Frozen February

The frozen Charles River from my window.

February was a frozen blur. Boston saw more snow this winter than we have in recent years, but the storms were small and dumped a few manageable inches every week or so. February is known to be the snowiest month here, and I think it has been so pretty and enjoyable.

(Of course, I’ve been able to work mostly from home, and haven’t had to trudge through the snow on icy city sidewalks this year!)

In the middle of the month, I had an enormous work project that required a few days of on-site work and interaction with a lot more people than I’ve been used to. I bought some warm winter gear, since I’d be outside in below-freezing temperatures for 10-hour days; I doubled-up on well-fitting face masks; and filled my pockets with little containers of hand sanitizer. Thankfully, all went well, I stayed healthy, and I got about 10,000 extra steps each day — much more than I’ve been getting since working from home!

Now that the stress of that work project is behind me, I’m back to channeling calm and reflecting on what’s truly important. Looking at the frozen Charles River outside my apartment, I’ve thought about how sometimes life just stands still. Hard times, dark moments, cold winter days — they can stop us in our tracks.

In that pause, there is an opportunity, and maybe a need, to take cover, protect ourselves, focus on self-preservation and self-care. As the hard times ease, as darkness ever so slowly fades into light, there is time for reflection.

Today, I noticed that the ice in the river had broken, and I saw an unfamiliar movement in the water — the river was flowing again.

The days are getting longer, with more sunlight in the sky each evening. The temperatures are warming, ever so slightly. Spring decorations are in stores, with fuzzy bunnies and hatching chicks symbolizing birth and renewal and the Easter promise of eternal life after death.

We are approaching the one-year mark of the pandemic shutdown. With vaccines becoming more and more available, and warmer weather returning, there is so much to hope for!

Traveling again, gathering with family and friends, giving hugs and kisses on cheeks!

It’s starting to feel like the ice is breaking, and life may start flowing along like the river.

What are you most looking forward to?

For Crying Out Loud!

I don’t know who to give credit to for this image.
I found it on a simple Google search, and it just resonates some days!

Have you ever had “just one of those days” where everything seems to be going wrong and you just want to cry?

I have those days every once in a while, and I am pretty accepting of them. As I mentioned in an earlier post, feelings are visitors that come and go. Darkness gives way to light eventually, always.

On those “down” days, I’m trying to be more open to a new stress-reduction tactic: CRYING.

I hate crying. My face gets all red and puffy. My nose gets stuffy, and there is always so many boogers and snot. When I really let the tears flow, I can even give myself a headache. Yet, I recently learned of some interesting benefits to crying.

Emotional tears have special health benefits. Biochemist and “tear expert” Dr. William Frey, at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis, discovered that reflex tears are 98% water, whereas emotional tears also contain stress hormones that get excreted from the body through crying. After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins that accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones.”

psychologytoday.com

Crying is actually really good for you! I had no idea. You literally “get it all out of your system” when you cry, both literally and figuratively.

When you do a simple Google search on the “benefits of crying,” there are so many results—one news story even claims that crying can help you lose weight!

This article from CNN from July 2020 addresses how many of us are hesitant to cry, especially in public; the effect of pent-up emotions on our minds and bodies; why we cry; and how important it is to do so, especially during the current pandemic.

So if you’re having “one of those days,” I hope you know it’s OK, and maybe you can have a good cry to help you make it through.

(If you’re having any trouble whipping up tears of your own, I highly recommend the 1989 movie Steel Magnolias. I could cry for Shelby right now!)

Messages from Heaven

A purple sky at sunset

I used to absolutely hate the color purple. I don’t know why, exactly. It has always been one of my least favorite colors.

When my dad was alive, I used to help him and my husband with some of the “paperwork” for their Fantasy Football team. One day, when we were discussing the team name, I asked my dad what our team colors were. “Purple and yellow,” he said. I tried to argue and pick different colors, but he insisted. That Christmas, as a gift, I bought him a big purple blanket with our team name embroidered on it. When he passed, despite its color, the blanket was one of the mementos I most wanted to keep.

