Hot Cocoa Therapy

When a cup of hot cocoa and a random act of kindness work together to warm your heart…

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I have mentioned in previous posts that depression an I have a rocky relationship, its like a sneaky shadow ninja that lurks around the periphery of my little world.  Once it can find some small crack to bleed through, it latches on to dim not just the sun, but the moon and stars too.  I’ve gotten better at sensing the infiltration, repairing the cracks, and lighting candles to combat the darkness.  Just like all of us, I’m a work in progress.

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Holidays can be particularly difficult.  Last Christmas season I had to talk to my children about how it was going to be a pretty lean time, and that under the tree wouldn’t look all that impressive.  My kids are wonderful, it didn’t matter to them, they were just excited that we would be able to wake up together and have a special breakfast.  Their total acceptance and support of me was both one of my proudest parenting moments and heart shattering.  And I felt the crack.  And it was a big one.  Damn ninja didn’t even have to sneak in this time.

The kids left for their biweekly long weekend with their dad, leaving me with great big hugs and kisses and I shut down for 4 of the next 5 days.  I became a virtual recluse, except for taking out Chassis for his daily walks, I isolated myself.  Shades closed, curtains drawn. Only went off the property to get groceries.  I just couldn’t handle the “Christmas Spirit” with its bows, pretty papers, and songs feeling like I was failing at it all.

By Sunday I knew I had to readjust, had to  mine for that silver lining.  I wasn’t really sure

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of the plan, but I knew I needed to get out of my house and out of my head for a bit.  So I decided I would head down to Saratoga Springs and walk the shops, if nothing else Broadway is a beautiful walk and I could treat myself to a hot cocoa with the $20 I had in my pocket.

It felt good to be outside in the fresh air.  It actually felt good to be surrounded by people and the entire vibe was happy, and I drank it in.  As I walked I noticed a young man leaning against the kitchen exhaust fan of one of the popular restaurants.  I smiled at him, thinking as the wind blew, what a brilliant place to stand to warm up.  I continued my meandering and window shopping, every step chasing that nasty little ninja from the recesses of my mind.  I stopped to warm up with a hot cocoa after finding a perfect little ornament for my mom.  I had found that acceptance of the situation, I had a plan, I found my center again.  I thought that was my silver lining.  But the Universe presented me with a far greater gift…

As I made my way back to the car, I noticed the same young man standing in the same spot.  Now, my mama bear hackles were raised.  Why was this kid still there?  It was cold, windy.  And he had to be cold, which made me cold.  As I crossed the street, I made a beeline for him.  When I started to speak, he looked up in alarm, until he heard the question.  “Hey there, you look pretty cold out here.  How about we go find a spot to go get a hot cocoa and warm up?”  I think it took him a full 30 seconds to reply, he kind of looked at me like I had 3 heads.  When I offered up the place I had just been, he actually asked if it was OK to go somewhere closer.  His eyes sparkled like my kids do when they beg for a stop at Krispy Kreme on our travels as he described how this place had these flavor shots you could add that make the absolute best tasting drink.  “If its OK, could I please get that? Its OK if you say no, they are just so good”.

The sparkle and smile transformed his face, that scruffy, slightly dirty, sad man returned to the boy he really was, probably 19 or 20.  So excited about a simple treat!  This young man had no idea what a gift he’d just given me, that genuine joy not only beat that nasty little ninja but sealed the crack!  Now to enjoy this. I smiled, weaved my arm into his as we crossed the street and said “Order anything you want, I have it covered!”

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The looks we got as we entered the cafe arm in arm were priceless.  My new friend offered to pull away, but I held steady.  His head dropped as we went to place our order and everyone stared.  The first question was “Eat in or To Go?” and I answered eat in *collective gasp* His head pops up, he looks me in the eye and smiles.  The cashier gives me a smile.  Then the cashier asked for the order.  “My friend is cold and thirsty, but he just loves your cocoa here.  Go ahead and tell them EXACTLY how you want it sweets.  And make sure you grab him a pastry, too (my new friend starts to protest) If he won’t choose one himself, pick the most expensive.”

“This is too much” my new friend whispers.  “Wish I could do more” I whisper back.  He picks out a pastry, gets his cocoa just like he wanted.  Watching him take that first sip was beautiful, he was in bliss.  I get him to a table, give him a hug and whisper God Bless.

