Can I share a little truth about myself? I am not naturally a super happy person. My default setting, from as far back as I can remember, has always been a bit serious & somber.
Look at me here—that little face says it all, doesn’t it? Happy to have the BEST parents & most loving home life a Kindergartner could ask for, yet also busy contemplating the world’s problems & how I might solve them. This was the year my mom found me barefoot one day because I gave my shoes away to a girl who said she needed them. My naturally bleeding heart has given me empathy, but it’s made me feel everything more heavily, too.
At times, too heavily.
Not a whole lot has changed in 34 years. I am fortunate to still have a lot of love & support in my life yet...
most mornings my default mood lies somewhere around mildly annoyed mixed with a tinge of sad. Eeyore-esque if you will.
I used to analyze this nature of mine, try to diagnose it, try to fix it. I’ve tried medication. I’ve tried gratitude journaling it out of me. I’ve even tried shaming myself toward happy because—it’s true—I’m more blessed than I deserve.
But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve just accepted that happy is simply not my natural state, and that’s okay. On most days I can get there, but low level anxiety & depression just seem to be my default setting.
Don’t get me wrong, counting my blessings & focusing on them helps tremendously, along with many other habits that cultivate happiness. I’m just saying that, for me, it doesn’t come without effort.
I HAVE to exercise, even just a little, every day. My body & mind need those endorphins.
I HAVE to stick to my morning commitment of reading or listening to something that reminds me of my faith or gives me hope.
I HAVE to limit sugar. I’ve come to accept that my weight fluctuates because I reach for it unconsciously when I’m down or anxious & when I give into it, it doesn’t make my body or mind feel good. Yet I still reach for it most days. (One day at a time, right?)
I HAVE to set boundaries with toxic people, as I’m just a regular ol’ human sponge.
I’ve come to learn the hard way, through years of ups & downs, that when I’m on-point with these things, the happy (or at least mildly content) eventually comes. If these things are not in place, I suffer. It’s that simple.
Yet it’s complicated at the same time, because we’re complicated human beings that sabotage ourselves sometimes. These practices take time, effort, consistency, & commitment.
That being said, the choice to medicate anxiety/depression does not mean you’re taking the easy way out or NOT working for it. Everyone should do what’s right for them and I know that, for many, BOTH medication & lifestyle changes are necessary.
So, is medication “bad”? The “easy way out”? Absolutely not. For me, my stretch of six months on it reminded me of what happiness had felt like once, and that provided me a marker of what I wanted to return to. I began to laugh more, I was a tinge less edgy, & my sleep improved. And that reminder was good for me.
But, in my gut—for me personally—I knew it wasn’t going to be a long-term thing. I also knew, if I wanted happy to stick around after going off of it, I was going to have to REALLY commit to doing everything in my power to help my mind, body, & spirit daily.
I share this because my journey with anxiety & depression has been this in-between kinda thing. This “mild to moderate” kinda thing. And what concerns me is that sometimes it feels as if the message out there is that you either “have” anxiety/depression or you “don’t”. My fear is that the “don’t” implies happy should come naturally—that you either struggle with these dark emotions intensely & regularly or you don’t at all.
Mental illness is real, it exists—and thank God we have treatment for it. But I do think it’s not always so black & white. I think there can be shades of gray. And that’s, overall, where I live—the gray.
I have ups & downs—bouts with it that can range from dark gray to light gray. After the birth of my son I was so happy to finally be a mom yet, for some reason, it was dark gray. For a period of a few years it lifted to a light gray, even a white phase. After my miscarriage it went black for the first time and I asked for help. So glad I did. When I’m real consistent with taking care of myself, like circumstances are allowing me to right now, life can feel bright white, too.
So, just know, if things are feeling black right now, there is no shame in getting help.
If things have only ever felt white for you and anxiety/depression are things you’ve never been able to relate to, count yourself fortunate. Be patient & compassionate with others through their ups and downs, even when you don’t understand.
