Sometimes the things you’re afraid to let people see because you think they’ll judge you end up being the very things they really love about you.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
– H. P. Lovecraft
“Change.” It’s so hard that there are books and seminars and coaches all dedicated to helping people with “change management.” It’s also 100% inevitable.
Why is it that when faced with uncertainty, we often (always?) fixate on all the scary things that could happen?
Sitting in the quiet this early morning I found myself noticing all the good things that life’s weird twists and turns have brought me. There is so much more good in my life than all my times fearing the unknown led me to expect. I’ve had countless uncertain times, nerve-wracking to downright terrifying. But so far, most of the awful things that could have happened haven’t.
Isn’t that how life goes? I’m not going to say that change is always for the better–sometimes it depends on how you look at it. And sometimes really sad, permanent things happen–things that will always hurt.
But look back at all the times of flux, the times of questioning, the times you have felt lost or unsure in life, the times you’ve lost your normal… What have those times brought you in the long run? I bet that change has been an overwhelmingly positive force in your life.
Why do we go straight to the bad? The what-ifs and the worries? We humans are an incredibly fearful bunch.
Try this: Next time you are faced with change, take some time looking for the good things–the opportunities and the benefits you can find. You may find way more happiness in the change than you’ve learned to expect.
Good luck, smile on! :)
“Kids think with their brains cracked wide open; becoming an adult, I’ve decided, is only a slow sewing shut.” – Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper
Every winter the day comes when we box up the Christmas decorations and close the door on the last little reminders of the wonder that the holiday brings. It won’t be long before I start looking forward again to the next first snow and the accompanying cheer. Whenever I’m asked my favorite Christmas movie, I have to say it’s The Polar Express, because it’s about a kid who learns not to outgrow magic.
As well as being a time for magic, jolliness, snowy walks, and hot chocolate, December is also a time where a lot of people who should feel love and belonging instead feel especially alone, confused, and hurt. Maybe your holidays are a mix of both. We’ve all just made it through the holidays and as we return to working full time through the cold, short days of winter, many people are left aching a little more than usual, a little more numb to the possibilities of joy and hope. Seasonal depression is ready to kick in. January can leave us feeling like, “Where did the magic go?”
As we get older and experience more stress and disappointments in a big and confusing world, I’m afraid we tend to lose sight of the little bits and pieces of the world that are beautiful and happy. The constant drip of stress rewires our brains and we might find ourselves daily a bit more “Bah humbug” about it all.
But guys… the magic is still there. I think no matter how much we grow up, if we look and listen closely enough, we can still find it. I promise.
If you’re struggling to find the magic you knew as a kid, you’re not alone. Here are a few places I’ve learned I can find magic. And maybe these will help you also find magic this year–if you look closely…
1. Watch a nature scene for a while. There are beautiful sights all around you. Bumblebees buzzing around flowers, leaves rustling in the breeze, fish jumping, storm clouds rolling in, little spiders, soaring eagles, and silly squirrels, the smell of rain and the burning warmth of sunshine… Nature is free. And beautiful spots are closer than you might think. Open Google Maps and zoom in on the sections shaded green. And if you need any recommendations, let me know! The only catch is: You have to sit still long enough to still be watching when the magic moments happen.
2. Learn to give someone a massage. Even if you don’t go to massage school and become a pro, there are lots of easy books and YouTube videos to teach you some basics in giving someone the gift of a relaxing massage. And honestly, just giving it a shot without any help will still be worth it. The soothing and caring touch of massage can be a comforting and relieving experience. The simplest massage can be an amazing gift for someone you appreciate, and giving that gift can be just as gratifying as receiving it.
3. Read a story from history. Our planet’s history is colorful, intriguing, and downright entertaining. Take a break from the modern world and immerse yourself in tales of Montezuma’s bustling old city of Mexico, fierce raids by the Vandal tribes, or the beautiful arabesques of the old Arabic world. If you don’t know where else to start, try E. H. Gombrich’s book A Little History of the World, which reads like a fairy tale.
