Sometimes, Life is a Roller Coaster

The last year or so has been quite a roller coaster ride, particularly the last few months.  Last spring/summer I was dealing with debilitating, unexplained pain which had me nearly wheelchair bound.  This turned out to be severe endometriosis, which culminated in extensive surgery.  I felt far better immediately after surgery than I did for the months preceding.

But then not long after I was allowed to resume normal activities, I spent several months fighting a recurrent sinus infection, which turned out to be MRSA in my sinuses.  I haven’t had surgery for that, but it may be necessary soon, probably before cold and flu season hits full swing.

In spring of this year my daughter was struggling with severe depression, for which she ended up medically withdrawing for the semester and spending a short stint at a mental health hospital. Then at the beginning of summer, I broke my ankle.  A month later, our 15 year old dog and my grandfather, who I was extremely close to, died within a couple of days of each other.

So yeah, the family has been through the ringer.  I’ve been generally crappy at savoring anything lately, and not really accomplishing much at all, to be honest. I’ve been far more inclined to become a hermit. I’ve withdrawn from people, from activities, from life. But I am acutely aware that it’s not healthy for me to continue that indefinitely.

In the process of trying to diagnose my unexplained pain, one rheumatologist said he was pretty confident I had fibromyalgia.  Not long after that they found the endometriosis, so honestly I kind of dismissed the fibro diagnosis.  I think I was mostly hoping that with the surgery, anything that could not be attributed to my other illnesses would be resolved.  Unfortunately, that has turned out to not be the case. I am still really struggling with “swiss cheese brain” (fibro fog), pain and swelling in various muscles, and profound weakness and fatigue which doesn’t respond as well to my Addison’s medication as I would like. So it’s put me in a state of not remotely caring about much at all. I haven’t even been doing things that I normally enjoy.

Of course, those of you who have dealt with depression know that this is prone to happening to someone who is sinking into that quagmire. We don’t feel like doing things, so we stop doing things we enjoy. We don’t feel like interacting with others, so we withdraw from everyone. Naturally, this makes the situation worse. Depression is a black hole that sucks you in and spirals down further the more you cut yourself off from those things.

I’ve talked before about depression, and I’ve been on medications for it at a few different points in my life.  But not one doctor has urged me to see a counselor, or even suggested that it might be a good idea. I’m not trying to diagnose or treat anyone else, but I think that tends to be a mistake. I have become more and more convinced that in most cases, if your depression is affecting your life enough that you seek medical help, then medication PLUS therapy would usually be better than just medication alone. If you can find the right therapist, of course.

So I’ve been doing just that. If there is something I can do to help myself feel better, both mentally and physically, why would I NOT try that? Honestly, why haven’t I tried it before now? It may be partly because no doctor ever suggested it. It may be that I was subconsciously buying into the cultural assumption that only REALLY messed up people see a psychiatrist. But if it can help me cope better with the unrelenting, rapid-fire garbage that life has been throwing our family lately, it’s all to the good, and I’m in with both feet.

I’ve seen my new therapist a half dozen times now. I think one of the biggest benefits for me is that I feel like I’m taking some of the pressure off my husband. I am often a physical drain on him because of my health, I am a huge financial drain on the household, and I know the stress of worrying about me doesn’t help. But unloading to an outside person periodically has seemed to at least take some of that emotional burden off him. And although I’m not sure I’ve learned anything groundbreaking about myself, I think it’s helped me process the difficult stuff, especially the grieving. Stay tuned for progress updates, and cheer for the return of the enthusiastic, optimistic person that I am at heart. I’ve missed her, and I’m sure my family and friends have as well.

And if you’re struggling with depression, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. No matter how alone you feel, there is someone out there who wants to help you be well: a family member, a friend, maybe even someone you haven’t met yet, in the form of a doctor, counselor, or a hotline volunteer. Always keep fighting.

 

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A Ray of Sunshine Instead of a Rain Cloud

Let’s talk about cooking for a bit, shall we?  Imagine a big pot of your favorite comfort food slowly simmering on the stove.  It might be stew, or chili, or potato soup, or gumbo, or veggie soup.  You’ve been working on it all day, and you just taste tested it; it may be your best batch ever.  Perfectly seasoned, perfect texture, perfect blend of ingredients.  You can’t wait to sit down and have a nice big serving, maybe two.  But then someone comes along and throws in a big chunk of rancid meat.  Or a tiny vial of poison.  Or a ladle of sewage.  Suddenly you’re not so apt on eating that perfect bowl of comfort food.

