Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happiness, Perspective, and the Choices We Make

Recently, some friends and readers have requested that I include some new, exciting, and fresh material for my blog. I mean, I thought I was doing that. I was sharing some new information that I found interesting and helped cut expenses... but after doing some soul searching and blog reading of some very thought provoking articles, I think I realized what's been missing from my blog.
Its not easy being a blogger. You write every day, or nearly every day, and you have hundreds of people reading what you write, analyzing, critiquing, judging. I am totally upfront with the whole wide world about the state of my family's pocketbook, thrown any shame I might have had out the window, and decided to accept my situation and make the best of it, which is what this blog is about.

Lately, I've shied away from writing deeply personal posts as I once did. To a large chunk of my readers, I'm anonymous. I'm a 23 year old woman with the pseudonym Penny who lives somewhere out there in the world, but you haven't a clue. Yes, you see a picture of me over there on the sidebar, and while it wasn't photoshopped, I happened to have looked incredibly great that day, and even if you passed me on the street, you probably wouldn't recognize me at all. I'd just be another anonymous face in the sea of humanity.
But that's just part of you.
A smaller chunk of my readers, but still a substantial sum, are people that I know in person. Friends in my community and in past communities. High school friends. Neighbors. Past work mates. My parents. My siblings. My in laws. Those girls who used to torture me when I was growing up because I was different, but now come to my blog to hear what I have to say because they matured and came to realize that yes, I may have something beneficial to share.
So it makes it hard to bare my soul to the internet world, because it's not just my anonymous internet friends  reading this, its many of the people I care about in real life.
Then there's also the fact that, because many of my readers know me in real life, I have to be very careful that what I write doesn't end up hurting anyone that I know, and that I don't write anything negative about specific people in my life. It's hard.
But... Soul. You asked for it. You're gonna get it. I hope I don't regret it.

When you meet me, the first thing you'll probably notice about me is my smile. My spunkiness. My chipperness. My contentment with my life.
What people don't know is that that is a recent development.
If you'd known me from the age of 6, lets say, until the age of 18, you would have known a very different Penny. A Penny that had a hard time getting up in the morning to face reality. A Penny that was constantly searching for love, acceptance, and approval, but rarely got it. A Penny that hated being depressed, but didn't know how to do anything  about it. A Penny who wished she could smile and truly feel it, but the closest she got was some lame half-@ssed smile that everyone could see was a fake.
There was lots of "stuff" going on in my life, and my attitude, mood, and personality reflected it.

I'm not longer that Penny. The Penny today is content with her life, is no longer searching for acceptance, approval, or love (but fortunately, found them all anyhow). A Penny who gets up each morning happily (though days like today where my kids let me sleep in till nearly 10 am are greatly appreciated) and can't wait to see what the day has in store.

I like the new Penny.
Didn't much care for the old one.

So, you might be wondering, what exactly happened in my life that caused such a difference? Did my life become perfect once I was 18?
Absolutely not.
I'll let you in on a little secret.
I was dealt a crappy hand in life. Seriously. But then again, so has everyone else.
Everyone that I know, pretty much, has boatloads of problems in their life, both current and in their past.
I don't know a single person who can honestly say that her life is a bunch of roses, and that nothing  ever went wrong.
Then again, I don't know anyone who hasn't had a million great things happen in their life as well.
Its all a choice. A choice what you choose to focus on.

