What to do…When You’re Feeling Blue

This is my belated Thanksgiving post.

I had lunch with an old friend today, and I spent a great deal of the time griping about my life. About my husband. About my difficult teenager. About all the sugar and starch I’ve been eating. About my difficult dog. About…well, pretty much everything.

I’ve been feeling weirdly angry, and I have sort of been taking it out on everyone around me.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been coping with a fairly bad cold for the past two weeks, while trying not to miss any more days in the classroom. (Maybe it’s because I spent my Thanksgiving break grading papers.)

Maybe it’s because my husband is freaked out about the stock market and is hell-bent on getting me to freak out, too.

Maybe it’s because I have so much I want to write, and I’m not finding enough time to write.

My friend listened patiently, shrugged, and said, “Sounds like grief.”

And maybe it is because my mother died and no matter how rational the grown-up me can explain away my feelings, my child-heart is sad, sad, sad.

Another friend, a day or so ago, sent me a meditation from Father Richard Rohr. I fired back, “And how do we DO that?” But I’ve found myself rereading and thinking about his opening words:

All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain, with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust and the undeserved—all of which eventually come into every lifetime. If only we could see these “wounds” as the way through, as Jesus did, then they would become sacred wounds rather than scars to deny, disguise, or project onto others. I am sorry to admit that I first see my wounds as an obstacle more than a gift. Healing is a long journey.

If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter. This is the storyline of many of the greatest novels, myths, and stories of every culture. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.

This fits beautifully with something else I’ve read, somewhere recently, about how art creates a safe place for us to contain our pain. It’s why “art therapy” is a thing, and it’s why we watch scary movies and escape into tense, fever-inducing novels, when you’d think “gentle” and “soothing” would have more appeal. We want that place where we can feel what we feel. It’s why I’ve been watching twisted, psychological mysteries late at night and reading one mystery novel after another all quarter long.

They have not been helping.

Of course I know what to do when I’m feeling this way–this frustrated, out-of-control angst-y way–and you probably do, too.

Just write. And I don’t mean whine and moan in your journal (I’ve also been doing that).

If you don’t know what else you can write, try writing down what you’re thankful for–start with the smallest of stuff, the celery stick your husband brought you while you were writing your blogpost; your daughter’s friend who showed up out of no where and spent a little time with your dog.

Write what you want to focus on–put it in your best positive language. Imagine what small action steps you can take to move your butt a tiny bit closer to that. Write those steps down. Choose one. Do that.

With our time together almost over, my very patient friend asked me what I was going to do with my time, not right now, but in January, when I won’t be teaching two classes, when I won’t be driving my teenager anywhere (a big part of my job this past year–until she got her own car this spring), when I won’t be worrying about and rushing over to visit my mom (a huge part of my life these last several years).

I’m going to get up every morning and write, I said.

Wow, she answered. Do you know how lucky you are?

Yeah, I kinda do. I’ll end with this quote that I found over at the Holstee blog:

Practicing gratitude means recognizing the good that is already yours.

If you’ve lost your job, but you still have your family and health, you have something to be grateful for.

If you can’t move around except in a wheelchair but your mind is as sharp as ever, you have something to be grateful for.

If you’ve broken a string on your violin, and you still have three more, you have something to be grateful for.

– Alan Morinis, founder of the Mussar Institute

Thank you for reading.

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