There are a lot of phrases we use to symbolize this idea:  one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel, a little yeast leavens the whole batch, etc.  While I’m not sure it’s quite as absolute as my above example (would you just scoop out the offending item and eat a bowl anyway?), I truly believe that even little bits of negative garbage can have a drastic effect on our lives.  And if it happens often, it becomes a real problem.

If we surround ourselves with people who put us down, put others down, or put themselves down, we’re going to end up being down.  That’s just how it works.  It’s even worse if WE’RE the person putting everyone down, including ourselves.  Think about the things that come out of your mouth (or end up as your Facebook status): I hate my boss; he/she is horrible.  I can’t stand so-and-so; they’re so intolerable.  I hate my body; I wish x-y-z was different/prettier/better.   The reason the country is being ruined is because of (insert least favorite politician here).  If you find that statements like these outweigh more positive statements, you may want to rethink that choice.

Do you really want to be the one who chucks poison or sewage in everyone else’s stew?  Do you want to continue to throw those things into your own stew?

Perhaps your boss IS horrible.  But if you do in fact have a boss, that means you’re employed.  And while circumstances are not an excuse for being horrible to another human being, you don’t know your boss’s back story.  There may be something going on that is consuming his life right now, or something in his past that has left him like that.

Maybe your body is not exactly how you’d like it to be.  Stop focusing on what you hate about it.  Change the things you can (and be patient because it doesn’t happen overnight), and stop whining about the things you can’t change.  Find something about your body that you really like, and think of that when another self-berating thought pops up.

I know everyone gets sick sometimes, and I don’t have the least bit of problem with the occasional, “Ugh, this illness is really kicking my butt” statement.  But if every single post is whining about every single ache and pain, people begin to wonder if anything good ever happens to you.

And I said I was pretty much going to avoid politics on this blog, but I have seen so much negative garbage lately, it makes me ill.  I have seriously considered “un-friending” some people just because their status updates are nothing but constant political poison.  Regardless of your political affiliations, there are two things you need to get through your skull:  one person cannot single-handedly destroy our nation, nor can one person single-handedly bring it out of the difficulties we’re in.  Nobody has that much power.  If you disagree, you were clearly not paying attention in government/economics in high school.  I invite you to educate yourself–there’s this really cool resource called the internet that’s great for that sort of thing.  I might recommend that you avoid sites that pat you on the back for spewing poison, though.  That’s not really going to help the issue.  Nor is it likely to educate you.

I’ll admit it’s not an easy habit to break.  You have to completely retrain your mind.  And hijack your mouth, most of the time.  And then you’ve got to nail those internal thoughts as well.  Like I’ve said before, you can’t control when a negative thought pops into your brain, but you CAN decide how long it gets to stay there, and whether it makes it out of your mouth (or onto your FB page).

While I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution (not really my thing), I do intend to continue working to improve myself in this area.  I have a ways to go yet, but I think progress has been made.  It’s very important to me that I am a source of positive input to my friends and family instead of being a constant rain cloud.  Excuse my Pollyanna moment for the day, but I’d rather be a ray of sunshine.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite episode of Doctor Who:  

The Doctor, after Amy is heartbroken that they couldn’t save a friend: “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.  We definitely added to his pile of good things.”

May I always be mindful of whether I am adding to others’ piles of good things, and may I not add to their pile of bad things.

How to Stay Healthier This Winter

On the heels of the nastiest storm we’ve seen in quite a while, we may be bracing ourselves for a pretty harsh winter.  To minimize our chances of getting sick, we know that we should wash our hands often, try to avoid people who are sick, and take our vitamins (because no matter how much we TRY to eat well, it’s likely we’re still missing something).  We might supplement with vitamin D and a few others, or try to boost our immune systems with Echinacea and zinc.

But how much does our attitude affect our health?  This article on the Mayo Clinic site discusses how positive thinking can have a dramatic effect on your health.

How do you react when you first start feeling like you’re coming down with something?  Do you try to stay positive that you might have caught it before it got too bad?  Or do you bemoan how terrible you feel, and how certain you are that it’s only going to get worse?