In the days and weeks after his passing, I suddenly started seeing purple EVERYWHERE. On my walk to work, I’d see a lone purple flower poking up from the sidewalk. I was randomly given beautiful purple orchids from not one but two coworkers who didn’t know the story of my dad’s favorite color. A new building was being constructed outside of my office, and my jaw dropped when I came in one morning and saw that the entire building was covered in purple building materials. My whole body got chills when I’d see a spectacular purple sunset, a sight that I’d never ever noticed before.

I know that these could all be coincidences, but I choose to believe instead that they are messages from my dad… little reminders that he is still around. He was always the type of personality to make his presence known.

He doesn’t just send me purple messages. In the days after he passed, I started seeing a solitary monarch butterfly. It would flutter past me when I was sitting outside, thinking of him. I got a gut feeling that it was from him, so going forward, when I saw the butterfly, I’d say “Hi, Dad!” Once I accepted it, I’d start to see monarch butterflies on meaningful occasions, and my friends have seen and noticed it, too. They fly right up to my face sometimes. It’s really pretty wild.

I’ve been told by family members that when we see an eagle or a hawk, that is my dad, too. And I have a very special awareness of feathers—I’ve seen them at the most emotional times, when thinking about or talking aloud to other special people who have passed from my life. At times, feathers literally float down from the sky when I am talking about someone I miss. My dad likes to send me big, prominent feathers, like those from a Blue Jay bird. He also sometimes makes sure that I hear a special song— when I’m in the car, a song that he liked will play on three different stations, so I keep hearing it over and over. Like I said, he was always someone to be noticed!

In the past few days, I’ve been talking to him about a few things… I miss him and I want his help with a few things that feel out of my control. Yesterday, while out running errands, my husband and I saw three hawks—one almost landed on our car! Then, in the middle of the highway on a cold winter day, a monarch butterfly flew past our windshield. And just now, I looked up from my desk, and out the window, I saw that the sky had turned a beautiful shade of purple.

I feel like he’s trying to tell me something, but I don’t know what. Maybe he just wants me to know that he’s here.

What do you think? Have you ever received any messages from Heaven?

Gratitude

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” -Marcel Proust

I recently read a bit on the science behind gratitude, and it’s fascinating.

By reducing the stress hormones and managing the autonomic nervous system functions, gratitude significantly reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. At the neurochemical level, feelings of gratitude are associated with an increase in the neural modulation of the prefrontal cortex, the brain site responsible for managing negative emotions like guilt, shame, and violence.

PositivePsychology.com

As I embark on a path to heal my entire body from inflammation and stress, gratitude seems like a great new tool to try out.

The concept of gratitude came to mind last night as I was getting ready for bed. For the past few months, I’ve been having a little bit of ocular inflammation in my left eye, which is my “good” eye. Thankfully, my doctor is helping me manage it with eye drops and not systemic corticosteroids (which suppress your immune system and are scary to take during the COVID pandemic!)

I put the eye drops in my left eye and kept that eye closed for 30 seconds, as the instructions indicate. During that 30 seconds, I was reminded of the vision loss in my right eye. I looked in the mirror and could only see part of my reflection; the lower left quadrant of my vision is completely gone in that eye. The vision that remains is distorted, very blurry, and colors are muted to sepia tones. I picked up lotion and tried to read the small print on the back of the bottle with just my “bad” eye, and it was difficult. My poor peripheral vision in that eye made the text swirl as I concentrated on finding my focus and discerning each word.

In that moment, I was immensely relieved to open my left eye and have both eyes working together for improved vision once again. Vision loss is life changing, and while it is still scary to not know what the future holds for my battle with uveitis, I’m enormously grateful for the vision I still have right now.

I shut off the bathroom light, walked to the bedroom, and crawled into bed and reflected on the day and the week. It’s been a long one: the worsening pandemic and riot at the Capitol weighed heavy on my mind, and I struggled through some anxiety and very long work days this week, too. Life is hard right now.

