Finding Joyful Calm in Happy Storms (or How NOT to End Up in a Wrist Brace)

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”  ― Pema Chödrön

A few years ago, I ended up sleeping with a brace on my wrist after my doc diagnosed me with carpal tunnel. No! I thought in the exam room. Take my legs, my feet, my butt. But please don’t take my wrists! If I couldn’t write as much as I desired, I wasn’t sure how I would manage. Good thing I resisted fleeing and stayed to hear him out.

Stress and exhaustion, he said, usually cause carpal tunnel. Had I been experiencing any? Well sure, I told him, but it was GOOD stress. I was too excited to sleep well. “Stress is stress,” he replied. Obsessive typing hadn’t caused my write pain! It had merely exacerbated inflammation from hyper alertness and sleep loss. Talk about an a-ha! moment. When life gets happily hectic, I could probably stay awake 23/7—but at a cost. Lately I’ve had opportunities to make better choices.

Next week, after years of renting, my husband and I are moving into our own home. The following week, I’ll fly to New York City to host World Sexual Health Day, N. America’s 2nd annual celebration, and the day after, I’ll participate in an orgasm MRI. That’s right! My sex-geek dream of climaxing while my brain is hooked up to analytical machinery is, quite literally, coming true! A couple of weeks later I’ll dress up as a human cake with a dear friend in the name of a brilliant artist. Weeks after that, I’ll be in the same room as OPRAH. The following week I’ll be in Puerto Rico, presenting at the National Women’s Studies Association conference. (More on all of this later!) The list goes on…

Amid all of this happy hectic-ness, I’m doing all the work you writers and busy do-it-yourself-ers do. I can feel some of you nodding your heads; a creative’s life is seldom an automatically calm, well-balanced act. Many of you have kids, pets and additional jobs to allot time and energy to, or wear so many hats you often like Bartholomew Cubbins.

I’m a strong believer in prioritizing self-care and celebrating, so as life grows busier, I’m making asserted efforts to not explode maintain positivity, to eat well, rest well and play well, soaking in all the wonder without letting stress or sleep loss from holding me, or my beloved wrists, back. What good is excitement and hard work, after all, if we don’t enjoy it?

I’m also a fan of sharing our goals, which seems to cement them and invite takeaways from others. I hope you’ll join the conversation!

Some of my work-in-progress toward these ends:

– Breathing and meditating – on purpose

Rather than rely solely on my respiratory system’s cues, I’m taking time daily to breathe fully in and out with intention, particularly on intense days. And rather than simply daydream and listen to the occasion meditation podcast (okay, I’ve only listened to three), I signed up for a transcendental meditation class and plan to incorporate the practice into my daily life. Oprah does it, Ellen does it, Hugh Jackman does it, and so should I!

– Avoiding working and web-surfing at night

I’ve never been a night owl. My brain turns into sludge after a day of work, and nighttime efforts to work harder and longer end up working consistently against me—so no more. So I work hardest during my brain’s golden hours and try to chill out and tend to less rigorous tasks as it dims. I’m also limiting internet use at night. Like I need any help not sleeping well!

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– Pondering life’s blessings

When an anxious thought crops up, such as, “What if self-stimulating in a tube whole others listening gives my G-spot stage fright and she runs up and hides behind my kidneys?” — you know, normal concerns — I remind myself what in incredible opportunity the experience is (and, in the MRI case, how important, and still lacking, female sexuality research is). I’m also keeping a list of the perks of investing in a house, which really helps nuke any moving-related stress, and doing my best to act on and express my gratitude. (Have I mentioned how awesome you all are, by the way???)

– Saying “no” and taking breaks

Overwork and overextending ourselves doesn’t help anyone. It certainly won’t help our work quality, sleep abilities or relationships. While it’s important to help others and hang out with our pals when we can, if shouldn’t say “yes” to obligations if it means saying “no” to our dreams or self-care. I’d also like my husband to come home to a happy, healthy human, not the exhausted, eyes-glued-open robot he’s seen more than once. If you’ve ever spent too much time writing, you know exactly what I mean. It looks something like this:

"What do you mean 'what's wrong?' I'm perfectly FINE!"

