I am a work in progress. Especially in the last 2 years. I am (almost) always working to improve myself somehow. I can’t do much improvement on the physical part, but I can focus on the mental, emotional, spiritual, and social parts of myself. I find it important to set goals for myself. Otherwise I am just floating through every minute of my existence numb and aimless. I allowed too much of my time to be wasted living this way and I refuse to allow myself to waste another minute.
I’m ashamed to admit that I was not a good person for far too long. I wasn’t a BAD person. I didn’t cause others harm or go out of my way to cause people trouble. Honestly, it was completely unintentional. I didn’t realize I was such an ugly person. Not that that excuses me from it. My life growing up was a bit challenging, as is the case for many people. One thing I really lacked was a supportive, safe upbringing. From a young age, I was faced with challenges that were beyond my years. I faced constant bullying as a kid, parents with mental illness and addiction, I had health problems, I had to work full time at 16 to support myself and I didn’t have a home for a few years, among other things. I also had to learn the ugly truth of being a vulnerable, young, cute girl as men often tried to take advantage of me. I had to behave and make decisions like an adult from a young age, so I had to grow up fast. I’m proud that I overcame and succeeded, but it came at a cost. I had become hardened and bitter. Not immediately though. I found that in my 20’s, I had changed and it continue to get worse until I started making these recent changes. I was not a likable person. I was nasty, sarcastic, negative, and generally unfriendly. I didn’t trust anyone and it showed. I always had something negative to say or combat an idea somehow. I put people down and made them feel stupid. There were smart ass remarks attached to everything anyone said. I was a Debbie Downer. A dark cloud. People didn’t feel good being around me. I was the toxic friend. The poison in the room. I had no idea. I was just doing what felt right. Yet, I couldn’t understand why no one wanted me around. I lost friends and was abandoned by family. I was hurt and it only made me act worse. My behavior actually influenced my husband’s behavior and we became an unlikable couple. I wasted too many years behaving this way. I was a bitter person in every sense of the word.
One day it dawned on me that I was the problem. I hated myself and everyone else did too. I knew I needed to do something to make a change, but I didn’t know what or how. I had no idea that I had to create my own happiness. I had no idea that happiness was a choice. I thought I had to just act according to how I was feeling at all times or I’d be a “fake”. I wanted to be genuine. I had no idea that I could pretend to feel happy and positive without actually feeling it. I also didn’t know that pretending to feel good would actually make me feel good, allowing me to actually be genuinely happy and positive. I had so much to learn. I still do.
With that, I decided to take the first steps to being a better person. I started reading a lot on the subject of self improvement. This was about 2 years ago. and I’ve covered a lot of ground so far. I’ve read books that teach about Buddhism and Mindfulness. I’ve read about improving my social relationships, about how to be a more likable person, and about how to find inner peace and joy. I’ve read about how to cope and live a fulfilling life with a chronic illness. I’ve learned so much from my reading. I’ve been working hard on putting all of my new knowledge to good use. Obviously nothing changes instantly. This is something I still need to remind myself of. It has taken me nearly 40 years to become the person I’ve been up until this point. I can’t expect to change overnight. I must practice new ways of doing things to develop and solidify new habits. Just like exercising and eating a healthy diet, changing one’s way of thinking and viewing the world can be done with time, patience, and practice. I must remember to be patient with myself. I am constantly a work in progress.