4. Cook a recipe from a different cuisine. If you can read and if you can be patient with the slow, imperfect process, you can do this no matter how little cooking you’ve done in your life. And you may find it a delightful (and tasty) adventure! I especially love the idea of experiencing the creation of a meal like another culture traditionally does it. With thousands of recipes online and a variety of ethnic cookbooks at your local Barnes & Noble, and with a little help from Google in deciphering the weird ingredients and tasks–this can be an awesome experience. For Christmas this year we made a few traditional Italian country meals, like linguine with lentils and pancetta. I’m no chef, so it took a few hours, but how much fun (and what a delicious celebration)!
5. Take a simple hiking trip. Guys, here’s the thing: Outdoor hiking adventures aren’t nearly as expensive or complicated as you’d think! Seriously. Big airport hubs like Phoenix, Denver, and Dallas often offer cheaper flights than you’d expect. Or you can rent a car with unlimited miles from Enterprise for a several day road trip. Airbnbs can be way more affordable (and way cozier) than hotels. Local grocery stores have the same food you buy every week at home. You can cover a lot of ground in just a couple days. And nature is not expensive! National Parks are a great place to start–guides and information on experiencing them are plentiful, their trails are well maintained, and park rangers are there to help. Some even have free entry, like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An annual pass to all US National Parks costs less than a fancy dinner at a resort. And guys, once you get out into the nature and start moving… and seeing… the beauty you can find in nature is just indescribable. Hiking trips can become the most thrilling memories in your life. (Need any tips? Let me know!)
6. Make some new music. Don’t play an instrument? Can’t get one? Then sing! You don’t have to be a master musician to feel the magic of music. It can carry deep and powerful emotion and can move the toughest people to tears. Try picking up the guitar. Or the piano. It’s not too difficult, really. Or just turn up your favorite songs in the car and belt them out like there’s no tomorrow. Nobody’s watching, I promise. And if you can’t do any of those, find a beautiful piece of music and just sit down, close your eyes, and feel it. Music doesn’t have to become your “thing,” but maybe once in a while you can find magic there.
7. Find an epic make-believe movie. A lot of us adults decide we can’t like “kid stuff” as much when become older. Fantasy and imagination… aren’t those supposed to fade from our focus as we get older? But why not just embrace the fun and the artistry of it every once in a while? Epic visual story-telling can be a genuinely fun experience. Find some unique and enchanting animation. Shamelessly binge your favorite superhero movies and get excited about them. Why not? You can…
8. Have a conversation with a child. Nothing will remind you of the magic all around you quicker than having a chat with a little kid. They see monsters and epic battles and plots and imaginary friends and amazing animals all around them. Christmas and Halloween are just out of this world exciting to them. Accidentally walking into a wall or leaves them in hysterics. Every little leaf is fascinating. And each day is a new adventure. Listen to them tell you about their magic.
9. Start learning a new language. How cool is it to hear someone fluently carry on a conversation in another language? Isn’t it fun to learn how to greet someone from a little country on the other side of the globe? And what a magical connection when you meet somebody whose first language you’ve learned, even just a little. Languages aren’t that hard to pick up. They’re hard to master, but a few basic greetings and common words aren’t too complicated. And it can be loads of fun! Download the Duolingo app!
10. Take a long, quiet walk. Detach. Leave your phone in your pocket, if not at home. Just walk out the door and keep walking. A quiet, peaceful walk can be a grounding experience. Have some you time–time to catch up with yourself like you’d catch up with a friend. Time to think and feel while you’re not racing around accomplishing things. Maybe even bring a friend or two. A long walk can reconnect you to yourself, reconnect you to a friend, or even just reconnect you to the earth that is your home.
11. Make an elderly friend. I love listening to people reminisce about their years and years of unique experiences and adventures, the people and places they’ve known, the happy, sad, or funny things they’ve seen. And I love hearing the perspectives and words of wisdom their lives have given to them. And I love seeing what is truly important to people towards the end of their lives. Try getting to know someone who has lived a long life they’re willing to share with you. Not only can hearing all their stories be fun, and listening to their advice be helpful, but it can be incredibly happy for them to have a friend to talk to when some of their own friends have started to pass on, and their accomplishments have started to fade into the past–it can be a magical friendship for both of you.