I’m not trying to say that positive thinking can keep you from ever getting sick.  A virus is a virus, and sometimes they just get us.  That’s what they’re designed to do, of course.  But keeping a generally positive attitude can do several things for you.  First, it gives a boost to your immune system, thus making it harder for the invader to get a foothold in the first place.  Second, it allows that heightened immune system to fight the invader more effectively and evict it sooner if it actually does manage to get through your defenses.  Third, it makes the recovery time more pleasant for you and those around you.

Positive people also generally tend to be kinder to themselves and take better care of themselves.  They eat better, get up off the couch and get moving more (but NOT obsessively exercise), and make healthier life choices (such as not smoking).  All of those things are certainly going to have a positive impact on your overall health.

“But I’m just not naturally a positive person!  I can’t be Pollyannna all the time!”  I call bull.  While some people do seem to have a naturally positive attitude, and some seem to be Eeyore, when it comes right down to it, most of your attitude is a conditioned, trained response.  Which means that if you WANT to, you CAN un-learn your bad habits.  Again, this may come easier to some people than to others.  But I truly believe that everyone can improve their outlook if they are willing to give it some work.

It all begins with self-talk.  We internalize everything that happens to us.  Those things that pop into our heads, unbidden, are often not very positive.  The stuff we say to ourselves has far more impact on us than anything that comes from outside.  True, we may be hearing bad stuff about ourselves from the outside, but it’s not until we believe those things to be true about ourselves and beat ourselves up about them that they really begin to harm us.

We may not have much control over the fleeting negative thoughts that pop into our minds without invitation, but we certainly CAN control how much we dwell on them.  We can decide whether we kick them to the curb immediately or allow them to take up permanent residence in our thoughts.

When faced with the thought “I am a horrible person because of X”, we can choose whether we agree with that mental negative and berate ourselves for every wrong thing we’ve ever done, or we can choose to contradict that thought with this:  “Yes, I may have made x mistake, but I have also done x, y, z, etc positive things”.  Counter the “Oh, I’m so miserable because I have this disease or that illness, or I’m just sick all the time, or I have no motivation or willpower or blah, blah, blah” with “no, I don’t like where I am right now, but I don’t have to stay here forever”.  Temporary illness will pass, and lifelong illness can be dealt with.  Sometimes life sucks.  It is what it is. But there are also plenty of things that don’t suck.  You can choose to constantly complain about all the suckiness, or make the best you can of a bad situation.

As for the motivation and willpower thing, ask yourself if you really don’t like that aspect of your character.  If it’s not something that really bothers you, then quit bemoaning it.  If it IS something that you don’t like about yourself, then CHANGE IT.  Don’t keep talking about how much you don’t like it.

It’s not going to happen overnight.  It will not be easy to overcome years of conditioning.  We may have fallen into the negative self-talk habit so often that we aren’t really aware of it any more.  But we can retrain ourselves out of even the most ingrained of bad habits.  Is it going to take a lot of work?  Probably.  But it’s so worth it.  Your health and well-being depend on it.

What Makes Life Worth Living?

I think this is a question that people often ask themselves, but tend to answer very superficially.  In the article “What Makes Life Worth Living?“, author Dustin Wax reflects upon some of the things that are really important to us.  With Thanksgiving in our so recent past and Christmas right on the horizon, and many friends doing the “30 days of Thankfulness” on Facebook, it’s nice and fresh in our minds.  I don’t want to marginalize this exercise, because I think anything that causes us to focus on what we have over what we don’t have is a good thing.  But let’s not let it be a superficial thing, or let it only last for the month of November.  Dustin came up with these great points on what makes life meaningful:

  • Creating: Writing, drawing, painting (though I’m not good at it), playing music (though I’m not especially good at that, either). For others, it might be inventing something, building a business, coming up with a clever marketing campaign, forming a non-profit.
  • Relating: It’s not “family” that makes life worth living, I think, but therelationships we create with members of our family, and the way we maintain and build those relationships. Same goes for friends, lovers, business partners, students, and everyone else.
  • Helping: Being able to lend a hand to people in need – however drastic or trivial that need may be – strikes me as an important part of life.
  • Realizing: Making, working towards, and  achieving goals, no matter what those goals are.
  • Playing: Maybe this is a kind of “relating”, but then, play can be a solo affair as well. Letting go of restraints, imagining new possibilities, testing yourself against others or against yourself, finding humor and joy.
  • Growing: Learning new things, improving my knowledge and ability in the things I’ve already learned.

