Some Days

If you’re reading much these days, you’ll recognize the push toward positivity. I’ve read that maintaining a positive attitude contributes to health and longevity, shortens recovery time, and boosts immune systems.  I’ve even known a few people who seemed, like the character Molly Brown, unsinkable. For most of us, though, I have this belief we’re clustered in the middle – between Doom & Gloom and Absolute Bliss – with some moments at both ends. At the same time, I get the sense from many people that 24/7 jolliness has become the impossible baseline they strive to achieve.

Face it. Some days go more smoothly than others. Sometimes there’s a clear reason (we won a lottery jackpot or just started our dream vacation) and sometimes those glorious days just appear out of nowhere. Some days feel like trekking through mud. They’re messy, difficult, exhausting. Like the grand and glittery days, sometimes there’s a clear reason (we’re ill or grieving the loss of something valuable to us) and others seem to descend without warning.

Blame the stars or the phase of the moon, but most people experience ups and down. Most of us have those memories of glory days: times past when things seemed as close as possible to ideal. Many of us also remember some disasters. Looking back, though, it seems our interpretation of those experiences enhances or worsens the quality of our lives moving forward. I hope science will one day support the importance of the sense of serenity or peace and satisfaction at living a good life most days, of having enough, of knowing we’re enough. We all deserve that.

For me, daily meditation, learning, and writing reward me with what feels like an effortless calm and quiet enjoyment of life. Time outdoors, crafts with my grandsons, crochet, funny movies, baking, chai tea accompanied by long talks with a friend, and road trips also soothe my heart. I recently realized I discovered and enjoyed many of these during my youth.

My dad drank heavily during the week, but set aside Sundays for family. On Sundays we attended a sparsely attended sunrise service (the church added it for medical staff and others who worked weekends), and then piled into the family station wagon together, carrying food for lunch and soft drinks or lemonade to “wash the meal down.” Dad picked a general direction and we wouldn’t return until late afternoon or early evening.

During those Sunday drives, my dad would beam and pound the steering wheel when he found a road he hadn’t been down before. He would ask me – his conspirator with anything involving exploration – if I wanted to see where it led. My mom invariably frowned her disapproval and often voiced it as well.

He’d turn to me, though, the car idling in the middle of a narrow old highway. “Punk,” he’d say, while we made a decision, “do you want to see where it goes?”

Knowing my mom and siblings usually slept through half our time on the road, I always voted “Yes!” For me, it meant discovering wonders. Oh, the sights: abandoned homes, sometimes just a chimney left stubbornly reaching up toward the sky, small orchards in the middle of nowhere, streams that trickled across the road, fields of poppies showing off just for us, piles of rocks left where someone once worked a mine, rugged fruit stands, and tiny “general stores” stocking everything from bread to britches and even a toboggan or two.

Years later, after all the kids moved out and my parents quit taking the drives, my mom admitted to me she felt relieved to stay home Sundays. She told me she hated the drives because she worried about the possible disasters we’d encounter. Washed out roads, wild animals, landslides, intense storms, and even more concerns. When I thought about it a minute, I asked her how many times there had been a problem during over 30 years of weekly Sunday drives. A flat tire? Dangerous animal?  Spider or snake bite? Auto accident?

She stated, “There was that one time.” Once?!

After I moved away, they faced one disaster. It was serious. The axle broke. However, the car made it to the side of the road and, in the days before cellphones proliferated, within 30 minutes another vehicle came by and offered some help. Within a few hours the family rested at home and the car had been towed to a shop. No injuries. If they had been stranded overnight they would have had food and water.

Obviously (to me), the fears she held didn’t make sense. Mom disagreed and expressed her frustration at my enjoyment of “those crazy drives to nowhere and back.” While I don’t think of myself as a super-optimist Suzie Sunshine person, I told her I always felt we could handle anything that happened. In fact, I find some satisfaction in holding on to my old Girl Scout training and striving to Be Prepared. When we traveled we had a First Aid Kit, water, a blanket, a good spare tire, some basic tools in the car, and food.

But mom brushed off my perspective because preparing for every possible outcome couldn’t stop bad things from happening. How she used to annoy me with that narrow view that latched onto what could go wrong!

And now I must admit something. I think I got my knack for finding things that seem out of place (glitches, errors) from mom. My dad could make friends anywhere and fix just about anything, but sussing out possible problems belonged to mom. A friend assured me I had “a gift for troubleshooting.” As she pointed out, many people do not appreciate that gift. I find typos in books, edit myself silly, added more notes to student papers than anyone preferred, and pick out mistakes in movies and signs without intending to notice them. It seems I’m a bit like and a bit opposite of both my happy-go-lucky dad and my worried-to-distraction mom.  

That middle ground sounds a bit boring, I admit, particularly in a culture where being super-positive and/or rabidly negative appear more mainstream. Feeling at peace with life, moment by moment, broken by brief interruptions of great joy, existential angst, and some deep sorrow, seems a blessing. After some therapy, quite a bit of soul searching, and dedication to self-care, I’m grateful for this calm.

By the way, I wondered why mom went along with the crazy drives if she hated them. She admitted, “We were all together and I liked being together as a family.” She appreciated that on the road we rarely squabbled, she liked seeing dad do something he enjoyed without booze, and sometimes we went someplace “that wasn’t out in the boondocks.” How she treasured those places with shops and pavement and signs welcoming credit cards.

It seems to me, most of us judge ourselves and out lives too harshly. Perhaps we use imaginary lives from the media to inform us of an unrealistic “normal.” Perhaps we forget our own talents in comparing ourselves to ideals. If we live in a space between debilitating chronic depression and wearing others out with our perky enthusiasm, I hope we all find a way to feel thankful. I admit I have to work a bit harder than many others in striving for more balance and joy. If I ease up on self-care, I can feel myself tilting gradually away from my center. That’s why self-care means so much to me, why I write about it, why I practice.

Wondering what self-care tools to use? My suggestions, as a start:

  1. Relax and close your eyes for a moment. Remember a time when you were younger and completely happy (if only for a few seconds). Whether you felt joyous because of the company, the activity, the food or aroma, or something else, consider bringing that back into your life. It doesn’t always work (I loved bubble baths as a child and don’t now) but if you make a list of activities, people, places, foods, and scents you enjoy or enjoyed in the past, that’s a start.
  2. Some frequently used self-care activities that you can implement at little or no cost: a general journal (in an inexpensive notebook, hand-write 1 to 2 pages daily about whatever comes to mind without editing), experience meditation (visit www.headspace.com to try the FREE version to see if it works for you or www.mindfulness.org or check out free resources like https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/mindful-meditations), try gratitude practices (here’s one idea from the Greater Good Science Center: https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/what_we_do/online_courses_tools/thnx4_gratitude_journal).

May your expectations of yourself be kind. May you find the tools you need for self-care and both the time and the will to use them. May you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that my opinions, my experiences, and resources I mention are NOT meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[i]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[ii] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020


[i] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[ii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. To reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Making Ourselves Useful

Every generation, I believe, is graced with challenges that seem unique to that era. My grandmothers were teenagers during the 1918 flu epidemic and, among other things, they lived through poverty, troubled marriages, raising families on their own, and two World Wars. Their children, my parents, struggled through the Great Depression while living separated from their nuclear family. When my parents married, at ages a little later than many thanks to WWII and the Korean Crisis, they had faced their share of hardships.

Not surprising that when my siblings and I complained about things like riding around in an older model car and not having a color television, my parents had little sympathy for us. In fact, when anyone complained at all or uttered the words “I’m bored,” one of our parents would stop, their back would snap into a locked upright position, and invisible but oh-so-sharp eye-daggers flew toward us via the dreaded Stink Eye. Uh oh.

“Well, maybe you need to find some way to make yourself useful rather than merely ornamental.”  Or, “You want things to be better? Go find a way to make them better!”

Useful?! Better?! Weren’t those grown-up tasks? When that gauntlet hurled our way, we learned to exit quickly to sulk privately. Arguing resulted in a laundry-list of ways we could become “more useful” at home and in the community. *Get over to the church and see who needs some help! *Go clean the dog poop up in the back yard. *You look healthy enough: go next-door and ask Mrs. Ferguson if she needs someone to mow her lawn. *Go ask that new kid across the street if they want to play!

Their lists never ended. Helping others? We barely got by ourselves. As a child I had 1 pair of shoes, meat showed up primarily as flavoring in large pots of beans, weekends we picked wild greens and canned free fruit to save money. The notion of volunteering seemed to belong to wealthy folks.

