Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

I have a lot of mementos of past achievements hanging around my apartment. I keep the ones around that hold mostly good memories that helped to guide the path I’ve taken and to shape the person I’ve become. I’ve had to get rid of others that hold bad memories or simply prompt the question, “What was I thinking?”

I know exactly what I was thinking. That I did it because it would be a nice thing to do. Or because it was something to achieve that would look good on a resume. I did it because I could.

I’ve talked a lot with therapists about how could and should are not the same word.

We’ve also discussed my issues as a former gifted kid. Turns out, it wasn’t just perfectionism and undiagnosed anxiety and depression. It was also an almost constant state of burnout. I just thought that was normal. If I wasn’t exhausted, I must not be working hard enough. Who knew that wasn’t healthy? Oh, everyone knew that? OK, then.

[PSA – I’m fairly confident you’re working hard enough. Why don’t you take a break? Maybe have some water? When was the last time you ate something?]

One of the hardest parts of this unraveling is figuring out what constitutes a reasonable expectation. It’s been over twenty years since I earned that last tassel, and taking the highest possible level of achievement and internalizing it as an expectation is still one of my biggest struggles.

I have made a lot of progress. It’s gotten pretty easy to see when other people’s expectations of me are unreasonable, and I often have a visceral reaction to them, especially when they don’t align with my values. The example that springs to mind is when someone said to me, “Oh, so you’re not really using your degree at all?” when I talked about my job. First, my degrees are in communication, so the fact that I had the superior diplomacy skills necessary to refrain from imitating a velociraptor when she said that was itself an example of using my degree. Second, the idea that something is only worthwhile if it can be used to earn money disgusts me. Especially something as rich and formative as the whole of my college experience was. The very idea that I am somehow obligated to capitalize on all my knowledge, talents, skills, and connections doesn’t live up to my standards at all.

[Another PSA – If your college experience was not rich or formative, you didn’t necessarily do it wrong. As someone who has spent her whole career in higher education, I’m fairly confident it was them, not you.]

Most of my struggles lie in overcoming my own unreasonable expectations of myself. I still say yes way too often simply because I can. Because I know I’ll be good at it. Because I know it will be helpful. Because I know it would probably take me less time to do it than it will take someone else with less experience. And if it ends up taking me longer than I think it should, I am brutal with myself. Once, I was berating myself for turning in something later than I wanted to (still before the deadline, mind you – just not as early as I had planned) and my boss said, “You know you are still the first to turn it in, right? No one else has finished yet.” And without missing a beat, I responded, “Yes, but I’m extraordinary.” To his credit, he did not laugh in my face. He just let it sit there and marinate. And I took a much-needed walk.

As I’ve been trying to cut out the things that I’m involved in that don’t really bring me joy or stress me out, I’ve been bumping up against all the expectations I’ve taken on. I suspect that’s why the process is harder than I hoped it would be. But if I want the lush life I envision, I must work to move on from these responsibilities and the expectations that hold me to them.

Sometimes you have to fight for the lush life you want.

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Now I’m going to take the question about the month-long paid sabbatical and daydream about what I would do if resources weren’t restricted by my current reality.

Most of the month would probably stay the same. I’d still visit friends and family, take day trips, hang out in bookstores and coffee shops, caffeinate significantly, and enjoy having more writing time.

My day trips might turn into longer excursions, though. I’d like to revisit my bookstore or coffee shop road trip idea (still open to guest posts, by the way. Click the link in the previous sentence for details.). Add to my coffee cup collection. I’d also like to spend a week or so in a cabin on the beach, reading and writing and listening to the waves. Or maybe I’d finally cross one of the countries that intrigue me off my bucket list.

Hmm. I might need more than a month.

As long as we’re making wishes, I’d also like a partner who is there for all of it. Well, most of it. I’m still going to need some me time, although probably not as much. Someone who is a good match for me would be one of those rare folks I’m so comfortable with that being with them is almost as relaxing as being alone. I imagine having someone like that to share my everyday life with (sabbatical or not) would up its lush factor a bit.