12. Try meditating. Just try it. There are as many different reasons and ways to meditate as there are people who do it. Two of the things I love to find in meditation are: A grounded connection to yourself and the real world around you; And an acceptance and “okayness” with the way things are. If you’d like help getting started, look up Jon Kabat-Zinn, who helped bring mindfulness meditation to the west. His books Wherever You Go, There You Are and Coming to Our Senses were very helpful for me. His abridged audiobook version of the latter is a breeze. Or check out the Headspace or Calm apps. Or, if you’re brave enough, just take 20 minutes, sit quietly, and stop trying things. Just let things go. Observe. Allow feelings. Be still. If you’re not sure it’s “working,” you’re probably doing it right. Meditation doesn’t have to be about achieving some euphoric state. It’s more about learning to accept–that it’s all okay.
I hope this list has inspired you a little. If you’re feeling adventurous, try one of these every month. They’re all easy and affordable adventures. And I promise by the end of the year you’ll have made lifelong memories and you’ll have tasted a little bit more of the magic this life has to offer.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely of places. Those who don’t beleive in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl
I crossed paths with a coyote a couple nights back. It was awesome! Bear with me while I take you through a weird train of thought I had. It trotted across a dark road and down the hill into a neighborhood. As I kept walking, I heard nearby dogs start barking loudly. I could see one of the dogs chained in its yard in the glow of a porch light. How sad would it be if the coyote attacked one of the barking dogs! It’s not unheard of in our area. What if I had a puppy that were killed by a coyote? What would I do about it? I’m sure I’d be sad and angry. I’d blame myself for leaving my dog unattended. I’d blame the city for not fixing its coyote problem. We live right next to a couple big nature and wildlife preserves and there are no fences keeping the coyotes in the preserve. Maybe I’d start a petition to put up some kind of protective fence along the preserve’s border. But–and here’s where it gets tricky–I probably have a neighbor who loves living here because of the closeness to nature and loves to see deer scamper through their yard. Lots of people would hate to have the preserve fenced off. And lots of people would not like the idea of forcing the wildlife to stay inside the preserve, thinking that’s cruel, unnecessary, unfair…
That was all hypothetical (though if someone were taking a vote I’d say no fence). What’s not hypothetical is that we tend to react to tragedies and sad events by looking for someone or something to blame and by trying to change something so that the event couldn’t happen again.
And what I wondered the other night is: Why do we do that?
And does it even help?
Is every sad thing a bad thing that should not have happened and that we should retaliate against and prevent ever happening again at all costs?
If someone you love falls from a cliff, should you stop hiking up beautiful mountains?
I think some of the things we do to try to stop any sad things from happening have their own sad affects in ways we don’t realize. Life isn’t all meant to be totally safe and free of bumps and bruises. Fearfully cowering in our homes means we miss out on a lot of happiness. Trying to get everyone to join us isn’t fair. Trying to organize the planet into safe boxes isn’t happy or beautiful. We can’t make life “perfect” and I think our striving to do so robs us of peace and love.
So when something very sad happens, before you “do something about it,” stop and think: Would it actually help? Or am I just making life more complicated and the world more bland for others? Think of all the frustrating and paralyzing rules and regulations that get made because one time something sad happened to someone.
And I think when we have to find someone to blame sad things on, we end up lonely and scared of the very people that could be there to hold our hands through our sadness. Sometimes a tragedy turns us angry and bitter against people who are close to us, or people that we wish could have somehow stopped the tragedy happening. So we call people evil and ugly and we become lonely and scared–and so we spread our loneliness and fear.
Sometimes we tell ourselves stories to lay blame elsewhere so that we can feel like the sad things happening is wrong, like it’s not a fair part of life, so it’s right for us to be angry: Like that all sad things are punishment for the world’s “sinfulness” and if only all those people weren’t the way they were… or that there’s an evil force who’s specifically targeting us for being so good–trying to trip us up. That can give us a boost of self-righteousness and courage to “overcome.” But it can also turn us against the rest of the world and it can catch us in a vicious cycle of obsessing over whether we’re good enough–when what we really needed was just a good cry.