Nevertheless, as a young mother I began to help out with Scout troops, baked for school and work functions, took on additional duties, helped when someone asked. Later some duties fell away and others took their place. When I semi-retired, I got my bearings, created some goals, started looking for work that would fit within my grandchildren’s school hours, and then along came ‘Rona.  

In January 2020, when I first heard about the novel Coronavirus, it seemed a mysterious don’t-worry virus that was stopped at ports of entry by quarantines. In February, international news held a different tone from the be-happy U.S. news and it occurred to me that something bigger brewed.

Like a large earthquake, though, it felt like everything shifted abruptly. The grandkids’ school moved online and I turned down a part-time job I had lined up because it no longer fit my schedule. For safety, I stopped going to some stores. My gym’s swimming pool closed so my favorite workout evaporated. Then came weeks of feeling helpless and adapting. Finding safer ways of buying groceries, planning for delays in shipping time, adapting to new restrictions, and dealing with health worries. Like everyone else, I struggled to picture a life beyond ‘Rona.

And I remembered griping to my parents and them telling me to make myself useful.

I gave it some thought and realized that perhaps through volunteering I could help others deal with their challenges and, maybe, make the world a little better.

I wrote down my skills, my passions, my available time, my preferences (working from home and finding work that used my master’s degree in counseling psychology or my love of stories). I looked a few places for a way to help[i] and bumped into an ad for Crisis Counselors. I applied.

Six months into my commitment, here’s what I’ve learned.

Most important: Volunteering helps other people, helps communities, and it also helps volunteers feel as if we’re helping to make the world a better place.


Volunteering improves and/or increases skills. Whatever your skills, practicing them as a volunteer will help you gain experience. Volunteering can provide an opportunity to try out new careers or industries to see if they fit you. Volunteering can help you find your next job while helping you focus on something outside yourself and making the world a better place.

Before my volunteer position, I felt very uncomfortable asking about suicide. I learned suicide is a huge issue in the US. In the last 20 years, the suicide rate in the US increased by 35%. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and the 2nd leading cause of death in ages 10 to 34 in the US. There are more than twice (2 times!) the number of suicides as homicides in the US.[ii]  Asking is important in my volunteer position, and I’ve learned ways to do that without judgment and purely out of concern. Without getting into details, learning that another human is having thoughts of ending their life opens the door to finding help. If someone mentions thoughts of ending their life, anyone can help them connect with a suicide hotline, take them to an ER, or call 911 in the hopes of helping them get the care they deserve.

Volunteering connects volunteers with others. Responsible organizations prepare volunteers to connect with their clients/consumers, offer ongoing guidance, and engage with volunteers. Look for the level of support you prefer. Preparation: Many organizations provide excellent training and offer ongoing access to trainings and materials. Guidance: For the best volunteer experience, having an assigned coach or supervisor who is available to answer questions and provide support is important. Engagement: An agency working with volunteers should recognize needs and preferences. For me, for example, evening shifts fit my schedule and offer ongoing interaction that helps me feel engaged and useful. Some organizations also offer little perks ranging from awards (like Volunteer of the Month) to small treats. Take the time to look for a place that meets your needs and matches your values.

Volunteering increases awareness. In my volunteer work, I’ve connected with people whose politics are similar to and polar opposite of mine, people from different areas and cultures, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and many often-marginalized people. Their challenges and fears are much more real to me. I’m clearly a work in progress, and I’m getting better at asking for pronouns, I remember to ask if a person feels safe calling the police (not everyone does), I offer praise far more generously. Volunteering has transformed my day-to-day life. Some of the greatest gifts I’ve received through volunteering are reclaimed curiosity, increased focus on identifying others’ strengths, and a willingness to describe those strengths back to others.

Volunteering improves your health. This is particularly true for elders but has health and happiness benefits for all ages. See this report for some awesome details![iii]

This quote from Kofi Annan sums up volunteering quite well: “If our hopes of building a better and safer world are to become more than wishful thinking, we will need the engagement of volunteers more than ever.”

Think about sharing your extraordinary gifts. Volunteering has helped me see my worries and inconveniences more clearly and left me feeling humbled, blessed, and as if I’m making a difference.

May you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iv]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[v] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020


[i] I found what I was looking for at www.volunteermatch.org and also looked on www.idealist.org. Other options include Good www.good.org, Volunteer Weekly www.volunteerweekly.org, and the faith-based Volunteers of America www.voa.org.  You can also contact churches, larger nonprofit agencies, animal protection agencies, and local government offices.  

[ii] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml

[iii] https://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr.pdf Note: this report is from 2007 but it seems the information would still apply unless some controversy arose regarding the data.

[iv] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[v] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. To reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Lessons on Boundaries

Growing up with parents who both lost their parents while they were still young had a few advantages and many disadvantages. Both parents admitted parental roles didn’t come naturally to them, though they wanted children. It’s no wonder they struggled; they hadn’t witnessed much parenting and what they did see varied wildly. On the other hand, their challenged youth brought wonderful additions to the household: aunties and uncles and cousins, some by blood and others by choice, many of whom had provided mom or dad respite, in addition to folks my father randomly encountered. He seemed to collect stray people, so the notion of boundaries didn’t dare step foot on the property my dad considered his own.

The father I knew really never knew his father. His dad abandoned him and his mom when dad was an infant and died when dad was three. My grandmother struggled to survive as a live-in housekeeper and cook, so dad bounced between friends’ and relatives’ homes as a child. He seemed to have spent a lot of time with older adults or by himself. A gifted storyteller, he truly relaxed in taverns and small local bars, considered anyone who drank with him a friend, and brought home fellow-drinkers from all walks of life, cultures, races, and educational levels. The door also remained open to all his family and family-ish folks, with never a need to call first.

My mother, on the other hand, lived in poverty, knew her violent dad, and lost both parents by age 9. From that age until she finished high school, she lived in orphanages with strict rules. She slept in congregate quarters with lots of other children. She craved privacy and found strict rules comforting. Had she been given the power, I suspect she would have constructed a moat to keep the house inaccessible and hired assassins to sit on the roof to make sure nobody but immediate family (and perhaps a few selected others) stepped on the grounds, let alone inside the house.

The lessons I learned about boundaries as a child, laced with the popular value Children are to be seen and not heard, included two contradictory rules. Rule #1: good people let everybody in all the time for any reason and live as if mi casa es su casa (my house is your house), holding no expectation of reciprocation. Rule #2: good people refuse to let anyone into their homes or lives unless they have been properly vetted and sworn to follow house rules (no using the bathroom, no snooping, no borrowing, and with one or two designated exceptions, no spontaneous visits).

Because mom ruled the house weekdays, not even school friends who lived nearby could stop by to play. Instead we would meet in the alley and entertain ourselves behind cover. Because dad ruled the house weekends, impromptu parties erupted with clusters of guests as varied as fund-raising priests from Northern Ireland, motorcycle club members, and professional wrestlers on tour (dad loved to share Haystack Calhoun and Pepper Gomez allegedly stepped foot in his house)(I slept through the visit so cannot corroborate).

No wonder I had such difficulty creating and holding boundaries in my life, flopping between social butterfly and wannabe-hermit. Taking in abandoned animals/strangers and then adopting creatures back out when neighbors or landlords complained. Feeling guilty for sandwiching 5-minute beach visits in the midst of back-to-back meetings on long work days as if time to breathe seemed frivolous.

Lessons arrive in many guises. Two memorable teachable moments pop into my mind.

The scene: shopping alone after work in a K-Mart store in rural Arizona, a single mom picking up items for somebody’s school project. Focused on a quick in-and-out, I didn’t give attention to anything but the task at hand. My cart pulled to the side, I surveyed a display of merchandise. In the middle of the aisle, a red-faced scruffy man in a not-so-white t-shirt and jeans that barely stayed up, bumped his cart head-on into mine, blocking my passage up the aisle with his cart and belligerence. He looked at me with disgust. Startled, I waited. About three feet behind him I saw a woman. She stopped, avoided eye contact, and didn’t speak. The man observed, quite loudly, “They shouldn’t allow fat women like you in this store. You take up too much room in the aisles!” I cannot remember the remainder of his rant, but he continued for a short while. I had not blocked the aisle in any way, hadn’t noticed him, never met him before. Eventually he shook his head, moved his cart, and stormed away.

