Tuesday, March 31, 2015

#13 - In the Pit of Despair? Take the escalator.

(This post was not actually written this morning, but earlier this month on a particularly wretched morning. Spoiler Alert: I'm feeling much better now.)

This morning I woke up feeling awful. Not physically sick, but in every other way I was not ready for the day. 

Downtrodden. Overcome with despair. Hurt. It was the culmination of several recent events and circumstances that left me feeling pretty awful about my life. 

Nope. I was not ready to face the day. 

Now before you grab your streamers and balloons to help decorate my pity party, and ask me "aww, what's wrong?", just hear me out. That's not what this is about. This isn't about how I felt, it was about what I did about it. 

I knew that I felt awful, I knew I was feeling sorry for myself, but I also knew that I didn't want to stay that way. I wanted to feel empowered and do something about it. 

I considered all the things I so often tell others (despite, ironically, my recent blog post warning against giving advice): 
  • Choose your attitude
  • Don't focus on the negative.
  • Think of what's in your center of control, and decide to take action. 
Ya know, that sounds WONDERFUL. Just fantastic. But it did not help my mood. It seemed an impossible task, as if this bad mood was an enormous boulder sunk down in the pit of my soul and I was to lift it up or roll it out. 

It wasn't budging. 

I also knew that just showing up to work wasn't good enough. It wasn't enough for me to just slog my way through it. I was supposed to be the inspirational teacher and advisor in a room with dozens of kids. 

I could possibly fake a pleasant attitude. I could force myself to say positive things. But you can't fake patience. You can't fake genuine warmth and energy. You can't pretend to be truly calm and caring.

I had to change my attitude and make it REAL. 

Oh boy. 

I didn't have much hope, but, ready or not, I threw myself forward. I did whatever I could to change my situation. 

I started by going to bed prepared the night before - I recognized my mood and anticipated a difficult morning. I stayed up a little bit later to make sure I had a clear plan for the day, because I knew I would be frazzled if I felt unprepared. 

I made sure I got a decent amount of sleep. It wasn't the most restful sleep because I was distressed and angst-ful, but I woke up fairly rested. That couldn't have hurt.  

I made and ate breakfast even though I don't like to eat when I'm under stress - I lose my appetite. But I knew I would need it for the day. And I brought leftovers for lunch to keep my fuel for the afternoon. 

Keep in mind, I'm doing all this feeling pitiful. I want to curl up in a ball and punch a pillow as I cry into it, probably resulting in unintentionally punching my own head but it would be OK because it's how I feel inside anyway. 

So even though I was feeling worse than Conan O'Brien after he was inexplicably let go from the Tonight Show in 2009, I was systematically and deliberately choosing actions that I thought would give me the best chance at surviving the day.

I made myself food, and made myself eat. I made myself sleep. I didn't know if they would work, but it was my best shot. 

Then perhaps the most useful thing I did was I wrote down affirmations when I woke up. I've realized that, even though I feel a bit like Stuart Smalley, these are really helpful for me, especially in the morning. 

Even His Airness needs to talk himself up. 

I wrote down a whole page. Here are some of them that I believe are worth sharing:

  • Today is a New day. 
  • I will spend my time in the present - not the past, not the future. 
  • I am paying attention to my heart and inner voice. 
  • I am an awesome teacher. 
  • I am an excellent listener, and getting better. 
  • I have a healthy, able body. 
  • Criticism does not have to stick to me. 
  • I am free from judgment. 
  • I get to choose my attitude. 
  • I am thankful. 

The day was still difficult, but I was surprised at how patient I was with the kids. I came in confidently and in control. I was FUN. I brought energy and insight. Individually, I probably had meaningful conversations with a dozen kids throughout the day. I got lost in my head a few times, sure, but I caught myself and returned to be predominantly present and focused on being a positive force for the community. 

I was amazed looking back at how I had started the day, and where I had ended up. To be honest, in five years of teaching, it was one of my best days in front of a class full of kids. No joke.  

What if I had chosen differently? What if I had not chosen at all and just let the day happen to me? What if I didn't have the tools and the experience to know how to respond to some pretty negatively powerful emotions?

I am thankful that I had the tools to create my own destiny today. And I look forward to showing my students, and others, so they can do it, too.  

(Please leave a comment here or on Facebook if you have a similar story to share and what you did about it. Or you can send me a message so I know you read it. Thanks as always for reading!)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

#12 - A World of Small Wonders

I woke up on Sunday and wrote this in my journal. It's like a blog post, but on paper. Here's the online version.

I'm sitting up in my bed on Sunday morning. My light is off and the blinds are drawn shut, and yet the crack in the blinds lets in a few odd spots of light. Not the stack of parallel lines one would expect, but a few irregular blobs.

I was sitting there thinking, almost meditating with my eyes open, my mind rested and clear, my body calm.

I gazed at one of the shapes of light, directly ahead, and mused that one of them looked like a dinosaur...like a baby cartoon T-Rex. And I was just enjoying looking at the thing. A pleasant, ambient light starting to fill the room, and this one shape in front of me.

And as I stared at it, I began to notice the light that gave it shape was changing - not the shape itself, but its composition. Irregular lines and mixed patterns slowly panned left across the dinosaur's outline. It was like the film in an old movie, where the frames move across. I thought maybe my eyes were just adjusting, but I knew it wasn't my imagination. I could clearly make out the variance of light. And I surmised that there must have been clouds passing overhead, pushed by south or southwest winds...and the puffs of moisture and particles were chugging along, filtering the light passing through my window.

I considered for a moment that it could have been tree leaves affecting the light, but the movement was constant, smooth and never repeated. The ever-changing pattern was moving left the whole time. Which meant that this must have been a spot unobstructed by any branch...the sunlight was going through directly. I started looking around at other blobs of light and noticed an amalgamation a few feet away. I saw one had tiny shade spots dancing back-and-forth, swishing across the backdrop of light quickly. 


Ah, the leaves. There they are.

This whole spectacle on a lazy Sunday morning made me appreciate the small beauty around me. I say small, but it's really quite big.

I mean, think about it. This little light show in my room, which I would normally miss because I was rushing or cranky or too busy, could occur because a giant star, which is a burning ball of gas 93,000,000 miles away, sends light that travels a mere eight minutes to get to our planet, which gets filtered through our atmosphere and the ozone layer, and finds its way through a break in my blinds into the bedroom where I am. But not before having to cross a line of clouds slowly crawling across the sky like a row of taxis inching along the freeway. And the interplay between this caravan of clouds and the rays of sun is what creates the funny moving picture in front of me. And I get to enjoy it in the comfort of my own pajamas.

The world around us has a magical quality to it, and if we stop to notice and enjoy, we give ourselves a chance to be filled with wonder. And connecting with this wonder is the only way to have a chance to have a wonder-ful life in a wonder-ful world.

It's all around. And I bet you'll feel wonderful when you stop to enjoy it, too.