Yet… My bed felt warm and soft and cozy. I remembered some very fun and meaningful exchanges I’d had with sweet friends throughout the week. My cute, little dog was quietly snoring in his bed on the floor. My husband texted me to let me know he was driving home from work. I’d eaten a warm and nutritious dinner. I used the remote to flip on the large flatscreen television to an array of shows and movies. With the help of my glasses, I could read all the text on the television from 20 feet away, in my spacious bedroom, in my safe home. In this moment, I recognized that I live a life of luxury compared to many people in the world, and there are countless things for which to be grateful.

Going into the weekend, there is more opportunity for quiet time, for relaxation, reflection, and self-care. It’s a nice time to sit back and think… What are YOU grateful for?

My Writing Corner

I’m very excited to start to share my creative writing with the world this year!

I’ve started my Writing Corner page on my website, which can serve as a landing page for the different writing pieces I will be writing and sharing. I’m starting with a very silly and simple short story that I am working on. I’d love your feedback!

Give the first chapter a read, and don’t forget to complete the poll to let me know what you think might happen next! Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Chakras!

It’s the start of the work week, after a holiday break, in New England where it is dark at 4:00pm and freezing cold all day long, during a pandemic. Is there anything more BLAH than that?! My work today was not very creative, there were literally hundreds of emails, and I finished the day feeling very uninspired.

After dinner, I decided to nourish my soul with some yoga and meditation. A few years ago, I learned a little bit about chakras, and how if they are unbalanced or blocked, you can feel really off. It’s very interesting, and I’d like to learn more. For now, there are lots of guided meditations and yoga programs, so I started with my Root Chakra and did a yoga program and a guided meditation.

I lit a lovely scented candle called “Angel Whispers” (which I got at the Dollar Store!) and it made for some peaceful and relaxing ambiance.

If anyone knows about chakras, I’d love to hear more! Please share any comments or links!

Namaste.

Healthier Habits

Unsweetened passion tango iced tea from Starbucks: Dairy free, caffeine free, and sugar free!

Like thousands of other people, part of my New Year’s Resolution is to eat healthier. For me, though, it’s not just about being healthier and losing weight. My vision and thyroid and whole body are depending on improved nutrition.

Uveitis, which I constantly struggle with, is an inflammatory disorder. I was recently told I have an under-active thyroid, too, which I suspect might be worsened by inflammation. Because of all the inflammation in my body, I’ve taken so many steroids in the last three years; I worry about my adrenal glands, cortisol levels, and pesky weight gain.

I’ve procrastinated from changing my diet because I am a major emotional eater. I console myself with a treat when I’m sad, and I celebrate with a treat when I’m happy. Food is soothing to me, and (until the pandemic) elaborate meals have been enjoyable social activities for my family and friends. I’ve finally come to the realization, though, that food truly is fuel, and it might actually be doing me more harm than the good feelings I get from my treats indicate.

Hallmark rules of an anti-inflammatory diet: NO SUGAR, GLUTEN, ALCOHOL, CAFFEINE. I also need eliminate processed or fried foods, and limit dairy and red meat.

I used to look at that list and think NO FUN.

Bye, burgers and fries! Bye, cookies and ice cream! Bye, pizza and mozzarella sticks! Bye, mac n’ cheese and chicken tenders! (I will miss you most of all.) Also, what is life without wine?!

Recently, though, I have felt so crummy from the various health problems I’m facing. Feeling that awful isn’t fun! If eating cleaner can make me feel better, then maybe this can be fun.

A Sunday tradition in my house is to wake up, stay in comfy clothes, jump in the car, pick up a breakfast treat and an iced coffee, and go for a Sunday drive.

With today being the first Sunday of the new year, I had a chance to practice my healthier habits. Thankfully, our favorite Venezuelan breakfast is gluten-free! Arepas are made with corn, not white flour. My favorite filling is perico (eggs with tomatoes and onions) and turkey bacon, so I didn’t have to make any substitutions.