As he left, I wished I had thought of something to say to him. My dad would have bought him a drink. My mom would have fled, quickly, leaving the cart behind, complaining to the manager on her way out the door. I finished my shopping. On my way home I thought about it, feeling hurt and then feeling angry. What made him think I wanted his opinion?! A quote from a Wayne Dyer book I’d read returned to me: What other people think of me is none of my business. I repeated, Your opinion of me is none of my business. It helped me calm myself and I realized the stranger’s behavior violated a few of my values related to judging people and to manners. I began to think about boundaries.

As a single parent working full-time, attending college classes at night, I kept a roof over our heads. We had vacations every year and did a lot of weekend family activities. Neither perfect nor wealthy, I handled things well enough. I used your opinion of me is none of my business often until random folks quit offering their opinions to me. I introduced the word “No” into my vocabulary to reduce my stress. My lesson: know my values and boundaries ahead of time.

The second lesson in boundaries arrived when a friend’s breast cancer returned. She wanted to talk about death and dying. Her spouse, she said, refused to listen, and even after her doctor offered a grim prognosis and suggested she get her affairs in order, the doctor also encouraged her to stay positive through treatment. She remembered one night, before her first diagnosis, when our families got together to play board games and eat. I had quoted something I read about death and dying by Dr Bernie S Siegel. I regretted my enthusiasm about the book and I really did not want to talk with this woman who was near my age about dying. But she needed to talk, and my friend-boundary said Listen.

You would think that hanging out with someone who felt death hovered nearby might feel sad. Instead, it freed us both in many ways. She said it gave her blessed relief. For me, once death was on the table, no topic was off the table. The change in her amazed me. Some days she’d call me, too tired and sick to move, and I’d go visit and read to her from Love, Medicine and Miracles (her choice, not mine). When her spouse found out, he told me to never return. Still, she called and informed me I would not abandon her. How could I? Normally restrained, she disappeared at a street fair we attended together. I found her dancing under a tree as a mariachi group played nearby. She shouted in my direction, “I LOVE mariachi music!” I laughed. I didn’t know that! At another event I lost track of her when she followed a small Mardi Gras parade, gathering strings of beads and hooting at the musicians. The last weekend she phoned and told me she needed time outdoors and asked me to pick her up right away. A storm dumped buckets of rain as far as we could see, but she hopped in the car and we headed for a memorial to a fallen war chief. She talked about her parents (her white mom as the formidable one, her Apache dad as the kind and quiet one). We commanded the rain to stop (it did) so we could search for the warrior’s hidden grave (didn’t find it, of course, but a rainbow convinced us we might be close). She shared obnoxious observations like “You take on too much and expect too little from other people in your life.” I did not even consider telling her that her opinion was none of my business.

At her funeral I had zero regrets. I’m crying right now, but I still celebrate that time together and our talks about life, magic, prayer, God, the human spirit, and death. I remain so thankful I didn’t let fear create a boundary.

That’s the thing about boundaries. They need to reflect our values and matter to us.

You have a right to set and hold boundaries around general expectations as well as some responsibility to be clear about them with others. By general expectations I mean things like requesting a significant other contact you if they’re running late, regarding raised voices (I grew up amid passionate arguments so I don’t mind raised voices, but some people find them very aggressive), sarcasm, personal insults, assisting with household or common-area work tasks (yes, please!), tipping (please don’t be cheap), violence (no, including threats), and any topic that matters to you.

Speaking of things that matter, a friend of mine has a 300-question guide he uses to size up potential relationships. While I laughed about it, I also applauded him for taking time to figure out if others’ values mesh with his. We all need to acknowledge our values, know what’s not flexible, and recognize changes as time passes. Lifelong learning is important to me. I love travel and learning other languages. My views of the “isms” (like Racism, Sexism, Ageism, Size-ism) aren’t very negotiable. Knowing what’s important to you should matter to others in your life. Politics. Money. Credit cards? Family. Social media time. Education? Reading. Religion and spirituality. Ambition? Fortune-tellers. Sports. Holidays?

My dad referred to New Year’s Eve as “amateur night for budding alcoholics,” so he always turned in early that evening. For me, it’s a time to reflect on one year and welcome the new with hope and joy.

Value and the associated boundaries may change over time. I worried about spoiling my children. My grandkids? So few worries. Growing up, my dad shut down certain discussions, including professional sports, during family gatherings because they resulted in insults and angry exchanges. In my world, Super Bowl Sunday exists for eating, laughing, and talking smack about opposing teams. Never witnessed food policing or a temper flare, even for a minute.

Some time ago I watched a video with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. He refrains from violence, of course, but he told a story. A pesky mosquito comes to visit us.  We wave it away. And wave it away. And wave it away. And without thinking, whack. An act of violence against the mosquito. He chuckled and made a comment about all of us doing our best and moving forward. Amen to that.

For tips on maintaining boundaries, check out this article.[i]

Will be back next week.  Until then, may you be healthy, happy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[ii]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[iii] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020


[i] https://psychcentral.com/blog/when-people-cross-your-boundaries/

[ii] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[iii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Employing Intuition

The holidays are fast approaching and, in case you haven’t noticed, in their wake as the new year dawns, we will be assaulted by piles of guilt-inducing debris so vast and insidiously negative that we will most likely find ourselves mired in the rubbish. In this case, the rubbish, crafted by what many refer to as Diet Culture, will bring with it a generally-unproven but heartily accept belief that fatness is the worst that can happen to a human being while dieting is the cure. Further, Diet Culture implies that fat bodies are the result of laziness and other horrible personal attributes or lack of character that result in a host of disastrous circumstances, from personal ill health to societal economic hardship.

In contrast, throughout December we’ll be nudged toward temptingly sweet confections of every possible type, pushed into the arms of a loving and generous rotund chief elf (Santa Claus), and encouraged to partake in a significant amount of food- and alcohol-inspired jolliness. As January dawns, however, brace yourself! We’ll find ourselves clobbered with ads insisting our health and habits need significant retooling via some type of membership: gym, dance or other fitness center, diet centers (by whatever name they call themselves), food restricting programs, fasting, and ads running nearly nonstop hawking low-calorie options that hostesses in December would have considered an affront to their guests’ palates.

All this, based on solid science, right?

Uh, maybe not so much.

What’s a very fat, older woman to do? My plan: Practice self-care, educate myself, use joyful movement and gentle nutrition, and consciously avoid the media glut.

This year I’ve enjoyed re-reading some of the books I consider classics in this field: Intuitive Eating (I have the 3rd edition and the workbook; the 4th edition was released during 2020) and Health at Every Size. Other personal favorites include Body of Truth and The Diet Myth. I could list another half-dozen titles that I love because I began to take this self-care and self-education commitment seriously after decades of “successful” diets left me fatter. And fatter. And beating myself up. So much wasted time.

The book I’m focusing on today is one that hit the book sellers in December 2019. Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating, written by Christy Harrison, MPH, RD.

The first part of the book focuses on Diet Culture itself, the $72 Billion a year selling machine that has a lot to gain by making people feel insecure enough to re-engage repeatedly with various hopefully-miraculous food restriction and/or workout regimens. This section also addresses fallacies about the effectiveness of weight-loss surgery and over-exercise as well as how restrictive eating impacts our glorious bodies as they work to keep us alive, even through self-inflicted famines (“diets”).

The second part of this well-written and intelligent book looks at a researched alternative: intuitive eating. (Please be cautious. Intuitive Eating is often twisted for resale into what is really a diet plan. Intuitive Eating is a multi-step process involving listening to our body and responding to our needs.)

Anti-Diet is a fresh 180-degree turn away from the diet-drivel that bombards us each year. Skip the published works hawking “new” (but oh-so-familiar) diets, food plans, lifestyle changes, and other terms that still mean restricting food in order to lose weight. Send that little rebel inside you to explore an alternative view and exercise your choice to look beyond the shameful and commonly accepted myths. I confess. I love those folks who dare to thoughtfully question the status quo (consider the work of a carpenter from Nazareth) and seek the truth (read about the Minnesota Starvation Experiment[i]), the ones who color outside the lines and inspire us to think differently (RIP RBG), if only for a moment.

Throughout Anti-Diet, rather than demonizing fat, the author addresses people in larger bodies and higher-weight people. As she points out, for most of human history we have been more concerned about getting enough to eat, but throughout history indications pop up that people in larger bodies received negative attention in some cultures while receiving acceptance in others.

