The Next Ten Minutes.

I didn’t want to write today.

But I am, and part of the reason I am here is because showing up and trying is one of the tools in my mental health toolbox.

It’s never easy. Never. But the tool here is not just showing up and trying, it’s also giving myself a time limit. I will show up and try for ten minutes, and if after ten minutes I decide I am done, then I accept those ten minutes as an absolute victory and go back to whatever wallowing I might have been in prior.

This tool is related to another one, and that’s exercise.

I hate exercise. So much. I hate changing into different clothing, I hate sweating, I hate changing out of the sweaty clothing and I hate feeling like I need another shower.

But I don’t always hate the actual exercise part. I rather enjoy going on walks and listening to an audiobook. I actually like lifting my tiny weights and feeling the slightest bit sore the following day. And stretching—oh how I love stretching.

Getting into the clothes is the biggest part of the battle, but like with my writing tonight, I tell myself “ten minutes. I can do ten minutes, and if I’m done after that, then I’m done.” One technological advancement that has helped with this is fitness apps.

I used Peleton’s app for several months and really enjoyed the strength and stretching videos. And then I wound up with a six month free trial of Apple Fitness, so I canceled Peleton (because free > $12.99 a month), and I have been very pleased with Apple Fitness and plan to keep it after the trial ends.

The benefit to both apps, though, is the ability to filter workouts by time. One of the time options?

Ten minutes.

I can do anything for ten minutes.

Sometimes, an effective mental health tool for me is just showing up for ten minutes. After all, I didn’t even feel like writing when I started this, but once I started, I kept going for twenty.

For actual real mental health resources, check out the National Alliance on Mental Health.

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness month, which seems like as good a time as any to do more regular writing. I’ve tried to be more open in the past about my depression and what I’ve had to do to manage it, so a few days this month, I plan to share tools out of my mental health toolbox.

I am not a mental health professional, so I share these things with a bit of trepidation in that regard. In no way am I suggesting that taking any of these tips to heart will make anyone’s life (including mine) any mentally healthier. That said, with the number of people in this world who are hesitant to seek professional help for whatever reason (and there are many) maybe something I write about can help someone breathe a bit easier when having a rough time.

So here’s tool #1: watch TV with intention by scheduling a viewing plan based on my streaming services.

It’s so easy to fall into a binge of something mindless, and I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes watching Guy’s Grocery Games for an entire day feels like a cocoon protecting me from feeling anything in my own life. Though I tend to end those days with a headache and feeling worse about myself for laying on the couch for hours with nothing to show for it.

Those binges are not intentional consumption that leads to a deeper appreciation of an art form, and appreciating art has always been an element of my own cognitive behavior therapy. Something about sitting on my couch with a bowl of popcorn or other snack with a movie or TV show I’ve not yet seen, with the goal of evaluating the art connects helps me. How is the acting? The writing? The costumes? What is the director trying to communicate about the human condition?

Sure, this might seem little froufy to some, but it helps get me out of my own head for a couple of hours, and almost always inspires my own creativity.

So how to decide what to watch? There’s so many lists out there. A favorite of mine is the American Film Institute—they have several lists. The website Letterboxd also has user-generated lists that range from typical to wacky.

There’s always the route of looking at what’s won awards lately—Emmys and Golden Globes have the television categories.


The point is to not just sit mindlessly in front of a screen while autoplay decides for me. The point is to make a choice for myself—and to schedule it into a calendar. Make it an event. On Thursday nights, find out why people are talking about Ted Lasso. On Sunday afternoons, hit up something on AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Laughs list.

Being intentional about what I’m watching has occasionally helped my mental health. When I open my Google Calendar and see I have a movie or TV show specifically planned, it gives me something to look forward to. Making a choice about something as small as a movie or TV show–when I’m really low–reminds me that I *do* have the capability to make other choices as well.

For actual real mental health resources, check out the National Alliance on Mental Health.

Dave.

It’s been two months since I have posted here; I’ve written on scraps of paper and random digital documents, but between stress and varying degrees of grief and loss, I’m stuck after a paragraph here and a paragraph there. But I didn’t want today to end without sharing a little about someone who was important to me. The harder topics can wait a bit longer.

I’d like to tell you about my friend Dave.

He loved watching basketball.

He loved good food. Like, really good food. Like, when he and I went out to eat, I always felt underdressed and out of my league. He never made me feel that way, though.

He loved the arts.

He loved creating art. He was so wickedly creative.

He was a gifted choreographer. So gifted, that to this day, the only production of “Oklahoma” I’ve been able to sit through was one he choreographed. And that includes the film version *and* the PBS version with Hugh Jackman.

He saved me from quitting my job, when I was certain I would never be good enough. He assured me I was.

He gave the best hugs.

He knew how to get the best out of people.

He was a lively lunch companion.

He had the impish-iest of grins, and loved to tease.

He never yelled at me for missed notes in the dozens of songs I played for his students. And one year, when I was certain I could not play the end of “We Both Reached for the Gun” any faster, he grinned his impish grin and said, “Yes you can Jules, this is easy.”