“What do you mean ‘what’s wrong?’ I’m perfectly FINE!”

– Focusing on fun

My mom is the BOMB at this. When she last visited LA, our place was essentially a doggy hospice—full of love, but also concern. And while I was making efforts to make Zoe’s life as lovely as possible, which truly benefited mine, without negating self-care, “fun” wasn’t exactly a priority. Mom turned everything we did into a party. We laughed while grocery shopping and cooking, dined on the patio as though it was the French Riviera, spent lots of time with super Z and even broke away to dance our butts off in Ellen’s audience. For a few days, I virtually stopped worrying. I’ve been set on keeping that going since.

– Making like a dog

Speaking of Zoe, she taught me so much about being mindful and present—to spend time in nature, simply absorbing my surroundings rather than stress over whatever work I’m not doing then. Dogs give love without condition, savor the heck out of every meal, belly rub, walk and car ride, and, in our new pup Via’s case, seem to think Christmas comes around every couple of hours. I see her giddy face each morning and can’t help but feel eager, too. Pets also make us who work from home take rejuvenating breaks and never, ever delay a meal.

Life's too precious not to smile.

Life’s too precious not to smile.

My thoughts keep trailing back to Ariana Huffington’s talk at BlogHer, ’14. For women to succeed, she said, we must sleep our way to the top! In other words, rest paves the way for success—not needless stress, excessive work or insomnia. Words to live and dream by, don’t you think? I also continually remind myself of the motto which I shared at BlogHer:

August_McLaughlin_quote-unknownmami_thumb

Butterflies are awesome, as long as they don’t overtake our entire bodies. 😉 With these steps in tow, my wrist brace won’t likely see the dark of night. Hey, that’s one less thing to pack! See that? Endless blessings.

I’ve shown you mine. Show me yours! 😉 How do you stay calm and present in happy or challenging storms? Do you agree that it’s important?

Leave a comment

34 Comments

  1. Great post, August! Best of luck in all your upcoming endeavors–it sounds as though you have a firm handle on how to keep sane through them all! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Ah, to sleep, perchance to dream…stop me if you’ve heard this (as I type with my wrist firmly ensconced in its brace), but I haven’t slept through the night consistently since my daughter was born…21 years ago. @_@ Needless to say, I have tried meditating, exercise, no computer before bed, etc. Nothing works for longer than a week or so. As of this comment, I’m into week three of waking between 3:30 and 3:45 every morning. I’m starting to think this is just the way I’m wired. sigh

    So, with that typed, I am going to incorporate a couple of your wonderful suggestions. I may not sleep any better, but by golly I’ll be enjoying the hours I’m awake a little more than I have been. :-).

    Can’t wait to hear more about your wonderful events / adventures!

    Reply
    • Wow – so sorry to hear of your sleep struggles! Then again, as you said, maybe it’s how you roll. 😉

      I’ve had to learn to not stress over sleep problems, which helps. Last night, for example, I half-slept on and off then flew out of bed at 6. LOL I’ve also embraced active rest, which as someone who’s never been able to nap is completely awesome. I “The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough” to be pretty helpful — namely because it encourages that. 🙂 But your attitude alone is probably more than enough! 🙂 Thanks so much for the cheers!

      Reply
  3. “Dogs give love without condition, savor the heck out of every meal, belly rub, walk and car ride, and, in our new pup Via’s case, seem to think Christmas comes around every couple of hours. I see her giddy face each morning and can’t help but feel eager, too.”