In the US during the colonial period, those arriving in the Americas from Europe believed their way of eating superior to that of both the indigenous folks and the enslaved people brought from Africa. In a sense, diet culture seems born in ignorance to me. By the 1800s, when Europe moved away from enslaving people, Americans seemed to seek a rationale for retaining the economic advantage provided by the enslavement of human beings. Folks tapped into Darwin’s work, among others, to decide via their own mental manipulations that Anglo-Saxon northern European men were the most highly evolved of the human species, followed by northern European women, Southern Europeans (men first, of course), and other cultures progressively lower on the scale until they reached those they called savages: indigenous people and Africans. Fair-skinned, tall, naturally slender people were awarded what we might call today privilege, worth, or moral value. Their slender physiques became associated with goodness, strength, and intelligence. (See Chapter 1 for much more info and less of my interpretation.)

Of course, different body shapes have enjoyed moments of popularity, from full-figured Mae West to lean teenager Twiggy. In the general population, ideas about weight changed as well. Anti-Diet notes In the 1950s about 7% of men and 14% of women reported they were trying to lose weight. By the 1990s, 29% of men and 44% of women reported the same. Though the percentage of adults who dieted tripled, during that time the average weight changed little. Still, outrage grew in the 1980s and 1990s, centered on a set of numbers a task force that was funded by pharmaceutical companies came up with. As the author notes, “The “obesity epidemic” is really a moral panic that has a lot more to do with diet culture’s skewed beliefs about weight than with any actual threat to public health.” (Anti-Diet, page 47)  Fatphobia and weight stigma, it seems, may contribute more to poor health outcomes than high weight. (Chapter 5 has an excellent explanation of this.)

What have scientists learned in the century of studies? **Large scale studies show intentional weight loss rarely succeeds long-term. For example, a 2015 study (278,000 people) showed 95% to 98% of participants regained all their lost weight within 5 years. (Page 89) **A review of data from weight loss studies in 2007 showed one-third to two-thirds of those who lost weight gained back more weight than they lost. (Page 91) **What about allegedly-weak-willed dieters who end up in food binges? “And when you’re restricted or deprived of food, your body turns up the food-seeking signals because it wants you to survive.” (Page 95) That means binges following diets (remember, our bodies recognize these as famine) don’t mean we’re weak-willed. They mean our bodies are working hard to protect us.

What do we do about this Diet Culture that’s more about making money than helping people? The second part of the book dives into moving beyond diet culture and toward developing a different mindset about food (sorry, no more good vs. evil foods), intuitive eating, seeking health and body liberation, social justice, and relying on the power of a supportive community. In short, it’s all about what does work, with a focus on living fully and practicing excellent self-care…at any and every size.

The book wraps up with pages of citations supporting the material, a multi-page list of amazing resources, and, most importantly, a call toward reclaiming our lives, dismantling diet culture, and working toward social justice. Rather than include a sales pitch, author and registered dietician Christy Harrison[ii] challenges us to question the status quo and consider the cost of continuing to live in a culture that insists thin=good and fat=bad when the evidence does not support that judgment.

In my life, I’m still focused on the last of the IE principles (Movement-Feel the Difference and Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition)[iii] It’s tricky. Movement: Since my local happy place (the Y swimming pools) closed because of the pandemic, I have struggled to find a consistent joyful movement practice. I do some crank-up-the-tunes silly-dancing, some playing with my grandkids, enjoy a weekly online easy yoga class, and a periodic online karate warm-up I found (searching for a kata for the grandsons, I clicked on the wrong-right thing and there was a sensei in Texas via YouTube – can’t explain why I like it, but I do). However, nothing feels as blissful to me as time in the water.  Nutrition: Lucky for me, I love fruits and vegetables, don’t particularly care for meat, and have a diagnosed digestive challenge that makes some foods (mostly ones I’ve grown to despise) poor choices for me. Don’t have any answers for anyone, though, and have grown to feel nauseous upon exposure to “food plans” of any sort, so I’m committed to adding more of the plants I love, listening to my body, and will see where it goes from here.

The book is a grand reminder that we all have a responsibility to challenge potentially dangerous beliefs – our own and those of others – and the best way to do that is often to start with some research and focus on ourselves.

Next week, back to a more general focus on self-care, though look for book reviews about once a month in the future.

Until then, may you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iv]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[v] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020


[i] During WWII healthy men volunteered to reduce their normal daily calorie count from around 3,200 per day to approximately 1,550 per day. See the Wikipedia summary for more info:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Starvation_Experiment.

[ii] For more about and from Christy, visit https://christyharrison.com/

[iii] https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/

[iv] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[v] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Feeling Deeply

Growing up includes some challenges for everyone, I expect. For me, life often felt huge and confusing, living in a farming community amid a fairly large and loud Portuguese and Hispanic family with generations-deep blood ties to the Azores and a sort of grandiose pride in clinging to European roots while also grasping for The American Way. The closest family members belligerently professed  connections to conservative politics in public in order to “blend in,” while behind closed doors they retained a rebellious devotion to more progressive candidates and ideas. (Under questioning, they encouraged 8-year-old-me to never vote by political party affiliation but by candidates’ character.) Both my parents lost their fathers while they were still young and lived unstable lives. They came from a generation that survived the Great Depression and a World War. They didn’t talk about feelings.

Drama flourished within the community of my youth, though. Booze launched family gatherings, with cousins spilling out back doors and aunties organizing food while uncles bickered. Then arguments grew louder until somebody walked off, red-faced, or took a swing at someone else. Kids and women would scatter until things calmed down. Over food, jokes that I rarely understood drew guffaws and eased tensions until a few folks dusted off their favorite funny stories to share and share again. And then, whew. Sometimes we headed home. Other times, the wine from dinner urged someone to play fado, sad music featuring, most often, a heart-broken woman singing in Portuguese, or non-English versions of songs like Ave Maria. My mom, who spoke only English, and any nearby children, all of us forbidden to speak Portuguese or Spanish, would brace ourselves when those tunes started. We waited, amazed, until the big bossy manly men wept, blew their noses on cloth handkerchiefs, and ran out of energy. The evening wrapped up with folks patting shoulders and heading quietly home. That’s the closest we ever came to disclosure of feelings.

No surprise, I grew up with a limited ability to identify emotional states. I knew about four that I would have named as Fearful, Angry, Happy, and Sad. I read a lot and tried to figure out how to control emotional states and where they originated, but eventually I set the whole thing aside because of conflicting information. A few decades later I found a chart of emotions that helped me to understand some nuance so I could say, “That talk left me feeling content, hopeful, inspired” instead of “That was good.” Still, it felt as if feelings primarily mattered to me.   

Several books inspired me, starting with HeartMath (the book helped me consider the importance of the heart and offered techniques to feel calm), the books Blue Zones and Thrive (helped me view emotional and physical health through a cultural and holistic lens), and the book I want to talk about, Permission to Feel: The Power of Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Well-being and Success by Marc Brackett, Ph.D.

This book came to my attention during a podcast, and I picked it up because I want to improve my own skills and hoped to help my grandsons identify emotions beyond the common 4 I knew as a child. Along with engaging and well-written text, the book contains opportunities to pause and consider how we’re feeling or to practice a technique. There are 3 sections to the book. The first is more background information. The second section covers the method in more detail. The third is about applying the method. Because I’m looking for tools to help in the real-world I inhabit, the opportunity to engage with the material inspired me and initial trials have boosted my appreciation for the material.

Though the book warns against judging others’ feelings, I’ve used some observed encounters to build my own vocabulary. Because I completely acknowledge we’re often not as skilled as we think, I also take opportunities when it’s safe to do so to reality-check my observations with friends/family. I wondered how often my grandkids feel irritated, frustrated, and disappointed but hold in their feelings until they’re ready to burst.

Last spring, when schools were wrapping up for the year and before I’d read Permission to Feel, the grandchildren and I started a related discussion. We began learning about the brain, focusing primarily on the pre-frontal cortex (the Wise One), the hippocampus (the Library), and the amygdala (the Guard Dog) based on the Hawn Foundation MindUp Curriculum: Brain-Focused Strategies for Learning—and Living[i].  I hoped by teaching the grandsons brain-basics, they would better understand feelings, recognize anger and fear are designed to protect them, and develop ways to regulate emotions. We had fun discussing parts of the brain and how our Guard Dogs go berserk.

We only finished two lessons, though, before schools closed and our household schedules were upended by other changes. We haven’t yet gotten back in the groove and in online school the children checked in with their teachers on feelings with a simple thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or thumbs-sideways.

