self care, pt. 2

Self-care prescription: wellness plan

A general down-in-the dumps feeling can be caused by a lot of different factors, from hormones, weather, relationship or and work stress, to even things like nutrition and gut balance. But starting with the moment that you feel so sad, angry and weak you don’t want to get outta bed, it’s hard to know what is the cause or how to start to feel better.

I started, as I do with many things, with measuring my moods using an app and creating a wellness plan. These ideas I learned from the Dialectical Behavior Therapy workbook.  The book gives a number of exercises to work through to identify what triggers your negative emotions and behaviors so that you can make a plan for how to identify signs that things are going the wrong way. It also teaches various forms of mindfulness. These lessons have been incredibly effective for me – engaging in healthy habits that benefit my moods and physical wellbeing.

Essentially, we write down what makes us feel whole, healthy and sane. Then we create a wellness plan to seek more of it and to manage those inevitable bad triggers so that when they come up they don’t ruin our day.

What activities make me feel happy, lighter than usual, playful, passionate, or zoned-in?

These are things that help you to truly reset and feel like yourself. It could be certain scents, hobbies, being outdoors, being social, or anything that helps you feel this way.

What makes me smile ear-to-ear, gets me out of bed in the morning, and what I wish I could do more of?

What are the symptoms that I am feeling stressed, worn-out, disconnected or angry?

How do you know things are not going well? What are your physical and emotional symptoms that give you a warning sign that you are going to start breaking down? I bite my nails, my stomach aches, I feel tired throughout the day and reach for that extra cup of coffee or cookie.

What triggers me feeling anxious, angry, or out of control, or triggers my negative soothing behaviors?

Then we identify things that happen during life that are particularly upsetting. I get very frustrated when I get interrupted in meetings or get disrespected. I get frightened when I see someone is in an angry mood. When chores pile up like laundry or dishes and I can’t stop thinking about my to-do list, I get anxious. We work on action plans to address these upsetting situations.

What can I do every day to feel good?

Simple daily habits can help with your moods. Eating healthy, meditating, working out. Lunch with a friend, cuddling your children.

In order to keep track of my self-care, I have been using the app Pacifica, which I highly recommend. It’s free, and allows you to track habits and moods daily. You can also add journal entries and post images that inspire you. I have taken what I learned from the DBT workbook and incorporated this into daily tracking, a feeling bad “action plan” and also action plans to deal with specific upsetting situations. I also use Pacifica to track my monthly cycle and other things that impact my moods, as you can add custom “habits” to track daily. In a future post, I’ll talk about how to start reading your “hormone horoscope” to be forewarned about those super moody days.

self care, pt. 1

Self care prescription: solitude and company in solitude

It’s time for a serious chat – beyond well-intentioned resolutions to a topic many of us have neglected for far too long. Self-care. There are many symptoms that present to indicate we have been guilty of self-neglect. Nagging loneliness, confusion, depression, listlessness, lack of purpose. Bitterness, envy, rage, resignation. These are the emotional signs. The physical signs also begin to manifest as illness, lethargy and blobbiness. That’s the scientific term I just invented for feeling like a poop pile.

A post shared by Blobfish (@blobfishes_unite) on

Like most all women, we’ve been raised to be compliant and nurturing, sacrificing and pleasant. It’s almost impossible to hold on to needing to put ourselves first, trust our instincts and letting that wildish nature free. And when every free minute can most easily be filled up with social media scrolling, tv viewing and texting, it takes herculean effort to set aside time to listen to that quiet voice inside.

Last night I met with a group of women for a forest walk in a nature preserve, which included some introspective activities, discussion, meditation and story time, and then moon-watching. It was restorative to be surrounded not only by the natural world in it’s chilling and colorful one-ness, but also this group of women. We had all taken some time to reconnect despite the many demands in our lives insisting we stay home.

flat rock image Suzanne Cadwell

We sat in a circle to meditate and discuss Estes’ rendition of the tale of the girl with the red shoes that she published in her book, Women Who Run With Wolves.

