Barbara: Wellness Wednesdays–Making Peace With What Is

Welcome to Wellness Wednesdays.  I realized I had more to talk about than just exercise.  Lani has such a full schedule she has to bow out and I happily grabbed her spot.

Today, I was going to talk about swimming, because yesterday in the horrible, horrible heat—which many of you are now experiencing, too—I picked myself up out of my un-conditioned house and went to the pool at my gym. In the summertime, it is packed with children, and even the normally sleepy times are so overrun with teenagers in packs that it can be exasperating to say the least.  I will say more about coming to peace with teen girls and their hundreds of towels per day usage, but I have other things to talk about today.

Like making peace with What Is.

Here’s the thing:  I dislike intense heat intensely.  It’s not humid and I know everybody says that humidity is what makes it hot, but just try walking around happily in sunshine at 7500 feet altitude at 95 degrees.  It’s like having an iron on your skin at all times.

So, yesterday, there I was, too hot and trying to escape it and very grumpy. I decided that I had to do something. One of my life rules is that I am 100% in charge of my own happiness (not that I am particularly good at remembering this), so what could I do to make it better?

I could go swimming. I went. The outside lanes were packed and I didn’t want to go inside, so I plopped myself down in the 95 degree heat and waited.

And waited. And waited. Finally a lane was free and I leapt in—

It was absolute, utter, complete, deepest BLISS.  Cold water pouring through my hair. Blue sky overhead. Blue water beneath.  I’ve always liked it when you open your eyes underwater and see all that wavery light below the surface.  It’s a secret, thrilling world.  Mainly, yesterday, it was cool.  It improved my mood instantly.  I felt like my twelve-year-old self, off to the pool with my siblings for the entire afternoon, not swimming For Exercise, but playing. Paddling around in the water.  Daring ourselves to jump off the diving board. Learning to swim underwater with eyes open….all those things.  One way to be happy is to find that sense of childhood play.

Right this minute, however, there is a big fire devouring a forest just north of my neighborhood.  It started suddenly this afternoon and blustered out of control in less than two hours, already burning down homes and forcing evacuations and triggering the entire city’s PTSD, because it hasn’t been quite a year since the Waldo Canyon Fire burned more than 350 homes in one neighborhood in our city.  IMG_5059I will admit to you that when I came out of the movie theater and spied the smoke, I immediately started crying.  We were all traumatized and it takes some time to get over such a thing.

So I came home and freaked out a little.  This fire is a lot closer to me than the other, only a couple of miles north, and I thought about the people I interviewed in the months after Waldo.  They didn’t think it could happen to them. One man said, “You know, we had four full days. If I’d thought it could really happen, I would have taken more stuff out of the house.”

A couple of miles is not that far. There are two neighborhoods and three really big streets between us and the fire. There are grasslands, where a fire can be contained.  I am not in any danger. I know that intellectually.

But there’s the smoke. There’s the experience.  I put boxes close to any valuable items we’d want to take.  I made sure I remembered where the cat carriers are.  I sat down and let in the memory of enormous cinders falling on my car last summer, on a Tuesday afternoon when I went out to shoot the beautiful fire clouds and got caught in evacuation traffic just as the fire cloud fell.   I was more afraid for my life than I ever had been, ever. It doesn’t help that I was foolish, that I was being a photojournalist, documenting things because that’s what I DO.  It was bad.

Today is not that day.  There is also nothing I can do.  The fire is burning.  It will burn until it is out.

What I do not need to do is leave the television on and check every five minutes to see how many more houses have burned.  I don’t need to go to Freak Out Land and live there until the fire is over.  It’s only going to make me feel like crap. My fight or flight response will live in overdrive and I’ll be exhausted and wrung out and definitely won’t be able to enjoy anything.

Which would be sad, really, to lose three or four days of my precious days to something I have no control over. The news makes me worry.  It also gives me information, but I have control over when and how I receive that information.

The first time I realized I had this control was with the Boston Marathon bombings.  I’m a trained journalist. We live for the coverage. Whenever anything happens, I’m there with CNN, hanging on the blow by blow.  I’ve known for awhile that it wasn’t getting me anything but an ulcer, but it was a hard habit to break.

We are all so connected these days that even though I hadn’t turned on a television or radio or anything, the minute I signed into Facebook, I saw “Oh, Boston!”  The next seven news updates were along the same lines, and I knew something really terrible had happened.  I’d lost several days to grief over the Sandy Hook shootings and this time, I decided not to go turn on the television and see what happened at the Marathon.  I know a lot of runners.  I didn’t want to know. I had control. I could go find something else to do for awhile and let it in when I was ready.