In contrast, Permission to Feel provides a 100-word feelings chart (for adults) in full color with 4 sectors divided from high-energy to low energy and low pleasantness to high pleasantness. For example, “enraged”=high energy/low pleasantness, “ecstatic”=high energy/high pleasantness, “serene”=low energy/high pleasantness, and “despairing”=low pleasantness/low energy. The method includes steps we can take to guide ourselves away from being a feelings-judge. These steps are abbreviated as RULER (Recognize feelings, Understand the causes and consequences, Label emotions correctly, Express emotion(s), Regulate emotions).

Two of the many very helpful ideas for me include suggestions about how to question children regarding feelings and a technique called “Meta-Moment.” Please note that this book overflows with useful information. This is a glimpse and, hopefully, encouragement for you to read this yourself.[ii]

Questioning children. Asking children simple questions after they’ve had an outburst or seem upset sounded like straightforward advice. The author provided some sample questions that I remember as WHY. What happened? How did you feel (when that happened)? Why do you think you felt that way?  In brief practical experience, I’ve discovered waiting too long to bring up the feelings may give the memory time to clear from a child’s memory. Ask too soon and it can restart a tantrum.

One day I just didn’t know what else to say when my youngest grandson seemed angry and revving up.  He raised his fist as if he planned to hit me. Normally I talk about hitting as an inappropriate response that can cause more problems than it solves, then suggest deep breathing. He always refuses the breathing suggestion. Instead, this time I said, “I feel soooo frustrated right now. I love you so much and want to figure out what’s happening. I feel disappointed in myself because what I usually do doesn’t help you and I feel sad because I don’t know what to do to help you feel calm.”

By movie-moment standards, his response registered as far from miraculous. He looked at me, lowered his fist, and emphatically responded, “I feel frustrated, too!” And I said, “Isn’t it awful to feel snarled up like this? I need to take a break.” He nodded and walked away to take a break of his own. Later I tried to open the discussion about feelings, but he seemed to have moved on to more interesting topics.

The following morning, though, he came to me and said, “When I was little, (so-and-so) pushed me and bit me and hit me and it hurt.” I told him I felt really mad that someone would do that to him, told him it was mean and not fair to him. “You deserve to feel safe and be treated with love.” He simply said, “Thank you” and walked away. No happily-ever-after, but a good start.

Though he seems to have some trauma-based anger to deal with, we’re working on small things. The next time I noticed his frustration escalating (while completing homework), instead of asking him to pay attention, I mentioned he seemed really stressed and asked how I could help. He wasn’t quite sure, but I made a few suggestions and he accepted one. Quickly, we returned to task.

There have been some failed attempts. When we’re tired or haven’t eaten, things can go off the rails fairly quickly. I’m learning to ask about his feelings sooner. To be frank, re-reading the book sounds helpful, too, since it’s packed with so much information that I barely offer a glimpse. 

Meta-Moment. This suggestion, with multiple emotion-regulation techniques, spoke to me. Normally I can react semi-intelligently, but things have been stressful lately. The pool (my “happy place”) I depended on for exercise is closed and I’ve failed rather spectacularly at substitute endeavors, my schedule has been chaotic, the political and social climates have been erratic and sometimes scary, and we’re currently socially distant from friends and family. I’m destined to practice this technique a lot.

In most basic terms, it’s about taking a brief time-out when life feels overwhelming to the point we’re ready to act out. Instead, the book suggests: Take a deep breath (or a few). Clock it (sense the shift). Stop it (pause). See your Best Self in the situation. Consider options and take the road that helps close the gap between your “triggered” self and your Best Self.

Again, this book has a lot to offer if you’re someone who wants to dig in and try some techniques to better recognize and regulate your emotions. Whether you’re curious or you really want to learn ways to integrate emotional openness into your life, consider inviting Permission to Feel into your world. 

Next week, book 3 of my recent (for me) top 3 “self-help” books.

Until then, may you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.


Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iii]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[iv] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020


[i] Visit www.mindup.org for more info and https://mindup.org/mindup-for-teachers/ for additional materials, including links to free training videos. The curriculum can be purchased on Amazon or at other book retailers.

[ii] If you’re on a budget, check with your local library or see if you can borrow from a friend! My current income is limited and my bookshelf is full, so I understand!

[iii] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[iv] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Chasing Happiness

Before I dive in, I have a favor to ask. Please remember that my opinions, my experiences, and resources I mention are not meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment of your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[i]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[ii] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

When Autumn arrives, somehow it feels as if the world takes a pause and starts to look back, tentatively, and forward, expectantly, full of hope for the future and often with a touch of regret about the imperfection of the past three-quarters of a year that slipped through our fingers. By New Years Eve, a lot of us will have a list of things we want to accomplish in the next year, though most of us suspect,  based on statistics and our previous history, we won’t attack our “resolutions” as vigorously as we imagined we would.

Thanksgiving decorations have started appearing and it reminds me the holiday (in the U.S.) originated to encourage appreciation for one another and our history. Whether we imagine a history as simple and flawless as the stories taught in our early school years or hold to a more realistic and imperfect version that many have grown to accept,[iii] the present seems the perfect time to re-envision our personal future. Every adjustment we make now, will change what we feel when we look back next Fall or Winter. In a sense, each moment of the present gives us a chance to write a new history, a little at a time. To help along the way, I’m bringing into the conversation three books, one per week, that I’ve found extra-helpful in my self-care journey.

The first book, in plenty of time to request it from the local library or to order from your favorite retailer and dig in soon, is The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky. This book wandered into my life a few years ago during a course called “The Science of Happiness” that I completed (twice) online through www.edx.org. I picked the book back up for a second read recently, and I’m so glad I did.

The happiness myths I grew up sorting through seem alive and well today, decades later. I thought when I found the right person, got the great job, and made enough money, happiness would find me, or I’d find it. If I didn’t find it, I thought, it was because it resided outside my circumstances or my genetics. The book addresses these myths with science and clear explanations. The author points out about 50% of our happiness seems tied to a “set point” that appears genetic (we used to call this “hard wired”). Another 10% relates to life circumstances. However, a whopping 40% can be changed through intentional activity. 

With all the self-care materials on the planet, this book really delivered a lot of info and some excellent tools. This book offers a good explanation of the theoretical framework and then provides a lot of tools. Not only are there options, they can be based on just picking ones that click for you or you can select recommended options that seem most in sync with your values by completing the included 12-question Oxford Happiness Questionnaire. (To complete the Questionnaire without the book, go to this link.[iv])

The tools, called “happiness activities” in the book, cover 12 areas and offer different options within each area. The general areas are Expressing gratitude, Cultivating optimism, Avoiding comparison and overthinking, Practicing acts of kindness, Nurturing relationships, Developing strategies for coping, Learning to forgive, Increasing “flow” experiences, Savoring joy, Committing to goals, Practicing Spirituality, and Taking care of your body. The Questionnaire helps score and select areas of focus.

Per the Questionnaire, Expressing gratitude scored as one of my highest-interest areas. Since I’m already using a tool related to gratitude and consider it quite important, I’m impressed with the questionnaire. In addition, it helped me narrow down my broad interests to a few options. And though I feel I’ve progressed a lot with gratitude, from the book I learned more about ways to cultivate an optimistic attitude. Honestly, I hadn’t linked the two.

Growing up among adults who often outdid one another to the point if one had a “cold coming on” the other self-diagnosed with pneumonia, I witnessed a lot of negative thinking. My personalized definition of optimism in my teenage years included having the ability to recognize when something awful happened (friendship fell apart), accept any role I had in the disaster (didn’t pick up the cues someone was deceiving me), and acknowledging other circumstances (intentional cover-up by folks who knew what was happening). To my surprise, the book’s definition of “optimistic” states a person who relegates their failures to causes “that were external, transient, and specific” as opposed to causes that are internal and long-lasting. Suddenly, I felt a bit more like Pollyanna.

The tool I felt most drawn to in the section on cultivating optimism suggests writing about “your best possible selves.” This involves pondering deeply important goals and picturing them as achieved, then writing about that. It’s suitable for people of all ages and employs my imagination.

To find a second example, I closed my eyes and opened the book to a random page. Well, perhaps it wasn’t quite so random. The pages I opened to nestled in the section entitled “Managing Stress, Hardship and Trauma” and the tool was “Learning to Forgive.” Yikes! Although this wasn’t one of my top scoring areas, I realized almost everyone I know (including myself) has gotten bogged down at some time after we have been wronged or perceived we have been. The page I opened to has two activities/tools. One is to “Imagine forgiveness.” The other is “Write a letter of forgiveness.”