I have looked for him on return visits.  Have not seen him around, but have heard that he is doing ok still.  I spent less that $5 on his snack, but what he gave me back that day is more than he will ever know.  The opportunity to offer compassion, dignity, recognition made ME feel whole and fulfilled, and all I really did for him was fill his belly and give him a legitimate reason to be inside and get warm.  His bliss over that hot cocoa is one of the candles I keep lit to combat the darkness, and I am forever grateful he allowed me to buy him a cup!

I think sometimes we forget that in helping others, we help ourselves.  We are a species meant to be connected, and today as you take the time to finish reading this, know that I am sending you a healing thought, a big smile, and a hug!  Blessings to you all, friends! 🙂

 

The Scent of a Memory

Have you ever noticed that certain smells have that way of evoking a memory so powerfully that you feel as if you have transported right back into that moment?

I love the smell of coffee.

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It conjures up images of me standing on a chair “helping” my mom set up, fill, and percolate the coffee on the stove.  Not sure if you remember, but that was pretty technical (and it was glass!) for a little one to be helping with, so it was kind of a big deal  😉  Watching as the water bubbled up that tube inside and erupted over the grounds to turn from colorless and clear to that dark, rich brown was fascinating.  And as the color turned darker, the coffee smell grew stronger.  Probably where that love of science had its start.  It was exciting to be a help in the morning, a sign that I was growing up, and I held great pride in that.

Too bad I can’t stand the taste of it.

Not that my Gramma Rose didn’t try to remedy that situation.  We would visit Rosie every day “for coffee”.  Mom and Rosie would sit at the kitchen table and us kids would do our best to drive them nuts running in and out of the house between bike riding, playing on the swings, and trampling up the stairs to make a mess of the playroom.  When I got old enough to sit still, Rosie invited me to join them at the table and have my own cup of coffee: warm milk, tablespoons of sugar, and just enough coffee to make it turn color.  Because it was for Rose, and it meant that I got to spend more time with her, I would drink my “Rose Coffee” while snacking on saltines, talking about my day, and learning to play Rummy.

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Every time we walk into a coffee shop or a bakery, that first big intake of breath brings me back to those moments, just for an instant.  They help fuel my Happy.

Have you ever noticed that certain smells have that way of evoking an emotional response or a memory so powerfully that you feel as if you have transported right back into that moment?  Like getting that heady feel from putting on your boyfriend’s sweatshirt and being not just swallowed up in the warmth of it, but in the smell of him?  Well, its not just a phenomenon experienced by you.  Turns out that through some pretty interesting biology, we are actually wired for this emotional response. “Incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory:  the amygdala and hippocampus. Interestingly, visual, auditory (sound), and tactile (touch) information do not pass through these brain areas. This may be why olfaction, more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories.” (Jordan Gaines Lewis, PhD)  There are smells that are pretty universal in revolting us or causing a flight response, such as the smell of rotting food or smoke.  One can see how they would be useful in keeping us out of danger.

Where we luck out in this quirk of biology is that it can help us link back to some of those

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Garlic Scape, Colgan Farm
powerful, happy moments.  The smell of garlic and motor oil reminds me of my Grampa because he ate it every day and was constantly tinkering on engines; my Gramma Mary had a powder she used that I swear I smell out of the blue and suddenly I am sitting with her at the piano singing “On Top of Spaghetti” as we giggle away; I bring a blanket when I visit my parents just so I can bring it back to snuggle in the smell of home.  The kids and I have gone out on candle sniffing missions to find the one that reminds us most of my sister’s home, because we miss being close to her.

Scent has even been incorporated into various treatments. Probably most well known for treating stress and anxiety, aromatherapy has also been shown to help supplement treatment of depression and insomnia, control pain and help with nausea among other things.    I have used a bit of aromatherapy in dealing with my anxiety issues. Lavender is a favorite, I also like rose and cedar too, just to name a few.

Because there is such a deep connection between our sense of smell and our emotions, smell becomes another way that we can help create that atmosphere that makes our Happy feel at home.

May your memories, old and new, smell amazing! 🙂

“Averaging” Your Happy

I started paying attention a whole lot more closely to those I interacted with, realizing that I had allowed a lot of people to come into my little world and really bring down my “Happy Average”

I read once that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  Can that really be true?   That was was a pretty sobering idea at the time; I was in a particularly stressful job situation (though many of my coworkers were lovely), I was mired knee deep, and still sinking, in a custody battle, and other than my beautiful babies, the truth was that those who would filled the other two slots in my average were not really happy, nor positive, folks.

