Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What comforts you?

You may have noticed that it's been more than two months since my last post. In that time, I had to contend with a triple whammy of very unserene things:

* That illness I described? Just today I was told I'm healed. I may still have surgery at the end of the month.
* Someone stole my credit card number and my bank shut down my card without telling me, leading to some rejected monthly expenses that I now have to make up. Now I'm going to start the process of ordering my credit reports to make sure there's nothing fishy on there.
* Our 17-year-old love-muffin kitty passed away rather traumatically in the middle of the night.
* Deadlines continued to come and go throughout. I queried, I networked and I worked on getting better at workflow and time management.

You may be asking, "How do you stay serene amid so many challenges?" The answer, at least according to my experience, is you don't.

You fall apart. And you hang on for dear life to the things that comfort and the things that keep you sane, if not serene.

It turns out that for me, that thing is gardening.

I have idyllic memories of running through my mother's garden as a child, eating strawberries and raspberries off the vine and hiding behind tall, feathery corn stalks in the arid heat of a southern California summer. From the time I put my first bean in a wet napkin and watched it grow into a plant, gardening filled me with hope: transformation, growth and life are all around us if we want it.

So I have lettuce and green beans to eat from my garden and every day I go out and watch the plants for a little bit. I do a little weeding, I sweep up, I water. I watch the basil seeds sprout. I feel hopeful.

What's fallen off is a lot of the more rigid structure I created for my day: I don't do yoga regularly right now, on the advice of my chiropractor, who is trying to correct a stuck s-bone in my pelvis. I don't take a break every hour and stretch right now. I don't turn off the TV at 10 p.m. sharp, and often leave it on till 11 or later to avoid thinking about the grief and stress that's always just under the surface.

What's perhaps most useful is to look at what I stuck with throughout this time. These are the changes that, so far, are sticking. And I think they show that some small changes can make a big difference.

* I still go to the gym two to three three times a week for gentle cardio and some good stretching.
* I still meditate and write about what's stressing me out first thing in the morning. I know meditating twice a day would probably bring me more relief, but when I'm in grief, sitting with my feelings isn't fun and I can only do it in tiny doses.
* I still go through all the emails from yesterday and today first thing in the morning and put them in their own folders. It keeps me up to date and following up on interview schedules.
* I still take the time to make nutritious meals for myself breakfast lunch and dinner. The garden certainly helps with that. I just planted chard and broccoli, and I can't wait for it to be ready in a few months.

I think I stuck with these things because they are very small things I can do to take care of myself when everything around me seems to be falling apart. I don't have the energy for an hour-long yoga practice morning or night right now, but I can spend 10 minutes meditating when I wake up in the morning.

It's the small things that keep me going.

What about you? How do you cope when you're at risk of being overwhelmed?