  • Imagine forgiveness suggests thinking of a particular person “you blame for mistreating or offending you.” You then imagine feeling empathy for the person, take time to consider their perspective, view them as a complete human being, and forgive them. Note that this does not mean excusing or putting up with poor behavior! It’s about letting go of the pain around the incident(s) and weaving through it thoughtfully and completely, imaging what you would say, how you would feel, and, in the end, reducing your stress.
  • Write a letter of forgiveness seeks to help us let go of anger and resentment by writing out our feelings in a letter, but not sending the letter (so it doesn’t matter if this person lives next-door or is no longer alive).  The activity suggest one method is to write about the offense, how it hurt you, how it still hurts you, what you wish they would have done, and ending with a clear statement of forgiveness. Again, this is not meant to be sent/mailed to anyone, but to help you find some peace and, perhaps, understanding.

While these may not resonate with you at all (and that’s absolutely fine), there are many other great examples in the book that might interest you. I consider the book one of those that touched me in a most lovely and uplifting way. To be clear, my preference is for information that wraps itself into or around practical tips – things I can use in my own life. The How of Happiness does that so well that I have to add it to my small personal library (and remove a book to make room for it because I have limited space).

Above all else, the book reminded me that we all have the power to make our lives happier, not by magic, but through chasing happiness in the right way: with an internal focus. To me, the potential life-long happiness upgrade makes it well worth the attempt.

Next week, book 2 of my top 3 “self-care” books. Until then, may you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020


[i] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[ii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

[i] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[ii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

[iii] For U.S. history, as a start consider Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram Kendi or sources that respect the perspective of indigenous people and those kidnapped humans who were brought to this country enslaved. For me, loving a country means knowing the country’s authentic ups and downs, accepting the past, and working toward a more equitable future.

[iv] If you’re waiting for the book and would like to try the Happiness Questionnaire, here’s an article that includes the questionnaire along with guidance: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/nov/03/take-the-oxford-happiness-questionnaire

Giving Attention

So many things compete for our attention these days. Interacting with family and friends. Opportunities to engage with one another. Commitments to work, whether paid or volunteer. Making sure we meet our financial obligations. Focusing on caring for our bodies, preparing food, taking time for movement. Keeping up with current events and staying informed. Leaning in toward new opportunities. Keeping up with lifelong learning. And we live in a time with many entertainment options. Given all the competition, it’s no wonder so many of us struggle to make time for ourselves.

Several years ago I realized that when I completed two simple activities, my days went much more smoothly. For me, that still stands. I feel far calmer, happier, and far less likely to become irritated with others on days when I take as little as 15 minutes a day for some meditation and give myself some time – from 2 minutes to 2 hours – to write (whether a journal entry or crafting stories, but excluding emails and work-related tasks).

On days when I traveled for work or had other unusual time-sucks to deal with, these soothing timeouts sometimes didn’t happen. What I learned from this, thanks to the obvious difference in my stress level during days when I rushed around feeling frazzled, was to take time to pay attention. In my rush to care for family, do my best at work, and move through the day as efficiently as possible, changing my focus from the task-orientation to something a bit softer did not come easily to me. I learned a little at a time.

During the Greater Good Science Center class, “The Science of Happiness,” the instructors discussed the power of spending time in nature, engaging in simple walks in a park or even a minute or two looking at a tree (or other large green growing plant). Not one to accept such advice without trying it out, on a particularly difficult day at work, I stepped outside, walked to the back of the building where a large tree towered over a neighboring office. I stared at the tree for a minute or two, daring it to make a difference. Frankly, I found it difficult to direct any frustration toward the tree. It stood, firmly rooted, leaves rustling in a light breeze, apparently unconcerned about the humidity or the temperature or cranky clients or a complaining coworker. In spite of doubts, I stood watching the tree, breathing, and felt my tension slip away.

Surprised that a tree, however beautiful, had any impact, I vowed to remember that simple tool. And to try out more things.

Through the “Happiness” class[i] I experimented with a few different ways of paying attention to gratitude. One was to write 3 things daily for which I felt grateful. Another was to write 3 things on 3 different days each week. The final technique I tried involved gratitude writing once a week, stating 5 things for which I felt grateful and adding a sentence or two about what impact each had or why I felt so thankful.

A few years later, I’m still using the third technique. Someone gifted me with a lovely journal and though I resisted writing in it – who desecrates such beautiful works of art?! – I finally gave in and started a gratitude journey. This weekend I realized I’m nearly out of pages. I’m not ashamed to disclose I’ve missed weeks and picked up where I left off. I’ve also stared at the page a few times, after jarring weeks, slowly pulling something up from deep inside myself for which I could honestly claim I felt grateful. Most of the time, though, I strive to give little premeditated thought to the process. Instead, I go with the flow. I write the numbers 1 to 5 on 5 lines, then quickly jot something down, something that generates gratitude in my heart. After that, I give myself more space to write a 2 to 3 lines about each of the 5.

My entries will never win any prizes, and they often mention people – family, friends, coworkers, the stranger who bought me coffee. They also mention the weather, a spectacular sunset or full moon, a story that touched me, a sushi combination that surprised me, the roof over my head, the public library, the midnight blue color of the night sky, my health, access to healthcare, charming places, beautiful noise, services (like food delivery or my CSA), animals and birds, flowers and trees, easy trails. Several years of those weekly notes live in one journal that I rarely examine unless I want to remember.

Both of these simple practices – taking time outdoors to appreciate nature and developing a gratitude habit – can tweak a perspective enough to inspire more positive changes. Start slow. Stay consistent. Try different things.

This week I’m re-reading The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a book I learned about through The Science of Happiness class. I plan to write more about that book next time. For now, though, I’m wishing you some relaxing time in nature and hoping you find a rewarding gratitude practice that lifts you and keeps you mindful of all you have.

May you be healthy, be happy, be strong, and be safe.


[i] The Science of Happiness class is offered at low- to no-cost online through www.edX.org and additional information about positive psychology can be found at https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/

Imagination

Like many children, my youthful escape hatch typically involved books, stories, and my imagination. When things felt challenging at home – whether my parents argued about family trips (my dad preferred  spontaneous adventures and my mom vehemently opposed voyages lacking meticulous planning) or my siblings squabbled (about everything from who got the last cookie in the jar to the best football team) – at some point I learned to move away from the fray and toward my own peaceful place. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, good self-care requires making choices about when to invest energy in others’ battles and when to let things go.

As a young mother in a precarious marriage with a sour-tempered man, I eventually found my way out. Initially I sought escape, after the kids fell asleep and while my spouse worked nights or drank with friends, by diving into any good story filled with loving characters and a bit of humor. That often got me through, but after my spouse physically assaulted me, I opted to take action and reached out to a domestic violence hotline. Through that connection, I had the opportunity to work with a therapist and, with some help from my imagination, to assess and change my situation.

During the same time, I had written a few articles for a small local newspaper. In order to jot down inspiration, I stashed a small notepad and pen in my pocket and they accompanied me everywhere. In the days before smartphones, these rustic and affordable devices served me well. One day, after my spouse had an outburst, threatening to throw me down the stairs, I waited for him to exhaust himself and walk away. Taking a breath, I pulled out my notebook and wrote out some notes as if I were an observer stating facts without interpretation. When I presented that information to my therapist, we established a behavioral pattern and later those notes showed the behavior intensified.

Though I wish I could state I immediately fled, I did not. In fact, I could barely imagine a different way of living until two great things happened. My spouse accepted an opportunity to travel for his work. His absence for several months brought so much peace into the home that neither the children nor I could ignore the calm. To help make ends meet during my spouse’s absence, I found a better paying job and enrolled in a university class. Nothing earth-shattering, but in the workplace, I met people who called me brilliant, reliable, and competent. In my class, I met people with dreams and goals that inspired me.

This colorful bouquet of new people in my life helped me understand that asking for advice and help did not indicate weakness, but strength. Their support meant a lot, though my biggest lesson was that it’s hard to physically step outside any situation until we can imagine something different. And I had a great imagination. I just needed to exercise it.

Here are some ways I employed that creative spark:

I heard a story about a famous psychologist who worked with couples and asked them, at the start of a marriage-encounter type weekend, to go to their rooms and turn the toilet paper roll around. If it normally fell off the front, switch it to fall off the back, and vice versa. In his case, if folks admitted they didn’t do this, he refunded their money and sent them home. He pointed out it was a very small inconvenience and if they weren’t willing to do that, he questioned their readiness for change. I switched the toilet paper roll. It sounds odd, but I still do that now and then to help me notice something I largely ignore (unless it’s gone 😊) and to realize that feeling upset at a “backwards” toilet tissue roll is actually quite silly. The same holds true for lots of other small inconveniences.

