A rough morning leads to a worthwhile experiment…

Have you ever had one of those days where everything seems a struggle from the get go, making you feel like crawling back into bed instead of getting on with the day?  I am sure you have, because we all have them. How do you manage to stay on top of yourself and your game when it seems nothing is working and difficult circumstances keep flocking around you? What are your coping strategies during those times when you can’t exactly pinpoint what’s wrong, but life feels overwhelmingly challenging? In my experience, when the chips are really down, and I am in a full on crisis, it’s easier to take the steps necessary to problem solve the immediate concern. But when I am feeling just OFF, and I can’t seem to make my life work, even though no major catastrophe is at hand, those are the hardest days. At times like that I feel like giving up, giving into past destructive habits, or just completely blowing off my responsibilities…AND the things that I know will ultimately help me to feel better about myself.

Today started out as one of those days. Nothing disastrous, but for various reasons I couldn’t seem to pull my usually positive and motivated self together. Instead of giving into it, I decided to approach my day very intentionally. I wanted to see what would happen if I openly made a commitment to myself and a handful of people (for accountability purposes) to show up in life no matter what, keep all my scheduled plans even if I didn’t feel like it, and keep an open mind about the day. I wanted to see if I could turn the tide around by going with the flow, and doing everything I intended, no matter how difficult it was.

The Contributing Factors

There were several things going on in my life that contributed to my morning feeling of depression, discouragement, and despair on this Wednesday in late February.  The day’s problems weren’t earth shaking, but health challenges and financial concerns were at the  top of my list when I awoke this morning.

Health Challenges

I had foot and ankle surgery on 12/22/16, to repair completely torn out ligaments in the ankle and improve an overcorrection of a previous Bunionectomy. I had an easy initial recovery, walking in the boot  less than four weeks after surgery and doing many ambitious hikes, including a challenging half marathon course, while still in the boot. I told everyone it was my easiest recovery yet. I even did three blog posts on exercising post op with crutches and in the boot.

Then, on my first day out of the boot and in street shoes,  I took a fall in the snow (three weeks ago). That put me back into the boot again for another week. I was so excited to get out of the boot after that setback, two weeks ago, that I immediately started walking. Not anything major, no 14 milers, but I did head to the mall for several loops my first day in street shoes, then to Lake Padden on my second day, and so on. I walked five days in a row without the boot, and each walk got progressively more difficult and painful. I tried to ignore the pain (BIG MISTAKE!), thinking it was just my foot readjusting to being out of the boot and that the aches and pains would pass.

But they didn’t. After five days, I couldn’t walk at all without severe pain and a significant limp. I knew something was up. I had a doctor’s appointment last Tuesday, at the end of the five days of regular shoe walking. The PA diagnosed me with a stress fracture in the third Metatarsal bone of my post-surgical foot — nothing directly related to the surgery, those sites were good and healed. But somehow, getting out too much, too soon, even though the walks were short, did me in. My foot was vulnerable, the bones maybe softer from non-use, and I did a number on my foot without realizing it. UGH. It fit, though, as I have had a stress fracture before. And I know they don’t heal unless you back way off, exactly what I don’t want to do.  It’s 4 – 6 MORE weeks of rest, with no walking without the boot, no swimming, no anything that will stress the foot. After the doctor’s visit, I felt defeated, discouraged and very frustrated,  states that have persisted to varying degrees over the last week.

Financial Concerns

On top of this, a trip to the bank yesterday gave me a startling reality that my finances are alarmingly tight. After so much time off work (as a massage therapist) during my various recoveries, bills mounted up. I am back to work now, but with knee replacement in November and foot/ankle surgery in December, things caught up with me, and money is tighter than I realized. I really let this get me down, feeling trapped and worrying all day that I might not be able to keep my head above water. I went to bed last night feeling down, discouraged, and stressed.  No surprise, I woke up this morning still feeling all those things. My usual strategy for lessening the intensity of concerns or frustrations, a good walk in nature, is not a good option right now for obvious reasons.  I felt the heaviness of despair all morning, and zero enthusiasm for the day  ahead. Usually I can shake it; this morning, it persisted with a vengeance.

The Plan

After texting back and forth with my sister early this morning about my mood and feelings of despair, I had to make a choice. Was I going to just give up on the day, call it a wash, or could I somehow turn it around?  There were things I could cancel in the day, but I wondered what it would be like if I did them all with intention and as best I could, despite my reluctance. After all, how many times have I said encouragingly to others, “Just show up and see what happens!” Here was a good opportunity to test this theory out myself.

