About a year ago, I was in a pretty low place (not literally in a canyon or below sea level but in my mind, in my self). Backtracking a bit, about 1.5 years ago I stopped working to stay home with my two kids. I did this right before winter came with its usual phlegm, vomit and school cancellations and found that the hardest job on the planet is staying home with two very small children, no local extended family, a relatively weak community social network (the kind where real people live near you and you interact with them in person, not through a screen) and very little cash. (To be honest, I’m sure there are many much harder jobs like working in a sweatshop, but it was the hardest job I’d ever had).
So, after about five months at home, I took an offer to go back to my previous employer on a part-time, flexible basis, primarily so that I could afford to pay someone else to spend some time with my children. And that’s the truth. I just needed a break.
I started working again and while I’m not totally sure of the timing, within no more than two months my outlook on life had turned rather black. I was mad at my husband, impatient with my kids, gaining weight, not exercising (this was not a change from the status quo, but I wasn’t), experiencing road rage, eating too much mac and cheese. Possibly one could say I was depressed. I’m not totally clear on what that word entails, clinically, so maybe that’s not the right word, but my best friend, on one of our very infrequent phone calls, sounded the alarm bell and said maybe I should talk to someone. This isn’t the kind of thing she normally recommends, so I paid attention. I knew something had to change, I just didn’t know what COULD change. I guess, more than anything, I felt trapped.
So I did very little research, found a therapist who took my insurance, and started going to talk to her. Pretty quickly discovered that this was not the answer I was seeking. I have talked to therapists before. It can be very very valuable. But I didn’t want to look at the whys and I didn’t want to talk about how I got to be where I am. I wanted to make a plan, to make some changes, to talk about now and the future.
In lieu of therapy, here is a list of some things I have tried in the past 9 months that have had a PROFOUND impact on my life. I can’t untangle which element has provided what, but taken all together they have produced this Jenaissance and I am so appreciative and just wanted to share in case they may help you too (these are in chronological order of when I tried them, not order of importance):
1) Hypnotherapy. I went to see Laura Palmer at Bridgenosis in Old Town, Alexandria for one session. This was amazing and really cleared some old cobwebs for me. I have been trying to get an A+ from someone else for most of my life. The very talented Laura helped me learn to try (really hard because it is not easy) to listen to my own inner voice. Incidentally, I put an offer on a house 3 days after my session with Laura. I had not been looking for a house. I did not have an agent. I had wanted to have a house but there were so many reasons not to. And then I got hypnotized and now I love my house.
2) Coaching. I decided to try coaching, rather than therapy. One reason I had not gone this route originally is because therapy is covered by insurance, coaching is not. But since I was working again and making money, I decided the best use of some of that money, other than paying to not spend time with my kids, was to figure out what I was doing and where I might want to be going. I found a career coach whose approach was to put together a Strategic Life Plan (like you would put together a business plan) and if you are considering something like this I love my coach: Jennifer Walper Roberts at Conspire Coaching and Consulting. She does one-on-one coaching and also has a program called Emerging Women Leaders. We did all of our sessions via phone or online, so you probably wouldn’t have to be local to work with her. Just in case you were wondering.
Here’s where it starts getting more interesting and less predictable, though I guess hypnotherapy is not predictable.
3) Choose Yourself. Then I started reading a couple of blogs. In particular James Altucher’s blog. I read everything that James A. writes now. He comes into my inbox almost every day and is the first email I read. He wrote a book called Choose Yourself and I guess it isn’t for everyone but it was amazing for me. It costs $0.99 on Amazon (the Kindle version), so you could just take a look and see what you think. He’s very honest and real and he has helped and helps me a lot. I also read The Art of Non-Conformity (blog written by Chris Guillebeau who wrote The $100 Startup which I also read, most of) and a few other self-helpy/nonfiction books: Working Identity, The Four-Hour Work Week, The Gift. All were useful for me.
(I also started reading War and Peace in this time, always wanted to do that. Not uplifting exactly but I knew I was done with the therapist when she suggested that reading War and Peace could be bringing me down. Amazing amazing book. I finished it two days ago.)
