Tag Archives: living fully

The Business of Living

I have been reading a book called Brain Lock by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D.  It addresses OCD and the behaviors that are “locked” into a repeat mode.  He discusses medication as an aid toward making changes, but primarily his focus is on four steps that a person can use to “unlock” their brain using a cognitive behavioral approach.  I do not have OCD in the classic form of repetitive hand washing or rituals like this.  I do, however, think a bit obsessively.  I might “perseverate” on a particular thing:  should I get the forsythia or arborvitae? should I have hydrangeas or roses? And then when I make a decision (often after many years!): why didn’t I put the hydrangea there???  or The arborvitae was the right choice.

I have realized that not making choices keeps me in paralysis mode.  But if I don’t decide, then I haven’t made a mistake.  Of course, this is folly.  If I don’t decide, I don’t move forward, regardless of whether it is the right or wrong choice, which really you can’t know until afterward if there even is a right or wrong.  The point is to decide something.

My last post was titled “To Depress or Anti-Depress; Is that the Question?”   I’ve been thinking a lot about the question.  I know that depression and behaviors like OCD are genetic.  Yet, I think they are also facilitated by learning.  If I didn’t have a model that perseverated, or obsessed, or was depressed, perhaps I wouldn’t have “learned” that approach.  Let’s forget momentarily that I have siblings who did not develop my tendencies, which would point to nature.  Nature is strong, but nurture is vital.  And if we lost out on some in childhood, might we nurture ourselves in adulthood?

In this book on “brain lock”, the author shows through studies and brain scans that we can change our behaviors through a cognitive behavioral approach and thus change our actual brain function and that which allows obsession.  In simple terms, if you smile you’ll be happier.  There is truth to this.  At any rate, I know that doing and accomplishing …getting things done… makes me happy.  Stagnating and not doing makes me unhappy.  But the trick is forcing myself to do things.  That is, instead of ignoring the pile of laundry or books on the floor, actually doing something about it.  Instead of going to bed as in my favorite “Frog and Toad” story “Tomorrow”, actually doing something today.

I don’t want to simplify depression.  It’s not simple, and it comes in different forms.  By all accounts, I should be happy.  But sometimes, you can’t get up to do stuff.  Just like the flu can hold you back, depression can hold you back.  But you can fight each of these by good nutrition, rest, and being good to yourself.  It can also be fought by changing behaviors that have become poor habits.

To force myself out of my own self-imposed exile, today I did stuff.  Not in the house.  I went out! What a novel idea.  When you are a stay-at-home-mom, it’s easy to get stuck in the stuff you have to do at home.  And there is so much to do!  My two older children go to camp, and then I have the two younger children.  It feels like so much energy to get the first two going, that I tend to hang back with the younger two.  But today I signed no. 3 up for a morning sports camp and took my younger one to a toddler gym class, the library (where I met another mom!), and to the park before going back to get no. 3.  Okay so no. 3 said he didn’t like it (it seems he liked the class but not being dropped off), but still, he tried something new and so did I!  I left my house for the entire morning! This may not sound big, but it is to me.  I know this isn’t a big deal to other people, but I tend to stay home a lot.  Today I made a change.  I did not allow myself to be “trapped” by all the trappings of my house, and let go and went out.  This is big for me.

And yes, I did start a low dose of meds, which is not supposed to have kicked in yet.  I tried it before and abandoned it because I hate the idea of it.  I’m trying it again.  It is not the answer; it is not a “cure”.  I’m hoping that it will help cut down on the obsessive thinking so I can stop being stuck.  But I also know that doing is the main key.  Doing and walking away from what holds us back is what ultimately unlocks our poor habits and the behavioral patterns that we don’t want or need.  Sure it’s easy to say.  And I say it to myself all the time.  But I have to do too.  Many years ago, I also did cognitive behavioral therapy, and it did work.  But just like a diet, you have to keep doing it.  Unless I sit down and write, the writing won’t happen.  Unless I get up and go, the couch is awfully accommodating.

