Seeking a simpler life. Isn’t that what any of us are trying to do, usually beginning the day after January 1st? We make changes, try to get a few do-overs. Frantically work or read all the ways to make ourselves happier, healthier, less stressed, more motivated. Just like a lot of people, I’ve done this over decades of January 2nds. But the difference between then and now? I’ve actually begun in earnest. And I have a plan.
But I need to back up a bit and give you some full-disclosure. I actually began to make changes last March, starting with anti-depressants. I should have probably been taking them for the previous seven years, maybe longer. But the problem with depression, not that low feeling that television ads would like you to believe, but that down-in-a-hole-so-deep-you-can-no-longer-see-the-sky kind of depression means after a while you just give up trying to see anything, let along the sky. I’d crawled up and out so many times and continually fell back in, and I was exhausted of trying to crawl out.
I don’t tell you this so I can hear from people about what I should have done, should have eaten, should have changed in my body, should have taken this or that supplement, or (get this, I saw the book title and it’s real) eat Potatoes not Prozac. It’s just that I’d been in this place for so long that grass had grown over the hole and I no longer looked up. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? I’ve had an amazing life: I’ve traveled, I’ve worked for 2 master’s degrees, I’ve worked really amazing, meaningful and interesting jobs, I’ve published two books, I’ve done numerous presentations nationally and internationally and I’ve survived breast and uterine cancer, I’ve brought my husband through cancer, I supported the kids when they lost their firstborn just after he turned one year of age…do you see how this suddenly takes a turn from amazing into darkness?
However, when I received, in February, an invitation to speak on the TEDxMileHigh stage in June and I’d booked a full schedule of tours for my book “Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption”, I had to deal with it. I wasn’t going to be able to shine, let alone do them at all in my state. Choices, especially the choices one has to make when the choices are like being picked last for junior high basketball, are defeating, but required. And in the middle of the darkest nights, its difficult to remember what you’re striving for. But really, what you’re striving for is simple. Morning. You’re just striving for morning because that’s when a whole new day starts.
At the beginning of March, I dragged myself into the doctor’s, found out I was not only depressed but severely clinically depressed. At its worse I wasn’t showering, dressing, eating or communicating with anyone that required more than a few words. I hid myself away in my bedroom, and just didn’t come out. After talking with her about some options, I went home with a prescription and that’s when my life began to change; my fear of flying became one of wonder as I stared at the patchwork of land below me, different shades of browns and golds, the fallow fields, the newly turned soils of the Midwest, and the rivers that snaked across the landscape. The need to travel (and not return home) was replaced by planned, thoughtful excursions that allowed me to feel alive. Within three months colors returned to my world. The drab, brown tree trunks revealed earthy hues, grass became green rather than grey-green, and the flowers were stunning in their summer clothing, aromatic and reflecting beauty in the morning sunshine. I also began to look forward to doing things, mainly because things became do-able. I gardened, I dried herbs, I ate all the bounty of our garden each day, only preserving quarters of tomatoes in the fall before the frost came and I sat outside on our deck as often as I could just to enjoy each day of each season.
I did fabulously well on my TEDx talk, and really enjoyed the book tours, the camaraderie, the conversations and meeting new people and hearing new stories.
So, I’m putting my regained strength of mind, body and spirit to use as I think about what is important to me, what I want with the years I am given, and how I’m going to accomplish providing myself that experience. First off was to look, really look at myself, at our home and make some choices. I wanted a healthier lifestyle, I wanted to reconnect with nature and I wanted to get rid of anything that weighed me down instead of buoying me.
The easiest to tackle was reconnection with nature. This became a walk each day, for a mile or more, whether sunny or snowy, windy or calm. This allows me to clear my head, create an awareness of all the colors that winter can bring, think about what seedheads may sprout this spring and what they’ll look like, and inhale the fragrant, fertile soil that is being fed by melting snow and bathed in sunshine. I also bought Rick and I snowshoes and YakTrax to get back out on the trails. That was my Christmas gift to us.
I had to think a bit harder for what I wanted out of life, with the years I will be given. Since my cancer diagnoses I am well-aware the days on this earth are not guaranteed, no matter how much you exercise, what supplements you take, how much you meditate or medicate yourself. Your time here is whatever that time is, and using it wisely means it becomes full.
Diet is always the first item of discussion in January. But instead of looking at what I want to lose, I sought what I wanted to gain: healthy foods that taste great. I’d become tired of dining out and having all the foods from one restaurant taste like the foods from the ones down the roads, or across town. And I noticed why they did: the Sysco trucks and other food distribution trucks were delivering the same high-fat sauces and sugared entrees. My preserved garden bounty in the freezer or glass jars reminds me how good food, real food, can taste I shop the edges of the grocery store (fresh fruits and veggies, meats, dairy), I don’t purchase what Michael Pollen describes as “food-like substances”, and I cook everything from scratch. Even my bread. It cuts down on my grocery bill, our eating out bill and gets me to think about creativity in our meals. I’m invested in a way eating out never allowed me to be.
And I’m really analyzing how much STUFF do I really need? But in order to get to that answer I had to ask the questions that got me to dig deeper: if I’d kept this stuff for a long time, what did it mean to me? I went through every item and weighed it for sentimentality and realized that I had a lot of things that I felt I SHOULD keep: clothing that wasn’t awesome, but passable, antique furniture that my parents collected but that didn’t hold the same fascination for me, and books that I thought I should read rather than I just really wanted to read. Therefore, clothes that didn’t fit me, that I haven’t worn, that didn’t give me that feeling that Marie Kondo suggests of “sparking joy”, that smile one gets from something special. Furniture will be sold or donated, books will be weight for scholarly or personal enjoyment, kept or donated.
The things that do have a lot of sentimental feelings for me were more difficult to deal with. Such as the two unfinished/unpublished novels. I never gave anyone a chance to publish them because I never sent them out. But they have so much of my blood, sweat and tears involved. The deciding factor was that when I wrote those books decades ago I didn’t have the life experience, the wisdom or the attention to craft that I do now. If I feel like I need to that those exact same stories, I start over.
By ridding myself of items, ideas and dreams that had come to weigh me down I am making room for the items, friendship and ideas that buoy me. As a result, my house now takes 2 hours to clean, top to bottom, instead of days; I revel in the small corner of the world in which I live and seek to not only maintain it, but make it better. I am giving myself more time in which to plan ideas that help a community, like my snow-covered garden, grow, given a good foundation and plenty of sun.
What have you set out for changes this year?