And, if you’re anything like me—one who floats somewhere in between—know that you’re not alone, either. And that you’re ok as you are, whether you choose to medicate or not. Your life doesn’t have to fit neatly into a particular box or label, and bright white happiness isn’t the only path to a beautiful life.
Shades of gray can be pretty beautiful, too. 🖤
These last few months have been rough for my hometown of Stuart, Florida. For those that aren’t local, I’ll sum Stuart up this way: it’s a happy little seaside town (like, officially--Coastal Living ranked it #1 in 2016) that is small enough to retain its charm and character, but developed enough to have plenty to do on a Saturday night. It’s the kind of town you’re too cool to settle in at 18 but lures you back in when you’re building a family of your own and have grown to appreciate its simplicity.
We grow and develop but stay firmly connected to our history. We’re family, friends, and fishing; boat rides, beach walks, and barbeques. It’s where almost everybody knows your name (perfect!) and you’re rarely stuck in traffic (well, at least in the “off-season”).
I love my hometown, and that’s why the past few months have been so hard.
Stuart’s experienced a great deal of tragedy lately in a short period of time. In late September, one of our local middle schools lost a student unexpectedly to suicide. Two weeks ago, we lost a beautiful young mother and a one year-old baby girl in a tragic boat accident. And, last weekend, a pilot set to take part in our annual Air Show was killed when his plane crashed. All of this, mind you, right after dodging a direct hit from a life-threatening category 5 hurricane. Add to this just the daily stresses of life and the smaller scale, non-newsworthy tragedies that go on every day and it’s safe to say the close of 2019 has been stressful for our close-knit community.
Of course no town is immune to tragedy--there are terrible things happening every day in every pocket of the world and I certainly recognize that, on the whole, we as a city have little to complain about. In the grand scheme of things, we live in a safe, clean, healthy, beautiful community and we are lucky for it. But, in light of recent events, there seems to be this (understandable) undercurrent of anxiety that runs beneath as we go about our day to day stuff, unable to shake the weight of these losses. It’s not only the weight of sadness we feel for those involved in these tragedies, but the weight of the reminder that, in an instant, life can be taken from you with no warning whatsoever.
I’ve heard people say that, for this very reason, stories like these are a blessing--they give us perspective, make us appreciate life and take in the little moments more fully, and I agree that they do. But it’s hard to hear stories like these and immediately jump to that place. And I’m not sure we should. In fact, I’d argue that, if you do hear of a young girl taking her life or two young kids who, in the blink of an eye, no longer have their mother and you jump directly to gratitude for what YOU still have, you may be missing an important piece--grieving and honoring these people whose lives mattered.
Even if you didn’t personally know these people, you should take more than just a moment to feel the weight of the loss.
I mentioned how these recent stories were weighing on my heart the other day and the person next to me said “oh, you knew them?” I thought to myself “why do I have to personally know them to grieve them?” How quick we are to forget that we’re all connected, that we’re all walking through this crazy and very unpredictable life together. These kinds of tragedies become even harder to shake when you’re a parent. When we hear of terrible things like this, we immediately feel our heart sink for these people and their loved ones, quickly followed by the panic of acknowledgment that it could’ve just as easily been us...or one of our own children.
With social media and the news we’ve become so immune to the bombardment of tragic stories that it’s as if, as a coping mechanism perhaps, we’ve become a society of people whose hearts and souls are covered in some kind of non-stick spray. We shake our heads or say “how awful” and the stories just slide right off of us because, well, the daily routine has to carry on. The losses don’t stick. We don’t FEEL--instead we tuck it in our brief cases and bags and carry the pain along with us in our daily interactions with people, where it shows up as impatience, anxiety, snippiness.
Let me be clear...I’m not suggesting that we should all walk around like depressed zombies all the time, which is what would happen if we literally took these stories on as our own--boundaries do keep us emotionally safe. But I am suggesting that in between taking others’ grief on as our own and becoming completely dismissive, there’s a medium that keeps us caring, feeling humans. And one thing I love about this town is that, by and large, we ARE that.