He was one of the few people in my life who called me Jules.

I had a crush on him most of the time we worked together. I think it was hard for anyone to not have a crush on him—he was so charming, and made me feel like I was the most important person in the room, as I’m sure he did for countless others.

He took the leap into grad school the year before I did. I’m not sure I’d have had the courage to go if he hadn’t taken the risk first. Who leaves a secure teaching job to follow their dreams? Dave does.

He wasn’t perfect, as none of us are.

He hurt my feelings from time to time.

He made me angry.

He made me sad.

He was human, and I adored him.

Last week when I learned just how sick he was, I crumpled, but hoped I’d be able to see him.

Today, I am crushed at the news of his passing.

This week, I’m going to a right fancy restaurant and will savor every bite of a well-prepared meal. I will watch a musical (but not “Oklahoma”) and pay special attention to the choreography. I will share stories with friends about things I loved about him, and things that drove me crazy about him. And going forward, I’ll try to take pieces of his best, most supportive qualities, and do the same for those in my sphere of influence.

Love you, Dave. Rest in peace.

Thinking: A Dangerous Habit.

I saw the tweet and it woke up the central cynic system of my brain: “Find three good things to look forward to this year.”

Don’t get me wrong–I am usually a fan of the Action for Happiness group. The work they do is important and helpful. I have their app and every afternoon my watch buzzes with a reminder to be gentler with myself, with others, to look for good instead of dwelling on the awful.

But the call to action on January 1, 2021 was too much. And yet, I stewed over it all morning.

“Three good things,” I muttered to myself. “I’m not a fortune teller. I have no trips planned. I have no life planned. And so little changes in my life from year to year anyway. Look forward to…what the hell.”

Last year? I had tons to look forward to. Trips, musicals, dinners, time with friends all over the country. It still hurts to think about the lost trips sometimes–there was about a 70% chance I was going to ride along in an RV with my sister and niece from Alaska to the lower 48. I actually mustered up the radical self-care to use two personal days and planned a trip to New York to see friends and museums. Two months into 2020, another friend snagged tickets for “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center, and I started planning a summer DC/New York trip.

Three things I looked forward to in 2020. Three things that never happened.

So I hope it’s understandable that my initial reaction to AFH’s initial 2021 task sent me into a bit of cynical rage. Why look forward to things that probably won’t even happen? Isn’t that a recipe for disappointment and depression? But the longer I stewed, something changed.

(As Stueve says, thinking is a dangerous habit.)

What if the three things I look forward to in 2021 aren’t exactly…things? Or events? What if the things to look forward to are more ethereal, more abstract?

Can I look forward to a deeper practice of grace–not only toward other people, but also toward myself?

Can I look forward to a continued minimizing and organizing of my life–possessions, apps–toward a maximizing of spending my time and resources purposefully?

Can I look forward to my to-read pile of books, my to-see list of films, my to-listen-to Friday Morning Soundtracks?

For many, January 1, 2021 is fraught for a variety of reasons. The panic from facing a blank slate of the coming year. The collective trauma from what we, humanity, have witnessed the past year. The pressure to change and mold ourselves into someone that–let’s be real–might only serve the people profiting off what we purchase to make those changes.

If you are feeling any of that, I understand and am holding space for you to feel and process as you need. And if and when you are ready to consider finding even one thing to look forward to this year, maybe move from the concrete to the abstract and see if that helps.

It’s worth a try. You are worth the try.

Happy New Year.

Sooooo…whatcha doin’?

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Sunday night, I pulled out a notebook and wrote at the top of a page, “What is a sustainable routine?”

I need routines as part of my cognitive behavior therapy so teaching high school is actually a really great place for me, what with a bell schedule telling me what to do at what time, including eating lunch.

But what do I do when I don’t have a bell schedule or students?

I sketched out a possible sustainable routine on that piece of paper Sunday night, and adhered to about half of it yesterday. Today, not at all.

It’s not like I’m lacking for things to do; I have plenty of options. So. Many. Options. And maybe that’s part of the problem–the “paradox of choice.” Maybe limiting my options is a good step.

Or maybe what I need to do is take a step back for a day or two, breathe, give myself some time and grace to adapt to the current situation.

I go through something similar every summer–when the school year ends and my routine is taken away, it takes me about two weeks to recalibrate and find an acceptable balance. But I always know that it’s coming–May 1 hits, and I start thinking about summer contingency plans to manage my mental health.

This particular moment though? I saw it coming, but the same way I see summer storms–off in the distance with a chance that it might break to the north and miss me completely. Except this storm hit.

I’m not throwing out my Sunday scrawlings just yet–I think I created a manageable system for when I am ready for it to take hold.

My point is this: if you too are feeling unmoored, maybe even guilty for not creating a routinized life for yourself or your family, take a breath. We’ve not been here before. As my friend Matt keeps reminding me, “There is no playbook for this.”

And if you can’t give yourself a little patience or grace right now, contact me. I’ll give you some of mine.