    Yes, dogs certainly do!!!^^^^^

    Reply
  4. laurie27wsmith

     /  August 21, 2014

    When I saw carpal tunnel and wrist brace I thought, Hmm, August must be doing G-spot research. Then I read on and felt foolish. 🙂

    Reply
  5. You go, girl. Proud of you!

    Reply
  6. *hugs* best of luck staying sane through all this! Hopefully your move goes MUCH smoother than ours did 2 years ago. The week we moved into our house has been dubbed “Hell Week”. It was awful.

    Reply
    • Aw. So sorry to hear your move was such a bear! Thanks for the cheers. 🙂 We’re expecting it to take more work than we expect (ha) but also plan to have fun. Fingers crossed!

      Reply
  7. Like the others, I wish you the best in all that is coming your way. It all sounds so exciting for you, and thanks for keeping us in the loop. You know I cannot say enough about meditation but I had stops and starts with it, mainly trying to fit it in my day.

    Mornings ended up best for me and for over a year, fifteen minutes was great (BTW, I started with the Oprah-Deepak 21 day challenge). After attending an online retreat with Pema Chodron, I moved to an hour, and that still works for me some two years later. I learned open eye meditation from the Chodron retreat and found I prefer it to closed eye. Chodron does have a book on how to meditate by the same title. I just concentrate on my breathing and sit comfortably so nothing fancy. Now, my day feels incomplete without it or my gentle yoga.

    I have used voice-recognition software (Dragon) for writing and now, even though I have returned to typing, I like the software for initial drafts as I can speak it faster than I can type, and I can type pretty fast. In other words, my initial drafts are more complete. Let me know if you want to know more about the software.

    Sorry this is so long but again, I wish you and yours the best in all of these new endeavors. It’s all so exciting when such lovely things happen to such lovely people, dogs, and birds.

    Karen

    Reply
    • I can’t tell you inspiring that all is, Karen! Knowing how helpful meditation has been, and remains, for you really motivates me to give it my all. It’s taken me a long time to hone the practice of mindfulness in other areas… 10 years or so ago, I couldn’t even handle sitting still for a 12-minute meditative exercise. Now I’m looking forward to the 20 minutes twice a day (the starting point for T.M.). Please never apologize for your beautiful words! They mean so much. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Can I just tell you once more how much I love you and how happy I am we got to hang out…in person?!!!

    I am super excited about all your upcoming projects and accomplishments. I can tell I’m a feminist nerd as I think I audibly squeaked over you speaking with NWSA. Suh-weet!!

    And it sounds like you have a great plan for balance in the hectic fun-filled days ahead. I am still practicing Arianna’s advice as well and did something for me by doing the 21 Day Fix workout and meal plan. I’ve learned much mentally from it a week and a half in already and feel more energized. (But Joe and I are totally going to celebrate when it’s over by eating cheeseburgers.) 😄

    Reply
    • Aw. Love your feminist nerdiness and your eager squeaks! (There’s something I’ve never said before! LOL) And I’m ever grateful that we got to hang out in person — the first of many times, I hope. 🙂

      Good for you for prioritizing exercise and healthy meals! Also for planning to savor some celebratory treats. Best you keep me posted, beauty!

      Reply
  9. When stress starts to get in the way, I, too, unplug for a while. Instead of hanging out online I hang out with hubby or with a book (if he’s at work). I sing when things get stressful at work. I make an effort to smile more and to make someone else laugh…because other people laughing makes me laugh.

    I’m so excited for you and your projects/accomplishments/recognition. You deserve all the best, my friend.

    Reply
    • Ooh, great tips! You’re a continual reminder to me what music can do. I cannot wait for my guitar and our piano to be un-hidden from behind boxes. 😉 I watched a TED Talk recently about smiling, and how powerful it is, even when we force or fake them — not that you probably ever need to! Laughing and smiling are such groovy medicine, as are pals like you. 🙂

      Reply
  10. I am beyond thrilled for you, August. When I read your blog and your exponential increase in accomplishments, opportunities, and adventures…

    My first thought is always WTG GB Mama! My second thought(s) often centered around what I had done — other than update a growing wanna do list. The problem? I wasn’t yet sure what (other than the big O & YKWIM) brought glee to my life.