Not that you ever get ready, but still. I chose the time. I decided not to stay with the endless hours of coverage. I found out what happened, turned off the television and cried, and went to bed for a couple of hours.  When I was ready to get more of the story, I allowed that in, too.

I have control over my own happiness.  Terrible things happen, even in our own lives, but this is also true:

When it’s 95 degrees and I’m cranky, I can take myself to the swimming pool and wait for my turn to get in the cool blue water.  I can bring my own towel, since I know the teenagers won’t leave a single one in the locker room.  I can swim and swim and look at the blue sky.

Even when there is smoke in the sky, my cats and dog are asleep in the grass.  The chives are blooming in their wild purple frenzy.  A bird is squeaking somewhere, and a wind—that same wind that fuels the terrible fire—is rustling through an aspen tree.  It cools me, sitting in the shade in the backyard.

Tomorrow, the fire might be bigger.  The wind might shift and bring heavy smoke my way. I might decide I want to put my journals in a box, just in case, even if it’s crazy.  I might go swimming anyway, and when I float on my back, what I’ll see is billowing fire clouds, which are quite beautiful, even if they are destructive.  I might cry for a really good friend who might very well lose her beautiful log cabin in the woods, a place I have spent much time.  I might take pictures.  Maybe I’ll have another little freak-out, and that’s allowed, too.

What tricks do you have for coping with bad days and big disasters?

40 thoughts on “Barbara: Wellness Wednesdays–Making Peace With What Is

  1. romney says:

    The News is depressing. Its official – people who watch the News a lot are more depressed. Its the focus on negative stories which makes it feel like there is more bad stuff in the world than good. I’m trying to wean myself off “unnecessary” news updates. Mostly I don’t need to know about this stuff.

  2. German Chocolate Betty says:

    Really, news can be awfully depressing — if you are feeling blue, it can really push you over the edge into depressed, angry and/or despairing.

    Sometimes all I do is skim the headlines and think, nope, today just bad news and I have no tolerance. So I go the the “Good News” section of HuffPo (click on “All Sections” on the title bar, and at the bottom of the leftmost column you’ll find it). Always something uplifting there.

    Or CNN’s video collection “Distractions (It’s Not News)” is always good for something to smile about.

    Playlist of videos:

    Top “distraction” based on “awwwww…cuuuute” factor!

    However, sometimes you can’t avoid it. The flooding in Germany (the Elbe, not the Rhine where we live, lucky for us but not for the others) is unavoidable here. Our institute is collecting donations.

    And yesterday I booked my flight to Istanbul in a couple of weeks – I have a paper at a conference there. Situation there is getting more and more worrisome. I had to sign a paper here at the institute for my travel request saying I was aware of the fact that it is a potentially dangerous location and indicate how I am keeping myself informed on the growing situation. Sigh. I was looking forward to the trip, as it has been a long time since I was in Istanbul. Now, hmmmm, not so sure — and may have to cancel. One colleague is changing his hotel to one a bit more distant from Taksim Square (I haven’t reserved on yet, but will probably take this into acct too).

    Okay, now I am depressed again. Gotta go look at some kitten videos or something…

  3. German Chocolate Betty says:

    Oh, I see the links I embedded have sent me to Moderation Heaven (Hell?)…

  4. German Chocolate Betty says:

    Hmmmmmm…so it looks like y’all will be seeing a reply to a msg that doesn’t (yet) exist?? Interrrresstink.

  5. Micki says:

    I’m so sorry to hear you’ve got scary stuff happening near you — glad you have coping strategies, and a cool pool to escape to.

    I live in earthquake land, and when I’m having a mentally bad day, the rumble of a garbage truck can have my heart racing in panic.

    What I try to do is just prepare as well as I can (a bug-out bag in the car, always have more than half a tank of gas, a stocked pantry, and some extra water), have plans in place in case the worst happens, and then just try to take care of myself. Fear is worse when I’m hungry or tired or just stressed out.

    I think with the fires so close, you’d be justified in checking in every hour or so . . . but surely there’s a “just the facts” place you can go. Maybe a government sponsored fire watch? The cell phone people should have an alert app for people . . . I know they have one for earthquakes in Japan, but it’s rather touch and go.

    Keep cool . . . . And I hope you get a really nice, unexpected rain.

