Tag Archives: unemployment

Some Days Are Like That

If you’re looking for happiness, hope, and inspiration, come back another day.  This isn’t it.  One of the first rules of good writing is honesty.  So, here it is.  This post is about living honestly on those days that don’t feel very good.

As I have written recently, the last few months were difficult health-wise and turned me into a hermit.  This extrovert makes a horrible hermit.  I feel isolated and depressed.  It shuts down my voice.  I feel invisible, little, and useless to the world.  Even moments of joy, laughter or appreciation of beauty are fleeting.  I reach out to others with goodness when I can, but even that feels momentary.  It’s been frustrating, to say the least.

I lost my voice and coughed constantly.  My lung capacity dropped 40% again, so I had little energy for anything and was barely able to exercise or walk down the block.  I felt crummy.  My two conversation groups disbanded.  Life became so boring I felt I had nothing to say to anyone.  I trusted if I kept working the program of medication, rest, gradual increasing activity, and trying for a positive attitude I’d eventually return to a fuller, more meaningful life again.  But in the meantime, it was uninspiring to write or talk about my life.  It isn’t the kind of stuff I want to share with anyone.  After all, who really wants to hear it?

Like many people with chronic illness, I have good days and bad, and some that are just ….. there.  There’s not much to say about them except they’re frustrating and not how we want to be living.  Some days are just like that and there’s nothing to do about them.

For myself, I hate to share how I am doing at such times.  I feel like I’m whining and complaining.  I don’t want pity or sympathy, advice or problem solving, well-meaning as they might be.  I don’t want to have to take care of listeners’ discomfort with the unpleasantness of my life and the vulnerability of theirs–I have enough on my own to take care of.  I don’t want people to tell me things will get better, or to look on the bright side, or to have faith, or to say they understand how I feel.  Unless they’ve actually been in my very situation, they don’t know how I feel.

Sometimes I don’t know what I want from others, I just know life stinks and is boring and frustrating now.  I just want the people I’m speaking with or those reading what I have written to be O.K. being uncomfortable, to know they don’t have to fix me, and to recognize that even people they respect and admire still have crummy times but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stay in that space forever or jump off a cliff.  I want people who are uncomfortable to know it’s O.K. to be uncomfortable, but please don’t inflict it on others.  Just listen, accept the crumminess of it, and respond with a version of “That really sucks.”  Yes, it does.  For me, and I think for many people with chronic illness, that’s all we want.

cropped-billingsley2520creek_full1.jpgBecause I don’t want to sound like a whiner or to add to others’ discomfort, I withdraw into myself and retreat from others when my life is crummy.  Taking care of other people’s discomfort–or even having to listen to it–takes too much energy and gets too depressing.  I don’t want to build friendships on the dishonesty of pretending my life is something it isn’t, so I withdraw.

Likewise with my writing.  Anything I write that doesn’t come from an honest place in myself is noticeably hollow.  The dishonesty is transparent and uncomfortable to readers.  But if I write honestly at those times, it sounds depressing.  So, I stop writing in order not to seem depressing.  This time, after a week of finally trying to write an up-lifting, helpful, insightful post and finding every attempt deadly boring and useless, I decided to go for honesty.

Even though I hesitate to write this blog post, here it is:  honest.  The reality is that just because life is crummy today doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow.  And if tomorrow is wonderful (as was the weekend I spent with my children and granddaughter recently), another crummy day is around the corner.  That’s how life is with chronic illness, or grief, or care-giving, or aging, or any number of other types of unpleasantness. Some days are like that for us.

Please don’t try to fix us or give us advice.  Don’t worry too much about us or give us too much sympathy.  Agree with us that it stinks, it sucks, it’s lousy, that it is probably really frustrating and maybe even unfair.  It is all those things. Some days are like that.  And then we’ll move on in our conversation and our journey.  After all, unpleasantness is just part of life.

Photo by Barbara Anderson outside Hailey, Idaho, May 2012

Furniture, Factories, and Me: Repurposing Comes to Life

I’ve always repurposed objects, but this week I’m celebrating repurposing from a new perspective.  As I repurposed sod in our backyard this week to cover hole my dog had dug, I realized I’m also in the process of repurposing the interests, skills and gifts from my years as a pastor, parent, writer and organizer into new outlets in my current circumstances.  We not only re-use or re-purpose objects, we repurpose our life skills.

Over the years, I’ve repurposed

  • Furniture from one room to another, and given some items a completely new home with other people who will found a good purpose for them;
  • Used old envelopes as paper for grocery lists;
  • Turned pitchers and jars into vases and lace table runners into framed art;
  • Used old tires as boat bumpers and sleds;
  • Changed trees that blew down in our yard during a recent windstorm into firewood;
  • Moved sod from one part of the yard to another both to make room for a vegetable garden and to cover a hole where our dog was digging to the center of the earth.

When I re-use objects this ways, I feel thrifty and creative.  But it wasn’t until I was covering up the dog’s project with sod on Monday, that I realized this same creativity is involved in repurposing ourselves and that this repurposing is part of the wisdom that comprises a good life.

Repurposing doesn’t move something forward without changing it in some way.  It’s the process of building on what now exists to create something new.  Now I use my writing skills in blogging and editing instead of preaching.  Instead of preparing sermons, attending meetings, and helping churches and organizations change, I use the same mental skills to learn about computers and clouds, gardening and cooking, and to brush up on the rules of English grammar.

