How to cheer yourself up!

Here it is 2020 World Mental Health Day in the midst of too many good reasons to feel bad. Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of public health. Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. And now, billions of people around the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having a further impact on people’s mental health.

Five Warning Signs of Mental Illness

Long-lasting sadness or irritability.

Extremely high and low moods.

Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety.

Social withdrawal.

Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits.

Unfortunately, I have plenty of experience with these signs, but that also means I have experience in dealing with them successfully. After years of depression, five years of great counseling in my thirties, and a degree in counseling psychology, I have learned how to take better care of my own mental health. That is not to say I don’t have my down days, especially under the present circumstances!

Here are some ways I have learned to combat the blues:

Never underestimate the power of finding a GREAT therapist. I know it isn’t easy shopping for the best therapist for you when you feel bad, but trust your feelings in selecting the right person to help you over this difficult time in your life.

Mental health days have been important to me throughout my life. While in therapy and feeling deeply sad about understanding my past, my therapist encouraged me to take a day off now and then to be with my feelings. This was essential in helping me feel better. I was severely co-dependent at that time. I remember one day I said to my therapist I felt bad about feeling sorry for myself. She quickly responded with:

“At least you are feeling something for yourself!”

Then, when you start feeling better, start taking mental health days to celebrate feeling better! A few times I needed to call in and say: “I’m feeling too good to come to work today!” No not really, but that’s the way I felt… I remember one day I went out and bought myself some great new furniture. Now, every time I look at that dresser, I remember how great it made me feel to give myself a nice gift.

These days I have been trying a new affirmation out. Every morning when I wake up the first thing I see is my little sign across the room that says:

Today I’m going to love my life!

I find that when I focus on what I am grateful for, I truly have so many reasons to love my life. Consider the fact that we are alive in a great country at one of the BEST times in human history. At least you weren’t born in the 17th century, when “life was nasty, short and brutal.” Today many Americans have the opportunity to live long, pain-free lives. We have the benefits of medicine and science helping us to improve our lives and the lives of others. LUCKY US! We truly do have good reasons to love our lives, and if we don’t we are quite free to change them! This is what I learned from my own midlife crisis. Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.

If none of this works, try chocolate. It works for me!

You’ve got to go crazy sometimes, or you might go crazy!

The Coronavirus Marriage Test: Who the hell am I living with here?

With all the conversations about how sheltering in place has led to binge-eating, binge-drinking, and increasing mental health challenges, one topic I have latched onto is divorce in the time of Coronavirus. Of course, forced proximity for long periods of time can breed contempt, but crises like these also cause us to suddenly come to terms with our pending mortality.

Do I really want to spend the rest of my life with this person?” Just like a big fat midlife crisis, the fear of sudden death can lead to positive life changes.

From my perspective, this sudden forced increase in intimacy is like instant retirement. As I think back, one of the most important reasons for my divorce at age 45 was the realization that this marriage would not survive either a sudden, serious illness in myself or long periods of unrelenting time together. Our love was not that strong and my “wasband” at that time was a total blamer and shamer. These days he reminds me of our esteemed President Donny dumb dumb. The man never heard of the concept of taking responsibility for his choices or actions, EVER!

I eventually came to call my first marriage ‘criticism central.’ That is when I knew I had to get out!

But then on the other hand, it is good to know that our recent enforced togetherness has in some cases led to resolution rather than dissolution. Some couples in the process of getting a divorce now say that being stuck together caused them to resolve their differences and decide to stay together. They dismissed their case.

Like I said, sudden intimacy, much like retirement, either improves your opinion of your partner or makes you want to yell, “Get me out of here!”

I am happy to report Mike and I still don’t hate each other….

In 2018, 1.5 million Americans attempted suicide

U.S. suicide rates have risen in recent years, while rates in other nations continue to fall. Our suicide rate increased 33 percent from 1999 through 2017, and this rate has increased more sharply since 2006. Suicide ranks are now the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54, and the second for 10- to 34-year-olds. It remains the 10th leading cause of American deaths overall. Suicides have increased most sharply in rural communities (like mine), where loss of farming and manufacturing jobs has led to economic declines over the past quarter century.