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Maggie’s Trinity Selfie
My three kids are my world, they bring me so much peace and joy among their chaos and I know that they look to me to steer their own internal moods.  So that five people average really scared me.  I started paying attention a whole lot more closely to those I interacted with, realizing that I had allowed a lot of people to come into my little world and really bring down my “Happy Average”, but I really hadn’t quite figured out what to do with that knowledge yet.  But, the first step is admitting there is an issue, right?  So, I was on my way to figuring this out… and then my little world blew apart.  An incident at work left me without the ability to continue in that capacity, leaving me as a shell of my former self.   I gathered my children, my sister, and my one friend close and closed down.  For a quite a while.

I began counseling and was diagnosed with PTSD, not only for that current incident but it turns out that I had lived with it from the issues in my past.  One of the things that my counselor and I discussed was this whole idea of the average.  My fear at that point (I was really good at coming up with a list of them, but this was weighing heavy on my mind) was that was that I would allow my current fears and angers to sully my children’s chance for happiness.  He reminded me that I had a choice in who I allowed into my inner circle, that 5 was not a magic number, but a rule of thumb, and that being happy is a chosen response. This gave me back a piece of hope; I could make changes and rise again like a Phoenix as I regained myself.   I’d found my silver lining.

As I have progressed in my healing (an ongoing process, to be sure), I have realized that the “average” can be in flux daily, weekly, monthly.  I have learned to keep track of how I react to different personalities, those that I feel comfortable with and those that, for one reason or another, grate on me.   I may like someone, but if I need to limit time with them, I do.  Protect your happy.  When you do find those people, places, experiences that bring

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Beach combing for a silver lining

you joy, be sure to average them in, increase that happy for yourself.

I am learning to build those healthy boundaries now, and my experiences have provided lessons for my children.  Together we have reframed our outlook to search for the silver linings, seek the adventure in adversity, and ferret out the joy in each experience.  As I have extended out my circle to bring in new perspectives and new joys, so have my children.  In a quest to create the list of my best 5, I ended up creating a more whole, well rounded version of myself.

So, in honor of school staring here tomorrow, welcome back to math class … Happy Averaging!! 😉

Harvesting From Your Happy

That whole “Reap what you sow” works both ways, so planting good things allows you to harvest them in times of need.

There are some days, some weeks at times, when holding onto your Happiness can be a struggle.  Let’s face it, no matter how idyllic we would like to create the world we live in, there are times when reality just barges through that door, plants itself in the chair and kicks back with its mucky boots on your table.  It’s not that you are frenemies or even enemies, but to steal a line from Mickey Rourke in Barfly you “…seem to feel better when they’re not around.” Not the friendliest of house guests, once settled in and running roughshod over your Happy, Reality refuses all polite attempts to shoo it back out the door.

I have had my ups and downs with that clash between my little world and reality, that fight between what “should be” and what actually “is”.  Some have led me pretty far into received_10154495778800742the darkness, but with the help of counselors, friends, and family I have overcome and learned some valuable lessons that have helped me place breadcrumbs and candles along the path, should I travel there again.

Just like planning for winter or lean times, you can plan ahead for those times when it’s a struggle.  That whole “Reap what you sow” works both ways, so planting good things allows you to harvest them in times of need.    A few things I have learned along the way, things that help me plan for Reality’s visits and create a more hospitable atmosphere for us both are:

  1. We Create Our Own Happiness

I know this sounds cliché, but let that settle in for a minute.  Each and every one of us is responsible for our own happiness!  That is an incredibly powerful thing!!  It means that not only do you have the ability to change your general outlook, BUT THAT NO ONE CAN TAKE IT AWAY!!!  That’s right, think about it.   If you take responsibility for creating your own mood, finding the joy in your day, searching for a silver lining in each shitty situation… YOU OWN YOUR HAPPY.

