Tag: Coping

20Apr

Beauty in the Rough

Easter 2012 Part 4 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

It’s been one of our rougher weeks here at the Casa di Bassett, and as I’m sure most bloggers can attest to, writing anything can feel impossible when you’re not at liberty to share the circumstances weighing on you. Thus the silence around here, heavy with words unwritten and whisperings of failure. As always, though, beauty heals. I’ve spent a lot of time this week watching clouds shift and meld over church spires, strawberry blossoms bob in the wind, and my daughters’ eyes sparkle with imagination. Noticing the duet of art and grace in the world around me has a unique way of lifting the weight from my lungs, and this, beyond anything else, is the reason we returned to the Amalfi Coast this Easter.

This was our third April to camp under the lemon trees, and though lugging our summer home up a mountainside is the stuff that expletives are made of, the view from our tent… well, you can see for yourself:

Minori from the parking area

The way those four elements—sky, land, village, and sea—interact together along the coast, beautiful in equal and dizzying measure, fills my capacity for happiness to the brim. We all seem to find better versions of ourselves in between the blue of the sky and the blue of the water… even when both turn to gunmetal gray and thunderstorms burst open above our heads. “Can we go swing?” the girls begged once the thunder had rumbled away drawing a thick curtain of rain in its wake. Me At Home wouldn’t have even considered it. Me At The Amalfi Coast zipped up their waterproof jackets and called “Have fun!”

The girls taking a break from hiking

That’s the Me I’m conjuring up today when life seems to have a big fat F stamped on it. Not that it’s as easy as pulling up a few photos and exhaling stress into the pixilated sky, but the beauty still soothes what’s raw, lightens what’s dim. It helps. And so if you’re having one of your own rougher weeks (or days, or decades), then this is for you and me both:

20Feb

Light Bulb

A difficult-to-replace light bulb in our dining room burned out this morning just as I was sitting down to teach an English lesson, and the day never really recovered its glow. Between heavy-handed clouds and a tricky relational situation, the hours slumped by with my mind sticking increasingly to the soles of my feet. Some days are just downers.

But you know, every time I catch myself brushing off a bad day as no more than a 24-hour inconvenience, gratefulness swoops the air from my lungs.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote the following journal entry:

I found a pocket of calm today, but it doesn’t suit me. It’s the kind of calm that comes from heartsickness rather than peace, and I can tell I’m not fooling anyone. I’m in a low place right now. Really staggeringly low. Last night in bed, I told Dan, “I can’t find my heart anymore,” then my eyes clamped shut. He whispered, “I miss you,” before falling asleep, and I lay awake most of the night feeling heavier than I thought was possible.

I see strange shadows inside my eyelids these days, as if everything familiar has become frightening. Writing requires me to rip words out of dental cavities, one at a time, and I don’t have the pain tolerance to finish what I manage to start. Smiling takes even more effort. I feel horribly alone, but I still crave loneliness. The freedom to hide. Not having to fake sanity for my family’s sake or to force insanity so someone will help me. I want a respite from the world’s problems, starting with my own brain. 

At least I put on makeup today in honor of Natalie’s birthday. That’s something.

Alzheimer’s runs in the female line of my family, and I’m bracing myself for the day when memories begin to trickle through my fingers, but no matter how many years I live or how many senses I lose over the course of them, I will never forget what it felt like to wake up suffocating, morning after pitch black morning. I will never forget the way depression tortured my mind into believing it wasn’t depression at all, only some mental inadequacy. I will never forget how bad days back then teetered on the serrations of a knife.

Today wasn’t one of those days, and for that, every inch of my muscle memory breathes gratitude. Today, a light bulb burned out, and the weather glowered, and I had a few frustrating conversations… but I had some great conversations too. I sat on my husband’s lap at the dinner table and grinned kisses to the delight of our children (and eternal embarrassment of our teenage house guest). I read stories with the girls and chased them shrieking around the house for tickle wars, and I tucked them well-loved into bed. I accomplished things that I’m proud of—you better believe that cleaning the kitchen is up there—and laughed often.