If you’ve read the story, it seems quite dark. Fairy tales often tended to have dark and grave endings to help illustrate the seriousness of the point. The happy endings prevent us from learning the appropriate lesson. The tale’s interpretation that has meaning for me is that the little girl lost her feet, her freedom, because she gave in to poor, shiny substitutes to her own creative license. Her homemade red shoes had been taken from her, and also her freedom as she is given food, clean clothes, new shoes and other comforts. Shiny red shoes become her obsession. But the shoes dance away with her in them and she cannot stop dancing until her feet are chopped off.
Red Shoes
We accept comforts and addictions rather than what we really need. We use

food to feel satisfied

alcohol and screens to feel numb and pass the time

attention-seeking to feel worthy

work to feel important

serving others so we can feel needed

and these things become poor replacements that drive us dancing toward physical or spiritual death. We lose ownership of our own life, our ability to stop the dance of substitutions and get back to what is real.

The prescription for recovery is to spend time with ourselves, and to spend time in the company of those we can be ourselves with. My previous post about Care of the Soul discusses some of these ways to spend time with yourself, as suggested by Thomas Moore in his book Care of the Soul. My next post will discuss the more day-to-day ways we can monitor our “self” and take care of our “self.”

twinkling christmas lights 2017

Raleigh / Triangle Christmas Lights

What better way to focus on the moment than to check out twinkly lights, the real-life manifestation of the holiday spirit in the Triangle? I’ve updated my Christmas Light map for 2017, and am revising it as we visit some of our favorite lights. I am a bit of a scrooge with my own decorations but from Santa holograms and radio stations to blow ups and reindeer, each house gives me delight.

Legend: Purple are those that have been added or confirmed since last year. Music notes have synchronized music. Some unconfirmed blue or green, remained on map from previous years. Stars are our favorites!

the skeleton woman

Currently I am slowly savoring the book Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. It is a quite long and philosophical book that discusses some stories and myths about the Wild Woman archetype. Beyond the typical rescued-by-a-prince fairytales, these tales teach us through oral history how to nourish our souls and feed the important wild woman spirit within us.

One such story is the Inuit tale of the skeleton woman, which is set to animation here, and I summarize the story below.

A woman is tossed into the sea by her cruel father and her flesh rots away leaving only her bones. Many years later a fisherman snares her, and expecting a huge fish, is shocked and frightened to uncover a skeleton. He flees to the safety of his cave but she is tangled in the line and appears to be chasing him. When he returns to his cave, the light hits her skeleton just so and she seems pitiful rather than scary. He pities her and untangles her from the lines and shows her care. He then falls asleep. During his sleep, a tear drips from his eye. She tastes the tear and her thirst is quenched. She takes out his heart and beats the drum of his heart, gaining energy with which she can sing and rebuild her flesh. She lies next to him and they awake twined together as lovers. It’s said that they lived on and were well-fed by all the creatures she befriended in the sea during her time there.

When we have been cast aside and disposed of, whether it be due to our own actions or due to a person or group not cherishing our value, we die inside. We wait to be reborn, and but a tiny tear can reawaken the hungry heart, even after those many years spent neglected deep within the sea. In order to move forward to the next chapter, sometimes things have to die. Jobs, relationships, people, even parts of ourselves. Everything we experience is part of a cycle of death and rebirth that, as women, we uniquely understand, as beings that can bring life, ourselves.

Estes suggests that as the fisherman sleeps his innocence returns and he is able to trust the woman, feeding her. That we need to re-enter a state of wary innocence each day, not casting it aside “with the coverlet” as we awake in the morning.

“The state of wise innocence is entered by shedding cynicism and protectionism and reentering the state of wonder one sees in most humans who are very young and many who are very old. It is a practice of looking through the eyes of a knowing and loving spirit, instead of through those of the whipped dog…the angry wounded human.”

I take many lessons from each of these stories. But for today I think about things dying in their time to be replaced and renewed as the time comes. And letting myself be warily innocent – not the naïve fool I once was, out of necessity and lack of experience. The skeleton woman who has been cast aside and sees rebirth ahead.

all i want for christmas

Shopping can tend to get exhausting and feel at times unimaginative. I think sometimes having to come up with creative gift ideas for everyone all at the same time can lead to being overwhelmed and also feeling like you are contributing to the culture of consumption. What are some gifts that the ladies in my life could really use and appreciate?