The Events of the Day

The first thing on my list outside the house was a meditation group at 10:00. Thankfully, my meditation group contains kind, forgiving, and generous hearted folks. Most members have at one time or another shown up down, discouraged, worked up, frustrated, or in some other not calm and meditative state. I knew I would be OK there, and it was nice to get hugs and affirmations. I told the group of my intention for the day.

Next was an outcall massage at Semiahmoo in Blaine. I had about an hour to kill before the appointment. I hastily ate my sandwich in the car, asking myself why was I being so hasty? It’s simply habit, always eating on the go, and running from one thing to the next. I forced myself to slow down and take a breath. Since I had time, I stopped at the Co-op Bakery for a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie and hot water to make a Via instant coffee. I enjoyed both on the drive to Blaine, 30 minutes from Bellingham. I drove without speeding, relishing the fact that I was not in a hurry for once. I wanted to be in a good headspace for the massage.

Once in Blaine, I still had  time to kill, so I pulled off the road right by the water, and sat in my car taking stock. Ten years ago, I lived in Blaine, and where I pulled off was right next to beaches I would walk on in an effort to get my head straight back then. Those six months in Blaine were some of the toughest times of my adult life, and it didn’t take long to realize that, despite current challenges, things in my life today are MUCH improved from the Blaine days. This gave me a wonderful perspective, and I took a moment to text my sister about this.

The outcall massage was with a kind and charming, newly retired woman at her and her husband’s beautiful townhouse. Both were as sweet as can be, and everything about the visit was smooth and easy. I left their house at 2:30 with my mood buoyed, but not looking forward to the hours still left in the afternoon.

Late afternoon and evening are my toughest times when I am feeling down. If I was a napper, I’d go home and sleep. But I don’t nap well, and I KNEW if I went home, I would feel restless and unsettled for the entire rest of the day. I had to do something transitional to get from afternoon into evening, and the gym had been on my to do list. I knew even as I drove there that this would be the hardest part of the day. 50 times on the drive there, I considered bailing. But I steered the car to an open parking spot, where I sat outside for a good ten minutes trying to convince myself to go in. You’d think I would be happy to get a workout in, but I don’t like gyms.  I MUCH prefer being outside, and sometimes it’s almost impossible to convince myself to go. Today, I wanted to bail so badly, but I also knew I would feel better if I went, and I had said I was going to do everything I planned to, and that was on the list.

After ten minutes, I made myself open the car door, drag in my bag with clothes, headphones, stuff to shower, the works. I figured if I could at least get the right clothes on, I might get into it. And if not, at least I could say I tried. Time slowed down, as all my actions became reluctant and unwilling. But I did all the upper body weights, then all my floor exercises and stretching that my physical therapist had given me months ago. That part of the workout took over an hour.

Then came the hardest part, hauling myself upstairs to get on the stationary bike. This, the aerobic workout, is where the best possibility of a mood change would come, as endorphins, no matter how reluctantly achieved, always help to elevate my mood. And riding the bike, while I really don’t like it, is something I can do safely and without foot pain. I told myself I’d do 40 minutes, and I ended up doing 50. It wasn’t my most stellar or ambitious ride, and it took me a long while to settle into it. But I did it, and, not surprisingly, felt considerably better after. The best I’d felt all day, in fact.  I showered, dressed, and returned home by 6:15 pm. I made cookies for a friend’s birthday tomorrow, made myself dinner, and sat down to write this post. I had done the day, everything I said I would, and that felt pretty darn good.

Taking stock, again.

How did it go?  Was my experiment a success? It was, in the sense that I did everything I set out to do. It also did everything with the best attitude I could under the circumstances. I am reasonably sure, no one knew how rough of a day I was having unless I let on. Some folks, like the meditation group, I could tell them I was having a hard day. Others, like the outcall couple, I just did my thing. Still others, like at the gym, I didn’t have to talk or interact with anyone, and I could be off in my own world and trying to sort out my own thoughts. On the whole, my mood did improve, and I proved to  myself that I can successfully do life even when I don’t feel like it. It’s not that I haven’t done it before — for all of us I’m sure, there are times when we just have to put our ‘noses to the grindstone’, as my dad would say, and do it anyway. On this day, however, I had choice to a degree, I could have bailed on some things, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to give it my best shot.  And my best shot ended up being not all that bad. It felt surprisingly good to show up, be present, and know that I did the best I could.

And now, I really CAN crawl back under the covers, and tomorrow IS another day.

NOTE: I’d love to hear how you manage days like this. What do you do to get through when you feel like doing anything but? 

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