And maybe when someone tells us they’re sad, they don’t need us to fix it.
Maybe sometimes we just need to feel the sad without having to blame anyone or do anything about it. The more time we spend in the initial stages of grief, lashing out in anger, trying to explain it away, insisting it shouldn’t and couldn’t have happened–the more we are hurt and broken and the more we hurt and break the world around us.
Maybe the fact that you’re sad doesn’t mean someone’s wronged you, or you’re living the wrong life, or you have the wrong people by your side, or the world is out to get you.
Maybe sad is a part of life we shouldn’t fight against.
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” – Carl Jung
Don’t bring about more sadness by your reaction to your own sadness. Just shed some tears and let life be beautiful.
My wife says she’s going to buy me a helmet.
New Year’s Day 2017 I woke up to a CRASH. My mind was blank. It took me a minute to even remember who I was. I thought I was still a kid living in Tennessee. What was this door in front of my face? Oh, right, I live in Minnesota now. I’m in… my bathroom? I’ve never seen it from this angle before.
I slowly sat up and looked around. Everything was foggy and going in slow motion. I looked down and saw blood all over my white hoodie. I realized I had a splitting headache and my nose hurt. I slowly pulled myself to standing and faced the mirror. I looked like a bloody ghost. Face white as a sheet, giant purple bruises on my forehead and a gash in my nose that was bleeding impressively.
I woke up Alyssa with a phone call. “Hey… I think… I might need to go to the hospital…” 5 hours in the ER and I officially had my first concussion.
Recovering the first time was weird. I had regular waves of nausea for a few weeks and I felt weak and fatigued. I would randomly start crying. I felt discouraged all the time. It was about a month and a half before I could get back into running and working out. It seemed then like things were fairly back to normal, but a few months in I started getting these awful headaches and had to go back to the doctor. At about 6 months those subsided. I was back to normal and running harder than I’d ever run and hiking up and down mountains.
Life was GOOD! :)
Until August 16–just a few months ago: My wife and I were 4 miles into our 8 mile hike for day 1 in the Rocky Mountains. Scrambling over some boulders, I planted my foot and launched myself up and heard a loud CRACK run all the way through me. I felt like my neck and shoulders collapsed into each other and holy **** my head! I sat straight down, still seeing stars, world buzzing. I immediately knew I had done more than just bonk my head.
But we were 4 miles from the trailhead. In the mountains. So I sat for a while, stretched and massaged my neck and shoulders, waited for my head to unfuzzy itself. Then we were off again. As we kept walking my head started aching worse and worse and I started getting nauseated and dizzy. I kept half-tripping, very off balance. My epic best friend Alyssa insisted on carrying my backback along with hers (keep in mind, these are day-hike backpacks full of food and gear and clothes for mountain weather and a gallon or two of water). I sat down a few more times and we took it kind of slow, but we made it the rest of the way. Having made it to the end of the day I figured I must be okay. I started feeling extremely dizzy and anxious the next couple days in the mountains, but I attributed it to the elevation (14,000 feet is a lot of feet).
We got home and I went back to work. Then things really started going downhill. The more interactions and problem-solving I had to do at work, the more I just felt “off” somehow. I was totally missing things people would say to me. I was forgetful and often confused. I couldn’t find words I was looking for. Staring at my computer screen for 8 hours was miserable. I constantly felt this intense anxiety that was getting worse and worse.
Finally I went to the doctor who said I’d reconcussed myself and told me to take several days off work, go home and sleep, stop looking at screens, and not do any strenuous activity. Unfortunately, we were moving that week. Shout out to my awesome friends Ethan and Colin for dropping everything to help us! We couldn’t have done it without you! I felt like a wimp when I kept having to sit down till my head stopped spinning. The more I did, the more disoriented and uncoordinated I’d get. My speech would start slowing down and slurring and I couldn’t think clearly. A few days later I started three online classes. That was even rougher.