Because even when I take a week or two off and spend the time the way I’ve outlined here, it’s bittersweet. I haven’t talked about loneliness in a while, but it still permeates most of my days. It’s not as bad as it could be. I’m rich in friendships, and I have good relationships with people at work (which some days, is the only reason I stay). But while friendships are just as important as romantic relationships, they’re not the same. There’s still a specific something missing.

So my lush, unrestricted sabbatical would not just be me and a bottomless bank account. There would also be someone to wake up to and someone in the passenger’s seat, happy to be along for the ride.

I’m daydreaming about a lot of things that make up a lush life this month.

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Self-care corner

Several posts over the next few days are inspired by some of the hygge journal prompts from the Montana Happy blog. Today’s question –

“How do you pamper yourself? What are some other things you can do to give yourself more love?”

I used to be really good at this. I scheduled regular manicures and pedicures. In addition to regular hair appointments, I also got frequent massages and facials. I had specific days of the week set aside for all the pampering I did for myself, and I made it a priority.

It’s no mystery why I stopped. These things take time, energy, and money. I simply had more time and energy in my 20s, and I definitely had more disposable income when I split major bills with a roommate or two. Additionally, I have felt like I was in constant survival mode for many of the years between then and now, and it’s really easy when you’re in that frame of mind to see self-care as something extra you do if you have time.

But real self-care isn’t extra. It’s essential.

I don’t want to go back to most of those habits. I had a manicurist/pedicurist I really liked then, and no one else I’ve tried since she quit to open a real estate business with her friend provides the level of service she did (PSA to service providers who touch people for a living – don’t just dive in and get started. Ask questions. Is the pressure ok? Can I use this lotion/oil? Do you prefer a different scent or no scent? How is the temperature? Do you prefer conversation or quiet time? Etc.). In fact, while I still enjoy the occasional manicure, after several lackluster appointments, I had one particularly bad experience during a pedicure (there was bleeding involved) that pretty much soured me on the whole concept.

I do have a colorist/stylist I love. She takes good care of my curls and creates an absolutely serene environment during the appointment. But I need serenity more often than an hour and a half every eight weeks.

In addition to basics like finding a therapist I like and buying quality toiletries (I’m particularly picky about hair products and facial cleansers/moisturizers), there are several other habits I am trying to work back into my weekly schedule:

  • Dinner by candlelight
  • Luxurious foot soaks
  • Face mask (focus on deep cleansing in the summer, hydrating in the winter)
  • Exquisite pastries
  • Daily stretches (morning and bedtime)

It sometimes stresses me out to put these things on my to-do list (ugh one more thing to do), but when I manage to fit them in, I never regret the time I spend showing myself a little more love.

Loving yourself is definitely part of having a lush life.

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Dang, I love a clean, shiny floor.

When I think about my ideal lush home, I see fresh flowers on the table. Endless bookshelves. Oversized, comfy chairs with warm blankets draped over them and plenty of large throw pillows to cuddle or use as floor cushions. A place to put my feet up.

Then I look around me, and I see a side table full of tea cups that haven’t quite made it to the kitchen to be washed yet. Dishes piled up in the sink. Dust bunnies lurking in the corners. And omg, the piles and piles and PILES of paper.

I was talking to my friend Stephanie lately about the challenges we both face when it comes to maintaining a clean and tidy living space. It was a cathartic conversation, and she shared some helpful resources she’s been using lately. I’ve also been reading Susan Pinsky’s Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD, and it’s been useful, too. This step-by-step approach is helping me work through my overwhelm, and I’m so grateful.

Because nowhere in my vision of a lush life is a messy apartment. I find mess distracting and frustrating, but I can’t quite seem to get a handle on it. I’ve had problems with this for as long as I can remember. Every Saturday, I would complete my assigned housekeeping task for the house (vacuuming) and then spend the rest of Saturday working on my bedroom. And it would look very much the same hours later than it did when I started. I always thought I was just lazy or too busy, but I’ve since noticed that I spend just as much time (if not more) working on my home as others. I get distracted, so there are a lot of half-done tasks strewn throughout my space. Then I get overwhelmed and suddenly every unfinished job seems to have ten times the number of steps than it did before. Then I sit down and binge-watch a familiar show until the pressure subsides, at least until I notice how much is still left to do. Then the cycle repeats.