My commute to work felt so boring. One day I took a different route. Literally. All those years ago, I noticed changing my route kept me more mindful. If you use public transportation (good job, you!) change your routine so instead of reading a book, speak with someone or listen to music or anything that is, for you, a change. If you absolutely cannot change those things, imagine the last time you traveled. During your commute to work or the market or church or school, look at the world around you as if you’ve never seen it before. I call it seeing through new eyes, waking up imagination.

When you find yourself in a situation that troubles you and you feel stuck, consider looking beyond your immediate resources for help.

  1. Though working with a professional may sound scary, and finding the right person may not happen immediately, having someone who will listen can make a huge difference. There are affordable resources if you can’t afford a licensed psychologist or therapist, including pastors, school counselors, and students who are finishing advanced degrees in mental health counseling or social work. The website www.opencounseling.com has some articles with good tips and can connect you to someone in the US. In addition, for mental health resources as well as medical and more, visit www.auntbertha.com.
  2. It might be that you just need someone who gets you and isn’t going to lie to you. For me, my great aunts – wise and very outspoken women – were folks I could turn to. If friends or family won’t work, perhaps a friend will loan you their aunt or cousin who has a gift for helping people.
  3. There are also online groups, including anonymous ones, that offer very low cost or free services. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (please don’t let the name scare you off) has an article and a listing of some online groups. To learn more, visit: https://nami.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360024615074-Are-there-any-online-resources-for-therapy-support-groups-or-mental-health-apps-.

Once upon a time I used my imagination to write down a plan for times when I feel stressed and can’t quite get myself to that logical, rational person I am. My plan is a handy list of what works for me and when it’s time to pull out the plan. If you make a plan, suggest you include:

  1. Your Tells: the signs that you’re super-stressed or otherwise challenged. Over-stressed me gets clumsy, my throat feels tight, I feel antsy and tired at the same time, I don’t concentrate well.
  2. Coping: Ask yourself: Hungry? (Eat). Angry? (Take a Break). Tired? (Nap). Lonely? (Reach out). Undecided? (Breathe). When you need more, go for a distraction.
  3. Distractions: I like funny movies, sudoku puzzles, journaling, walking, listening to happy or soothing tunes, and baking. Try to come up with at least 20 so you have options to choose from.
  4. Connections: Name people who will be there for you to listen and offer support. Include their contact info. These folks can be anyone meaningful to you who has your back.
  5. The Big Guns: These are professionals such as your physician, your therapist or other mental health helper if you have one, your pastor or other religious elder, and a hotline or two.

More in-depth plans are often suggested for people who are considering suicide. If you are thinking about ending your life, please tell your doctor, go to a hospital, call a suicide hotline, or call 911 / the emergency services line in your area. The info I share here I have on stand-by for my own self-care when I don’t know where to start.

Imagination sometimes gets a bad rap, but it can elevate us when we feel ourselves sinking. Tapping into that power can help us re-envision our world and our future. Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” May your imagination take you to great places!

May you be healthy, happy, safe, and strong.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020


[i] “Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their judgment, their perception, and even their sanity. Over time, a gaslighter’s manipulations can grow more complex and potent, making it increasingly difficult for the victim to see the truth.” (From Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/gaslighting)

Falling

Autumn arrived last week, the season that most folks (in the Northern Hemisphere) imagine as bursts of colorful leaves that usher in the cold days of winter. Fall makes a more minimal entrance here in the areas fringing the biggest metro sections of Southern California. In my childhood, autumn in Central California brought some colorful foliage and the tulle fog that caused a lot of mayhem on the highways and streets. Where I live now, the only significant gatherings of autumn leaves erupt briefly, mostly in parks, and late in the year: after Thanksgiving. The trees quickly shrug off the old, rushing to try on their Spring wardrobe.

Though it doesn’t feel like autumn weather, at the local market I couldn’t resist picking up a beautiful pumpkin. When I got it home my grandsons started talking about carving it. More practical, I suggested cooking it. They countered with the idea of painting it. And then carving it.

We clearly see things from a different perspective, yet we all expect some compromises at home. It makes sense, given the combination of different personalities and moods crisscrossing paths in one relatively confined space. Because of the lingering heat of summer and heatwaves that have flitted through the southern half of California, we lost our usual suburban refuge: the back yard. We all get downright cranky some days.

The life issues contributing to that crankiness, I’ve realized, cross age boundaries. Our challenges include some lack of physical activity, lingering awkwardness related to a new way of living during a pandemic, a fluctuating level of anxiety because of external events like wildfires that impact air quality, and lapses into ineffective communication. In simpler terms, we all stress out.

Humor, when used at the right time, can lighten up potential emotional explosions. For example, when the 5-year-old in my life becomes really frustrated about house rules that limit television or playing video games, name-calling is a go-to response. It usually goes something like this:

A miffed kindergartener looks at me and announces, “You’re a doodoo head!”

Me: “What?! I have doodoo on my head?!” I start touching my head. “Where is it?! Help me get if off! Where is it?!”

My kindergartener struggles to glare but we laugh. Then we talk, and we’re back on track.

In grown-up world, the situations are often more nuanced and sometimes humor fails. While there are many tools I use, I’m sharing one I learned about a few years ago but just started practicing in the last few months. I use this when something is bothering me, but I’ve got conflicting emotions and/or I feel muddled by anxiety or fear. When I feel stuck, I’ve become a fan of RAIN.

To start, keep in mind this is just my experience and not a recommendation. You know what works for you, so you do you! I’m not a professional with a certification for teaching this technique (I’m not even sure if there is a certification!), so after you hear about my experience if you want to walk through this yourself, look for the link I’ll share to a video with Tara Brach (a genuine expert and awesome teacher). In the video, she walks folks through RAIN.

For me, recently two activities converged. I began posting more often on Facebook, and a friend I have known for decades started sharing a lot of posts I found offensive and racist. Since I didn’t think of this person as racist, I made an “Ah, c’mon” comment that I thought would seem non-judgmental and light-hearted. It did not go well, and I received some unexpected and mean backlash. When I went back to review previous posts from this person, it was clear that we have a big difference of opinion regarding race. Because I felt awful and had a hard time just letting this go, I used the RAIN technique.

The acronym RAIN, coined more than 20 years ago by Michelle McDonald, has been popularized by Tara Brach, PhD. The acronym stands for: Recognize what is happening; Allow the experience; Investigate with interest; Nurture with self-compassion.

Recognize requires taking time to look at the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. For me, the thought that repeated: I thought we were friends and I do not even know this person. I felt anxious, perplexed, abused, and embarrassed. How did I get this so wrong?

Allowing, for me, involved letting the experience just percolate, not beating myself up or making excuses for others. In just sitting quietly with the event, I realized my online comments resulted in a response of fury and disgust that I felt also held some sense of smug superiority.

To Investigate, I gave myself time by taking a few deep belly breaths and sat quietly to see what bubbled up. First, I acknowledged, offending someone else was never my intention. Then I reminded myself, I did the best I could at the time. What happened next surprised me. Just sitting calmly, old remarks and reactions from this person popped into my mind from decades ago. I remembered their best friend as an unabashed racist. I remembered the last time our paths had crossed, this person and their spouse gossiped about and made fun of other friends we had known while I sat uncomfortably, saying little. As other memories came to me, I realized this individual had not ever been a friend to me and most likely connected with me to feed information to my abusive ex-. Many other pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Initially I wondered How could I have missed that?! Rather than going down that rabbit hole, I moved on to offering myself compassion.

Nurturing myself, I repeated my go-to self-talk. I counted my blessings and repeated May I be safe, be healthy, be happy, be strong. I added the line from Brené Brown, I am here to get it right, not to be right. And, from Desiderata, the lines I recall most. Like the moon and the stars, I have a right to be here. Whether or not it is clear to me, the Universe is unfolding as it should.

In the end, I realized if I had it to do over, I might have approached this individual differently. I could have asked by private message about their posts and why they felt committed to their philosophies. I would have had a chance to try to understand why they believed what I understand as false stereotypes that, in the end, seemed likely to hurt them as well as others. I realized where my feelings came from and feel confident that I can move forward with a new understanding of the old relationship. I want to speak and honor the truth, so I will add that this experience helped me see this individual as unkind and not a good time investment for me right now; I’m taking a break that may become a permanent fracture.

To me, knowledge is power. RAIN is an effective self-care/self-compassion tool that helps me reach a deeper understanding, find some peace, and develop insight. I plan to use this when I’m having one of Those Days, feeling frustrated and, at some level, anxious, overwhelmed, or confused.