I discovered that I am a people watcher. I like to observe people and how they behave. I like to then analyze what it means and how it affects the world around them. I didn’t realize I was doing this until only a few years ago, but now I embrace it. I’ve always had trouble in social situations. I’d never know how to act in certain situations. I always felt unsatisfied with myself socially. Just very awkward in general. I found that I’d watch people and study in detail their behavior when they had a quality that I admired. I’d notice things like how a person spoke, or carried themselves. Their language, mannerisms, facial expressions. I’d notice what kind of affect they had on the people around them. Did people feel energized and drawn to this person? Was this person funny, serious, quirky? I’d also observe the people that were not so likable. I’d pay close attention to the behaviors that pushed people away. It’s like I was studying for an exam. I’d take careful mental notes and hope I didn’t forget anything important, then I’d try to apply them to my own life and behaviors. Sometimes I was successful, but I didn’t always get it. I knew some of what had to be done, but had trouble applying it in the real world. I found that reading books on the subject helped to tie these things together and paint a clearer picture. I’ve been applying these lessons to my own life and I am seeing a difference. Instead of feeling bitter and envious towards the people I admire, I try to imitate some of their admirable qualities. After some practice, it’s becoming more natural to behave in ways I’ve wished I could. I don’t look at it as trying to be someone else. I try to view it as becoming a better version of myself with inspiration from others. I feel like this part of me was always in there. I just had to find it and let it out. I’m frustrated by how slow the process is, but progress is still progress. I’m headed in the right direction.
I also found that I need to find things to do that are enjoyable to me. I had to really pay attention to figure out what I enjoy. I’d been so busy over the years being bitter, and being a wife and mom, that I’d lost myself. My actions were so robotic and meaningless. I had no time for myself and I’d forgotten what made me tick. All the fun little parts that made me ME had disappeared. I had no hobbies, no interests, no friends, no enjoyment, no fun. Everything was work and survival. I realized I had to rediscover or even reinvent myself a bit. What I enjoyed at 20 wasn’t always gonna be the same after 20 more years of life. I had to try different things and pay attention to what brought me excitement, peace, and joy. I had to find happiness again. I got to work and paid attention to little tidbits throughout the day that I found enjoyable. I also experimented with different things.
I rediscovered that I love nature and music. I explored these 2 things some more. I sat outside and enjoyed the feeling of the warm sun and cool breeze. I loved watching the squirrels and birds eating from my feeder. I loved listening to the breeze through the trees and the eagles calling while flying above. I really allowed myself to be IN the moment and just absorb everything that was happening around me. This is mindfulness. It was such a wonderful feeling, I needed more! I remembered that during my challenging years as a teenager, music was my lifesaver. When everything else seemed to be going wrong, I could always escape into my music. I needed this again. I got into the habit of always having music on in my house. At first I played my old favorites, which is always nice. Then I decided to try some new types of music. I generally listened to rock and alternative, which was nice, but I felt unsatisfied. Kinda bored. I wanted more. I paid attention to how I felt with different kinds of music in movies and commercials. I discovered that I really enjoy classical and opera music. I also like downtempo style. Lately, I gravitate more towards these new genres. I find them soothing, relaxing, and even a little energizing in a mellow way. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to a playlist of classical music from Chopin, Brahms, Grieg, and Bach. I feel a wonderful sense of peace and calm. This music helps to create a serene environment that I’ve really come to appreciate. I still listen to my old favorites at times depending on the activity, mood, etc. I just try to be more intentional with my music choices. Music truly influences moods, and I am using it as a tool to help mold how I want to feel.
Today I decided to try something new. I decided to take the short 3 minute drive to our little village on the water and make an effort to truly enjoy where I live. I went to the bakery to get some delicious gluten free treats and a cherry turnover for my husband as a special surprise. I’m trying to also be more intentional with my marriage. Surprising him with a special treat is a great way to spread some happiness and make him feel appreciated and loved. I then went across the street to the park on the water. I sat on a bench on the edge of the water and just sat by myself while enjoying the peace. I looked at the water with the birds floating by. It’s cold today, so there was some broken ice pieces near the edge of the water. I looked up at the sky and took in the gorgeous blue color with a few gentle streaks of white clouds. I looked across the bay at the mansions on their own private beaches, and the boats still left in the water. It was sunny, so I focused on feeling the warm sun on my face while also feeling the cold breeze cut through me. I breathed in the sweet sea air and just continued to breath deeply a few times. I was living in the moment! This is mindfulness. This is joy! It only lasted about 10 minutes because I quickly became quite cold, but it was a wonderful 10 minutes. I hurried back to my car as fast as I could with my cane and turned the heat way up. As I drove home, I felt so at peace. So refreshed. I really needed this. I would love to make this a regular event, as long as my body will allow. I am thankful that my body allowed me to do this today. What a gift! I came home and enjoyed my gluten free crumb cake with a nice cup of tea. These are things that I needed in my life. This is what was missing. Not necessarily the cake and tea, but the amazingly fulfilling feeling of peace and joy. I had found it after so many years! I was on the right track.