What can we learn about why our suicide rate continues to climb? According to the American Psychological Association (APA) The reasons for why suicide rates rise or fall is challenging, in part because the causes of suicide are complex:

“Suicide risk factors include health factors such as depression, substance use problems, serious mental illness and serious physical health conditions including pain, environmental factors such as access to lethal means and stressful life events including divorce, unemployment, relationship problems or financial crisis and historical factors including previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicide and a history of childhood abuse or trauma.”

“At the individual level, there is never a single cause of suicide. There are always multiple risk factors,” says Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “That confluence of multiple risk factors makes it a trickier business to explain a population-level rise.”

What can you do about this?

Those who have attempted suicide say,

“All I wanted was for one person to see my pain and say something kind.”

Any intervention can prevent suicide. I remember back in 2004, when I was divorcing (loss of 75% of my income!), I lost my job and then career, and I could find not one more job in any area at age 49. I set up an appointment with our Unitarian minister just to talk and I told her, “I just need one thing to go right!” Because it felt like everything was going to shit.

I learned two important lessons from this breakdown to breakthrough moment in my life. Action is the greatest antidote to despair and suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary predicament. The action I took, although it seemed a bit crazy at the time, was to start my own offline dating service. This led to meeting lots of others who were feeling lost and confused in the middle of their lives. Eventually it led to meeting Mike, my midlife best friend and lover. He then helped me begin a new career as a writer, which led to my blog “Midlife Crisis Queen” and my books.

If you are feeling lost and depressed start anywhere. Make your mess your message and spread the word, all is not lost just because you feel unhappy right now!

And remember, You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!

Why NOT to write a book these days!

I have to say this list is my best reason NOT to write anymore books:

The best-selling books of the past decade:

1. E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) – 15.2 million copies
2. E. L. James, Fifty Shades Darker (2011) – 10.4 million copies
3. E. L. James, Fifty Shades Freed (2012) – 9.3 million copies
4. Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008) – 8.7 million copies
5. Kathryn Stockett, The Help (2009) – 8.7 million copies
6. Paula Hawkins, The Girl on The Train (2015) – 8.2 million copies
7. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (2012) – 8.1 million copies
8. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars (2012) – 8 million copies
9. Stieg Larsson, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (2008) – 7.9 million copies
10. Veronica Roth, Divergent (2011) – 6.6 million copies

The American appetite for intelligent, well-researched literature is small and getting smaller. Almost no one reads actual books anymore, except for soft porn with a little S & M thrown in, or futuristic action thrillers. The only two books I enjoyed from this list were “The Help” and “The Fault in our Stars.”

According to the article “Reading habits in the U.S. – Statistics & Facts” “On average, Americans aged 20 to 34 spend less than seven minutes per day reading. Although the time spent reading increases in the older generations, the general trend is worrying…While more modern forms of entertainment such as watching television, browsing the internet, and video gaming have all become major pastimes for Americans, traditional forms of entertainment such as reading books or magazines seem to be on the decline.”

Being an academic librarian for 25 years I find I am so “old school” on this topic. I assumed that Americans read to improve their minds and learn about the lives of others, not to find something fun to masturbate to. As usual, I came to the “party” too late to write books that some would read to improve their understanding of midlife change, or how one might use psychology to live a better life past age 50. Silly me.

My last book is a memoir about the breakdowns and breakthroughs of searching for a whole new life in rural Colorado in a solar home:

“Finding the perfect perch for solar exposure was a top priority, but finding a place with pristine mountain views was also essential. In 2014 they sold their nice suburban home in Fort Collins, Colorado and headed south to build on their lot with spectacular views of the Spanish Peaks in the foothills west of Walsenburg. Here I share our unique experience, building passive solar from the footers up.”

To be honest, I had my doubts about writing all of my books. I wasn’t so out of touch as to doubt the interest of Americans in reading anything anymore except their own ratings on social media and posting more selfies! I now see that our interest in only following the websites that don’t require much reading or critical thinking and support our own personal biases, have brought us to this sad state of American politics.