We are a strong, caring community that looks out for one another. When tragedy happens we band together and look for ways to help each other--I’ve witnessed it many times over. I’ve lived in large, urban cities and I can tell you without a doubt, that a great deal of that human connection to one another is lost. We’re not always the "happiest little seaside town", but when things like these happen, we shouldn’t be. We should be collectively grieving; collectively helping in whatever way we can. What we are is a strong, hopeful, caring little town and my prayer is that we’re a community that, through the toughest of times, remains that way.
To those personally connected to the lives that have been lost lately, know that there’s nothing we can say that will lift your burden but also know that there is a whole community of people thinking of you, lifting you up daily. You are on our minds and in our hearts as we go about the daily routines your loved ones have helped us realize we are so lucky to have.
My 25 year-old self never would’ve guessed I’d say this as I approach 40 and the highest weight I’ve ever been (pregnancy excluded), but I've truly never felt more comfortable in my own skin. I’m not technically overweight, I just have the kind of not-so-perfect body you might expect a busy teacher & mom to have: a decent set of love handles, thighs that rub together a bit, underarms that wave a little when I do, and, when I look down toward my stomach while in a plank, well…
it’s just not good.
Yet that extra "me" somehow still feels lighter to carry than the mental load I lugged around back when keeping it off was my biggest priority--fixating over calories and a certain number on the scale, imposing consequences on myself if I ate "too much" or skipped a workout. I couldn't keep up with that today if I tried, and I don’t care to. These days, if my cholesterol's good, my blood pressure's in check, & I can keep up with my five year-old and share an ice cream with him, too--then we're all good.
That's why it was so surprising to me when I caught myself randomly getting sucked into the Compare-Myself-to-a-Completely-Unrelatable-Celebrity shame spiral the other day.
Here's, in a nutshell, how the scene played out in my head as I "watched TV" (a.k.a. TV show or movie plays in background while I jump from one thing to the next on my phone):
Wow, Kristen Bell has really nice skin! (wishes I had "nice" skin, too)
Googles "Kristen Bell skin care" (because somehow this should lead to some magical, easy answer for the increasing number of sunspots and crow’s feet popping up on my face)
Sees she's vegan.
Hmph. Well, that explains it. And probably explains why she's so tiny, too. She really is in good shape! And short, like me. I wonder if we're the same height?
Googles "how tall is Kristen Bell?" (you probably see I’m headed into tricky territory here…)
Hmm. Exact same height. But she looks so much thinner…
(Ohh boy, here we go. The perfect setting for Shame to make an appearance.)
Enter Shame: Of course she would be thinner than you, she’s vegan--you don't have the self-control to do that! Or keep up with any kind of restrictions, really…at least not long-term. You really should take better care of yourself, or at least do it for the animals—don’t you care about the animals?! You should Google how much she weighs--guarantee you it's at least twenty pounds less.
Now here's the difference between the Me now and the Me fifteen years ago: the Me today calls "cut" on the ridiculous scene at this point—both out of respect for her and myself. Because, let’s face it, not only is this woman’s weight none of my business but what a worthless (and inaccurate) endeavor.
The Me fifteen years ago would've followed Shame's suggestion without blinking an eye--comparing myself to someone whose life doesn’t even remotely resemble mine and then beating myself up over the answer; promptly followed by embarking on whatever diet or exercise routine Google said she follows because, well...if she can do it, then so can I!
The Me now isn't beyond going down the rabbit hole of comparing myself to celebrities and buying into unrealistic expectations, but the Me now does catch myself about halfway down. In other words, we all get hooked into shame, but the nice thing about growing older and wiser (and, yes, usually a little bigger and softer, too) is that we now catch it a little quicker and stop the nonsense before we've fallen too far in. For me, that’s a no brainer trade-off.