Part of my goal this year has been to find ways to break this cycle and create a maintenance plan that works for me. I track six general cleaning categories – dishes, laundry, trash, bathroom, tidying, and miscellaneous (which includes any task, such as dusting or vacuuming, that won’t ever need to be done every day) – and I try to check off at least four a day. It doesn’t matter how much time I spend on each of them as long as I can see that none of them are being neglected for more than a day or two. It’s been working much more slowly than I would like, but it has been working, and that’s the important part.

Another resource that helps is this post that reframes cleaning as a hygge activity (there’s also a Facebook group). Lots of inspiration and motivation. My perfectionist brain tells me, “You shouldn’t have to be motivated to adult properly,” but my functional brain thinks my perfectionist brain is an unhelpful asshole and needs to shut it.

[It’s ok to tell the nagging, judgy parts of your brain to mind their business. Shame has no place in this plan.]

Trying to fix the things in my life that haven’t worked for a long time is challenging (and sometimes exhausting), but it’s all part of creating a lush life.

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Matching pjs and silly socks – girls’ weekend with Maggie and Michelle

As I have already mentioned, I get peopled out pretty easily. My introversion is getting more pronounced/intense as I get older. Or maybe I just had less self-awareness and more energy in general that I mistook for the ability to be more social when I was younger. At any rate, there are very few people I can spend a large amount of time with without eventually getting to the staring-into-space overwhelm that I need many hours to recover from.

This may be why the concept of hygge is so appealing to me. Calling something a cozy gathering automatically implies that it’s a small one. Going to the farm to visit my parents, having a few people over for dinner – anything that allows me to enjoy time with others without high-impact social fallout. Ideally, this would be all my social interactions ever.

During the summer, I was discussing with Maggie how nice it would be to have a large house (with actual guest rooms and a huge kitchen) but also the time and resources to really enjoy it. Maybe even have a few people over for the weekend more than once every year or two. I feel like if I didn’t live in a constant state of over-peopled, I’d be a better host. Or at least a less reluctant one.

This week is busy, but the good kind. I have a couple of bookish gatherings, a practice for our performance coming up in November, and just a couple of meetings. All small groups. Then I am looking at a few days off! Socializing means also planning time for recovery for me, but it’s almost always worth it.

I’m writing about the lush life this month.

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So satisfying!

It’s all well and good to create a home environment that is lush and cozy. For me, what makes decor even better is to have pieces made by beloved friends or things I’ve crafted with my own two hands. I use coloring pages to recover plain journals or as a backdrop to poetry written on scraps of paper in my art journals. All the blankets I have are either quilts made by MeMaw or Aunt Edna, throws I’ve knitted, or the large fleece blankets with knotted edges that my mom helped me make when I was sick enough to need to stay still but just well enough to be bored.

As an added bonus, a lot of the DIY craft work I do is mentally soothing.

As a writer and a musician, I am used to pouring my creativity into things you can hear. I have my favorite words, and I love exquisite phrases. I spend at least an hour a week sight-reading new pieces on the piano and practicing old favorites to keep my fingers limber. My friend Sarah has introduced me to the wonderful world of experimental sound, and the skills I continue to hone after decades of playing help me be more playful and spontaneous during improv.

One thing I have discovered in the last few years, though, is that I love being surrounded by things I’ve created that I can see or touch. I adore making my home a place that tells my unique story to anyone who walks in. Both the process and the outcome of crafting are therapeutic. It quiets my soul, and that is a very lush feeling.

I’m writing about the lush life this month.

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Sunday sustenance

This could be a short post, because while I feel complicated about changing how I volunteer at church in order to carve out more space for other important things (and give other people an opportunity to serve in my place), it’s not actually all that complicated. Technically, all I have to do is decide which things to drop and set an end date for them.