I’m still finding other things that bring me peace and joy. I’ve been working on different things. I often buy fresh flowers to keep in my house. I adore flowers! Seeing them around me makes me happy, especially if they are sweet smelling flowers. I keep a bird feeder right outside my kitchen window so I can watch the birds and squirrels as I enjoy my meals and tea breaks. I continue to read a lot and feed my brain. I write this blog as a way of clearing my head. I try to meditate a few days a week and I do gentle yoga when my body allows. My new house allows me to keep things neat and tidy, which really does a lot for my mood. Clutter and disorganization puts may mind into a frenzy, so having the space to give everything a proper home feels so freeing. I can breathe freely when my environment is without chaos. I also only buy home decor and art that brings me happiness. I am actively creating a beautiful, peaceful environment. Kind of like my own happy little bubble.
Regarding my husband and children, I had lots of work to do. I had forgotten how to be a good wife and mother. I was not showing my appreciation to my family. I wasn’t finding joy with my family. I was just an empty robot going through the motions. I didn’t make my husband feel loved or appreciated as I should. I didn’t enjoy my time with my children and rushed through the day to get to bedtime. I didn’t do anything fun with anyone and I always wanted to be left alone. I was so worn out from always taking care of everyone else. I desperately wanted someone to take care of me for once. I became resentful of being everyone’s servant all the time. They didn’t care how awful I was feeling each day. They didn’t understand or appreciate how much harder everything was for me. How hard I worked to do everything for them. I felt invisible and used at the same time. I often wondered if they’d even notice if I actually disappeared, other than the laundry not getting done. I obviously love my husband and children. My life would be meaningless without them. I just forgot to appreciate them most days, as I felt unloved and unappreciated myself. Now I try to have more fun with everyone, no matter how small it seems. Even if I can’t get out of bed, I’ll find fun in watching cartoons with my kids or laughing at silly tiktoks with them. I hug and kiss them often and tell them how wonderful they are. I still look forward to bedtime at the end of the day, but I feel satisfied that most days I spent quality time with everyone.
I don’t have many friends, but I have been actively working on changing that. It’s a bit of a challenge during the age of Covid since I avoid most people at this point. Through my reading and people watching, I’ve learned what may seem obvious to most people. I learned that people like to feel good. People gravitate towards those that make them feel good. I needed to be the sunshine in their life. It’s as simple as a friendly smile, a random compliment, or a kind deed. I make an effort to send out random texts to friends with an uplifting message or a general “Good morning. I hope you have a great day today?” I try to be a good listener and a trustworthy friend. I truly try to treat people as I’d like to be treated. Again, I’m not perfect. There is always work to be done, but this is a good start. I have definitely seen positive results from this effort. People are happier to see me and actually seem to want to spend time with me. I’ve had a few people actually tell me I was just what they needed. That I was sent to them to help them through a tough time in their life. People are actually asking to spend time with me. By spreading the happiness to others that I was so desperately seeking myself, the universe was returning that happiness right back to me. What an amazing reward for my efforts!
I realize this blog doesn’t specifically talk about life with a chronic illness, but it definitely applies. I still must face my physical, mental, and emotional challenges on a daily basis. I am still often housebound and even bedbound at times. I still can’t do all the things I’d love to do. However, practicing mindfulness and making these little changes to myself and my environment have helped to make my daily existence a little more tolerable and worth while. It has brought me the joy and fulfillment I was so desperately seeking. I look forward to what else I can discover!