I’m not afraid to admit our future scares me if alternative facts, outright lies, ignorance is bliss, and anti-intelligent rhetoric has become the American way. I appreciate my excellent education everyday. At one point I was a scholar of Chinese history, so I have seen how attacks on the best minds of our country can destroy ALL OF OUR FREEDOMS.

Go check out the “Cultural Revolution” in modern Chinese history if you want to learn how that worked out!

Believe me, we don’t want to go there!

Restoring our lost intimacy with nature

As many of you know, I have been struggling to understand and express here how living close to nature changes you. Since moving into big sky country over four years ago, I have changed tremendously, to the point where living with a brain injury does not effect me half as much. Why is this? Because nature is slow and deliberate. Nature is in no hurry to explain or understand itself. Nature is so not like the predominantly human world.

This week I read an amazing interview with writer Barry Lopez in the December issue of “The Sun.” Here he explains myself to me well. As someone who grew up in small to medium-sized cities, I rarely experienced the wonder or intimacy of living close to nature. I experienced instead the loneliness and lack of opportunities for true intimacy in the human-made world. I did not even appreciate my own need to reconnect with the natural world completely until my husband Mike talked me into moving to a wide-open space in the high desert of southern Colorado.

As soon as we moved here I felt different. I felt myself slowing down and appreciating each moment much more completely. Each astounding new view took my breathe away. Slowly I began naturally letting go of my past and my future, feeling less alone than I ever have. Nature is deliberate and can be trusted unlike most experiences in wholly human culture. The beautiful silence outside my door each morning provided me with authentic contact with the harmony in a world outside of human existence. Living in such beauty awakens a sense of gratitude for all there is to experience in the natural world. There so much here that most will never experience directly.

Barry Lopez believes that if you asked anyone walking down a sidewalk in a city, “What is it that you really want?” Many would say intimacy. But “you can’t gain intimacy without vulnerability, and you can’t have vulnerability without trust.” Barry finds this lack of intimacy and vulnerability in human culture to be manifested by our lack of intimacy with the land itself. Cities create a kind of competition and divisiveness that can not be found outside of them in the natural world.

Sometimes I think about the darkest moments in my past, moments of depression and hopelessness. I now realize that if I had known enough to escape from cities at those times, I would have found the kind of meaning and peace I needed to find new hope for meeting my next future.

But then we are all on schedule to learn what we must to discover our best life. Trust in that!

How unreasonable love is!

Yesterday I was struck by exactly how unreasonable love can be. What is this feeling that often goes against all reason and just is?

As far as I’m concerned, the definitions of love are completely inadequate. One definition is: “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Another is “a great interest and pleasure in something.” Or “to feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone).” How inadequate is that?

Reasonable is taking into consideration your own interests first, something most of us do unconsciously and continuously. “What in this for me?” I learned early to notice how so many people I met consider what they can get out of a new friendship before they jump into it. These people are very fair weather friends. I tend to avoid them.

I spent my first few years of college at Colorado College, a very expensive private school in Colorado Springs. There I met a number of very wealthy kids who first wanted to know if your family had a condo in Aspen BEFORE they decided to like you. Who knew there were such people in the world?

That’s when I learned to be much more careful in choosing my friends. Then, for young women, there is always the question whether the men liked you for sex and nothing else. Unfortunately that took me quite a while to figure out. Who knew some men are just pigs?

At age 64, I have known so many friendships, and most have not lasted very long. These experiences left me doubtful whether any of these “friends” ever really cared for me at all. In other words, I don’t expect true love and loyalty in this lifetime. I have experienced too many disappointments in this department.

Then yesterday I had a very frank conversation with Mike on this topic. We have been together for almost fifteen years now and still I doubt. We have been through serious, debilitating illness with Mike in our early years, and the same with me recently. I wondered why he would choose to sacrifice to be with me when he could certainly do better at this point in life. His love and loyalty astounded me. Finally I have found a lover and friend who actually loves me…in sickness and in health.

Love and integrity are so hard to find. If you find them in your personal relationships, return them in full force…

Do Stereotypes About Aging Influence You?

Now that I’m in my 60s, I find adjusting to how others see me can be pretty tough at times. I still feel like the same 40 or 50-year-old inside, but looking in the mirror is sometimes shocking.