I think we all know this is not going to be a short post.

I like being involved. If I’m going to go to the trouble of being a part of an organization, I want to be a real part of it. I don’t always see the line between “being a part of” and “doing too much,” though. For reference, here is a list of the teams, classes, responsibilities, etc., that I’ve taken on at church (and bear in mind – this is just with one of the organizations I belong to):

  • Outreach team
  • Fair trade product purchasing/organization
  • Library team (organizer)
  • Book club (secretary)
  • Choir (member and occasional cantor/soloist)
  • Assisting minister for early service (on rotation – not every week)
  • Monday night Bible study (attendee)
  • Sunday school (attendee)
  • Writers group (leader)
  • Communications team (writers group liaison and Facebook admin)
  • Church council (current president)

Every single one of those things is a worthwhile thing to do. Every single one of them is something I – to some extent – enjoy. It’s difficult for me to admit that doesn’t automatically mean it has to be my responsibility.

Thankfully, one item on the list – church council – already has an end date. My term is up at the end of December, and I am ready. I’ve enjoyed seeing how things work behind the scenes, and hopefully, I’ve been a little helpful. But I am TIRED. So much so that I don’t really trust my judgment right now about what else to step back from, because my gut reaction is “everything but choir and book club.”

A therapist once called me out on my affinity for making big decisions when I feel overwhelmed or burned out or when I experience a sudden surge of energy or angst, all of which almost always result in regret. “Consider that when you feel left out, used, or put upon by others, it’s often at least partially your own doing.” Ugh. RUDE.

And accurate.

This year of reflection on what a lush life would look like to me has highlighted this tendency even more. So many things that I do were born of a jolt of excitement or an acute and sudden recognition of a need that quickly fizzled while my commitment to them did not. And now I do them out of habit or obligation, but there’s no real passion there. That would be bad enough on its own, but this phenomenon also has the unfortunate side effect of almost constant longing for more time to do the things I am passionate about and a lingering sadness every time I say no to them due to a prior lackluster commitment.

My ability to make decisions easily is something I like about myself. I’m good at gathering information and strategizing, and I can do both pretty quickly. That infuriating “Where do you want to eat? I don’t know where do you want to eat?” conversation? You don’t have to worry about that with me. After taking a general poll about what everyone has already eaten that day (because people get weird about repeats), eliminating things people don’t like at all, and settling on a price range, I can give you a ranked list of places within a 10-mile radius that are sure to please most of the group. And if no one has a clear preference, I certainly do and will have no problem deciding that’s the place.

But I have learned that there is such a thing as being too decisive. I need to make space for choices that have repercussions beyond the day I make them in order to ensure that I’m responding to actual needs or desires rather than reacting in the emotion of the moment.

So I’m giving myself a decision vacation. From now until the end of January, I’m not agreeing to anything new. I’m also not making any choices about what to move on from. I already have a schedule in which everything (technically/barely) fits, so it’s not any extra work to keep doing what I’m already doing. And a big part of what I’m already doing will naturally come to an end by the new year. I’m going to let the dust settle and decide from there.

Sometimes creating a lush life is hard. I’m writing about that all month.

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As I’ve mentioned several times already, the state of my mental health has a large impact on how much I actually enjoy life. In fact, being generally OK is so crucial that I’m not sure a lush life is possible without it. There can be moments of joy, fun times, and productivity on days that are still hard. I can make everything around me as cozy, rich, comforting, extravagant, and luscious as possible. But if I’m not doing well mentally, I don’t actually get the full lush experience.