In my life, I had to deal with a lot of garbage.
I grew up in a community that was very different than my family. I went to a school that was not the right fit for me in many ways. I grew up in a non well to do family in a community that stressed conformity and dressing and acting an expensive certain way. I stuck out like a sore thumb.
My family life wasn't either perfect. I don't want to get too specific here, but lets just say my parents are divorced now, and I grew up with the tension that often precedes divorce, and now have to deal with the aftermath of divorce (especially since the divorce is semi-fresh) in my daily life. My husband as well grew up in a family with lots of tension, and now he and I also have to deal with the after-effects of divorce on his side of the family.
My husband and I don't have a lot of money. We got into debt because even though we were somewhat frugal, life here is so expensive that whatever little money we made wasn't enough to cover all that we spent. We dealt with a terrible money guzzling landlord for 4 years, and now that we're out of there, he's still stalking us, still trying to get us to pay him money that we don't owe him. We have no clue when we'll ever be able to save up enough money to buy an apartment, even though we're just about the most frugal of anyone I know.
My marriage isn't perfect either. My husband has certain expectations of me that I don't meet and I have certain expectations of him that he doesn't meet. My kids can be quite a handful and make me want to wring my neck.

I chose not to focus on any of that.

I actively choose to put aside the bad things in life, file them away in an inaccessible part of my brain, and make the choice that I won't be letting that control my life.
Everyone has bad things in life. I certainly didn't and don't have a perfect life now. I've got lots of baggage, but I decide to put that aside and concentrate on the good in my life.

I really have been blessed in my life.
Because of my hurt in the past, I've become the type of person who empathizes easily, and have become a good shoulder to cry on. Part of what makes me be the sensitive person I am is the bad stuff I went through when I was younger.
Yes, I didn't have the best example of a happy married life when I was growing up, but I knew enough that I was able to make sure not to repeat the mistakes that my parents made when getting married- I didn't marry the wrong person for me. I married a man, who, at the first glance wasn't someone I was head over heels in love with, but realized he would make a good husband and a great father to my children. Someone that I knew was a stable individual with a good heart that, because of his parent's marital situation, was also willing to do whatever it takes to make a marriage work, and not ever subject our kids to the strife in which we both grew up.
I married a man who, despite our occasional misunderstandings and mis-communications, is someone I'm looking forward to sharing the rest of my life with, someone who I can easily imagine getting old with. I married a man who is a wonderful and loving father to my kids. I married a man who understands me to the depth of my soul, and loves both the new Penny and the old Penny. (We met originally when I was 14, so he knew exactly what type of emotional turmoil I'd been through.)
I have great kids who are so loving and helpful and cheerful and friendly and bring light into the room, where ever they go. People who know my kids fall in love with them and always ask about them and want to see them.
I live close to my mom and am able to count on her to help me out, whether its that I and my kids are sick and she brings me some chicken soup to help us feel better, or my back hurts and she fixes me up (she's a physical therapist), or I just want a night out and my kids go to Babysitter Grandma.
I live in a community that is so open and warm and accepting of differences, and I've made some really terrific friends that I love and truly feel privileged to have. I live in a place where I can write a blog like this, solar cook, go foraging, dumpster dive, and buy everything second hand, and instead of looking at me askance, people come to me and say "teach me to do that too".
I fortunately have been blessed with a really good head, a creative mind, a talent for writing, and a will to succeed.

If you were me, you could chose to look at all the aforementioned negative. And believe me, I went easy on the details and left off much.
But where does that get me? It gets me to be the old Penny, the Penny I never liked, let alone anyone else. It gets me to be depressed, non functioning, and mopey. It makes me not appreciate all the wonderful things I actually have in my life.
I spent enough of the years of my life focusing on the bad hand I've been dealt, about the proverbial lemon tree on which I'd been balancing precariously. But now I'm no longer interested in that.
I don't just take those lemons and make lemonade, I make lemon torte, lemon bars, lemon iced tea, candied lemons, and the tastiest lemoney chicken you'd ever imagine. And I climbed down from the tree, chopped it down, and built myself a wonderful playground, park benches, log cabin, etc.
Life isn't just about rolling with the punches. Its just not just about making do with what you have. Its about taking what you have, unleashing its potential, making a masterpiece and spitting in the face of all those who thought you'd never succeed.

I know. Soul work. Not easy. It took me many years to figure this one out. And when I hear someone talking about their non tangible things like this, it makes me nod my head in agreement, then think "How on earth can I ever apply this to my life?"