 Not a bad day

Bad day? I think not.

8Feb

Acclimating

In defense of my slow start this morning, even the sky has opted to burrow under quilts rather than face the flurrying cold. I have to wonder if the temperatures this February are some kind of karmic grudge for all the sun we soaked up last month in Florida, some bitter Sherpa spirit blasting away at the residual glow of swimsuits and lime sherbet. If you live in a climate that requires you to dig your car out of snow banks every morning, 1) I’m so sorry, and 2) you might want to skip this next line: The thermometer hasn’t risen above freezing in a week. This is where I show my southern roots by shivering promptly to death.

I had penciled in our first week back from the States as a recovery period, but a round of seasonal bugs and the ensuing laundry apocalypse turned one week into two, and it’s only now that I’m marking out new routines… by which I mean hitting the snooze button and tunneling back under the covers because my Texas-bred sensibilities don’t know how else to respond to icicles.

Motivation has been a finicky bird this year, alternately hopping with impatience and swooping out of reach, and I don’t know yet how to get from here to the spring-loaded 6 a.m. writing sessions I imagine. However, I’m working on finding the way—on wrestling my night owl feathers into bed before tiredness turns to mania, on tethering my focus to deadlines instead of minutia, on honoring this gift of time. It’s a worthy work, and I’m happy.

Even if I can’t stop shivering.

How does winter weather affect your day? What gets you up and at ‘em on dark, snow-lashed mornings? Is it at all forgivable to be mentioning lime sherbet in February?

16Dec

Power Down

(Photo from our misadventurous trip to Milan in October;
wouldn’t you love to just sit on the side and watch the water glimmer by?)

The trick is finding a way to be still. I could push myself beyond sleep, breathe coffee, prioritize like a woman running for her life. I could certainly find a way to do more. But my soul… It starves while I pour myself into other forms of survival, and my heart retreats, scared off by the panicky mess it knows is coming.

You would not believe how frustrating it can be to fall into soggy crumbles when I try to sustain productivity for any significant duration. Those times I am trying the hardest to move mountains are often the times I showcase my incapability, and how the hell did I hold down jobs and a scholarship GPA in college? (Answer: I was a decade younger. Also, unlimited coffee refills at the all-night IHOP.) I can feel the shutdown coming on when I try to power through another late-late night, and that’s when I know it’s time to shut off.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t replied to your emails or responded to your comments or kept up with your blogs or thanked you personally for supporting my book, please know that I’m not ignoring you. On the contrary, I’ve never been so reliant on or so appreciative of this gorgeous online community. However, I’m trying to balance out the runaway rush of life light now with moments of quiet, computer closed and mind unplugged. It’s the only way I can fall asleep these days and the only way I’m going to survive this month with body, heart, and soul intact.

So this is me signing off for the night. See you tomorrow? 

11Dec

Out of Hibernation

The sun is channeling her inner bear these days, rising in a fogged stupor to growl at the world for a few hours before slinking back to her cave. Even the rain is half-hearted, and Christmas decorations are trying in vain to look like they belong.

I need to stop letting December catch me off guard every time, but this year is especially disillusioning. Dan’s switch from a salaried position to freelance work has been a wonderful thing, and we’ve watched a series of small miracles unfold over the last few months as he’s been offered projects that make him light up. However, we went through a hell of time to get here, and we still haven’t found stable ground. The last thing I want to do is throw a pity part when we have so much to be grateful for… but not being able to attend family Christmases or shop for gifts this year makes me want to join the sun in hibernating.

Of course, I’m still a mom and a wife and a teacher and notably not a woodland creature, so the mark of this December is putting one foot in front of the other in the dark dawn to the leaking coffeepot and then inhaling cappuccino steam with a cinnamon candle if I have time or scalding sips with a hairdryer if I don’t. (Usually the latter, but only because I love the snooze button too much.) It’s taming the school-traffic-work blitz with Sufjan hymns and baking cheese bread with my girls when I’m inclined to despair. It’s training myself not to panic when I check the mail, intentionally setting aside the problems I can’t fix. It’s fiercely loving this little family of ours, stumbling into prayer, and trusting, despite the impossible view from here, that we’re on the right path.