This second time around, recovery has been a lot harder and weirder. I felt like the concussion drastically changed a lot about my disposition at least temporarily. I have felt very introverted and have had a ton of anxiety. Thank goodness the nausea was way less this time, but the headaches have been way worse. Every couple weeks I have tried again to run or go to the gym, and every time have ended up with shot nerves, foggy brain, and a splitting headache the next day. And this time it didn’t get better–for 4 months! It felt like for every one step forward I took two steps back. Only in the last few weeks have I been able to really get back into running and working out, and screens are just now starting to get less painful for me. The worst part of it this time around has been the intense anxiety.
I am so, so thankful that I’m starting to feel much better now. Finally!
The thing about concussions is that nobody really knows how they work. But having personally experienced the confusion and frustration they can bring, I want to share a few things it may help you to know in case you ever bonk your head too hard or love someone else who bonks their head too hard:
1. Concussions affect everyone differently.
First of all–who knows what will happen! Nausea for weeks, fuzzy eye-sight, headaches, confusion, slow word recall–quick recovery, slow recovery–you really don’t know what to expect. It’s hard to understand or plan for your recovery. Take lots of omegas, lay in bed lots, and don’t look at screens. Those are three easy steps to follow. But how your symptoms go from there is anyone’s guess.
(Quick note: From here on out, I make a lot of “concussions do X” statements. Of course, not everyone with a concussion experiences each of these symptoms in the same way.)
2. Your brain hurts.
This one seems obvious, but it can be weird and disconcerting to experience. It doesn’t just feel like a bruise. After both my concussions, when I would spend time thinking hard, strain hard physically, do quick or impact-filled activity (like jogging), or spend time looking at screens–I would get this foreign feeling of intense pressure in my head. The first week or two this would even happen as a result of just walking. Not quite the same as a migraine or tension headache. It would just feel… off. It felt fragile and … pressury. Then I’d get dizzy and lethargic and all I could do was sit down and hold my head. That can last quite a while. The rest of your body can way outpace your concussed brain’s capacity to handle life.
3. Your emotions go haywire.
I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for how big a deal this one actually was. But since experiencing it, I’ve heard the same from others. One friend recently told me her two tough high school boys got concussions playing football, and while recovering would randomly burst into tears… “Mom, I don’t know why I’m crying!!!”
Your feelings just go crazy. Some people get extremely irritable. Some people get very shy. Some people get super anxious. Some people just cry and cry. The first time I got a concussion I would just feel this awful sense of sadness come in random waves for a good month afterward. The second time, more often than not, I had this terrible sense of doom, this feeling of being threatened, and an awful general anxiety that has very slowly subsided over several months.
The feelings are all very real and intense, make no sense at all, and constantly take you by surprise–so frustrating!
4. You get way overstimulated.
Loud noises and music, fast talking, big crowds, lots going on–all this can become way more overwhelming than it used to be. Your brain isn’t ready to handle what it usually does. You can be the biggest life-of-the-party, turn-the-volume-up type person and then after a concussion hardly be able to handle being around people or noises or sights.
5. Your thinking gets foggy.
You just don’t think as well while your brain is recovering from an injury. Following a train of thought becomes exhausting. You get easily confused. You miss a lot of things. I stopped hearing a lot of the things said to me, or if I did hear it I couldn’t process it quickly enough to keep up. You get spacey and forgetful. I showed up an hour early for a meeting that happens at the same time every week, decided after ten minutes it must have been cancelled, and didn’t even realize what had happened until the next week. Talking gets difficult. You can’t remember words. Sometimes it’s nothing you can describe exactly: Just a weird fogginess.
6. “Toughing it out” just makes it worse.
Here’s one of the only sure things the doctor will tell you: Trying to be a hero and pushing through your concussion by continuing to exercise, going right back to work, etc–just makes it worse!
You know when you sprain your ankle and after a few days in a boot, you get exercises to do that will help to start restrengthening it? Your brain doesn’t heal that way. It doesn’t want exercise to heal, and it doesn’t like physical strain. (At least not at first. After a while, there may be some cognitive therapy that can help your brain continue to recover.)
