During my trip back east I experienced a decent amount of anxiety. Just enough that I could push it down with both hands and then hold it there with my flipper feet. I looked at it with contempt. It was an intruder. But instead of setting it free, I held it in place.
I don’t want to feel this way. (So, let go!) I tightened my grip.
Distractions came, thankfully. A surprise birthday party for my Mom, the usual comedic shenanigans of my family, a wonderful afternoon spent with Cock Robin and M (sweetest girls ever) and then Cinco de Mayo with Dr. E. But still, it treaded water, like a massive black sting ray, waiting for me to ease up on the foot hold so it could flip its stinger and exact revenge.
My week was a whirlwind, so it wasn’t until near the last day that I finally made the commitment to come face to forked tongue with this beast. It swirled in constant motion – a clever way to disguise its origin, its intent.
I smiled at it.
Whoa, honey, what’s that? I don’t do smiles. You must be thinking of bliss, or joy, or contentment. I’m anxiety. I make you clench which automatically brings down the corners of your mouth. It’s physics, or something like that.
I kept smiling.
And I immediately felt better. Instantaneously. Like magic.
Nailing the cause of a mood is like trying to tie down fog. You can see it rolling in, so thick you can’t imagine not being able to lay down inside the bank on Nature’s version of a TempurPedic bed. When it overtakes you, you can barely see it.
But you can feel it. From right up against your skin, cold and wet, to swirls of mist that fill every inch of space around you. It can’t hold you, but there is no escaping it.
Whereas emotions come tethered to an event, a being, something tangible. The question, Why are you sad? can have an infinite number of answers. Why are you moody? usually elicits a shrug. Some say emotions come and go while moods linger. We know that emotions linger, too. The sadness experienced in divorce seems never-ending. Thinking back on the events surrounding my divorce over the last year and a half will forever make me feel sad. I don’t see how I can change that. Or why I should.
But moods I can change, and for a very good reason – moods color our world. Even though they seem so untouchable, as if the only way out is to sit it out, they can be shifted with a smile. Not a Joan Crawford I’m 10 seconds from going mad smile, but a soft, bright eyed, I just smelled the best rose ever smile.
There are many ways to momentarily alter a mood. My personal favorite is to indulge in dark chocolate and cayenne pepper. When I say indulge, I don’t mean like the French and eat a square. I mean indulge. Four squares minimum. But I prefer odd numbers, so a last square to keep the balance in my world.
After licking my fingers I feel guilt. An emotion tied to the event of inhaling 800 calories and frying off my taste buds in the process. But my mood doesn’t shift. It’s got a job now – to make my guilt even guiltier. Darker. A better guest at the pity party. My bad mood got a nice meal.
And so the trip around the Velodrome of Moodiness commences.
I had some time alone in the car while running a few errands before flying back to Marin. The smile I shined at anxiety gave me confidence to look deep and give anxiety a voice. Not just try to silence it, but be able to ask, Why are you here? and listen to the answer.
I don’t like being away from the dudes. I’m still upended by the last (and hopefully LAST) burst of anger from TG. I am in the midst of my third period in 3 months and paying the price for consistency. (I know, possibly TMI, but I mention it because it can be quite mood-altering and many of us are dealing with the wonders of perimenopause.) I have not worked out in 10 days. If my body doesn’t feel good I am on the Bullet train to a seriously bad mood. I’m not relaxed.
That’s a pretty tame list. No life-altering entries, no tragedies, no imminent doom. I’m going to see the dudes in a day, his anger is not my anger, at least my ovaries work!, not that I plan on doing anything with them, and a few sessions in the pool followed by a couple 20 mile hikes and I’ll be able to see my obliques again.
(This issue around my body needs some serious exploration. Maybe it’s perfectly fine, a great motivator even, but if I don’t feel fit I don’t feel good. I’m not one to be able to brush off a muffin top. I get sad if my jeans don’t fit. I feel less than…)
I smiled at the anxiety again.
