Updated: Feb 7
The 2009 Almost-But-Not-Quite-Empty Wellbeing Toolbox
Allow me to share with you what was going in in my life 12 years ago at the time when I jotted down the story of unexpected consequence shared below. If you have taken our Courses or read the blogs so far you know that we help to build a toolbox of self-care and well-being from PART Plus, HeartMath and Nature Connection techniques and education. Lest you think that I have been in possession of these life-changing tools my entire adult life, please let the following correct that assumption. Twelve years ago I had a couple tools, but I was suffering. My Dad was very ill and declining rapidly from ALS and I was his business assistant. I was suffering from intense as yet undiscovered food allergies and reactions that were wreaking havoc on all of my systems. My kids were little boys - 'nuff said there. I was, truly, in a cycle of stress and the imbalance was wearing me down. I felt sea-sick ill most of the time, depleted, scared. But my kids were young and beloved, and you keep going, right? You keep going and sometimes you lose yourself in the beautiful growing moments. There are still genuine times of laughter and joy, but also many times of being an award-winning actress.
I had three tools at this time: humor, connection/gratitude and nature. My overall lack of awareness to stress and self-care technique made them not nearly as powerful as they are for me today, but still, looking back, I was using them. The nature time was always with my kids and we explored. It was not mindful, but it was purposeful; I did gain passive benefits. The connection/gratitude was a close family and support system although, as some of you may know, when you are deep down and feeling terrible and scared, you often feel like no one can help or really understands.
The tools I did not have will be obvious and discussed at the end;).
Humor, however, looking back at my situation and recognizing, even then, some of the crazy things I would do to keep myself moving, engaged, and highly functioning, was priceless. I still use humor ALOT. Aimee and I use humor almost daily in our work. Last Spring when we were navigating technologies that were new and alien, we would experience elongated giggle fits. It is now a company policy and habit to get downright hysterical when we get in a tech snafu.
Today I would like to share with you a bit of my self-directed humor from 2009 that helped to get me through a very tough time. Sit back, enjoy, please laugh with me and perhaps recall a similar situation in your life when one thing led to another and when done, the whole picture was some serious self-entertainment, having come through mostly unscathed.
There is a girl who has a caring, lovely, wise Mother and two of the most extraordinary and clever Aunts that ever were. If you are perhaps thinking these statements too superlative, you are wrong dear reader. In fact, every line in this story is the absolute truth. It was this very Mother and these very Aunts that threw this girl a small yet wonderful party on the occasion of her 39th birthday. And it was the kitchen gifts given at this party that drove the girl to two whole days of domestic fervor and discovery. If you are wondering how kitchen gifts can do this, read on.
The party was a delectable luncheon and the Mother and Aunts pre-arranged to get the girl kitchen items as it had been noted that the girl was deficient in this area. The gifts were indeed exactly what the girl had needed. However, the girl also knew that her kitchen had been in desperate need of rearranging since she moved into the house seven years ago. These gifts were so splendid, that they drove the girl to become excited about cooking, which was rare indeed. But she was loath to go squeezing and squishing and dispersing such lovely gifts into her disorganized, and frankly quite dirty, culinary space. And so, it began.
The closet hallway is right next to the kitchen and the girl thought it perfect for a pantry, However, it was
half-full of children’s art supplies and random household items that were not being used as typically no one could remember where they were. So, the closet was emptied, and the items "properly" placed. This closet that had pantry aspirations was small. The girl knew that a trip to Home Depot, as suggested by her more organized Mother, could provide perfect shelving for the closet. But being of Generation X, she demanded immediate gratification and therefore promptly went to the upstairs computer and exercise room where she emptied an entire bookshelf full of old books and some other, well – junk. This took some time as she browsed through her collection and divided the books between those she cherished and those she had no attachment to whatsoever. Those she cherished were destined for the built-in living room shelves, which the girl thought was some of the only “character” items in the house. Now in order to fit these items on the living room shelves, the old video cases (most empty) and many of the pictures on the shelves needed to be discarded and rearranged, respectively. I will shorten this section of the story by simply saying that the entire living room was rearranged within the next two hours into such a pleasing configuration that she couldn’t wait for her husband to see it. (Let it be noted that he too thought it was the best arrangement ever and could not believe she had moved the couch from the playroom to the living room all by herself. She simply explained that pent up winter energy and lack of mental stimulation can produce superhuman resolve in a suburban mother of small children.)