First off, accept your life. You can't switch it. Doubt you'd want to anyhow- because trust me, everyone's got their issues, even if they don't wear them on their sleeves. Make the choice to start looking at the positive and do it. Starting now.
Make a list of all the wonderful things in your life, whether it's those eyes that everyone has always complimented you on, your health, your ability to make friends easily. Only you know what to put on the list, but don't stop it until you have at least 20 things on the list, ideally 50. If you need to come back to it later, do so, but seriously, don't stop until you made that entire list.
Repeat to yourself as a mantra "My life is great. I have amazing things in my life. No, my life isn't perfect, but I am choosing to focus on the positive." Say it to yourself every morning when you wake up. Every night before bed. A few times a day, especially when things aren't going as planned. Eventually it'll begin to sink in.

But even these are less tangible than the real method that works for me, the method that I strongly suggest, because it's proven to work.
I keep myself busy. My life is chock full of lots of little and big physical tasks.
Life in the 21st century is very non gratifying. We do things on the computer, on the telephone, as part of a team, but there's always more to do, and we very rarely see the physical result of our efforts.
In the olden days, men would go out to the field, plant crops, help and watch them grow, harvest them, and view their accomplishments. Or they'd work in some other physical task, like carpentry, as a lumberjack, house builder, or hunter. Lots of hard, physical labor, but at the end of the day, the month, the year, they were able to sit back and view their accomplishments.
Women, too, would work hard at their tasks. They'd scrub the dirt out of  their laundry, make foods from scratch, sew quilts for their family. Lots of physical exertion, but at the end of the day, they'd be able to see a pile of clean clothing, delicious and nourishing food on the table, and their family would have warm covers for sleeping.
Physical labor is very gratifying. Especially because you see the fruit of your effort, and you feel like you haven't wasted your time. You've accomplished things. This feeling of accomplishment goes a far way towards battling depression.
But not only that. They've scientifically proven that exercise is nature's very own Prozac, as it releases endorphins, those little happy hormones that anti-depressants try to mimic and add to your body artificially.
Physical exertion has the same effect on your body as anti-depressants- it makes you happy. (ETA: This isn't to say that it works for everyone, but it definitely works for some, as well as making anti-depressant medications more effective.)
Looking at what I've  accomplished provides such
a sense of satisfaction and purpose in life, works to
combat depression.

Which is probably why I feel so good about my life now.
I'm being more physically active than I ever was before. I forage. I make nearly everything from scratch. I sew. I walk everywhere, as we don't own a car. I got rid of my food processor and do most of my things with the strength of my very own hands for the most part.
It's tiring. But so rewarding. And depression has no time to play a part in my life.
People have asked me- why do I do everything I do? Why not get a job and make more money so that I can pay others to do the physical tasks I am currently doing.
I don't want to do that. Most jobs, especially ones I qualify for, are not physically demanding. They involve mental busy work, but are usually quite sedentary.
I'm afraid that if I go find a desk job, a computer job, or many other types of jobs, the old Penny will resurface, and the new Penny will lose the battle.
I enjoy doing what I do. Seriously. And even if I became a millionaire overnight, I doubt I'd cease to do most of the physical work I do. Its very gratifying.

As someone with depressive tendencies, all these physically exerting and tiring tasks that I do on a regular basis are the best Prozac I could have. I work hard, feel accomplished, don't let depression take over my life, and as a result, can definitely say that despite all the less than stellar things in my life, I am content with my life.
Don't get me wrong. My life isn't perfect.
But my choice is to focus on the positive instead of the negative. And physically do things to make me happier.

Happiness is a choice I make. It's a choice you can make too. No matter how rich you are, how poor you are, no matter your past, your family, your community. Happiness is tangible. Its a choice I'm very happy to make.