In both of my own experiences, the times I took away from work and took it very easy, doing nothing but resting, I made the quickest improvements. When I tried to push through it (against the doctor’s orders), it was miserable and the fuzziness and exhaustion just got worse. Best case scenario–take a legitimate chunk of recovery time off work, don’t go to the gym, get off your phone, and don’t watch TV. Rest.
7. You lose a lot of life things for a while.
Here’s one people don’t realize. You can lose a lot of your normal “life” things–things that make you who you are. For example: Running, working out, writing (on my computer screen), watching artistic movies, and spending time with people are all big parts of what makes me me, and all of those got overwhelming and painful. It seems obvious things like running and working out might have to slow down during recovery. But a much broader range of activities are affected than people might assume.
If I break my leg and have to stop running, I can sit and watch Netflix all day, or read more, or maybe start hanging out with people more. With a concussion, you might lose your ability to handle all of those all at once. It’s very sad. You feel like you lose a lot about who you are and unfortunately it can take a long time to get those things back.
8. You can’t SEE a concussion.
You just can’t. So people return to work too quickly and try to live up to their normal routines and social expectations, because saying “I feel fuzzy and anxious and I bumped my head three weeks ago” doesn’t sound legit.
9. You feel lonely, misunderstood, and embarrassed.
You feel awkward trying to explain how you’re doing to people, because–again–people can’t see how you’re actually doing. Especially after you look and sound normal. As the days turn into weeks or even months, and you’re not back to “normal” yet, you start feeling like people’s patience and understanding will run out. You feel silly that you can’t think as clearly as you used to, embarrassed that you feel like your work performance isn’t quite what it usually is. You can start to feel like you’re in it alone and that you can only ask people to cut you so much slack. You can even start feeling guilty–maybe you haven’t been able to go to the gym, and you’ve been doing more anxious-eating with your crazy emotions, or you haven’t been able to keep up with all your relationships. You can start to feel like you’re not good enough.
10. It affects other people in your life.
This is another big one. Your concussion doesn’t just happen to you. Your concussion happens to your significant other who is used to counting on a certain level of strength and companionship in you. Your concussion happens to all your co-workers who suddenly have to pick up a lot more slack and might have to do so for several weeks. Your concussion happens to your friends who might not see you or hear from you as often or might not feel as much warmth from you. They’re all in it with you in a supportive way, but that means they can also be drained and hurt by the experience just like you–especially the closer and more valuable the relationship. I sometimes feel like my wife needs to recover more than I do after supporting a few weeks of Concussion-Me.
11. It’s actually really scary.
You’re not yourself anymore.*
You can’t think clearly.
You wonder if some things will ever get all the way better. And some might not. And now you’re at higher risk if there’s a next time.
You have no idea how tomorrow will go. Your doctor can’t tell you how your recovery will go.
And you just want to feel like you again.
12. After a while all of this gets very overwhelming and exhausting.
Any or all of these symptoms can last a long, long time. Longer than you’d expect. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, sometimes it takes months. Some people will keep the effects of their concussion for the rest of their lives. And dealing long term with this wide array of frustrating effects can get incredibly overwhelming and exhausting. You can become deeply burnt out and just feel like it’s all too much.
So what can you do to help a friend or loved one who has a concussion?
Try to understand them.
Help them feel safe.
Be empathetic and compassionate. This is an awful experience for them.
And GIVE THEM THE CHANCE to recover.
Shoutout to my epic best friend Alyssa who has been incredibly supportive since the first minute, especially with this last one that has taken months to heal.
Here’s an epic picture of her about 15 minutes after my last concussion, cheerfully carrying both our backpacks up the mountain four miles away from the trail head.
Thanks for standing by my side through all this, Lys.
*I said “You’re not yourself anymore.” I want to say one more thing about this: You’re not yourself, but you also still totally are yourself. You don’t feel like you’re used to feeling, you get confused and you have unpredictable emotions. But deep down, you are the same person you always have been–you’re valuable and loveable you–and that is something you can hold on to, and it’s something your people can hold on to.