Finding Strength

April has had some incredibly hard and terrifically fun moments. I thank God for the balance. If I didn’t have it, I can’t say for sure I would be sane right now.

Balance and variety are keys to happiness, at least for me. I find that in the roller coaster I call my life, the low points are somehow more survivable by the mere fact that I know I will rise another day. It may not be much higher than my valley, but if I hold out and have faith, it will get better – eventually. When I am low, I try to remember it can always be worse and that I have endured more difficult times in the past.

If I cannot pull myself out of the slump, I get active. I go outside. I seek comfort in nature. Recently, I have learned to kayak. I adore the calm waters of slowly paddling down the river. I watch the water and how it parts from my path. I observe the raw beauty of the riverside. I notice the fish jumping and the birds flying. It is very calming.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed I crave variety in my activities depending on my mood. I enjoy everything from painting to cooking to running. I certainly am not a master at any of these hobbies, but I enjoy them regardless. My paintings assuredly have no art value or applied art techniques, but I find peace in the process. When I try new recipes, they don’t always turn out as I want. Sometimes they are even bad, but my kids are gracious enough to say, “Mom, this one was not your best.” When I run, it is not even fast enough to qualify as running on fitness applications. I say, “whatever” to those judgmental apps, lol. The fact that I am putting one foot in front of the other is good enough for me. I feel my blood pumping and enjoy the fresh air. After doing these hobbies, I tend to feel more alive, more hopeful and more ready for the next challenge.

I suppose that is the main purpose of hobbies/downtime – finding things that help us maintain our strength and hope. So regardless of whatever is happening in your life, I hope you take the time to find your strength. Go try new new things. Retry old things. Attempt activities that you think you might enjoy even if you are not great at them. Find your smile in the little things around you. Life is too beautiful to lose hope.


iphone challenge

Master of Resiliency or Mask of Happiness?

With the death of Robin Williams recently, I started thinking about loneliness and depression. People seem to be surprised that someone so fun and happy could take his own life. I loved his work, but I cannot say I followed his personal life, so I can only guess on his struggles.

What I do know from my own life experiences though, is that those fun and happy people are often the ones most in need. They are the life of the party, always positive and ever so happy. They are trying new things and always on the go. How could they be sad?

Reasons for someone’s sadness are too many to guess, but I know that when I am sad, I get busier. It is as if I will not feel any pain if I am doing things. I will not feel lonely if strangers surround me at some event. I will not feel lost if I am out in nature. If I photograph beautiful things, I will absorb that glow into my soul. Sometimes it works. Other times it is just a mask for some ache in my heart.

People say I am brave for going solo to things (like concerts, sporting events, or dinners). I do not think it is bravery but a necessity. First of all, I spent so many years NOT doing things and being miserable that I feel like I MUST make up for lost time. I lost years in unhappy relationships and multiple deployments. And through some of that time, I lost myself. I forgot who I was in those relationships. I could not recall what I needed or wanted. I merely existed to make other people happy.

Ironically, deployments helped center me in many ways. I recalled who I was, what I was capable of and what made me tick. I felt as though I had accomplished things that mattered. I saw the world and gained an appreciation for life. However, those years took time from loved ones that I could never get back – time where I could have worked on those relationships and myself.

Therefore, in effort to gain some ground on life, I try to seize the moments I can. I will take myself to the symphony in a fancy dress. I will get a horse and then figure out how to ride. I will sign myself up for a painting or trapeze class. I want to live. I want to see and feel all I can. I want to appreciate and use up every moment I have for those who never made it home from war, and the girl who lost all that time.

What I have realized recently though, is that my other reason for staying busy is to curb sadness. It is hard to frown when you are white water rafting or listening to some amazing violinist who makes you want to dance. It is nearly impossible to feel disconnected to the world while doing paddleboard yoga. Some of my greatest moments of peace come when I am wandering through the woods on my horse. I have also been pleasantly surprised that I can actually paint a fill-in-the-line design that does not look like a 4th grader did it (perhaps a 6th grader, but definitely not 4th).

I did not realize that by doing these things I was hiding my feelings of sadness…until I stopped. When left sitting alone, I felt, well… alone. Not that I do not need and enjoy moments of solitude, but there are times I fill the void of company with activity. It is as if I am trying to prove to myself that I am not wasting space on the earth. If I embrace all that life has to offer, I must be living it. If I am filling my time with accomplishments of events, I will feel complete.

The Army has started giving courses on resiliency. They cover character strengths, putting things into perspective and hunting good things for your spirit. The courses I have received instruction on so far are quite interesting and thought provoking. With those courses in mind, I think, maybe I am not necessarily depressed as much as I am resilient at holding that hopelessness back from controlling me. If I stay active and self aware, I can conquer those moments of darkness when they try to cloak my spirit for joy.

With a four-day weekend coming up, I have a full calendar of events in my I-don’t-have-time-for-stupid-sadness arsenal. They range from learning to make sushi to kayaking to witnessing a field of hot air balloons. I know it all sounds random, but such is my life. (And arsenals by definition need to be all encompassing, don’t they?) So after I jampack my free time with a laundry list of adventures, I can decide on whether I am embracing life, hiding misery or mastering resiliency…that is, if I find time.