4) Kayaking in Baja. Here’s where you start to roll your eyes. What – who does this with two small kids, little disposable income, and a once-a-year exercise habit? My friend was turning 40. She organized a NOLS course to sea kayak in Baja, Mexico. I felt crazy but I also felt a strong pull to go. This used to be me – someone who loved to be outside, who loved to be active, who loved to be in wilderness getting dirty and eating slop that you’ve carted around on your own back (or in your own boat) for days. This trip was where the Jenaissance actually originated. I came back from the trip and knew I had to leave my job, I had to be creative, I had to be outside, I had to be myself again. I had to be alive.
Can I interject, even though I’m not supposed to talk about him on this blog, that my husband has been incredibly supportive all this time and it surely hasn’t been easy. Especially when I came back from Baja pronouncing that the me he had known for ten years wasn’t the real me. Who did he marry then??
5) Starting to blog and posting my pageant song (also writing a story for children and starting a novel). Finding time to be creative has been hugely challenging, especially after I stopped working again in December and have once again had the responsibility of the two rugrats (minus 3 days/week when my now 4-yr-old is at school which makes things much more sane for me) and the age old restricted cash flow what with the new house, vermin, erosion, carbon monoxide and all. That said, writing, making music, having ideas, actually putting the pen on the paper or the words on the screen instead of just thinking about it has been HUGELY satisfying and I just want to find more time to make more things, all kinds of things.
6) The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. THIS BOOK CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Or at least make it feel much much better. Read it. I plan to write lots more about my experience with this book – it is the basis for what I’ve been referring to as Project:Defrag. Everyone I know who has read this book has very positive things to say, even just in the reading, but especially if you make the effort to implement.
7) Green smoothies. I have started drinking green smoothies for breakfast. Another major, major shift for me and something I think is worth a try for everyone. I’m going to get graphic here, but sometimes when you feel depressed you’re actually just constipated. We sit at desks, we eat sugar and flour and meat and a little lettuce on the side and nothing can flow. Not ideas or the music of our souls, or waste. Poop. I’m not saying eating green smoothies will change this for you. But when my system is working well and when I know I’m getting 2 cups of greens AT BREAKFAST (and in a very tasty way), the day is just better. I feel a lot better. The ladies at Simple Green Smoothies have a 30-day green smoothie challenge (free) and a 21-day cleanse (costs $75) and they are coming out with a cookbook soon. I’m sure you can find good green smoothie recipes elsewhere but I’ve used this resource and it’s been helpful and I’m going to contact them and see if I can share one of their recipes on my blog because it is awesome and you’ll love it.
8) Exercise. I’m walking like twice a week for 30 minutes and doing lots of yardwork and housework. That’s an improvement, significant improvement, and it feels really good. It’s not extreme, it doesn’t take a lot of time, it could be better. But it’s made a difference. If I find myself with the ‘mean reds’ or if I start thinking of escape plans, a 30-minute child-free walk can totally reset the day/week for me. It needs to be outside and not on a treadmill if at all possible. Breeze is an added benefit, and sunshine.
9) Star Chart. I’m going to share a lot more about this in the near future and I’m going to be looking for volunteers to help me with an experiment. I developed a grown up star chart for two. In the current iteration you have to have a partner (could be spouse, roommate). I’m planning to write a guide so people can ‘play’ this game at home themselves and I’ll be looking for a few folks to be my pilot group. If you are interested, let me know in comments below or send an email (I trust anyone reading this knows me). I’ll write more to explain soon so you can decide if you’d like to give it a try but I will say my husband LOVES our star chart. It has made a huge huge difference in our lives, in how we interact, in what we accomplish, in how we spend our time, in how we feel about how we spend our time. I started it because I just wanted a star chart (I like to get stars) but this chart has strengthened our relationship, improved our lives and been a lot of fun. I can’t wait to share it with you ; )
So there you have it, a list of what I’ve tried in the past 9 months of my mid-life makeover. A lot of people who blog get ‘referral fees’ for recommending things in their posts. I’m not that sophisticated so I’m just linking to stuff because I like it and for no other reason. Stay tuned for more details on Project:Defrag and the Star Chart in particular. If you have any questions about any of the other resources, feel free to ask in the comments below.