Yes I can anti-depress with medication.  But it levels out.  I really believe that the ultimate anti-depressant is the doing.  It’s breaking old patterns and making new ones.  Lots of bad habits are hard to stop.  Some of mine are obsessing over people or choices, negative thinking and self-criticism.  These may never go away, but I have to fight those tendencies.  Today was one day on a good diet:  I took a step away from my piles and toward my freedom.  The piles are still there, but I didn’t allow them to keep me home.  I have to address the stuff, but I can ‘t allow the stuff to trap me.  That is not living.

How about you?  How do you get stuck?  How do you anti-depress?  How do you get down to the business of living?

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Why Do We Care?

I used to teach a poetry class at a college in Manhattan.  Most of my students were underprivileged and were not used to writing, reading, or really caring about learning.  One of the first things I wanted to get across was the idea that not all poets were dead white men.  There were poets among us who were of every culture and race and very much alive.  The writing spanned all forms and not just metered, rhyming structures.

Another thing I aimed to get across:  writing can be fun!  Who knew?  This was an unfamiliar idea to almost everyone in the class.   An early lesson was teaching that they could have fun, that it was okay to experiment, that it was okay to care about what you wrote and have it mean something to you and your life.  That was the point of showing them that poets existed now and across all colors and race.  That was the point of showing spoken word poetry and poetry in lyrics, of naming poets besides Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson…poets like Lucille Clifton and Sonia Sanchez or Amiri Baraka.

I remember very vividly challenging my students to challenge themselves and allow them to question when they stopped having fun with learning.  I asked, “When you were a child, did someone not care about a painting or drawing you made? Did someone say stop laughing or writing because it was foolish?  Did someone tease you for what you loved to create?  Did you stop creating as a child because you felt it was silly or unimportant?”  When I asked these questions, I got looks of recognition and understanding, looks of acknowledgement and perhaps sadness.  When did we stop creating?  When did we stop having fun?  Did something somebody say stop us?

Lately I have been awfully frustrated.  I know I’m not getting enough sleep.  I know I’m spread thin.  I know I’m not really taking care of myself.   But the greater problem is I’m not enjoying my children: when they laugh, when they have fun, when they goof off.  I failed in the mothering class that teaches children to behave and then have fun.  I’m not the type of mother who wants kids seen and not heard.  I want them heard; I want them creating; I want them making messes and having fun and laughing.  But I also want them to listen when I tell them it’s time for bed, or it’s time to brush your teeth or do your homework or whatever “needs” to be done.  I have much work to rein them in because my leash has been too long.

But. But. But.  I do not want to be at a point where I am that adult that, from self-frustration, limits children.  Parenting is a tremendous challenge.  And when we are frustrated, we limit our children.  If they laugh, if they are funny, if they are having fun, I want to enjoy that.  My daughter was laughing hysterically today and it was funny.  But I was so annoyed that she and her brother were being rude at the table that I would not join in on the laughter.  And what do they think?:  that I’m no fun, that I don’t know how to laugh.  And they’re right.  I suffer from the same affliction my mother did and I’m repeating some history: she had fun with her friends but not with us.  I don’t totally do that; I’m aware of this and how I grew up and try to adjust and I have had some successes.  But I still repeat some behaviors; it’s so easy!

Yet I have the lesson of my students and the message I tried to convey.  I know that many of them were limited; I was too, so I appreciate what that shutting down is like.  By the end of the term, to see how much they learned and how much more they recognized about the faces of poetry and that those faces could be theirs, that was a tremendous reward.  It is a reward at home that my children love to read and that they create.  It is not a reward that I am frustrated and the thought of limiting them in laughter or joy is painful.

My original point in starting this post was to wonder when did we, if we did, lose that joy to love, to live easily, to create?  As we move away from childhood, we take on more responsibilities and we start to care more about what “people” think.  Certainly as adults we have stresses that children do not have.  But children have stresses too.   Children care too; children care about what “people” think.  Yet they are joyful and fun and lively and energetic.  We can learn something from them in not limiting ourselves to only what we are supposed to do or “think” we’re supposed to do.  We can learn from them to splash in puddles, to catch raindrops, to feel the wind on our faces, to get ourselves full of mud and dirt.  Sure sometimes we have to get to school or somewhere but not always.  When we limit them, we limit ourselves.  And when we limit ourselves, we do not live.

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