I spent most of yesterday at the World Mental Health Day Conference on campus. Some helpful reminders and takeaways (besides the fun bag and coloring pages and relaxation crafts):

  • Fight or flight is the body’s natural, healthy response to a dangerous or stressful environment. So much of my progress has been aided by first asking, “Is this something wrong with me or something wrong with the relationship/situation/world?”
  • Forced positivity is invalidating.
  • Being aware of our own vicarious trauma while taking care of students is important.
  • Take a real lunch break. Like…leave the office and go somewhere. [but…where? I feel like this is advice for people with money to buy lunch every day and longer lunch breaks – and no, getting less sleep so I can get up earlier so I can have a longer lunch break doesn’t help my mental health.]
  • Take more breaks and move around more often.
  • Damn. I really am gonna have to make a phone call to set up my sessions. *heavy sigh* Can I count “having to make a phone call” as an issue for which I need counseling? Kidding. Sort of.
  • If we could have a staff nap room on campus, that would be great. I would literally never use it, but I’d be comforted just knowing it was there.

What do you do to take care of your mental health?

I’m writing about lush life and the things that make it possible this month.

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October is for fires and The Mummy

This weekend was the Denton Arts and Jazz Fest. There was a time when I wouldn’t have dreamed of missing it, even though until recently it was at the end of April, at the height of allergy season for me. I went every year. I would go on Friday if there was something special I wanted to see, but I was definitely there all day Saturday and at least in the evening for Brave Combo on Sunday. I just accepted that I wouldn’t really get a weekend off to reset socially, and it was worth it to me. I had a lot of fun at Jazz Fest, and I didn’t want to miss out.

I also got terribly sick at the end of each semester. I always thought it was just the stress/relief of finishing classes, but looking back, I’m not so sure. Thanksgiving through December was always busy with holiday travel and huge gatherings and shopping (and it was before the internet, so it was all in person *shudders*) and the local tree lighting festival, and the end of the spring semester was banquets and graduations and Jazz Fest. After I finished my last final (or, once I started teaching, handed in my grades), I took a breath and paused for a moment, and that was my body’s cue to shut down for about a week. I was alarmed the first couple of times it happened, but then I just accepted it.

I’ve learned how to avoid it now, but it does come at a price.

I need a lot of alone time. My specific concoction of introverted, socially anxious, sensory sensitive, and whatever else happens to be going on requires a certain amount of downtime to regroup, or I will get sick. It takes me a couple of hours every night to wind down, and I need at least two nights off a week when I just come home and decompress. It’s also imperative that I have at least two consecutive days a month in which I come home the night before the first day and don’t leave again until the morning after the second. Ideally, at least one weekend will be free for this to happen, but if not, I know I will need to take the appropriate amount of time off work to ensure that it does. To really thrive, I need more alone time than I’ve described here, but that’s the minimum. If I want to stay well, it’s not optional.

I suspect there are a lot of people for whom a great amount of solitude is necessary. I just don’t hear a lot of them talk about it. Maybe we’ve been taught to be ashamed that we can’t handle that much stimulation all the time without any real breaks like others seem to be able to. If that’s you, and no one has told you this yet, let me state clearly – there’s nothing wrong with you. Taking care of yourself is the right, responsible thing to do. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

I had hoped to go to Jazz Fest this weekend. One of the students I work with performed, and so did one of my friends’ bands that I haven’t seen in a long time. The original Blues Brothers band was there, and I always like looking at the booths (especially the jewelry) and camping out in front of the UNT stage on Sunday afternoon. Judging by the pictures on social media, I would have seen a lot of people I know and had a good time. I’m a little sad to have missed it.

But our cookbook club had a murder mystery dinner on Friday. We got to dress up and play catty characters. So much fun! And I spent last night jamming with some friends I get to perform with in November. This morning I went to church. I really like the study we’re doing now, and I got to sing in the choir. And tonight I sat by the fire with Spiderweb friends and watched (most of) The Mummy. It was a full, busy, lovely weekend that still left me with the large blocks of alone time I need to be ready for this week.

Sometimes it’s ok to miss good things. Lush life doesn’t mean you have to pack every waking moment with activities you love and force it all to fit. It means learning when not to.

I’m unpacking what I’m learning about living a lush life this month.

