It's All Happening At The...
I started to think seriously about creating this website last year. It was just after I finalized the divorce from my second husband. For any of you who have gone through a divorce, particularly when it wasn’t your choice or in my case, felt I had no choice, you know how sad and scary it is. I knew I had to change the conversation within my own mind.
Spoiler alert - before I move onto my strategies, I have to share something with you in the next paragraph that might sound a bit aggressive. It’s too important to try to find a way to sugar coat what I want to say.
Please don’t tell me you don’t have time to make yourself happy in some small way. I just don’t buy it. I worked at a job outside the house, while running a home-based business and completing my graduate degree, all while raising my son (who had his own challenges) on my own, without a support system. During that time, I still found time to be happy. During every period of the past three decades, no matter what situation I was in, I always found at least a half hour a week to do something that made me feel good, alive and helped me move forward. And believe me, that half hour, whole hour or night out, during my worst times made a huge difference. Look, if you’re consciously or unconsciously comfortable in the rut of your sadness, I understand that and have been there. Just don’t use lack of time as a crutch or an excuse.
Full disclosure: whenever I do something for myself the guilt creeps in. I don’t think anyone thinks of me as a selfish person and I almost always think of others before myself. However, there are times when I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest for me to think of me first. It’s kind of like when you’re on an airplane and the flight attendant tells you to put your oxygen mask on before you put one on your child. With that in mind, after caring for my mother during the last years of her life, I left my mother, in a hospital bed in our dining room, along with my two year old and grandmother, in the care of my sister, the day my mother died. I had no way of knowing she would die that day and I so badly needed a break. So, I went to visit a friend. Though I’m sad I wasn’t there for her last breath, I don’t feel guilty for taking care of myself that day. My grandmother and baby needed me to be there for them after my mother died. And I devoted my life to their care. However, that day I needed to put the oxygen mask on me.
OK, here are some of the strategies I’ve used along the way. This chapter is about strategies I use to be happy for hours or a whole day, when I’m able to leave my home. The next chapter will describe strategies for hours when it’s not practical to leave my home. The most important long-term strategy is what I talked about in the last chapter - my glass is always half full.
Hours Of Relief
First and foremost, whenever I can, I get out of my home. I can’t stress the importance of this. Any change of scenery is a welcome distraction.
My favorite way to distract myself is to spend time with friends and family. When I’m in the middle of a terrible situation, time spent with people I love is my oasis. And most important for me is that I almost never talk about what’s plaguing me when I’m supposed to be out having fun. This is key to enjoying my oasis. A distraction is not very distracting if you’re talking about the very thing you’re trying to distract yourself from.
This is not to say I never talk to my friends and family about my problems. I do sometimes, generally in a phone conversation. I’ll speak more about that in a later chapter when I discuss the role of friends and family. However, when I’m out I don’t talk about problems. I mean it when I say sometimes I need a respite from despair.
Let’s dig a bit deeper.
I’m thinking I should mention how emotionally difficult it is sometimes to leave my home. I remember times when I stood in my driveway, my eyes filled with tears. I was at once in no mood to go out and too scared to go back inside. At those times, in the end, I always headed toward my car rather than back to my front door. It wasn’t easy. Fear wasn’t my motivation. And it wasn’t that I thought I would have a good time once I was out, either. It was more that I pushed myself to move forward. I somehow always know in my core that the only chance I have to be happy is to move toward light. Once in my car, I would wipe my eyes and reapply lipstick, then pull away from darkness. It worked every time. I would go to dinner or a friend’s home, listen to stories about their life and share my own stories about current absurdities or past fun memories. My friends have the same propensity as I do for finding joy and laughter in minutiae and nostalgia. I can relax and rest my mind.
Here are a few of the other things I do when I need an escape for a few hours:
Wait, I must interrupt myself here because I realize one of the most important things I do when I’m sad is go to work. I’ll get back to fun things in a paragraph or two.
Except for the time I was hospitalized for depression in 2008, I have not missed a single day of work because I was sad or depressed. Luckily, I have not had a long term bout of depression since then. Now, I have gone to work, having just wiped my eyes from crying and I have many times cried while I was at work - though no one knew I was crying (I’ve perfected the unseen computer screen cry). However, even when I’ve cried, I used one of my strategies and went back to work.