    I took time off. I went back to my roots. I reconnected with my sisters. I reconnected with me. I spent quality time with The Bliss List — a book designed for young people to help them choose a career that brings bliss.

    I fit that definition. I’m young — by my definition — which is the only definition that counts. I’m beginning a new phase; a new career. Now? I am finally moving things I’m confident hit my Bliss List to the active list. And, I hit each of them each day.

    Next up? Meeting today with a personal trainer qualified to get me past my sciatic nerve issues AND improve my physical conditioning.

    Doing nothing proactive; having days pass with no notable accomplishments were THE biggest stressors in my life. My glee meter keeps nudging to the green zone.

    YAY, you! YAY me!

    Personal side note: I was off loop when you lost your four legged family member. Deepest condolences.

    Reply
    • Huge YAY for you, Gloria! It sounds like you’re taking awesome steps toward personal growth and empowerment, to add to all the wonderful work you’ve been doing for years. So sorry to hear about your nerve issues — best of luck with managing them! If anyone can power through and gain emotional and physical strength in the process, it’s you. Love that nudging toward green action. 🙂

      Thanks for the condolences! ❤

      Reply
  11. All the best for all the upcoming events. And yeah, the ‘bug-eyed sleep-deprived hyper-alert writer syndrome’ is all too familiar. I can totally identify with that photo!

    I always think the OOS/RSI problem is a lurking issue for writers. More at some points in the writing process than others – I suspect that for many (certainly for me), the mental ‘micro-pauses’ that occur naturally during composition/creation are as essential for physical hand/wrist health as they are for the art of writing.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Matthew! You’re so right about the importance of those mental pauses. I’m grateful that since I started prioritizing rest in general, my symptoms have diminished. Best of luck!

      Reply
  12. Catherine Johnson

     /  August 23, 2014

    Great post, August! Have a great time with all of your endeavours. My kids haven’t let me sleep well but the insomnia is improving. No computers before bed is a help. Have fun!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Catherine! So glad to hear that your insomnia’s improving. Dimming the lights (including from computers) does seem to help. 🙂

      Reply
  13. Raani York

     /  August 24, 2014

    I love your post, August. And I so wish I could tell you how I relax… but at this moment I’m in such a terrible shape that I don’t relax at all… I haven’t since early June… I lack of sleep and breaks, I suffer from pain and depression and I’m nearly a wreck – and in fact I’m still waiting for the well deserved collapse…
    Free minutes and “me” time is out of reach right now….

    Reply
  14. Great title and I love the pics … nice reading too.

    Reply
  15. Kourtney Heintz

     /  August 28, 2014

    Awesome post August. I’m a big planner, but I’m learning to trust my plan and take each step as it comes. I stay in the now. If I’m navigating a road trip that’s all I’m doing. I’m not thinking about dinner plans or anything else. I’m staying with the task at hand. That really decreases my stress–especially when I’m traveling for work. 🙂

    Reply
  16. “Avoiding working and web-surfing at night.” This one is an important one for me. I need to wind down at night!
    Wishing you the best with your upcoming events, August. Maybe you can bottle up some of the air in the room when you are with Oprah? 🙂

    Reply
  17. I try to breath deeply and take lots of naps.
    I thought you’d like to know that I like your blog so much that I have nominated you for the “One Lovely Blog Award”. For details about the rules, check out my post http://amaryllisturman.com/2014/09/04/one-lovely-blog-award/
    Plus I have been meaning to share with you my review of your book too http://wp.me/p1P7gt-fc

    Reply
    • Breathing is so important! And I envy your napping capabilities. 😉 Thanks so much for the award and for reading and reviewing my book, Amaryllis! All means so much. 🙂

      Reply

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