When we rolled into the Starbucks drive-thru, I got a little depressed. I love an iced vanilla latte, and I’ve always been a decaf girl, so I usually thought “How bad can this be?” Well, I learned that, with all the vanilla syrup, my favorite latte has 35 grams of sugar! The American Heart Association suggests no more than 24 grams of sugar for most women for the entire day! If I paired that coffee with a doughnut (which I’m known to do), then I was probably (at least) tripling the amount of daily recommended sugar.

So, I perused the Starbucks menu and remembered how much I love their herbal teas. The Passion Tango Iced Tea, without any added cane sugar, is delicious! I happily ordered that, and I didn’t miss my latte at all.

And when I stopped to think about it, regardless of any food, treats, or drinks, spending time with my hubby on a peaceful Sunday morning was the real fun. ❤️

Feelings are like House Guests

Image is from the website of Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

I had a rollercoaster day today. My feelings have been up-and-down, I’m trying out a new medicine, and anxiety (which I have struggled with my whole life) has been creeping up in an intense way recently. It’s a little overwhelming.

I woke up feeling awful, but I tried lots of positive self-talk and cuddled on the couch with the dog for a while. Then, I was feeling better, and I turned some fun music up loud, took a long shower, put on my favorite comfy clothes, and danced in the bathroom mirror. Unfortunately, tonight I’m back to feeling crummy.

Experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions is not new to me, but being more calm and accepting of it is something I struggle with. Sometimes when I’m feeling anxious or unwell, I get so pessimistic and I think it’s going to last forever.

A few months ago, I pulled my back out for the first time. I had never experienced that type of pain before; it was excruciating. My husband has hurt his back a couple of times, and he was very supportive and helpful when I felt completely immobilized in pain. At one point, through some very dramatic tears, I told him “I can’t live like this!” He immediately laughed, hugged me, and told me that I wouldn’t have to live like this. I was going to rest and heal and feel better.

That’s an important point that I try to remind myself. In life, pain is often transient. Even with chronic conditions, there are good days and bad days. Dark times don’t last forever. Even the long, cold winter nights lead to beautiful spring days. Little seeds in the ground need the dark winter to build up their energy, to grow and blossom when the sun returns. We humans are like that, too.

I love the saying that “feelings are like house guests.” Sometimes you enjoy their company, and sometimes you can’t wait for them to leave. But they always do just that — they leave.

A Fresh Start

A lot has happened since I started this blog.

Most obviously, the global pandemic that continues to wreak all the havoc that I feared in my last blog post. As predicted, the virus spread like wildfire after Thanksgiving. I’ve known several people who have contacted COVID-19, and it is scary and awful! I’m continuing to wash and sanitize my hands, wear a mask whenever I’m outside of my home, and keep 6-feet distance whenever possible. The vaccines bring much promise for an end to the pandemic, but we have a ways to go before it’s truly “over.” I hope everyone reading this is staying safe and healthy!

The pandemic made the recent holidays look much different than we were used to, which was a little depressing. I truly tried to stave off the sadness. I tried hours of Christmas music, many cups of hot cocoa, many more Christmas cookies and treats, and countless utopian Hallmark Christmas movies. I bought way too many presents for my husband, and even bought a few cozy Christmas sweaters and sparkly snowflake earrings for myself. Nothing really helped because it couldn’t replace what I was really missing: the togetherness that comes along with the holidays. I missed the crowded parties with my coworkers and friends! I missed going to church, seeing all the beautiful decorations, and singing along with the hundreds of others in the pews around me. Most of all, I missed seeing family members, gathering together for a meal, and giving hugs!

Last night, New Year’s Eve, was a quiet night in. As a final “Quarantine Activity” of 2020, I attempted to turn my apartment into a nightclub so that my husband and I could really “party.” I blew up balloons, created a special VIP lounge, cooked up some yummy tapas, and chilled some bubbly wine. My husband thought it was very exciting, and it was fun… for about two hours. Then, like most people we know, we were ready to go to bed and have 2020 be over, once and for all!