Then, as I made a right hand turn at a crazy intersection packed with drivers racing to go sit in some more traffic, I saw the word LOVE in my head. Big pillow letters, white, outlined in cherry red, floating. The message was not to love the anxiety but to consciously send love to everyone around me. I didn’t create this message, not consciously anyway, it just appeared. So I didn’t doubt it, but put it into practice. All the way home, and by home I mean all the way to Marin, I sent out love. I did 3 easy things to make it happen:
I smiled a lot. I consciously opened my heart, picturing it as a waterfall of love, and I noticed all the kind things people did rather than all the rude things. I was conscious of these choices through the security line, while waiting for the flight, onboard the airplane, at baggage claim (My bro gave me to surf casting rods and reels that needed to be checked. How cool is that?), and all the way to TG’s house.
For the first time I would have to enter it to rouse the dudes from slumber and into our car for the drive to Bolinas.
I never wanted to go in that house. Why? There is no good reason. I simply chose to create drama by putting up a wall saying, I will never enter your house. Totally freaking silly. A waste of energy. Food for a bad mood.
When I got in my car in San Francisco I was anxiety free. Once the dudes were in the car, I was full of bliss. Whole. Present. And extremely grateful.
The next day the game continued. While school is essential, so is a day of hookey. Hooking fish seemed like the perfect way to spend it. Mr. Jackpot played hookey with us. We loaded his car with the rods and set off for Bodega Bay. The winds in Bolinas suggested a rough outing up north, but we blew off that suggestion. Mr. Jackpot had a plan to find a cove that was protected by the winds and satisfied my need to avoid the rough seas and potential sneaker waves that could create a real reason for anxiety.
Just north of town we found a nearly deserted cove, dotted with rocks rising out of the water from just a few feet to twenty feet, breaking the waves that came from the north. Nestled in the cove facing south, we launched herring into the sea hoping to catch dinner. While Mr. Jackpot caught a ling cod (too small to keep), the rest of our fishing was really feeding time for the birds and the fish that were deft enough to snatch the bait before we could land the hook.
My playful spirit freed the dudes to explore, cast as best they could without me interfering with instructions on the ‘proper’ way to do it, and – this is a big one – leave me not feeling guilty that we were blowing off responsibilities for a day of fun.
My Observe Self kept noting for my benefit how my mood was light, I had no expectations (The day was allowed to be beautiful because I wasn’t seeing all the reasons why it wasn’t perfect.), and I was safe. All the challenging aspects of my life can’t compete with all that beauty.
A bad mood would have highlighted the negative. My good mood accentuated the positive. I could have chosen either mood, and that choice would have colored my entire experience.
I thought back to my freshman year in high school when I talked my Mom into buying me a mood ring. Those magical little baubles that were sure to let me know exactly how I was feeling inside just by being on my finger. My friends and I would gather around our outstretched hands and stare in wonder at the changing colors, green to orange to blue, squealing as our moods shifted. We’d cover the rings with our hand, heating up the stone to create reds that, to us, meant we were in love, lovable.
I never bought into the accuracy of a mood ring, but it was fun to have it. Now, in looking back, I see the unintended lesson of that ring.
I can shift my mood without much more effort than it took to turn the mood ring red.
H, a beautiful kitten, asked on twitter if I read a book to teach me about shifting my mood when I tweeted that I was choosing bliss over anxiety. I’m not good with self-help books. I skip around and end up being overwhelmed and confused. And then I forget everything I’ve read. Instead, I ponder, coming up with my own strategies for navigating this crazy beautiful life I am so blessed to be living. One idea, one theory rises above all the rest.
Life is a game. There are strategies we can employ to create magic. Without adversity we would be left unchallenged. Our human self might see that as one big holiday, but it’s not the goal here. How fun would it be for a major league baseball team to play only against T-ballers? Over time the easy victories would lead to depression. Their skills would diminish. There would be no thrill in the win.
Would I have preferred to be challenged by fixing our marriage? Sure, especially for the sake of the dudes. But instead I’m going to be grateful for the challenge of thriving in the midst of a divorce. I feel that all that is required of me is to be optimistic and make good, conscious choices. Nothing any more complicated than that.
So I choose to be in a good mood. I choose to start my day by being grateful. I choose to make healthy decisions about how I treat myself and those around me. The part of me that sits just above, popcorn in hand as she watches me navigate life, smiles when she sees me taking the uncomplicated route to bliss.
I simply chose it.
…sorry for the delay in the post. The Golden State Warriors needed me. Apparently, my love is not enough. But there’s always Game 6.