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Workplace Hygge

Once I started exploring what it means to have a lush life, the word cozy kept coming up. And the more I started searching for cozy things, the more I kept running into posts and books about hygge. For those unfamiliar with the term (and clearly not on Pinterest, because it is all over Pinterest), hygge is a Danish concept that takes cozy to the next level. In addition to embracing comfort, it also includes elements of warmth, well-being, and connection.

I’m way down the hygge rabbit hole, so it’s likely to come up a few times this month. If you want a quick and charming crash course, I recommend The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. Today, I’m giving you a brief overview of the five dimensions of hygge he outlines, which are essentially ways you can experience the phenomenon through your senses. Everyone’s preferences are going to be different, but I’ve included examples of mine. This is a particularly useful exercise for me, as I am easily overwhelmed by sensory input. It’s good to intentionally make note of the ones I enjoy.


Food is a big part of comfort, and the Danes know this. They have a whole pastry named after their nationality (which I really need to try in Denmark, I think. You know, to get the full experience.). When I think of cozy food, things that are familiar and satisfying come to mind:

  • Soups with a side of crusty bread
  • Eggs and toast
  • Oatmeal with dried fruit and maple syrup
  • Stir fry/warm salads
  • Peaches, nectarines, and apricots (really any fresh fruit, but those are my faves)
  • Antipasti – any combination of cheese, bread/crackers, pickles/olives, maybe salami or fruit
  • Burgers
  • Potatoes in any form. Particularly if there is also cheese involved.

There are also specific flavors that fit in this category for me. I love coconut and caramel and peppermint (not all together, though). And of course, a nice cup of coffee or hot tea increases the cozy factor of any activity.


I love rainy day sounds. Not just the rain but the things I like to do inside when there’s a storm outside. The tink of knitting needles. Soft instrumental music, particularly piano and/or acoustic base. Pages turning as I read. The washer and dryer running. Small sipping sounds as I try to drink my cup of tea before it’s cool enough to do so (this is the only eating/drinking sound I like at all, btw. All the rest are gross and upsetting. This is a hill I am prepared to die on.).

One of the reasons I find coffee shops so comforting is the combination of sounds coming from behind the counter. Kettles boiling. The clinks and clunks of the espresso machine. Coffee dripping and pouring. It’s very much what I imagine Heaven must sound like.

Also…when cats ekekekekek. That’s some good ASMR right there.


Coffee. Vanilla and butter. Citrus. Tomato or pea plants. Fresh bread. Food smells, basically, are my favorites.

The other scents I think of as comforting are those that remind me of a particular time, place, or event. For example, the very specific smell that hits me when I open up Mom’s Christmas cabinet where she stores all her decorations. It’s sort of like an apple/cinnamon smell but not quite.


One of the first things I did after I chose the word lush for my theme this year was to buy new bed linens. There was nothing wrong with the ones I had, but they were getting a little worn and scratchy. [So, I guess there was something wrong with them. I just feel wasteful if I get rid of something before it’s absolutely unusable (no worries – they have been refurbished into decorations/costumes).] I love flannel sheets, and I use them all year long. I also bought a comforter that is slightly weighted (not too much! Most weighted blankets are too much!), which helps me fall asleep. I like drinking out of glass or ceramic receptacles. I will drink out of metal or plastic or paper cups, but it’s just not the same.

I think I’ve gotten to the point where I absolutely refuse to wear hard pants. Jeans, slacks, anything that you have to button/zip? Not interested. I don’t even know that I own any such thing anymore. My daily attire is all dresses and skirts with either shorts or leggings. Comfy shoes that are designed for long hours roaming bookstores. Sweaters and other layers just in case the temperature suddenly changes because Texas. Bookcore for life.


I’m going to go into this more when I talk about having a cozy home later in the month, so I won’t dwell now, but muted lighting (I’m in the market for lamps), candles, and twinkle lights are my jam. I love dark, rich colors (and yes, classically eccentric is a good name for my preferred decorating style). In pictures or movie scenes or art, I prefer slow-moving ease to bustle. I favor open sky and beaches over woods or forest. I need intentional blank space in decorating, too.

What makes you feel cozy?

I’m writing about lush life this month.

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