  1. YOU Get To Choose Your Perspective

It’s a funny thing, when good things happen to you oftentimes you will find that there are the little annoying birds that fly around picking at the big beautiful harvest, trying to steal pieces of your joy in that moment.  I’m sure you have heard something like “don’t jinx it” or “this is great, but…”  And just watch the vultures circle if it isn’t a positive thing.  Remember how I just said YOU own that Happy?  Well, YOU own how you choose to look atreceived_10154514663160742 a situation, too.  Good or bad, YOU control how you react and what you can gain from it.  I spent a long time in abusive relationships where I gave my power away, allowing someone else to control my perception of my accomplishments and stumbling blocks.  When I made a conscious decision to regain that power, I realized I could choose to continue to look through their lens or start to examine MY life thorough my own.  I started to make a concerted effort to find the silver linings in each situation, basically harvesting the seeds of each experience for my Happy garden.  If you can find some tiny positive, even if its “I made it through today and will do so tomorrow”, you are taking power and regaining ownership of the situation.

  1. Stay In The Moment

As a society we tend to live our lives anytime but in the here and now.  Yet the only thing we actually have any control of is NOW.  How we choose to react, to focus on in this very moment, and whether to put that positive spin on it are all within our power. I will admit, this one is probably one of the hardest for me.  Yet the work I have put into changing my focus has helped me deal with my panic attacks more effectively.  Definitely one of the things I harvest frequently.

  1. Celebrate Your Happy

I have filled my walls with pictures of my kids and I, documenting memories of trips and mini adventures where we captured our joy on camera as a reminder of good times.  We have made lake and ocean water jars to bring a piece of our home state to our relocated one.  We have small and silly traditions, both at home and when we travel to keep us in touch with particularly happy memories.  If something made you joyful, celebrate it, joyfully, publicly, and often!  You will find that its infectious when you do!

While this list may not be instantly life changing, these concepts were incredibly helpful once I moved from the nice pasted smile and polite head nod to really examining their worth for my life.  No one will ever have all the answers, but hopefully something here sparked an idea that will help you pursue your own garden to have in times of need.

Happy Planting!

Addictions 

Today I want to talk about addictions. No, not to drugs or alcohol but, emotional and verbal addictions.


When you talk to your BFF or your spouse, do you talk about the happiness and joys or do you vent?

I’ve done it myself. You fall into the spiral where this is wrong or that’s upsetting. Next thing you know you are on a bitch fest that lasts a week and every topic that makes you emotional in a negative way takes over your head, mouth and attitude.

I’ve been talking lately about just how bad that’s gotten with a great deal of people I talk to. Whining about poor financial situations, complaining about unrequited love, and to top it all off political bickering.

Where has all the conversation gone about things like I’m so proud of my kid or a kid saying how awesome a night at the movies was? How about how great a persons job is or how cool a new gadget is? How about the blessing of lifelong friends? Anything! (Insert crickets chirping here)

Facebook kindly gives a “today in memories” now. I go through mine on a regular basis to see how far I’ve come professionally. You can always tell when I had a bad day or I was frustrated about something. The posts express it. Don’t we all try to just connect? Expressing the negativity is more of an outlet to me to have someone, anyone tell me that it’s going to be okay. That the sun will still rise tomorrow and that this too shall pass.

But is it bringing me joy and happiness? To know I have positive friends yes! But is it helping ME? Not really!!!! Why?

It’s not helping because I’m not really solving anything and I’m sharing my misery with others. Sure I get comments that are positive but they only pat me on the back, give me a hug and don’t offer a solution.

What if I reworded negative phrases from “Today was miserable. Nothing is going right.” to “Today was a real challenge. I’m going to recharge tonight and try again tomorrow.”? The pattern of speech goes from miserable to optimistic. 

Here’s the next addiction:

Happiness isn’t found at the end of the journey, it’s found in the journey. Happiness is the Thelma to your Louise! It’s sitting right there next to you, stop ignoring it and giving it the silent treatment because today didn’t meet your expectations.

Who cares about money and status, fame and glory? I know public figures and let’s just say I’ve witness the misery of microphones being shoved in your face and cameras constantly pointed at you. Money and fame come with its own set of massively negative, over scrutinized moments.

One thing these people have taught me is the pure joy in being IN the moment. It might be a quiet day with friends at home to pulling pranks on that same group. It’s about sharing what you do have with others in the moment. It might be laughing at yourself over some stupid picture from almost a year ago.

Make a pact with yourself, for yourself to break these addictions. Stop taking the misery train. Stop thinking about the destination. Enjoy the moment my friends!