How to be Happy

We’ve all been there: down in the dumps, our stress meter is red-lined and we’re ready to run away and find a sunny beach.  As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I’ve definitely spent more time than I care to think about feeling down. Here’s a list of the things I did (and do) to help move myself from unhappy to happy.

Recharge

  • Take care of yourself.

No one else’s wants are more important than your needs. Pay the Bills. Keep your home clean. Eat healthy meals when they are hot. Get as much sleep as you can. Get exercise. Drink water. Go to the doctor (make the time!). Get your hair cut.

  • Your wants are as important as anyone elses wants.

Do the things that make you happy, even when they are of no use to anyone but you. Paint. Read. Play video games. Go get a massage. Have a night out. Go to the movies.  Do whatever it is that you do to make yourself enjoy the world around you

Engage

  • Learn to say yes and mean it.

Say yes to play. Say yes to adventure. Say yes to going out. Say yes to laughter. Say yes to cuddling. Work yes into your life, and when you say yes, engage joyfully and fully, not out of a sense of obligation.

  • Connect with community.

Get involved in something that connects you with people and your community. Volunteer. Go to Church (I say this as an atheist.). Join the local theater group. Go to game night at the comic shop. Do whatever you can to connect with people.

Detach.

  • Remember that the only person you can control is you.

Everyone else makes their own choices. You can lay down boundaries and consequences, but you can’t actually change anyone but you, which means you can’t take ownership of anyone elses behavior or feelings. Including your children.

  • Acknowledge other people’s emotions and backdrops.

Let people have bad days. Let other people own their own emotions, positive and negative. Including your children.

  • Learn to say no without guilt or excuses.

You don’t need to justify your reasons, you don’t need to have reasons. You can say no to anything except meeting the needs (not wants) of your children.

  • Anger and frustration are symptoms of feeling powerless to change the things that are bothering you.

Recognize when those things triggering anger are not things under your control and be willing to adjust your boundaries and consequences accordingly or change your mental framework and perspective.

With all of that said, if you feel persistently unhappy, or gray, or irritable, get help. Depression is real. It is also very treatable. And, as with any other illness, it’s easier to treat the earlier you catch it. So, if you think you might be depressed talk to your family doctor or seek the help of a licensed therapist. I have and I can promise, it helps.

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Our Garden

We live in a townhouse. Our little “backyard” is about eight feet by ten feet and covered in river rock. I find it less than lovely, though I do enjoy the birds we’ve been feeding back there.

Now, I could get a variety of pots and bags of dirt, and make a container garden on my back patio. I probably will put some things out there, but to do a full vegetable garden would be hard. Especially once you factor in the tree that will shade it throughout the summer.

So, I found a community garden and went today to be assigned a garden plot.  It is lovely. It has good, rich, loamy soil. It is near the river and has full, all-day sun. It’s a great place to grow things. I am excited.

It satisfies our need for what I think of as one of the requirements of childhood: a patch of earth and a stick.

Fiona seemed to agree. She demanded worms from the woman running the garden. She found a stick and a puddle and applied the one to the other. She picked little wildflowers from our little patch of garden.  She did not want to leave.

I don’t blame her. It’s peaceful there. The sounds of the car and the stress of life are a little further away when you have a little patch of earth to put your feet and and hands in. The clouds seem very puffy and far away. Butterflies flutter.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not just a childhood need. Maybe it’s an always need. Maybe the world would be a better place if we gave everyone a little patch of earth and a stick.

Goo-Goo, Gah-Gah

I’m going to be waging a war soon and I’m not thrilled about it. I’m trying to mentally gear myself up for the screaming, the crying, the sleeplessness, and the frustration. So far, I haven’t had the courage to start the war.

Fiona still uses a bottle for comfort. It only ever has water in it and we’ve been told by doctor and dentist that, for the time being, this is okay. Not great, not ideal, but okay. Until she’s three, then they want it gone. That deadline is approaching more quickly than I’d like.

There are pros and cons to it. The pros being that it’s easier, the cons that it’s not good for her. Which means that the cons will win. It is a battle I have to fight.

I lack willpower. I know that I need to find it. I’ve tried reasoning with her. I’ve tried planning. I’ve tried trickery. I’ve tried bribery. I’ve tried distraction.  What I haven’t tried is being tough.

I lack willpower. I have to build it though. Willpower is a lot like a muscle. And, like learning to exercise regularly, you can’t trick or reason yourself into having it.  You just have to do it.

That sucks.

I like things that I can trick myself into doing. Things I can reason my way through. I don’t like the things that require me to make a long series of consistent choices.  I get bored. I get tired. I just plain hit a point where it seems like the benefits of having willpower don’t outweigh the pleasures of not and I just give up.