  6. Micki says:

    Oh, glad to hear you weren’t there on the Elbe. Good luck in Istanbul. Does the US Embassy there have some extra tips? Sometimes they can be helpful.

  7. Barbara, you are a woman after my own heart–swimming is and always has been my release from stress. Lake swimming is the best for me, but I’ll take the gym pool (no kids allowed) or my neighbor’s heavenly backyard pool if I’m not at the lake. There is something incredibly soothing about stroking through the water, using all your muscles or even just floating on your back and looking up at the sky.

    I’m sending rain energy your way, baby–the smoke clouds are lovely, but scary. We live in an area where early summer tornadoes are the big threat, but we do get warning, so we can hunker down. Maintain that beautiful Zen and be safe, okay?

  8. MC says:

    I try to stay focused on a little mantra “but it’s not today.” With 2 kids on the spectrum and my own MS diagnosis, I used to spend a lot of time worrying about the “future” and what is going to happen if and when my disease progresses and what my kids will do when they are older and I had an epiphany one day where I realized, maybe things are coming in the future, but if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I just wasted today worrying about what is coming five years from now, instead of living life today. And maybe life today isn’t exciting or great, it’s just work or making dinner, but it’s today and it’s the only time I’m guaranteed to have, so why obsess about what might be instead of what is. It’s a discipline and I have to catch my brain when it starts down the runaway track and stop, remember what I have is now, and I need to be wise, not to be scared.

  9. My mantra is “This too shall pass.” Except on the days when it is, “Please pass the wine.” It’s good to be flexible.

    I hope that the fires are put out soon. *hugs*

  10. Kieran says:

    I admire your steely nerves–if I knew there was a wildfire burning out of control a few miles from my house (or even if it were controlled), I’d want to leave ASAP. I’ve read too many Reader’s Digest “Drama in Real Life” articles about wildfires. I’d be outta there with my pets and pictures.

    I guess we all learn how to cope with our various natural disasters that recur wherever we may live…hurricanes don’t bother me anymore, but it’s probably because I get good advanced warning. In the end, all I care about is our lives. If we lose the house, which could very well happen in a hurricane, well, so be it.

    I hope no more houses burn, Barbara, especially your friend’s. I’m so sorry about what’s been lost already.

    Maybe this is weird, but your post made me think about the Nazi camps in WWII, where the Jews were housed, and of the Vietnam POW’s. I’ve read a lot of POW memoirs, and they say exactly what you say. Control what you can. See beauty where you can. In a microcosm of a world, you can still live fully. And that reminds me of Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite poets:

    I never saw a moor
    I never saw the sea
    Yet know I how the heather looks
    And what a wave must be.

    Forgive me if I didn’t get it exactly right–that’s off the top of my head. But the idea that we can create our own realities, that we *control* our happiness, is what resonates with me in that poem and with Emily Dickinson in general.

  11. I do what you do, watch one news report, turn off the traumatic event, cry, say a prayer, and then get busy doing something else. I may not watch the news again for another day, or even two because I can’t bear the minute by minute reporting.

    Here’s to the fires being contained today, Barbara. I know our intense heat in the Cali desert is getting better by this weekend, and our winds are dying down. Hope yours do too.

    Water is wonderful. It’s like pre-birth, just floating around in amniotic fluid. : ) Swimming is wonderful. When I can’t swim I’ll soak in a big tub, and that always calms me down.

  12. I’ve taken the same path you have. I just can’t take the overload of bad news. I get the initial details, feel the tragedy and confusion and anger, but then I have to turn it off. I just do. I’ve heard people say they should show 9/11 footage every day so that we don’t forget. If they think anyone who was alive that day could forget those horrible events, then they simple don’t understand human beings.

    I’m also a firm believe that I’m responsible for my own happiness. Growing up, our life wasn’t all that great, and it still makes me a little nuts that my parents would complain, but they never once took real action to change the circumstances. So I made a vow to myself that I would never settle for being miserable. And I especially won’t settle for that with my child.

    If I have to move thousands of miles and jump through hoops and scale mountains, I will so that she has a better life. Not that our life is perfect (or even as adventurous as this comment makes it sound) but we’ve made incredible progress and we’re happy people.

  13. Sharon S. says:

    Robena…since I know you are in our beautiful desert, you probably know about the Monrongo fire going on right now. I just read (on our local new site) that they don’t expect containment until JUNE 25th!!! Lots of helicopters coming to where I live (country club) where we have lots of lakes to pull out water to take to the fire. We’ve been lucky, though, the wind has been blowing the smoke elsewhere. Not so lucky for those in Oak Glen and other mountain areas though.