I think we all want to live fulfilling lives, ones that make an impact, lives that leave a legacy after we’re gone. But sometimes we don’t really know how to go about doing that.  It’s far too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, especially this time of year, and end up just getting through instead of leaving our mark.

I know I am much happier if I have done at least something in one of these categories each day. Even on days when I can’t manage to check much off my “to-do” list, as long as I’ve done something fulfilling, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.  And sometimes I have to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment.

I’d like to make two points here:  First, let’s not beat ourselves up for not making every second of every day a Mother Teresa level activity.  Everyone’s gotta have down time, and everyone has times when they feel overwhelmed by everything that they have to do.  All the greats had their times of inactivity, and I’m sure they had times when they felt like they weren’t accomplishing much.  Seriously, they were human just like the rest of us.

Second, on the flip side of that coin, I think it helps to evaluate the value of an activity based on its lasting worth.  If I have an hour to spend, do I really want to spend it playing a video game, watching reruns of my favorite sitcom, or spending time with my family?  My time is at least as valuable a resource as my money, and what I choose to spend the majority of it on shows pretty clearly what is most important to me.

Ultimately, I think it all comes down to balance. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional mindless activity that has no real value in the light of eternity.  But if the majority of my time is spent on meaningless things rather than the things that will make a difference in someone’s life, I’m very likely to come to the end of my life with some pretty significant “death-bed regrets”.

So try to go though your coming days with this in mind.  Take an extra second to hold the door for a fellow Christmas shopper.  Make a call or send a message to a friend of family member you haven’t reconnected with in a while.  Take time to recharge your own batteries so that you have something to spend.  And give yourself the Christmas gift of reasonable expectations.  A Christmas celebration does not have to reach Martha Stewart level perfection to be memorable.  After all, it should be all about the time with loved ones anyway, shouldn’t it?

Merry Christmas to you all, and shower the people you love with love!

Seven Harsh Truths That Will Improve Your Life

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/7-harsh-truths-that-will-improve-your-life.html

This is such a great article, I just had to share it.  I have found time and again that the better I am at applying these principles to my life, the happier and more fulfilled I am.  I’ll add my input in blue, as I have done in the past.

7 Harsh Truths That Will Improve Your Life

AUGUST 15 BY DANIEL WALLEN IN COMMUNICATIONMOTIVATION | 2.3K SHARES

Truth hurts, but someone has to say it. Your life is what you make of it and the only person who can help you is yourself. If you’re ready to take personal responsibility and improve your life, I invite you to apply these seven harsh truths today.

1. No One Is Going to Fix You

If you are waiting for a knight in shining armor to gallop into your life and heal your broken heart, you will be waiting forever. The only person who can help you is yourself. Be happy for the other people in your life, but do not become dependent on them for happiness unlike (I think he meant “unless”) you like to be on a never-ending emotional roller-coaster that is far beyond the realm of your control. Are you alone? No, far from it. But no one is going to fix you, so it is in your best interest to take personal responsibility for your own life. When you do that, you’ll discover you are more powerful than you ever thought possible.

The original article includes a short video by Oprah Winfrey on exactly this idea.  You CANNOT allow the entire foundation of your happiness to be based exclusively on one person, or their existence in your life, or their behavior.  Nor can your relinquish control over your behavior and choices to someone else (ie, “so-and-so makes me angry, so I do “x” bad behavior”)  I need to stress this one over and over again:  NO ONE IS GOING TO FIX YOU.  If you’re not happy where you are, it’s your job to do what you need to do to get where you want to be.  Can you lean on friends and family for support?  Certainly.  But it is not their job to be responsible for your happiness or your perceived level of fulfillment.  That responsibility is yours alone.

2. Life Will Never Be Perfect

If you are waiting for the “right” time to do something — pursue self-employment, begin a fitness plan, dive into the dating pool, or move to a new town — you’re going to be waiting forever. There is no such thing as a “right” time to do anything. This reaction is based on your fear-of-change, plain and simple. If you keep waiting for that mysterious “perfect time to act” (please tell me, when have you ever experienced such a thing?), this means you will never actually have to take action and confront your fear.  Do the scary thing. You will be so glad you did.