Putting that out there in that way makes me want to change that. It sounds terribly weak, terribly sad to say that I don’t do things because they’re hard or unpleasant.  That’s not the person that I want to be.

I also don’t want to be the person who takes away my daughters comfort item before she’s ready.  It’s all well and good to say that I should do this, but when it comes to transitions it’s not just about me. It’s about her too.

It’s hard to tell if the bottle is a comfort she needs or just one to which she’s accustomed. She would cry equally loudly for either. She is dramatic. She cries equally for getting hurt and for not getting enough attention. She will tell me, both in words and not, that it is a need.

She, unlike me, has willpower in spades. She is persistent (In the last 5 minutes I’ve been asked if we can go to the playground roughly 30 times).  She also is not on my side on this one. She doesn’t want to give up the bottle. She wants to keep it.

We’ve talked about this. I told her the other day, “Fiona, you’re getting to be a big girl and soon you won’t need a bottle anymore.”

To which she replied, “No, I baby.”

I laugh gently, “No you’re not, you’re Mommy’s big girl!”

To which she got down on the floor and started to crawl around saying, “Goo-Goo, Gah-Gah.”

Yeah…

There is a battle coming. I’m trying to prepare, but I’m horribly convinced that I am over-matched in this case. I cannot challenge my little daughter’s stubbornness. She gets it from her father and I’m just not in their league.

There is a battle coming. I’m scared.

Begonia is a boy

“Begonia is a boy.” She says.

We’re, once again, sprawled across my bed. Begonia happens to be the seahorse with the glowing tummy that we got her for her first Christmas. I had always imagined Begonia as girl.

“How do you know?” I’m a tiny bit doubting as I don’t really think Begonia is a boy. Begonia is a girls name, even if the darned seahorse is a teal-ish blue.

“He has a tail.” She points out the tail to me.

Not only does Begonia have a tail. His tail curls forward. Cringe. Oh, dear. This is probably the start of the concept of gender identity. Which means that today is the day that I actively start worrying about all the things that I don’t want to have to worry about.

Gender identity. Sexuality. Sex education. Dating. Birth Control. All of it rolls through my head at lightening speed.

“Boys have tails?” I ask gently, trying to ascertain if this is just a guess or the true beginning of awareness of the difference between boys and girls.

She laughs. “No, boys don’t have tails. They ‘ave bottoms. You’re silly.”

“Oh, good.” I reply.

I still know that a day is coming where that nascent thought will develop into awareness and the conversations we’ve been having about privates belonging only to her will need to extend to clothes needing to stay on and other necessary social conventions.

I’m preparing myself for the hard talks, because even though she laughs today. Boys do, in a manner of speaking, have tails.

“They’re only two once,” and other lies

I cannot leave my home without a well-meaning but meaningless barrage of unhelpful advice being flung at me. Much like rotten tomatoes, it leaves me angry and defensive and it usually stinks.

“They’re only two once.” Says the woman in the cereal aisle, as I tell my girl to leave the cereal on the shelves, and my body language says that I’m a hairs breadth from losing my cool. 

She’s wrong, of course. Children are two for 365 days. Except this year. This is a leap year.  I get a whole extra day.

A few aisles further down, as I tell Fiona ‘no’ for probably the hundredth time since we’ve entered the store, an older woman says, “You’re going to miss this.” 

No, I’m not. I love my daughter. I’m going to miss her blowing bubbles in her milk. I’m going to miss the way she feels when she’s a solid sleeping weight on my chest and I carry her to her bed.  I’m going to miss hundreds of little moments when they’ve passed. Grocery shopping with a two year old is not one of them.

“Those are beautiful curls. I wish my daughter had hair like that.”  She smiles as she says it, and I understand what she means.  I say, “Thank-you.”

What she didn’t get to see was the special-ops chase and restraint mission that I went through to leave the house. This nice woman in the store didn’t have to chase down her two-year-old, wrap her in an old towel, soak her head, slather her head in conditioner, and then comb it out slowly, painstakingly, all while using two legs and one arm to restrain her and listening to her scream. Every day I wonder if I should just shave her head.  I find myself wishing that the sweet, silly woman’s daughter had hair like that, too.

The advice is well meant. It’s sympathetic. Not a single one of these women is trying to be mean or awful. They still manage to tick me off.  They simply don’t understand or don’t remember what it’s like to be in the trenches of motherhood.

There is no way to avoid the advice, the comments, and the compliments. I’m beginning to believe that the only thing to do is to arm myself in return. Maybe a small Tupperware container of tomatoes should join the Cheerios in my purse. Yeah, that’d show them.