Because--let's get real. Although I applaud Kristen Bell and other celebrities' efforts to take care of their bodies and be health-conscious, my life can't be compared to theirs, and it shouldn't be. I can make the excuse "well they have money for personal trainers and chefs and have more time to work out because they have nannies and I'm just a teacher-mom that can't afford those things" but the truth is, I shouldn't be checking another woman's lane at all, celebrity or not.
All I need to keep my eyes focused on is my own lane; on being the best version of me I can be. Doing what feels good for my body. Rather than asking Google what makes her look so great, I should be asking myself what makes me feel good, because that's all that matters. Pilates and a vegan diet might feel good for her, but it may not necessarily be the best fit for me. Maybe the best path for me looks like a nightly walk after dinner listening to my favorite podcast and cutting back sugar because it makes me feel like crap. It might not mean I'm celebrity-level ripped, but if it means I'm in a good place mentally and I feel confident, that's enough these days.
In two weeks I'll return to teaching after the summer and if this coming school year is any like the ones before, it'll play out something like this: I'll get super busy, I won't make it to the gym as often as I did over the break, I might hit the drive-thru or get the school lunch now and then because it was too busy the night before to pack the healthier option, and I'll put an extra five to seven pounds on just in time for Pumpkin Spice Lattes to come back. Every summer I fight this inevitability and declare that the year ahead will be different this time.
And each year I feel like a failure.
So, this year, I'm going to try a new approach because this whole working mom thing--it could be viewed as an excuse, or it could be acknowledged as a legitimately tough load to juggle...a load not made easier to carry by beating myself up. The answer isn’t letting myself go; I'll keep my self-care in sight for my own sanity and health. But what I will do differently is give Shame a break and let a little Grace in, not if but when I fall short of my goals. Because, yes, I am strong enough to stick to them but also wise enough to understand that life happens and that I’m a woman simply doing the best she can.
As a teacher and a mom, trust me, I’ve got enough voices to listen to--one of them doesn’t need to be Shame.
She burst through the door for our parent-teacher conference talking loudly to a client on her Bluetooth. Her entrance aside, we were happy to see her given that she’d scheduled but not shown for the previous two conferences. Her son was struggling—not so much academically, but socially and emotionally. He was a small, quiet little thing that oozed anxiety; a loner on the playground and a worrier about seemingly every little detail of his day. We sat awkwardly as she loudly wrapped up her conversation with a client at the table.
When done, she sat back without saying a word, sunglasses unremoved, her lips tightly pursed together. As each teacher shared, she sat silently & reactionless--no longer the bold, expressive talker she was only a few minutes ago. We first shared her son’s accomplishments and then delicately eased into our concerns. Still no response. After we’d said everything we needed to say, she finally responded coolly “well, then…why don’t you help him? I mean, isn’t that your job, to take care of kids? If he’s struggling and your job is to help children, then I’d say you’re not doing your job.”
We have a few mutual friends, you and I. So every now & then I see the two of you as I’m scrolling through social media and I stop.
I observe the big smiles, the perfect lighting, the fit bodies clad in coordinating outfits. And, for a second, I buy into the perfection. I see what everyone else sees.
But then I wonder.
If you've stumbled across this post finding yourself in the thick of it--
in a mess you can't imagine finding your way out of,
off-track in seemingly every area of your life,
at a depth you can't imagine rising above...
~ b r e a t h e. You have that. Start there.
~ know you're not alone. We've all been there at some point in our lives.
~harness whatever little faith & willpower you've got left in you & sort out what's within your control & what to give over to God. What's not within your control--hand it over. (And know that you're not somehow doing the whole faith thing wrong if it feels uncomfortable or even painful doing so.)
I'm Krissy & I'm so thankful you're here. Teacher-Mom life is rewarding but it's tough--we need fuel (& each other) to keep going. I hope this is a place you can go that feels like caffeine for the soul--uplifting & highly addictive ;) Check out the categories below and, if you like what you read, subscribe to make sure you always have good Sunday morning reading to go with your coffee :)