    I never watch/listen to the news unless I have to. But I have been keeping track of the fire.

  14. I am a compartmenatlizer and a dissassociater. I disassociate from the big events and put things in boxes until I have time to deal with them. I get the news facts and then I turn off the television. This is because the news is no longer news but lots and lots of people trying to find “stories” to fill the minutes, hours and days that they must fill.

    When it is personal, a death in the family or other big loss, then I deal with it. Perhaps it is the life I’ve led, but loss of things doesn’t affect me the way it does other people.

    I don’t really share this with many people because I am frequently accused of being cold. It isn’t that at all. It is that I’ve lost things that are irreplaceable – my great aunt’s ring as an example – I was the third family member to have it when I lost it at the age of 18. The ring is gone and while I always look in antique stores and estate jewelry places, I’ve had to let it go. The thing is that I still have the stories. I still have the connections. No thing can create or take away all of that. It is just a thing.

    I totally agree that I am responsible for my life and my reactions to it. I give myself permission to grieve losses and then I let them go. There are still moments but that’s just the seasoning of life. Those moments of bittersweet memories are what show me how blessed I am and I’ve been. I’ve had so many people in my life. People who love/loved me and when this is true, you will experience loss. I get to decide how I move into the future with it all.

    May everyone be safe and may they save as many homes as possible. May everyone find their cool blue pool that at least offers moments of peace and bliss. I need to find a hula hoop and a shady park.

  15. Kieran says:

    Barbara, since you’re talking Wellness on Wednesdays, I hope you won’t mind if I tell everyone about my blog post today at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard, where “mommy brains and writing collide.” I talk about shaking up your mommy schedule–taking control of your life in your own way and not forgetting who you are in the midst of the Cheerio crumbs and pediatrician appointments. It’s dealing with What Can Be in the midst of What Is.

    Please delete this comment if it’s not kosher to share this link–I don’t want to offend anyone, especially our intrepid leaders who are always so gracious. Thanks!

  16. What Maria Said. I have that compulsion to bear witness and then to document as well, but I’m no longer one of the people running toward the scary thing like I used to be. I’m also a compulsive bright-sider, to the point of ridiculousness. Eternal optimist, maybe? Life goes on, no matter what, the earth keeps turning ’round the sun, and this too shall pass. Yadda yadda. Time to get back in the pool, methinks.

  17. Lois says:

    I don’t watch the news either. I would love some updates on big happenings but not the news ad nauseam. This really irritates a friend of mine who is always asking if I’ve heard about this or that awful thing. She is having a difficult time with work and as I spoke with her today I realized that she keeps retelling herself (and me) about how bad work is and how tired she is. I called her on it (what are friends for?) but have realized I spent quite a bit of time this winter telling myself how old and tired I am. So it is time for a new story. Since it is finally spring here happy thoughts are much easier to come by!

    I can usually block out the world by reading.
    I love to swim but the season is short on Lake Superior and the college pool closed. I find just being near water calming.
    I used to listen to positive cds in the car and I need to go back to doing that.
    Meditation also helps. But again, I have not been doing that regularly either.

    Thanks for the topic – obviously I needed it.
    Sending thoughts of rain and no wind your way.

  18. Bharti says:

    My family has experienced a lot of cancer and illness over the past years 7 years. There have been a lot of really difficult days. The thing I have learned is that the only moment I have is the one I am in at any given time. So I have to just be as present as possible. I can’t borrow trouble from a future I cannot control. I can’t wish for a past that is gone. Even in the worst moments of my life there has been beauty. I might be very difficult to spot, but I have learned it is ALWAYS there. That knowledge has carried me through some tough things.

  19. Chris S. says:

    So very true. I’ve been trying to teach my Dad this lesson in the two years since he had a stroke.

    I mean, he could spend every second he has left worrying obsessively about having another stroke, but would it really be worth it just so that one/five/ten/however many years from now he can shout “I TOLD YOU SO!” on the way down?

  20. Chris S. says:

    Amazing how many of us turn to water to take us out of ourselves.

    Me too: I love to swim. That first delicious shock of cold; the thrilling buzz of your blood and skin adjusting. The freedom of buoyancy. The colour of the water: blue or green or rich silty brown. It shuts my brain right off.

    …um, in a good way.