An article in the Wall Street Journal on January 13, 2012 featured a traditional old textile company in South Carolina that didn’t of go out-of-business like most of its U.S. competitors when textile production moved overseas.  After trying unsuccessfully to fight the flight of production, its management realized the best way forward was to develop new products that built upon the company’s knowledge of fabrics and chemicals.  Today, Milliken & Co. makes “the fabric that reinforces duct tape, the additives that make refrigerator food containers clear and children’s art markers washable, the products that make mattresses fire resistant, countertops antimicrobial, windmills lighter, and combat gear protective….Milliken boasts that we come in contact with its many products almost 50 times a day” (John Bussey, “The Anti-Kodak: How a U.S. Firm Innovates”).  Their willingness to change made them different and is producing the best economic performance the company has ever had.  They repurposed their depth of knowledge in textiles and chemicals to innovate and creat new products.

A friend who is a retired educator, active church member and committed to teaching children the Christian faith was diagnosed with cancer.  Her treatments kept her at home, just when she had arranged to begin a youth program for teen girls in her church.  Instead of giving up on her plans, she reorganized them, and had the girls come to her house.  She taught them to pick raspberries and to make apple pie, how to set a table properly and how to make tea.  They made pies, cakes, jam and macaroons to give to church members who were lonely.  As they worked, they talked about life, faith, boys, and parents. They read some scripture and prayed.  The girls delivered the goodies as promised, and my friend went back to bed to rest.  She repurposed her gifts and skills such that even in the throes of cancer treatment, she brought new life to a group of girls and is having a longterm impact.

If I can change a dilemma or difficulty in my life into an adventure and an opportunity for creativity, I feel energized and challenged by the circumstances.  Changing an old object into something usable or beautiful is energizing.  Repurposing my skills and gifts for this new chapter of life might be even more so.

I’m glad for the insight that came while trimming sod this week, but I’m still not happy with Troy’s digging in the yard.  Now if I could repurpose her digging into something helpful……

The Never Enough Syndrome

Last week I wrote that thinking about times of scarcity and abundance in our life improves our attitude, and gives both peace and hope.  A friend asked me what I meant by “scarcity” and “abundance.”

 “Right now, you wish you had more money, your foot felt better, and you had a buyer for your house,” I said. “I understand that.  It feels like you don’t have what you want.  You’re feeling ‘scarcity.’  At the same time, you can pay your bills, your foot’s healing, and you have a house that’s paid for.  You could call that … ‘abundance.’  That’s what I mean.”

“You’re right,” he said, smiling.  “I want more, but I have what I need.  In fact, I have a lot.  That’s pretty good.  Thanks.  You made my day.”

No matter what we have, it’s easy to feel that we don’t have enough (scarcity).  We want more, better, bigger.  The advertising that bombards us each day tries to increase these feelings of scarcity and desire, so that we’ll want things we don’t need.  For example, a five-year-old car and one-year-old cell phone really don’t need to be replaced with the newest versions, unless they’ve been badly damaged.

Sometimes, however, not having enough is more than a feeling, it is reality.  Our life has a hole in it (job, money, friends, family, health, stability) that can’t be washed away with a new attitude.     

Imagined scarcity can be eliminated.  Actual scarcity can be made more livable and less destructive.  One way to do this is to balance our scarcity with an awareness of the abundance we have in our life.  There are good reasons why people have, for centuries, turned their minds away from their troubles and towards the “blessings” and abundance in their life: Doing so calms the heart rate, reduces stress hormones and pain, and sets the mind free to be creative about both current stuff and future directions.  We discover gratitude.

Here’s an example from my life.  Many years ago, my family lived in the wild blueberry country of northeastern New York.  Never having eaten wild blueberries, I remembered my mother’s stories about the tasty wild blueberries of her childhood.  So my family went on a quest to collect the Holy Grail of blueberries:  tiny wild blueberries from the slopes of the Berkshire Mountains.  Mom was right.  I’d never tasted anything like this before.  We took buckets of fruit home.

I’d waited all my life for these little berries.  Each time a berry slipped down the drain as I was washing them, I pushed my handed into the garbage disposal to get it back.  I was intense.

Once as I reached in the drain, I felt a wall collapse in my brain.  I suddenly realized that I’d been feeling and behaving as if I’d never get enough blueberries, when all around me were buckets of them.  I hadn’t realized my abundance.  Within minutes, I stopped obsessing and relaxed.  Life got a lot better.

Twenty years later, I can still picture myself standing there with blueberry-stained hands, and feel the tension leave my body.  My smile returns.  My heart calms.  The tension leaves my shoulders once again.

The most well-known prayer of the Christian faith is The Lord’s Prayer, also known as The Common Prayer and The Our FatherOne of its sentences holds an antidote to the Never Enough Syndrome.  In it, Jesus tells his followers to pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread” (emphasis added). 

Followers are not instructed to ask for a feast or even a full refrigerator.  They’re told to ask for enough ordinary bread to supply that day’s living.  When I keep that as my focus, I’m much more likely to be grateful for my daily bread and for the jam I’m fortunate to put on it.