup, dress in decent clothes.
4. Get some fresh air.
5. Try to exercise a little.
6. Reach out to someone in a small way.
7. Write up a to-do or goal list and focus on accomplishing the tasks.
8. Read something uplifting or watch a humorous movie or t.v. show.
9. Do something fun or meaningful.
10. Socialize.
11. Be kind to myself.

And when all else fails, JUST DO ANYTHING, SOMETHING, JUST GET MOVING! Throw in a load of laundry, wash the dishes, clean out a drawer. Focusing on something usually leads to another productive activity. There seems to be something to the Law of Attraction of positive energy increasing and building upon what precedes it.

I should add that I made a concerted effort in the past to focus on positives and list five daily items per post in that regard. That effort petered out this fall when we sold the house, moved and life became pretty frantic with Sam moving and me taking the Nursing Asst. class. Did reflecting on the positives help overall? I'm not sure, I just notice that since I haven't been listing them that I have been in a state of pretty consistent low-level energy, mood and hope. So I will attempt to reactivate my Grateful List now and we'll see what comes of it. It can't hurt.

Today I am grateful for :

1. Postal carriers.
2. The U.S. Post Office.
3. The red, rosy glow of winter sunsets.
4. Being able to pay bills online or over the phone.
5. Weather forecasts, which allow us to know when winter snow is on its way.


  1. Loved this post. It's always easier to tell someone how to better approach their life. I should know, I do this to my 18 yr. old daughter all the time. I know it's not helpful, but when I fear that she is sinking I find myself taking out my old tired list for her.

    Anyway, your helpful list of positives is where I will focus. I too have struggled with depression, long before Michael died. I know what worked for me in the past, but during the two years of his illness I stopped taking care of myself.

    On another topic, I was wondering why you decided to take the nursing assistant classes. Were you burned out on counseling related work? I certainly know that I am.

    Take Care.


  2. I've been in my cave for the last few weeks--just want to sleep all day in that nice warm bed...then I read what you said about doing something--anything--clean a drawer and so I did that today--I cleaned out a whole dresser and you know what--I do feel better...more energetic. thanks.

  3. Dan - Thanks for the positive feedback. I really need and appreciate it right now.

    About the nursing asst. training. I took about 5 years off from working in my field to care for my husband, youngest son and then my parents. By the time I needed to work and could, the Recession had hit and I found myself competing with others in my field with far more experience, and/or education. Plus, they'd been working the past five years I was taking time off.

    The only jobs I was offered were for part-time hours (10 hours a week, no benefits) so I decided to take this training to get my foot in the door at a nursing home or extended care facility. My hope is that I'll be able to find some type of social services position working with the elderly. That is the direction I want to pursue now.

    But I'll be honest with you and relate another reason. Over the past summer I was so depressed and grieving, I honestly did not think I would be a good counselor to clients. I know my limitations and the prospect of counseling people in need when I was so much in need myself made me consider another way to kind of work in my field - but not in the capacity of being on the front lines where grief and tragedy would be so in my face. As someone in a similar field, does that make sense? Bottom line, I felt so needy I wasn't sure how effective I'd be to clients. And I didn't want to put myself in that position. But I am feeling loads better and starting to realize that we need to do what we're best at and what we love and I do think I was a decent counselor. So, I think that eventually I'll be led back there. This is a step in that direction.

    Thanks for your interest and I'll keep everyone updated as to the results of my job searching. Would you be comfortable sharing some of what works for you in terms of trying to be positive and take care of yourself? We all have different ideas and what is best for us. It would nice to hear what others do so we can increase our own options and spread some positive energy out into the Universe.

  4. Jude - That's the fighting spirit! I hate to hear that you were down in the cave too - those warm covers on the bed are sure inviting. But it is good to hear that something positive came out of this post - I can only manage one drawer at a time and will be thrilled to get to the point when I can finish an entire dresser! You've given me some inspiration to take it up a notch!

  5. I hope you didn't see my last comment as negative. I meant it as a testament to your bravery in sharing yourself with others and encouragement that eventually things will get better. I'm glad to see your gratitude journal back, but if you visited my post office, I bet you wouldn't include the US postal service in your list. I am grateful that they now have a self-service machine that allows you to mail packages without standing in line.

  6. Work has always been my solace. Since I work with little kids, I have to be energetic and upbeat and that helps my mood. Reading has always been an escape. I read every day for the 7 months my husband was hospitalized. And my doctor put me on medication which alleviated the depression and anxiety. My granddaughter, who is 11 going on 40, always gives me the best advice...and makes me laugh.

  7. Thelma - Please see my heartfelt comment to you that I wrote for that post. I saw your reply as very positive and encouraging and it was helpful and supportive to me.

    Thank you for relating what you have relied on to get through those rough patches. I seem to remember you posting on your blog some books you've recommended so I'll go back to check that out.

  8. Boy oh boy can I relate to the December depression! For me it started in Sept with Joe's birthday and I have been just waiting for Jan 1 to get here so I could put the holidays behind me. You are soooo right about just getting up and moving. It almost doesn't matter what you do so long as you do something! It is not always easy to be positive when all you want to do is pull the covers over your head and stay there.

    I think positive can be contagious and I think with this post you just motivated a whole bunch of people! Good for you, good for all of us!! May the road rise to meet you and make it easier for you to keep moving forward.

  9. Kelly - I am glad we were all supportive of each other when we needed to pull the covers up and now that we are trying to start the year more positively.

    I'm right there with you about this fall being a total bust. For me too it was from Sept. - Dec. So I'm glad that we're into the new year now and the blasted holidays are behind us!

  10. Great advice really. It's easy to stay hunkered down in our own pity party, but then no one said grief was easy, in fact as many of us know its down right hard work. But it's all about taking the first steps...exercising, putting onthe makeup, dressing in nice clothes just because, going out with friends. I too am big on gratitude, that's what will change you from being paralyed by grief to looking at the life right before you and seeing many things to be grateful for.

  11. You know, I am back at work because they were so generous in supporting my decision to spend so much time with Michael this past year. I only worked for a couple of months in the spring, then didn't return until November. I knew that there were many layoffs due to budget issues, and that my peers were being over worked. Yet like you say, I know that it's not the best time for me to be helping others. I have spoken to my supervisor, and a couple of friends at the office about this. I have asked them to take a second look at decisions I am making, reports I am writing, and how I manage my caseload. This is the only way I can feel like I am contributing in a healthy way. I have also learned to acknowledge when I need to be at home as opposed to the office.

    The way I am surviving all this is by seeking help and support. I go to my weekly individual therapy, attend a bereavement group, and take my kids to family therapy. When the stress of all this takes it's toll on me I go see my primary medical provider. He is someone I have known for many years, and unfortunately lost his wife two years ago due to breast cancer. Like many others I am on medication for depression and anxiety.

    Most of all, I like yourself, try to keep my focus on my children. I remind myself that they too are grieving, and that I need to be an example to them. I tell them of my writing, of facing my grief, and not running from it. I want them to understand that there is benefit in asking for help, and that truly experiencing our emotions is better for us in the long haul.

    That said, it is not that easy. Everything is a struggle. But I remind myself each day that I survived another day. I speak to Michael (my decease spouse), and ask him for continued guidance.

    As you see, I have no need to be anything but frank about my life. I appreciate your willingness to do the same.