This is hard.  It’s hard to take risks, and so we excuse our inaction by saying it’s not the right time.  There will never be perfect timing, with every variable exactly as you want it.  Once you’ve decided it’s something you want to do, go after it wholeheartedly.  Jump in with both feet. As Ms Frizzle always says, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

3. You Might Fail (a Lot)

If you attempt to achieve an ambitious new goal, then it is possible that you will fall on your face while pursuing said goal. Welcome to reality. It’s time to change your thinking about failure. It is not a big, bad thing that you should be frightened of. Failure is a learning opportunity and nothing more. If successful people quit pursuing their goal after failing the first time they tried something new, then there would be approximately zero successful people ever. There is no such thing as a “hole-in-one” in life. Do you want to know how many times I’ve failed? Over a hundred. The only reason I’ve managed to accomplish anything is because I am a firm believer in continuous improvement. If you fail in something, distance from the event for a day or two, because agonizing over the problem will not make it go away (and will make it a lot worse). Read a good book, catch up with some friends you haven’t seen in a long time, or go on a nature hike. You will be able to look at the issue with a fresh perspective. After you have done that, ask yourself: “Why didn’t this work out and how can I do better next time?”  This process very well could repeat itself several times depending on the nature of your goal, but if you keep making a firm commitment to continuously improve yourself, you will develop so much that the only option left is success. Consistent hustle always wins.

Failure is not a big, bad thing that you should be frightened of.  It is a learning opportunity and nothing more.  I’ve said this many times about relationships, because even the worst relationship can at the very least teach you what you DON’T want.  But it applies equally to every other potential failure as well.  One of my favorite quotes from Thomas Edison is “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”   (more quotes about being willing to fail)  The biggest thing is that you do not let failure, even repeated failure, stop you.  You may have HAD a failure, but you will not BE a failure until you give up completely.

4. The Past Is Already Written

Have you ever made a mistake so monumental that you wish you could go back in time and do it all over again? Join the club. It’s called being human. I know you might feel immense regret, but beating yourself up over something that is already done serves no purpose. Shift your attention to the present, where you can take control of your life and move forward into a better future.

This is not to say we should be flippant about the monumentally stupid thing we did, or refuse to apologize if it involved hurting someone else, but seriously.  Ask for forgiveness, and give it to yourself if necessary, and move on.  Try to think about how you would treat a beloved friend who made the same mistake.  I hope you would be able to say, “Yeah, that was dumb.  Just make sure you don’t do it again.”  If you’re not capable of saying that to your dear friend, you have a whole other issue that needs to be dealt with.  But often it’s harder to say it to ourselves.  Self-flagellation can’t erase the mistake.  We need to learn to admit that we had an attack of temporary stupidity and then get on with life.

5. Tomorrow Is Not Guaranteed 

Steve Jobs said it best, so I’m going to defer to him for this harsh truth:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

The next time you catch yourself playing the “I will do it tomorrow” game, remember that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Traffic accidents, heart attacks, and acts of violence do happen. Live in the present and take action today, because that is where progress happens.

This seems a little morbid, perhaps, but it really is true.  Live like there’s no tomorrow.  Love fiercely, and fight for your dreams.  Don’t wait for tomorrow.

6. Just Because You’re “Busy” Doesn’t Mean You’re Accomplishing Something

If you like to brag about how great you are at multitasking, stop it, because you are only kidding yourself. Changing tasks without rhyme or reason is wasting your productivity, stressing you out, and possibly causing you to make mistakes. It will probably take you longer to complete two tasks that you are switching back-and-forth between than it would to complete each one separately. If you want to save time, instead of multitasking, try grouping similar tasks together. Have a bunch of e-mails you need to send? Do them all at once. Have an article or essay you need to write? Get it done before moving onto anything else. Different tasks require different mind-sets, so focus on one thing at a time. Being “busy” does not guarantee that you are doing something useful (it probably just means you are doing a lot of things badly).

I have a problem with this.  If I do not stay focused on a task, it may never get finished.  I’ll start something, and then get distracted by something else that needs to be done, and forget to finish the first thing.  I find I am infinitely more productive when I keep myself on task, especially if I have a to-do list that allows me to tackle things in order of importance.  I just have to remember to be pleased with what I have accomplished instead of fretting over the things that are left on my list.  I like these suggestions for making a to-do list effective.