  21. So much bad/sad has happened to me in my life that I lost my optimism in many ways and learned to spend my days anticipating the bad. My last therapist (and still current over the phone until I find a local one) has worked with me on this and my mental state has been slowly changing, but it is amazingly helpful to read the direct statements about letting go of looking for/at the bad. And I just had a really good over-the-phone therapy appointment. 🙂

    I, too, love to swim, but I cannot manage big public pools because the amount of chlorine used in them devastates my skin. My family had a pool when I was a kid in Southern California, but that was long ago and far away. But I love being near water. When I lived in Houston, I lived along a lake. When I lived on the Oregon Coast, I went out to the beach often. Here in the Seattle area I’m currently living with friends who have a view of a huge lake, and of course we are not far from Puget Sound, so there is plenty of water to look at, which is soothing.

    I don’t watch news, and I generally only skim the headlines in Google News every day, because I do get depressed if I read too much or watch too much news, as some others have also said.

    When I was reading about and practicing Zen Buddhism and Stoicism, I was doing quite well as accepting and feeling more peaceful. I need to get those books out and look them over at bedtime like I used to, rather than playing games on my phone before bed. Will be much healthier.

  22. It’s hurricane season so here in the Keys we’ll keep an eye on storms coming off Africa, systems in the Gulf that could organize and develop etc. We’re used to the preparation routine. I have my supply of bottled water and non-perishable food. I checked my hurricane shutters. If a storm threatens I know what steps to take to secure my house and boat.

    With any storm threat we do what we can to prepare and “kiss the rest to God”.

    I rely a lot on the Serenity Prayer. It gets me through some of the worst moments and situations.

    I hope you remain safe from the fire, Barbara.

  23. Kelly S. says:

    Theory is you should sleep better too. Studies are showing that the phones & tablets give off a blue light that stimulates the brain and makes it harder to fall asleep.

  24. Kelly S. says:

    I generally don’t watch or read any news. Until twitter, I went with the thought, if it is big enough news someone will tell me. After Twitter, I follow BBC news and get a wider perspective on what is happening and big stories pop up fast, last a short time, and moves on. I’m back to being in the dark as life has me too busy to stay up on tweets, but it isn’t so bad.

    Hope the fires are put out quickly and no lives are lost.

    The best coping mechanism I have is to pray and turn it over to God, which I know won’t work for everyone here.

  25. Reb says:

    I hope you and your city are ok, Barbara.

    Fire frightens me. If it was that close, I’d have the cat’s carry crate handy and be glued to the online news.

    I need to remind myself that I’m responsible for my own happiness. Inertia’s my problem – I have to be pretty darn unhappy about something before I’ll actively plan an alternative. Most of the good things in my life have fallen my way. I appreciate them greatly, but some active planning would be a good idea.

  26. Preparation and planning are helpful. I have to travel this weekend, leaving CR in charge, and I decided that I needed things ready to be moved if the voluntary evacuation areas drop another couple of miles. Just deciding that made me feel calmer. We really are probably not in danger, but fire is unpredictable. Better safe than sorry.

  27. Thanks, Reb. The sad thing is how beautiful this particular spot is, and I think it s going to be gone. :(. Like the 2nd earthquake.

    But there it is–you can only move forward.

    Inertia! I so get that.

  28. German Chocolate Betty says:

    Yes, Micki, the US Embassy/Consulates in Germany publish information on their website about trouble spots. It has good info and is really helpful. I use them a fair amount.

  29. chris says:

    Good for you. I can’t swim. I am blind as a bat without contacts and two freaked out to under water……

    Can you share some heat with Minnesota. It is the high of 60 today….. It snowed through May. Not sure when the sun was out last…..

    And as my grandpa from Ariona told me to tell the weather know it alls….. “Ovens are a dry heat also, would you be comfortable in one?”

  30. Lynn says:

    Hey Barbara. I just wanted to check in on you and let you know that there are a lot of us watching this fire, worrying, and hoping that everyone stays safe.

    Having been through a couple of very scary wildfires (in NM), I can say that I don’t think there’s anything foolish about packing ahead of time OR about being glued to the news. Two years ago, we were evacuated for a fire that burned an acre a second on its first day, roaring directly toward us faster than I had known was possible — outlying communities had less than ten minutes to evacuate, and we were lucky to have a few hours to get our stuff together. Big fires are serious business.

    The ‘coping with the news’ question you pose is interesting, but my answer is probably far too didactic for refab. I hope you’re finding ways to cope with this particular disaster that work for you and provide at least some moments of comfort.

    FWIW, my experience is that beautiful places are not destroyed by wildfire; they just find new ways to be beautiful.

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