P.S. I realize that with severe depression even getting out of bed  is a hurdle, and doing all the physical things I do seem like an impossibility. Start small. Start with a few jumping jacks every day, or going for a 5 minute run at night. Gradually do more and more physical exertion, until you do enough that your problems no longer seem insurmountable and you gain the courage to make the changes necessary.
P.P.S. I realize also that happiness, while internal, is affected by the external. Sometimes our physical surroundings bring us down, and change from within isn't so easy. If necessary, making physical changes can sometimes help make your life happier. My moving away from my old community and into my new one was one of those changes, but even if not, surrounding yourself with friends who share similar values and goals and encourage you along the path you chose is doable, even without picking up and moving to a new location.

So. That was deep. Do you prefer emotionally loaded posts like this, or the practical, more formal type instructional posts?
Have you or loved ones ever had to combat depression? How did you/they deal with it? What do you think about my method? Would it work for you?
And just to get you started, lets hear about all the blessings you have in your life.

1 comment:

  1. Hi 'Penny'!

    I think all your post have soul. :-)

    I stumbled on your blog looking for info on pine nuts, and I am glad I did. BTW the pine but info helped A LOT!!! :-D

    Since you shared so much about yourself, I think it's only fair I share too. :-)

    I have struggled with depression myself too, most of my life. Mine comes from a combination of PTSD and severe food and other allergies. People do not realize how much allergies can destroy your psyche, esp food allergies. :-) I was securely, psychically, and emotionality abused as a child. A lot of times we didn't have enough to eat helping up, at all, I usually style, ate out of garbage (in fact I always tell ppl eating out of the garbage, really, want a big deal, when you're really hungry, you deal with it), molding off of my best friends, etc. Eventually I became anorexic, then bullemic, then had binge eating disorder, then went from bruising myself and biting myself to cutting, then finally got tired of it all, and then found out I was allergy to milk and soy (I now know I am allergy to ALL legumes).

    I have extremely severe PTSD, but never let it so me. I was bed ridden from my allergies for most of 2009-2012, and it wasn't until 2013 when I discovered my legume allergy who's discovery allowed me to finally be out of bed for good.

    2014 has been the year I haven't been bedridden once and haven't decided asthma won't hereto me from my hotel of reaching black belt in american tang soo do. Nor will it keep me from singing and dancing at the same time. I got a fun membership and started working out, which I spin found out when I workout 3+ days I week I only need a about 6hrs of sleep a night instead of my normal 10hrs.

    I also have started following the diet Weston Price details in his his about indigenous diets, minus the raw dairy, since I haven't gotten the balls to try it, even though I know that its possible to eat it for many with dairy allergies since it still has the enzymes in it (they're a reason dairy's not healthy, it's pasteurized and full of antibiotics cause the views dit in their own shit every day, grass fed cows don't carry those pathogens on the other hand, thus making raw pretty safe with grass fed cites).. :-) dive I changed my diet and exercise, weather in the gym arrive the house or in my garden, I am far healthier.

    My husband and I own a network marketing business, which ppl without a clue, about what it is, but think they know better than me, look down on, but it's allowed me to retire and him soon to follow. :-) it helps me do what you do, stop focusing on what I don't have start being content, but always looking ahead and moving forward, I have become a new person. :-)

    You're right when you say most ppl Keri their struggles hidden. I did and do mostly. Most ppl thought I had a perfect life, even when they saw me literal losing my mind. People judge me and think me rich b/c God has Bowers me, and I developed a keen eye for good deals. I have abundantly thanks to 2nd have and dumpster diving (at times). And taking advantage of anything stores throw out but can give away. Life is hard, but it was much harder before, and I an no longer wallowing in my past pain.

    Though I do know some ppl that have actually had a life pretty Free of pain and suffering, for real, it's few. But most of what I and others I know have suffered like me, are in the minority, not the majority. :-) I am not sad I was bullied and mocked for getting Free lunches or wearing hand me downs, they just didn't know any better. Nullifying isn't really a bad thing, it's what you did with it that counts. :-)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing, and it's nice to hear your surety l story and see that your a fighter.

    Good Bless ~Amy


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