Have tears been falling a lot lately? Are you experiencing a tad of melancholy? Have aches and pains prevented you from enjoying the day or kept you awake at night? Has illness impacted your life so that each day seems more trial than treat? Is worry bearing down on you?
I’m here to tell you “Take heart!” Please know that I am not making light of your pain. I have been there. The pain is real! It can be debilitating! It can feel as if you are in a dark tunnel that has no end. You push yourself through each day, as if you were walking through ankle, knee, or even waist-deep mud. What I am telling you is that you are not alone, that you have everything you need to deal with this, and that the darkness will never overcome the light.
Whenever I find myself being dragged down by the trials of life, I look to the examples of the many people who have graced my life with their wisdom. It is then I realize each sorrow in my life has taught me something and has truly made me stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate toward those who are being challenged. The dark clouds have also taught me to be more appreciative of all the silver linings.
In my youth, my Mom taught me a great coping skill. Whenever I would wake up feeling less than energetic and mumble, “I’m too sick to go to school.” Mom would take my temperature. If it was a healthy 98.6 degrees this was her advice, “Get up. Brush your teeth. Wash your face. Comb your hair and get dressed. If you do all that and you still feel bad, we’ll reconsider you going back to bed and staying home.”
The lessons I took away from that experience are many. First, I learned that I am not a morning person. I do not normally pop out of bed delighted to face the day. I need to stretch, tap the snooze button a few times, yawn, and allow my body to awaken slowly. With that in mind, I set the alarm 1/2 hour earlier than necessary. So take heart, the adage “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” does not work for everyone!
I learned to be aware of my health. Sometimes, I really was sick, running a fever, and needed to stay in bed. When I was sick, the rule was rest in bed for at least 24-48 hours. In my childhood, we only had one TV and one telephone, both in the living room. So this rule meant the activity for the day would be light reading, coloring, eating a light meal, or sleeping.
It also meant that this protocol would not change after school was dismissed. In other words, I could not suddenly “get well” and go out to play with friends. What I learned from this is that one should not try to rush healing. Sometimes, 24 to 48 hours of REAL rest is the best medicine. A day or two away from TV, phones, and social media can be good for the mind. Eating simple foods like tea, toast, broth, crackers, and gelatin can be good for the body. Quiet restful contemplation and sound sleep can be good for the soul.
But most importantly, I learned that, when I’m physically well but feeling blue, it helps to just put one foot in front of the other, take care of minimal physical needs and, deal with only the immediate task in front of me. Take heart, know that occasionally it is enough to rise, you aren’t always obliged to shine as well.
In my teen years, when I was preparing for my senior prom, my hair would not cooperate and I was convinced the style was going to be an embarrassment. I was such a drama queen back then!! My mom said, “I think it looks fine, but if you think it is THAT bad, why don’t you just wear one of your wigs?” (I must say that my prom was in 1970 and hairpieces and wigs were as common as hair extensions today.) I told myself, “NO ONE else is going to wear a wig. I’ll be the only one!” When I arrived at the prom MANY girls were wearing hairpieces and wigs!
That experience taught me that, when things don’t turn out the way I planned, it is important what I say to myself, and there are always other options. It also taught me to be aware of my own tendency to blow things out of proportion. With each year that goes by, I get a little better at keeping things in perspective and reminding myself that most perceived trials in life will eventually prove to be insignificant.
So take heart! When you are feeling that life is not going the way you’d like, say to yourself, “calm down,” then look for other options. Smile, it changes your body chemistry. Call a friend. Go for a walk. Take a drive to someplace beautiful. Take a box of cookies to a nearby firehouse or police station and thank them for their service. Write a note to someone who might be lonely. I’m sure you will think of many other things that can help turn your focus outward. You may find that just thinking of someone else actually helps you feel better.
As I grow older, the thoughts that weigh me down are largely fueled by fears of the future. The “what ifs” can really raise my blood pressure. In those times, I’m training myself to concentrate on my breath. Ten long slow inhales and exhales, with all the concentration on the movement of my abdomen, signals my body to relax. I remind myself that tomorrow is never guaranteed and I have absolutely no control over what will happen. Since I am a Catholic and believe in the power of prayer, I do my best to give my concerns over to God by repeating the phrase, “Jesus, I trust in You.” For others, it might be helpful to imagine the challenge as a helium balloon, hug that balloon, and then release it to the power of the universe.
Again, I say, take heart! Keep your eyes, mind, and heart open. Experience has taught me that, in some unexplainable way, I am never alone, and in my deepest, darkest hours, when I have held my worries up in prayer, I felt supported and loved. I must add that after sixty-four years I understand that every experience, whether I labeled it as “good” or “bad,” has made me who I am today. I know anything that happens tomorrow will offer opportunities for growth or stagnation, depending upon the meaning I give it.
In this moment be gentle with yourself in thought, word and deed. Breathe deeply. Before bed it might help to write your concerns in a journal. When you physically put the book away, you can say to yourself, “If I need, I can reexamine this concern tomorrow, but for now, I relinquish it to God/heaven/the universe.” This practice may just give you a more restful night. Sleep well and take heart!