Salt scrub, soft PJs, and early release

This kit not only includes some ingredients for soft skin and the cuddly clothing to enjoy it, it comes with permission to leave work early so that you can sit alone in a big tub and soak without anyone asking what’s for dinner.

completed honey-do list

You have so carefully assembled a list of things that you want your spouse to do around the home. Both because you care about the home environment and because you don’t want to nor can you do them yourself. This list does not take into account whether your spouse wants to or can do any of the items on it. This gift includes satisfying checkmarks next to each item, and the feeling of a list well-done. Does not require you to ooh and aah over the completed work appreciatively.

credit for your idea

Who needs another candle or funny set of post-it notes when all she really wants is acknowledgement? That idea that we agreed was really great after Michael said it was just as great when she said it first. It was so great that we named the project the Mathilda project, after her.

bitch card

bitch card

We spend so much time trying to convince everyone that we aren’t bitches, but I wouldn’t mind a chance to let the bitch flag fly, at least once per month. Since, on average, my bitchy moods take up at least 25% of my waking life, I would love to delegate a 24 hour no-holds-barred mean girls bitch-fest. A chance to wallow in envy, self-pity, rage, and unapologetic comparative judgement. A day where it’s ok to be flying high and full of sunshine and immediately switch into total medusa mode after the tiniest perceived slight. The bitch card comes wrapped inside a full box of munchkins for the feelings-stuffing comedown phase.



For the socially-connected gal, this season get her what she’s always wanted. Her social feeds automatically unfollow everyone, and instead her feed is flooded with positive reinforcement about her life choices. Everything she has posted to date will be responded to with appropriately positive and inspiring comments, likes, hearts, and well-thought-out responses. Just as if her spirit animal and matrilineal ancestors all materialized to provide support and spiritual guidance. Most of the feedback is positive, although some of it includes important warnings about red flag people and situations that may be about to enter her life.

I would love to provide you with these and other such amazing gifts this season, my pretties. But I am too busy taking care of myself to provide you with these self-care boxes. I encourage you to treat yourself!

Care of the Soul

I recently finished reading what can be described as an instruction manual for the care of the soul. The author argues convincingly that we have focused for far too long on the physical and scientific aspects of caring for ourselves and have neglected our souls. From doctors and prescriptions to productivity gurus and psychologists, all of these experts have essentially short-changed us by focusing on problems and solutions and not spending time discussing the deeper meaning to those things that ail us and our cultures.

When we relate to our bodies as having soul, we attend to their beauty, their poetry and their expressiveness. Our very habit of treating the body as a machine, whose muscles are like pulleys and its organs engines, forces its poetry underground, so that we experience the body as an instrument and see its poetics only in illness.

Living our daily life is an art whose aim is not to avoid suffering but simply to live that life itself. Focusing on accomplishing as much as possible, making as much money as possible, minimizing our discomfort and achieving great heights of power do not bring that sense of satisfaction. We get that (we are told) by developing an understanding of ourselves, seeking spiritual succor through history, ritual, self acceptance and awareness.

We remain consistently captivated and distracted by those things that seem instantly comforting. But turning away and giving the soul it’s time and space may be what’s needed to stay seated within the base of our own power. When we distract ourselves, treat our soul’s cries with remedies rather than redemption, we lie to ourselves.

Thomas Moore continues,

One day I would like to make up my own DSM-111 with a list of “disorders” I have seen in my practice. For example, I would want to include the diagnosis “psychological modernism,” an uncritical acceptance of the values of the modern world. It includes blind faith in technology, inordinate attachment to material gadgets and conveniences, uncritical acceptance of the march of scientific progress, devotion to the electronic media, and a life-style dictated by advertising.

He shares in detail too long to explain here how to orchestrate our soul’s escape from the prison of postmodern life. I found the book inspiring with examples from myth and art on how to keep cultivating sacredness and depth.


Cuddle feet :)A few hours after Thanksgiving dinner, after the period where we went around the table and shared some things that we were all thankful for, an insight emerged. Various family members splayed across couches, feeling comforted by each others’ presence and lazy but happy under the influence of turkey’s tryptophan.

My son said, “You know what’s the best feeling in the world?”

I looked over at his adorable face, fully expecting to hear something sweet about relaxing under cozy blankies with one’s family…

“The feeling when you poop.”

After copious amounts of laughter, I thought – sure! I mean, most of the time, that’s a great feeling! Often it is not, if you inherit my temperamental digestive system.  But let’s list some of our favorite things about pooping:

  • Instant de-bloat
  • A (sometimes) relaxing moment to yourself
  • The joy of perfectly thick toilet paper with ridges, which we spring for
  • A personal detox ritual that doesn’t involve vegetable juice and cayenne pepper
  • Being the first one to sit on the freshly cleaned toilet in the morning (you can tell because the seat is in the up position)
  • Evidence that you are still alive, and that it’s all coming out ok


it is what it is

zen wisdom from unexpected places

Hubs and I had a number of improvements done to the exterior of our house a year or so ago. We needed a lot of siding and rotted wood on the outside of our house repaired, so we worked with a contractor to get the work completed and then have our house painted. While the finished work looks amazing, the process in getting there was anything but steady.