(2021 INSERT - No, this pic and amount of organization, aesthetic and fashion is nowhere in my house but this is how I felt after the project was complete)
The next task was to move the bookshelf from the computer room upstairs into the hallway closet downstairs. Due to the reasons mentioned above she was able to do this alone although she will never again move large and heavy furniture in her bare feet. It not only ruined her self applied pedicure, but she feels lucky to remain in possession of all ten toenails. I should mention that although she did measure the width of the closet, she still had some trepidation as to the bookshelf fitting at all. In fact, it did not. So, the girl, being in a results-seeking fervor at this point, went in search of her husband’s tools. Twenty minutes later she had broken two hammers at the neck trying to tear wooden hook boards off the sides of the closet. She managed to get one off with an axe, along with a good deal of plaster and paint, before realizing that it was not just the hook boards that were narrowing the closet, it was also the base trim. So, she just pushed the bookshelf in sideways and declared it a “walk-in” pantry. Clean up took a while but moving all the canned and boxed items from the kitchen into the pantry was pure joy. She was able to discard items that expired three years ago and actually became cognizant of every single food item in her kitchen. That night she prepared a very successful dish using no less than five pantry items. This was economy and organization at its finest.
But back to the gifts. Moving the canned and boxed items out of the kitchen created whole shelves full of space the girl never thought possible. The next day she was energized and cleaned and rearranged every shelf and drawer in the kitchen. The kitchen was becoming a nice place to cook and to gather needed items. But the ultimate moment came when was able to retrieve the cherished kitchen gifts from her basement and put them all in the washer, which she had just emptied in anticipation. And total joy was achieved when she unloaded the new and sparkling gifts from the dishwasher into their clean and spacious new homes in her completely modified kitchen. The girl then stood in the middle of her cooking area and chuckled to herself as she noted that, from the outside, nothing had changed. All the hard-earned modification was hidden behind the laminated particle- board cabinetry.
Now, you might think the story ends here. But you would be wrong indeed. You see, when the girl removed the bookshelf from the computer room upstairs, she began to think about that room. She began
to dream about that room. At present, the room was full of every household item that didn’t have a home, plus the exercise machine, two desks, two computers and lots of paperwork and computer cords, etc. That room was the only one in the house that needed to be painted, but it needed to be emptied first. During this time, the girl shed a few tears looking through her children’s baby albums and laughed heartily at the discovery of her own baby book. She gained even greater admiration for her Mother who, according to the baby book, had kept loving her even though she was a colicky mess and was even allergic to rice. What child is allergic to rice??? Five hours later, after going through an immeasurable amount of paraphernalia, looking through old albums, music and letters, much of the piles had been relocated to the basement. Unfortunately, the girl knew her husband would enter the house that evening through the basement and would probably be wee bit perturbed at the mountain of items located therein. But she was on a roll and there was no stopping her now. It should also be noted that while emptying the computer room the girl saw three paintings that she had forgotten about and hung those in the dining room and kitchen. You may be wondering how she hung the items as she was now without a hammer, having broken them in her attempt to widen the closet. Well, she simply used the meat tenderizer which, sadly, was not in her highly organized kitchen drawers, but was finally located on a shelf in the playroom, having been recently used for flattening playdoh.
And that, my dear readers, ends the saga of the birthday kitchen gifts. Those of you who know the girl may be wondering what her children were doing during the time of her domestic possession. In all honesty, she does not know. However, she has noted that every room not affected by her whirlwind reorganization is quite messy now. And her four-year-old was taught the word “compromise” by his older brother. Curious.
In closing, to that Mother and those Aunts the girl owes not just her true thanks for the wonderful party and the extremely needed gifts, but also her profound admiration as she is convinced that these clever women knew from the outset that a few well thought gifts could, in fact, reorganize an entire house.
Was I depleted at day's end? Most likely, don't remember. Most of those days are lost in a haze of survival, coping, medical visits, sleep deprivation and also some very treasured memories and adventures. But the humor and connection/gratitude surely helped.
The ability to handle and mitigate stress response through relaxation techniques would have been a true boon back in the day of my story scribing. Mindfulness practice, positive adaptive coping strategies, perspective, would also have changed my game indeed. But “hindsight is 2009” in this case and I will not be hard on myself. I will just learn and laugh a bit too.
Truth be told I began yoga and relaxation with Aimee about one year after this writing and the next story of my healing journey begins there. Not sure how much longer I would have held out living in the stress zone! But humor? Humor is a powerful adaptive response when appropriate. I like what the Mayo Clinic writes about the stress management ability of humor and laughter:
A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:
Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Laughter isn't just a quick pick-me-up, though. It's also good for you over the long term. Laughter may:
Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.
As we learn more and more about new ways to handle stress and to recapture the joy of life and the "peace of being" that we are capable of, it's also interesting to look back or examine now how a few tools may be helping you to get through, maybe by the skin of your teeth like me, but getting through. Humor can help with resilience and adaptivity, no question. Just this last year of COVID alone I saw more examples of adaptive coping through humor than possibly ever before, made starkly visible and receivable through social media and technology. Often humor is coupled with creativity, another possible wellbeing tenet.
The needed full and “at the ready toolbox,” or, for me, my backpack, is now in my possession. Having fully embraced the breatheIN2IT life, I journey forward, still with humor, still working away every day and learning. The hammer is now fixed and in better shape than ever😉 and with a heck of a lot more self-awareness, resilience, and confidence, I go forward into life's pantry of possible futures that is, indeed, the great, glorious, sometimes ridiculous, unexpected, unknown.
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