7. You Have More Time Than You Think You Do

You should eliminate the phrase, “I don’t have the time,” from your vocabulary, because it is profoundly untrue. There are 168 hours every week. Let that sink in for a moment. That is a monumental amount of time. Where could it possibly go? The average person spends 4.09 hours on leisure activities per day according to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of that time, 2.8 hours per day, is devoted to the television. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think watching TV does much to help me grow as a person. You could spend that time creating art that adds value to the world, reading books that will help you improve your life, or exercising for a better body and health. The next time you say you “don’t have the time,” change your wording to say “it isn’t a priority.” No time to exercise? Your fitness isn’t a priority. No time to prepare healthy meals at home? Your health isn’t a priority. No time to do something nice for the love of your life? Your relationship isn’t a priority. It’s harsh, but it’s true. How you spend your time is a choice, so spend it wisely. You also might want to check out this article that will help you get more done in a day.

In some ways, this is just delving deeper into the previous point.  There is an age-old adage that says, “Work smarter, not harder.”  That is so true.  By making sure that your time is spent getting things done that you really want to accomplish, you’ll find that there are far more hours available to you than you thought.  Now, I’m not dead-set against television.  Everyone has to have some down time, and veg out a bit.  I usually prefer to do this with a book, but to each his own.  However, if keeping up with the new episodes of the seventeen different series you “have” to watch is keeping you from getting done what you need and want to get done, it’s a problem.

But how do you decide what’s important?  Ask yourself what you really want.  Most of us are not at exactly where we want to be in our lives right at this moment.  Perhaps we want to learn a new skill, train for a new job, start our own business, or whatever it might be.  Think about the steps that are necessary to reach that goal.  Spend at least a little time each day planning or working toward that goal.  Chances are, that’s going to help you decide what to focus on.  Think of your time as a valuable resource, and you are choosing how to spend it, just as you choose how to spend your money.  Do you really want the majority of your time to be spent on things that will not help you towards your dreams?

And then the problem becomes whether or not we have talked ourselves out of pursuing our dreams, because they are unattainable, impractical, or just plain difficult.  But I’ll tackle that one next time.

What do you think?  Which of these points resonates the most with you?

Cleaning Out Mind Clutter

I LOVED this article on getting rid of mind clutter at Becoming Minimalist.  It seems as hard as it might be sometimes to get rid of physical clutter in our lives, it’s even harder to let go of mental clutter.  And I’d dare say that it is far more influential to our state of contentment.  Simplifying what we choose to keep in our heads goes a long way towards our being satisfied in this exact moment.

We have a tendency (or at least I do) to hang on to negative things from our past and allow them to have far too much influence on who we are in the present.  It’s hard to let go of the hurts from an unfaithful ex, an abusive parent, an untrustworthy friend.  It’s hard not to fret about all the things that could go wrong in the future, or dreams that might remain unfulfilled.  If we really could apply the idea of packing up our mind clutter to move into a small, cozy apartment, would we really want to hold on to hurts, disappointments, dashed dreams, and other negative thoughts from our past?  Would we want to bring all those worries, fears, and anxieties about the future?

I like how the article says that it’s OK to choose some of those negative things.  Sometimes you just can’t let go of them right away.  But choose them knowingly, and don’t be in denial about it.  Acknowledge that they’re negative, and eventually you’ll be ready to send them packing.  Just remember that the more negative thoughts you allow to take up space in your head, the less room you have for the positive stuff.  Carefully consider what deserves the privilege of that prime real estate.

I’d like to add something here.  I’m a pretty optimistic person, and I’d say I have a lot of hope for the future.  But there is a VERY fine line between having hope for a better future and being constantly dissatisfied with the present because you haven’t reached your ideal future yet.  From the time you are born until you die, your life is a work in progress.  Don’t be discouraged that you haven’t yet reached the pinnacle of your life.  This seems to be a common issue with young adults who want to have the dream house/car/job/family RIGHT NOW that their parents and grandparents had to work for decades to acquire.  I think that’s the biggest allure of credit.  Borrowed affluence is not the same as owning your stuff.  Make sure you work toward your goals with the idea of OWNING what you have, not borrowing.  If that means owning less, so be it.

And I know I keep saying this, but it’s so important: try to spend more time dwelling on the positives than on the negatives.  Obviously you can’t get rid of every negative thought that might pop into your head, but try not to let it to take up any more time than it takes to chase it out the door.  Try to imagine sweeping them out of your head with an old-fashioned straw broom.  The longer you let these mental freeloaders hang around, the more they suck the life and happiness out of you. Those negative thoughts are roaches in your kitchen, leeches sucking your blood, whatever makes you most want to eradicate them.  Make a conscious decision to think about something more positive instead.  And not in an artificial, Pollyanna, “starving-kids-in-Africa-have-it-worse-off-than-you” kind of way.  Make it real.  Seriously, there ARE people who have it far worse.  And chances are, you can even think of moments in your OWN life that have been worse than this bad moment right now.  Cling to the idea that it’s going to get better instead of how bad it is.