And now, here we are. New Year’s Day. January 1, 2021. A fresh start.

I started this blog in 2019, when my new year’s resolution (two years ago!) was to share my voice after “a tough year.” If only January 2019 Me could see January 2021 Me! She’d never believe all that we’ve been through.

I started writing this blog in October 2019. I was in the middle of my third uveitis flare, and it was only a few months after my father died. In November 2019, my husband and I were surprised and overjoyed with a pregnancy. Then 8 weeks later, we were devastated by a miscarriage. Grief overtook my entire world, and the combination of losses left me reeling into January 2020, when we started hearing some unnerving details of a novel coronavirus. Less than six weeks later, the world shutdown.

In April, amidst the lockdown, I began losing my vision again and started treatment for a fourth uveitis flare (which I can now attribute, with almost 100% certainty, to stress). We acknowledged the one year anniversary of my father’s passing in July, closing out a year of painful “firsts” without him. Throughout all that, my husband and I have wrestled with the concept of “trying to conceive” after loss (and during a pandemic!), and all along, I have been mentally acknowledging another year of painful “firsts” … All the occasions that I was experiencing for the first time without a baby in my arms: the first Mother’s Day since the miscarriage, the baby’s due date had he/she survived, and worst of all, the anniversary of the loss itself, which literally brought me to my knees.

My head hasn’t stopped spinning. But maybe it’s starting to slow down.

It’s time for a renewed resolution.

We have many more months of distancing, staying home, and slowing the spread of the continued pandemic, so there is plenty of time to focus on betterment:
– More frequent and well-practiced writing (which is truly a passion and beloved hobby I’ve neglected for so long!)
– Focused efforts on physical health (for myself and any little ones that God might bless us with)
– Reflection, meditation, and careful attention to self-care and mental health (as, unsurprisingly, my old friend Anxiety has started creeping around lately)

The times we are living in are truly wild, remarkable, and unprecedented. I got a good laugh out of this meme:

Courtesy @simoncholland

I hope you are finding some memes that make you laugh, and I hope you are taking time for self-care as the difficult days drag on. Have you made any resolutions for 2021? Or is it enough that we just try to make it through?

xo
MK

Making it through the rest of 2020

Wow. It has felt like a lifetime since I last wrote.

A lot has happened… Mainly, a pandemic descended upon the entire world. Many other things have happened, too, including the Black Lives Matter movement and a complete deterioration of the political landscape in the United States. For most people, life as we know it has completely changed. It’s been a lot for people to handle.

I am particularly worried about the upcoming months. The pandemic rages on, and it is worsening by the day with flu season upon us. The tumultuous presidential election is just days away. Daylight Savings Time ends in just a few weeks, and here in New England, we will lose precious daylight to long, cold, dark winter nights. The holidays (which can be stressful times of year in the best of circumstances) will feel so different with precautions like social distancing and no indoor gatherings. Many people are already feeling shaken, unsettled, isolated, anxious, and depressed, and in the next few weeks, fear, stress, and all sorts of negativity could climax for our country and the world.

I am a big believer in brainstorming solutions when you acknowledge a problem. I’ve said this before in my career: “Don’t just tell me what’s broken; tell me how we’re going to fix it.” I’ve been thinking about “solutions” when it comes to the state of our world. Obviously, individuals might feel helpless right now. Problems are so global, it’s overwhelming. However, I do think that we can each take steps to improve our own day-to-day experiences. If we can make our days a little brighter, our moods a little more optimistic, then we can be kinder to one another, more tolerant, and more willing to listen and learn. If we are calm, we can think more clearly. Maybe we can’t change it all, but we can change a little… and “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Lao Tzu)

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some of the steps I am taking to improve the world around me, even if it just means buying a new houseplant to lift my spirits. There are loads of ways that we can take care of ourselves, to build our energy to take care of one another, to stay motivated… and I hope we can inspire one another.