In the hope of inspiring others, I’m sharing what works for me. Take time to explore what works for you.   To learn more about the RAIN technique, use this video to walk through the technique with an expert, Tara Brach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8e_tAEM80k

Next week I’ll share more about some of my other favorite tools and how they’ve worked for me. In the meantime, follow health guidelines, get some sunshine if you’re able to do so safely, move as well as you’re able, laugh often, and remember to be kind to yourself.

May you be healthy, be happy, be strong, be safe, and live a life of ease.

Gut Punched

This week I’m concerned about a lot of things with the potential to impact many lives. These include politics, poverty, and privilege. I’m feeling as if I’ve been punched in the stomach – the Sucker-Punch type that’s unexpected – my gut refuses to relax, my shallow breathing and spinning head make it worse.

You would think in our culture in the U.S.A. it would be humbling to learn of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an extraordinary woman who touched so many lives in such significant ways. I would think that we would all respect the loss. That we would take time to quit in-fighting and come together to talk about how she made things better for all people, but particularly women. I would think we’d find ways to work together to keep from slipping into either totalitarianism or anarchy (depending on one’s political perspective).

Somehow, that is not happening. Some people cackle in joy (believing, mistakenly, Justice Ginsburg conjured up Roe v. Wade to terrorize some faith-folks) while others weep inconsolably (believing the court and democracy will be irreparably broken with a patriarchal-loving replacement). The volume is cranked up so high we can’t hear one another. Frankly, that’s probably a good thing: I’m sick of the lies, name-calling, and back-biting.

We’re better off financially and educationally and in many other ways than most of the world’s population, yet we bickered ourselves into a vicious corner.

In so doing, we changed the culture. Scientists and even smart kids suddenly aren’t respected as they once were. Belligerence and conspiracy theories out-shout reason. Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color face the same challenges they have struggled with for over 400 years – and some people rejoice in that disgrace. Economies, from the personal to our national, flounder. People who believe in the “right to life” often neglect to cherish the lives of those locked up at our borders, death row inmates, children living in poverty, and people without health insurance. Even if you don’t work part-time as a crisis counselor, you know our shared pain, so I’ll stop with those reminders.

We have to face it, though. Life today carries a lot of extra stress on top of the daily stressors we always juggled.  We’ve all been gut-punched, some harder than others.

Fat people face even more stigma. (By the way, I prefer the word “fat” to other terms and define this group of people to include those who, in CDC language, “are overweight” and those “with obesity.” Fat folks make up more than two-thirds of the population in the USA.) (Yes, we are the majority.) Dedicated health professionals and journalists tie “obesity” repeatedly to Covid-19, though I haven’t found well documented studies or hard data to explain why this is so.[i]  Our national assumption that fat kills, I assume, plays into this.[ii]

After a quick glance at the numbers online, my very rough guess is that up to 70% of us in the U.S. have at least one risk factor while many have more.[iii]  While that may sound upsetting, and while I acknowledge the numbers are very rough estimates, it’s clear we’re all in this together. We need to start behaving as if we understand this.

And to get through this dilemma, we all need to practice rigorous self-care. I can name a half-dozen ways I’ve ignored self-care this past week. Skipping meals. Sleeping less. Blowing off morning meditation. Not responding to friends. Not asking for help. Not taking breaks. My problem, once I quit focusing on my needs, is that things spiral out of control. When things get out of hand, I go Lizard-Brain.

For me, that means collapsing too frequently into that flight-flight-freeze zone (hello, amygdala!) that served our ancestors so well but doesn’t make for effective civilized interaction. I participated in a melt-down with a 7-year-old over homework (as if the sky will fall because of dilly-dallying) and burst into tears when a 5-year-old told me to move out (the comment accidentally pushed an old trauma-related button). I started to catastrophize. I’m so good at it I could give Stephen King and Dean Koontz advice about worst case scenarios! 😉

The thing about this?  I know this happens when I don’t care for myself. I knew I wasn’t caring for myself. Duh. My go-to move when I’m drifting into catastrophizing has been to stop and recite my gratitude list (I’m grateful for a bed to sleep in, the color of the late night sky outside my window…) or to repeat I am safe. I am healthy, happy, and strong. I am at ease. Last week I shrugged them off. Each day that passed, I kicked myself and added a bit more to my To-Do list instead of kicking back and taking things off the list. And, as expected, each day felt more challenging.

From age 2 until I married and moved out, my parents reminded me every day my job was to take care of and protect my younger brother. And from there, it was such an easy step into taking care of lots of others, most of whom behaved badly. Just before he died (at age 38), my brother told me, “You know, it was never your job to take care of me. I always knew, but I don’t know if you did.” I cried buckets. Before his funeral, my mom remarked, “I don’t know why you always thought it was your job to take care of him.” I glared at her, shocked, and she shrugged and chuckled. “Oh,” she said, “I guess we let you think it was your job.”

Those two huge messages were heard, but their enormity didn’t move me to slow my care-taking.

Fast forward too-many years, during which time I learned the high price I pay for ignoring self-care. It took some pain, recognizing that taking time for myself and meeting my own needs is not selfish, and making those choices. In fact, self-care leaves me feeling healthier, more authentic, and, coincidentally, I seem to take better care of those around me without behaving like a doormat.

Unsolicited Advice: Figure out what you need and want, then do your best to give it to yourself. Start with the basics.

Eat as if you know your body is smart and important. For me, Intuitive Eating gave me skills and a solid foundation that work for me. I recognize hunger and satisfaction, know ignoring my body around these works against me because doing so in the past always ended in an eating make-up session. (When it does happen, it’s okay. These days make-up sessions fall far short of binges and make sense to me.) IE is not about feeling like a failure when something seems to go wrong. Analyze. Adjust. Move forward.

Get enough sleep. From the book Say Good Night to Insomnia, I learned that my goal of 8 hours of sleep each night probably isn’t realistic. From 7 to 9 hours are “average,” but people who get 7 hours of sleep actually outlive people who sleep 8 hours. The research (thanks to my local public library!) helped me re-set my goal to increase my normal 6-ish hours to work toward 7 most nights.

Keep learning. Since childhood I’ve been curious and therefore committed to lifelong learning. Now I’m focused on anti-racism since it’s critically important to developing the kind of safe, inclusive, fair society I’d like my grandsons to grow up in. The free training, a 30-day challenge (2 hours/day) is through www.theantiracisttable.com.

Make space for growth and healing. For me, taking time outside daily soothes; watching movies (generally, comedies because I’m needing upbeat endings) relaxes me; learning new things energizes me; time in a pool or near large bodies of water invigorates me; exercising silliness with my grandsons uplifts me; travel opens me; and reading informs and entertains me. Know what works for you and take time for yourself.[iv]

FINAL WORDS

It’s hard being a human in this world right now. There’s a lot to worry about. Take time for yourself first. Everyone uses the old in-flight oxygen-mask safety briefing to make this point because it’s true. You can’t give to others (or save their lives by putting on their masks) if you don’t first take care of yourself. Mask-up and enjoy the week!

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020


[i] The CDC website does mention obesity as a factor, though it didn’t, the last time I checked, note any studies that implicated obesity. Note that obesity is considered by the CDC to be a “disease” since the AMA declared it so. The AMA decision went against the recommendations of the panel of experts who studied the measure, but gave carte blanche to bill for “treatment” during office visits and moved expensive bariatric surgery from the “elective surgery” category to billable to insurance companies.

[ii] Studies do show that stigma kills. Some studies also report that fat people avoid medical care or wait until symptoms are more serious before seeking medical attention because they’re so disillusioned about the way they were treated in the past based on negative/moralistic judgments assigned to size.

[iii] By the time you add up BIPOC  (25.5% of the population, including Black, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Biracial, and people claiming “Other” race), elders (ages 65 and better)(16.4%), fat people (31.8% overweight and 39.8% “have obesity”), those living in poverty (10.5%), people living without health insurance (9.4%), and people with coronary heart disease (~5%, this excludes the 24% with high blood pressure) or diabetes (6%). Even considering a generous portion of these categories may overlap, 70% is not unreasonable. (Data sources for these facts are: data.census.gov, hopkinsmedicine.org, and cdc.gov).

[iv] Currently reading Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, Say Good Night to Insomnia by Gregg D. Jacobs, PhD, Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett, PhD, and on my Kindle just downloaded The Old Girls’ Network by Janet Leigh. Variety is good.