I too, am a work in progress.  But I have noticed how my overall attitude has improved immensely since I’ve started trying to be conscious about the thoughts I dwell on.  Those negatives still visit me, sure; I am a bit of a worrywort.  But I am getting better and better at chasing those thoughts away and replacing them with something positive.  Keep plugging away, and you’ll start to see a definite improvement!  And even if you feel you’ve taken a step backward, just move forward from where you are right now.  The important thing is that you’re going in the right overall direction.  Try to take a step back and see how far you’ve come.  Work towards the person that you’d like to be in the future, and your “now” will benefit from it.

Keys to a Healthy Marriage

I don’t claim to have the perfect marriage.  But I’m a little saddened when my kids’ friends comment on how unusual Rob and I are in that we’ve been married for almost 22 years and are still madly in love.  They find it a little bizarre that we still hold hands, offer little pecks as we pass in the hall, and engage in playful banter.  We are, in fact, still courting.  Even though we bicker about some pretty stupid stuff sometimes, we both know that we’re in it for the long run, partners against all challenges, and we have no intention of letting go of that.

http://www.brianhowardblog.com/5-things-you-absolutely-must-do-to-have-a-healthy-marriage/

Although this post was specifically targeted towards men, there is some great advice here for both partners.

Be Pursuant–Actively pursue your spouse and opportunities to meaningfully connect with them.  Pretend that you’re still dating, and you’re trying to convince them that they want to spend the rest of their lives with you.  Because in a way, you still are.  Show them that they are worth pursuing.  Commit random acts of kindness whenever you see an opportunity.  LOOK for opportunities.

Be Present–Both physically AND mentally.  Take some time to bestow your full, undivided attention upon your spouse each day.  NO, being in the same room while you’re both on your iPads does not count.  Find something you enjoy doing together.

Be Playful–Not just on the topic of sexuality, but in little things too.  There are enough serious moments in our day-to-day lives; we need to share some playful moments with our spouses, even if it’s just a saucy wink as you pass each other.  Why do you think “He makes me laugh” is so often at the top of the list of things women love about their men?

Be Pride-less–This is without a doubt the hardest point to remember.  It’s the underlying source of most conflict in marriages.  “I don’t want to admit that I might have made a mistake, so I’m going to fight you tooth and nail, even though we are supposed to be on the same team.”  We are supposed to be partners with our spouses, us against the challenges this world throws our way, not us against each other. Whenever you find yourselves getting off track, take and step back and see what it’s going to take to get you both back on the same page.  Chances are, you’re both going to have to admit that you were at least a little in the wrong.  It’s hard to do, but worth it.

Be Prayerful–If you believe in God, praying for a strong, healthy relationship with your spouse should be pretty high on your list.  Even if you don’t, spending time thinking about your relationship and how you can help make it stronger is always a plus.  Dwelling more on the positives than the negatives helps adjust your own attitudes towards your spouse, as well as tempering your reactions when they do something that aggravates you.  Because it’s a guarantee that they’re going to do something that aggravates you.  Just as you will aggravate them.

And if I might follow the alliteration and add one of my own:  

Be Purposeful–None of this stuff happens on its own.  No marriage thrives when no one is putting any effort into it.  And don’t wait for your partner to be the first to start putting effort in.  That’s a recipe for disaster.  You have to be intentional about making things happen, especially when you have first made the decision to put in the extra effort.   As you go along, it will become more and more second nature until you don’t even have to think about it any more.  Trust me, it’ll happen!

Having a strong, healthy marriage is never easy, although it does get easier the more you practice.  But it’s totally worth the effort that it takes.  Think back to the reasons you got married in the first place.  If it takes hitting the reset button in order to get past something negative that has happened between you, so be it.  If recommitting yourselves either in private or in a public ceremony will give you a chance to start over, by all means, do it!  If something seems insurmountable, get some outside help from a pastor or therapist.  You’ll be all the stronger knowing that you fought through it TOGETHER.   Anything that brings you closer means that you both win!