Work is the best distraction ever. And I never talk about my problems at work. There are two reasons for this. First, it’s a respite from problems. Second and very important, you cannot un-ring a bell. Whatever you tell your coworkers, you will now be judged by. And even if you remedy the situation - say your loved one, who was a drug addict, is now clean, your abusive husband stopped abusing you or you’ve settled your irresponsible finances, you will always be known by the problem. I don’t mean to sound harsh, it’s only what I’ve learned from working and listening for decades.
Something else to keep in mind. Who to trust in the workplace? Of course, there are exceptions. I met some of my closest friends in past work spaces. But a work relationship gone bad will spoil your safe place, the place that often distracts you from your troubles.
Also, your coworkers may not be ready to hear your problem. Very few people that I’ve worked with know I’ve suffered from depression. No one in my current workplace knows. While there’s much talk about mental illness in the media these days, I don’t believe general attitudes have changed all that much since the days of Tom Eagleton (Google him). I’ve decided to come out of my closet about this now because I’m toward the end of my career and it’s more important for me to help others who have suffered. There are many situations that have plagued me and those in my circle, not related to depression, that I still can’t talk about for lots of reasons. I don’t say anything that I don’t think folks are ready to hear.
OK, let’s get back to a brighter note. Here are some more great distractions.
Go to the movies. I actually go to the movies almost every week, whether or not I’m feeling sad. 99% of the time I go alone. I guess it’s mostly that I don’t have anyone to join me, but truly, I don’t mind being in that wonderful, dark, captivating space, on my own, with a box of Raisinets. When I’m sad I try to go to light movies, though, sometimes I still go to a compelling movie, with a story that takes me away. And for those of you on a budget, like me, there are theaters that have hugely discounted days.
Go to the beach. I realize that most people don’t live as close to the beach as I do, however, I imagine almost everyone lives close to some peaceful spot in nature. While I’m at the beach, I generally read, but I also take in everything around me. I fixate on the seagulls, the waves, someone building a sand castle, children playing. Enveloping yourself in what’s going on around you is a great way to stop thinking of bad things and appreciate the smallest of wonders.
Drive. If you don’t have a car, hop on a bus, take a train, go for a walk or a run. The key to this activity is the music and dancing. Yes, you heard me. I’m always dancing in my car. And in all the years I’ve done this, I’ve never bothered to look to my left or right. Who knows if I’ve been busted. Who cares! This is one of the best ways to lift my spirits. Works every time. Now there are ground rules. Do not, under any circumstance, listen to music that either makes you feel sad or reminds you of a sad event. If you had a recent break up, DO NOT listen to music that reminds you of the GOOD times you had with the person you’re trying not to think about. You’ll get all that music back someday, just not yet. Beyond that, listen and dance with abandon. I do it many mornings on my drive to work, even if I’m not sad.
Shop. This is something I don’t like to do, however, you may. Obviously, if you’re broke or on a tight budget don’t head to the mall! But if you have the money and enjoy spending time shopping, with or without a family member or friend, it’s a great escape. While I don’t like shopping, I do like having new things. After I lost so many of my family members I inherited some money and bought one nice piece of jewelry - nothing crazy but more than I would normally spend. I loved wearing that bracelet. It was something bright during a very dark time. Just so you know, though. I didn’t go crazy spending. The bracelet was my only extravagance. (By the way, I’m not saying money alone can make you happy; however, I’ve noticed the only people who say money can’t help buy happiness have never been without it.)
Volunteer. I can’t say enough good things about volunteering. Of course, there’s the tremendous satisfaction in helping others. It’s also a great distraction and a way to potentially meet new friends. When you get right down to it, spending time helping others is a great way to help yourself.
Take a class. Find something you’ve always wanted to learn - cooking, painting, piano playing. You’ll be distracted from your sadness and meet people with like interests. There are often reasonably priced one-time or multi-session classes or lectures at libraries, schools and community venues hosting continuing education.
Exercise. My favorite type of exercise is jumping on my bike and taking off. Oh, the freedom! Whatever you like, be it going to the gym, playing sports or taking a walk, the act of exercising will improve your mood.
Treat yourself to something special. If you can afford it, a manicure, haircut, maybe a trip to a spa. Being pampered and looking good always makes me feel good!
I do have other destinations, however, I think I’ve given you enough ideas to see where I’m going with this. And I invite you to think of what you like to do.
What destination would make you happy while you’re sad?