The owner of the company would tell us the inside work should be complete by a certain time but when that time came, the “completed” work needed to be redone. Two windows were due to be replaced on a certain day I stayed home for the work, but one of the windows turned out to be the wrong size. My precious hydrangeas were blasted and burned to a crisp by the bleach water runoff from the process of preparing the siding to be painted. After each setback, the contractor would sometimes apologize but would always utter the phrase “It is what it is.” While in this case this phrase served as a responsibility-dodging statement, it was also an unlikely source of wisdom.

The present moment is the result of a million decisions.

I found this statement particularly comforting while working my way through a DBT Workbook on how to handle your difficult emotions. It gives you a number of acceptance phrases to choose from that help you come to terms with the situation you have just found yourself in. These situations are a result of decisions that you and everyone else have made over time. It is what it is. We need to accept that current state and move forward from there. That doesn’t mean we can’t speak our truth to someone who disappointed us on the way there. But we still need to accept the current reality.

the beginning

Setting the Scene

Being hit by so many combinations of positive and negative messages online  and in the news gets extremely overwhelming. My friend feed scrolls by, filled with images of happy people frozen in time, on vacation, sharing moments with their children, and carefully curated media telling stories sympathetic to my views. Some of these people I haven’t talked to in years, and am not really sure why I am still watching these snapshots.

It’s amazing to partake in, on one hand, an explosion of hate in our day-to-day discourse and in the news, and then on the other hand, an acid rain of “other happy people” sprinkling through your social feed. If you happen to pick up on the collective emotional state of the world right now, and you rightly detect that people are just as unhappy and uncertain as you are, you might feel a bit crazy. What is a slightly sane but intuitive person to do with the over-stimulation and perpetual gas-lighting?

What Do We Do?

My response to this exhausting assault is a new approach (for me). To explore, in fits and starts, the ancient wisdom of philosophy, myth and community in order to find my own remedies for the feelings of disconnection I experience. To distill and put out there my own showerthoughts about what this might mean. To counter some of the fake uplifting self-help with some personal truths about the power of pain, challenge and triumph.  And then the power of doing it all over and over again, since life doesn’t really provide endings. Regardless of whether you would define any individual moment to be a happy or sad one.

Who am I?

A unique element of my personality type is that I have cycles of anguish and disappointment, harsh truth and cynicism, then deep reflection, curious insight, and bubbling optimism and enthusiasm. The cycle repeats over and over. If you know me personally, you may or may not know that. I have spent a lot of time trying to “share the sunshine” when I am in an especially ebullient mood and trying to contain the bitterness and cynicism when I am in a depressive state. I hope this blog will be a place where all sides of the human condition can be discussed.

My livelihood has been built on measuring things and trying to improve them gradually over time. And since I feel like I barely have control of my own life at times, much less that of society around me, I’m going to focus on my own self-improvement, one book and habit at a time.

My thirties have been just as much a time of self discovery as every other decade. The first decade was thinking I could do anything, eventually. The second decade was just trying to do whatever I could to get started on my own life and trying to find someone to love me through it. And this decade so far as been about reconciling what I have done and what I can do with what I should be doing.  Just as I gain enough confidence to take ever surer steps forward, I still question not whether I can but whether I should, and constantly re-evaluate who and what gets priority in my life.

The way to control all of the chattering in my own mind, the uncertainty in the workplace and the demands of family life have been to track it. Tracking my new baby’s waking and sleeping hours, rating my mood every day from 1-10 and then added more factors to the tracking like sleep, emotional triggers, wellness habits. Then I added the goal of meditating once per day for 10 or more minutes. Next became two to three workout sessions a week. Then journaling, when I have a dream I can remember or when I have thoughts to get out. Somehow after a while the moods and the feelings start to make sense. I am starting to trust myself again.

Next Steps

I’ve read 45 nonfiction books in the past two years, about meditation, codependence, relationships, empathy, philosophy and more. While this started as a frantic desire to understand my own deficiencies, fix other people, stop fixing other people, and make sense of it all, it’s progressed to a desire to understand myself and the different ways we can think about life. I want this space to be an open book about the topics I find interesting. A place where for once, the truth can be spoken and I can try to help other people who have the same questions and random observations that I do.