The first time a waiter at a restaurant turned to Mike and I and said, “Would you two like the senior discount?” I thought, “Is he talking to me?”

The way these internalized attitudes about aging affect us physically is a focus within a growing field in social psychology called “mind-body studies.” In the next few months, the World Health Organization will publish the results of a global investigation of ageism — discrimination toward elders, similar to racism and sexism. This report will address how we might fight ageist discrimination and prejudice. The report will also outline the myriad ways that ageist attitudes can and do affect the health and well-being of us and our elders.

I find research in this area fascinating! For example, researchers have found that “words used to describe older people, found in a database of historical American English, have become increasingly negative in the past 200 years, possibly because aging has come to be seen as a medical condition.” Positive words like wise, sage, accomplished, learned, creative, insightful have increasingly been replaced with declining, dependent, senile, dying, decrepit and incompetent.

When these negative age stereotypes are used against an elder population, subjects show a decline in performance in memory tests and other areas. Those exposed to positive age stereotypes showed improvements. On so many different tests, findings suggest a strong correlation between exposure to positive stereotypes and an improved view of Self as we age.

This reminds me of one of my favorite lifelong sayings:

“Language is practical consciousness.” -Karl Marx

Carefully analyze the words we use to describe ourselves and others! The way we honestly see ourselves and others has meaning. How do others refer to you? Does that impact how you see yourself?

As any wordsmith will tell you, WORDS DO MATTER.

As Psychologist Becca Levy put it:

“Stereotypes about aging are so pervasive. They can easily be assimilated from the surrounding culture, become a part of an individual’s self-definition, and ultimately affect how that person’s body operates — a process called “stereotype embodiment.”

Dr. Levy has linked negative aging attitudes to such measures as walking speed in elders, a greater likelihood to develop dementia, and even a reduction in life span. Want to learn more about this important area of research?

http://www.sciencenewsdigital.org/sciencenews/august_3__2019/MobilePagedArticle.action?articleId=1507169#articleId1507169

A LITTLE BUDDHIST HUMOR…

Hip Hip Hooray! There’s joy in everyday!

Spending time with my parents last week was a timely reminder to me that I must work to find joy everywhere, in spite of physical limitations. Yes, there are a number of irritations in life that must be dealt with, but be sure and find the joy too, or before long it will all seem like a pain in the butt!

For example, the double rainbow last evening!

One thing I always notice when I visit other people’s home is that their windows and views of nature are so limited compared to ours. We have a passive solar home so our south-facing windows cover the wall. I am constantly looking outside here. That is where the action is…

Sometimes a Road Runner will amble up to look in!

Our sky garden is always a good place to observe birds, lizards and occasional deer coming up for water…

and the clouds around here always present something new and interesting!

Find the joy & gratitude YOU need to keep going! That’s what life is all about!

What’s looking happy in my mid-summer Spanish Peaks garden?

A sunset view from my garden!

When everything else in life seems crazy, it’s back to the garden for me. I’m sure some of you can relate…. We have received some nice rain showers this July, bringing us up to 13.5 inches of rain so far this water year (October to September). Compared to last year’s 9 inches, we are doing great! So, what’s looking super happy in my garden right now?

My Blue Mist Spirea is so happy here! They bloom the end of July

The Blue Mist Spirea bushes for one! I have five of these because I found out last year how happy they can be here with no deer to bother them.

The Gallardia or Blanket Flower is also quite content. I have always had great luck with these nearly native orange and yellow plants. But this year I tried a new variety that is all red. I am quite pleased with the results! It just keeps on blooming.

Colorado Four-O’clock, a tough native to do in!

Another shocker is that my native Mirabilis Multiflora or Colorado Four-O’clock is coming back again with a vengeance after a horrible time last summer with the wildfires around here. I have one plant (a taproot variety) on the edge of my garden, that was there before we started building here. Then when we hardscaped the garden this spring, I was afraid we had killed it, but nope. It’s a beauty again this year! Impossible to transplant, but also tough to kill.

Now do you see why I love gardening? With time and patience, there’s always something new to wonder about and be surprised by…