And sometimes, it’s taking a Sunday morning to catch up on desperately needed sleep, play Legos with the girls, sneak handfuls of caramel corn when no one’s looking (shh!), and remember to come out of my cave walking on my hands:

What does your December look like so far?

3Nov

Shadowshifter

The morning smothers. The sun, already high above our traditional November fog bank, filters down as a sickly and distorted parody of itself while familiar landmarks waver like shadows. My head feels no more stable than the ground shapeshifting below.

I finally cut back a bit on working hours. Dan had to convince me that it wasn’t worth losing myself to make a few extra euros, and he’s right, but now I find myself in a sort of No Man’s Land of perceived failure. I’m not available enough at work or present enough at home, and my contributions to our family’s wellbeing seem paltry at best. I don’t know how to find my niche through all this fog, my mind continually swirling in and out of focus. I hardly even know how to find my keys these days.

Even with a full morning off and strict instructions to myself to spend it tapping into the live feed from my heart to the keyboard, all I seem to be dredging up are flecks of rust. This time last year, I was working on a book I haven’t had time to touch since, and the comparison presses in more heavily than all the murky skies this week combined. I wince when I think of this dearly neglected little blog and the stories I would love to tell. Despite my neuroses over the word, I have to give time and importance to the writer in me or else… well, the previous two paragraphs give a pretty good idea of what happens.

And while I can keep my laptop closed and ignore away the blank-page aching, I can’t forget that I am still mother, wife, and friend. No space on the margins equals me treating loved ones like half-slots in my calendar, rushing through each thin patch of minutes because I can’t afford any other pace, and honestly, it leeches the color from all of our lives. This is the shadow-world of stress and overcommitment and lost perspective, of self-smothering and fog that stretches much, much farther than the eye can see.

If I had to pick my ideal life right now, it wouldn’t look so very different than the view from this comfy pomegranate sofa that coaches (couches? heh) most of my blog entries into existence. I would still choose this house with its tall windows and delicious ski lodge vibes. I would still choose this city-town with the tree-lined parks and chatty friends within walking distance. I would still choose these two exuberant little girls and this dream-chasing husband. Really, the only thing worth changing would be myself… from a harried shadow wraith to a human [learning] [creating] [enjoying] [loving] being.

I just have trouble believing that cutting back a bit on working hours is sufficient to blaze away this gloom.

5Oct

Duck, Duck, Release

More Portugal soon, I promise. Right now, though, there is only this moment and the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other, seeping thanks for every bite of food, remembering to breathe despite rapidly shrinking headspace.

Impossibly, the sky hasn’t stopped breaking apart over our heads. Every umbrella we own is mangled from the fallout, and I no longer know how to process what seems to be a viral strain of bad timing and worse luck. This autumn couldn’t get any crazier, could it? (Here is where my husband groans and begs me to stop asking please before we actually find out.) No need to spell out the details; I’ve worried over them enough in my own heart.

I keep trying to tie a peppy ending on this, but the words come out flat and false. Yes, we have much to be grateful for,  but we also have much to feel wronged over. My optimism is stranded in the cavern where religious platitudes used to roost (“God’s in control” is decked in so many layers of complication that I don’t even know where to start), and I would have to silence my authentic voice to pretend that everything is positive when I’m too disoriented to tell whether we’ve already capsized or not. I’ve been cussing a lot, whisper-flung prayers.

At the same time, my biggest adversary right now is nothing any more tangible than worry… and considering the way my skull keeps compressing valuable real estate, something has to go. It might as well be this. I wasn’t wired with all of the necessary release valves, but I try anyway, and it often looks like putting one foot in front of the other, seeping thanks for every bite of food, and remembering how to breathe. Also making frequent appointments for what the girls and I call Jovanotti therapy:

“I have two keys for the same door
To open to courage and to fear…
Everything is illuminated
And I no longer feel the need to suffer.”

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