Some things that happened over the last couple of months:
We had an unexpected houseguest who stayed with us for a month and some change.
My dogs consequently developed the delightful habit of baying almost constantly at any hint of someone walking by the house, instead of just barking their heads off at the odd squirrel or package delivery. It was not great for my nerves.
I adopted a little rabbit in need. His name is Frodo. He has some special needs that he’ll hopefully grow out of, so I occasionally get to stay up until 4am nursing him. It’s okay, though. He gives me cute bunny kisses to make up for it.
Some of the African violets my friend gave me finally bloomed for the first time, and they were lovely. For a couple of days.
Frodo ate all the flowers off of the African violets, dug up a fern, and then decimated my windowbox basil, making himself temporarily ill and living up to his hobbit name.
The beautiful fish pond that came with our house quit working for real and several solid weekends of work haven’t managed to get it up and running yet. Our fish are not happy about this, but the mosquitos are.
An unexplained fly invasion of almost biblical proportions. The lizard and our small, bouncy dog enjoyed this more than I did.
Several meltdowns on my part, or possibly one slow and prolonged meltdown that lasted for about a month and some change.
I eventually stopped banging my head against a brick wall in my Somnolence manuscript and decided to work on something lighter for a while, so I’m currently writing the second draft of a young adult book that’s been waiting in my project list for years. It is cute and it has dragons. Jumping between projects usually isn’t recommended, but if it’s between less than ideal practice and another month of being too stressed and up in my own head to actually get words on the page, I’ll take it. Some words written, even on what’s technically the wrong project, are infinitely better than no words written at all.
I learned how to make pizza without garlic or dairy, so my husband and I can both eat it, and it is really awesome.
I completely reworked my scheduling practices and managed to wrench my sleeping patterns back to mostly normal and almost enough rest each night.
I got a couple of very cute pink plants today, partially as a reward to myself for pulling my shit back together after letting myself get pretty thoroughly derailed, and partially as a bribe to myself to get back into writing blog posts even though it’s embarrassing to have just vanished for two months. So, I’m back now.
I’ve recently come back to meditation. It has helped me immensely in the past, but I tend to forget about it when I’m feeling good and I get more active. Over the summer, I get outside more often and the sun makes me feel better in general. In the winter, I start to get foggy, tired, and more easily depressed and anxious. I start to struggle more with repetitive and upsetting thoughts, and tend to spiral into feeling angry or depressed about things in the past. All of that hurts my overall mood and ability to be productive, and all of that is exactly the kind of stuff that meditation, even just a few minutes of meditation a day, can help to reduce.
If you enjoy the works of Sir Terry Pratchett, especially his Tiffany Aching books, then you’re already familiar with mindfulness under another name. He called it second thoughts: The thoughts you think about your first (reflexive and automatic) thoughts. Having these self-regulating thoughts is one of the signs of a witch in his stories.
Meditation in its simplest form just helps you learn to hear yourself think, and strengthens your ability to be objective about your impulses and feelings. Instead of being angry because I remembered that thing my ex did that one time, I get to think “I’m feeling angry” from a slight distance, and then have the option to watch that feeling move through my mind and body without being carried away by it. It doesn’t necessarily make it more fun to feel angry, but it means that instead of being taken over by it, I can watch it move across the clear sky of my mind like a cloud bank (or a tornado, as the case may be.) It’s darker for a while, and it might bring unpleasant things like rain and wind, but it doesn’t control me and it isn’t endless. It doesn’t always work that neatly, of course, but I’m slowly getting better at catching myself before I get swept away.
If the idea of meditation itself leaves a bad taste in your mouth for any reason, then there may be alternatives that can help you practice those same skills without stressing yourself out. The benefits of mindfulness don’t come from sitting still, or from somehow magically resisting boredom, they come from increased awareness of the moment you’re in and of the way you’re thinking.
My favorite alternative practice: Do you have a pet? Specifically, do you have any animals in your life that you like to spend time with? Animals are pretty much permanently locked in the present moment. Yes, many of them have some limited ability to plan, and they certainly have memories, both good and bad, but they’re still mostly focused on the here and now. How else would they know when it’s time to wake up from a dead sleep and shout at the evil invading raccoons? That kind of presence in the current moment is a big part of what people try to achieve with meditation, and the cool part is that we can kind of piggyback onto an animal’s peace of mind just by being with them. Do you ever just chill out and watch your cat stare out the window at birds? For that period of time, you’re grounded. Your mind will naturally wander, but every time the cat twitches her tail or chitters her teeth, you’re drawn right back to the current moment. Notice what drew you away and then admire your kitten’s finely honed killer instinct, and that’s basically all the vital bits of mindfulness meditation.
Living closely with an animal comes with great health benefits for humans, benefits that already overlap a lot with the physical and mental health benefits of meditation. Any animals you hang out with (or garden patch you’re weeding, or landscape you hike through, or kiddo playing with legos, or maybe even a puzzle game on your phone if you need technology involved) can help keep you grounded while you practice.
If you have ADHD, your mind already works against you when it comes to focusing on something repetitive. That’s exactly why meditation can be so helpful for us, if we can manage it. It’s like strengthening a weak limb by exercising it, but if you can’t stay engaged with the practice in the first place, then the limb never gets strong enough to make the process easier. Picking something that sparks interest but is still soothing, like stroking a dog’s fur (or in my little dog’s case, soft skin and fuzzy pajamas) can keep an ADHD brain present when counting breaths would just get annoying.
The point isn’t to never let your mind wander away from your calming activity – in fact, if your mind never wanders then you’re not really getting the benefits of meditation. Meditation benefits us when we catch our minds wandering, note the type of thought or feeling that took us away, and go back to tracking the rhythm of our breath, or the cute snoring of the animal under our hands. Even if you immediately get distracted again by worrying about their vet bills, that’s just another chance to come back to the process. It helps that they’ll inevitably stretch or yawn or purr in their sleep, which drags you back and gives you extra chances to notice that your mind has wandered and where it went.
Bonus: The idea is to notice your own thoughts in a non-critical way, so try to think of your mind the way you think about your pet’s natural behavior. Getting distracted by something flashy and wandering off to investigate is just their nature, and it’s ours as well. Our minds are designed that way, especially the minds of ADHD folks. It used to be highly advantageous to be able to plan and dream up new solutions to old problems, all while keeping watch for a lion in the brush, grinding grain or weaving with our hands, and listening for a child or a neighbor in trouble. It’s definitely not always as helpful to us now, but our minds are simply always going to wander to the past and future (when we’re not hyper-focused, anyway, which is a different ADHD strength that comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks.)
The final great thing about this kind of mindfulness practice is that it can even be done when you’re being physically active. Walking your dog? Walking meditation. Playing with your cat and a string? Still counts. I adore watching my dogs eat their meals, because they’re so happy and enthusiastic about it, so I always spend that couple of minutes twice a day holding their bowls for them and just enjoying their single-minded pleasure. As long as you’re being intentional about an activity, and you can notice your own thoughts as they happen, you can get the benefits of meditation. Even just five minutes of practice every day, or just once or twice a week, is basically guaranteed to provide some good for your brain and your life. Even if you don’t notice a difference, there’s pretty much no downside to taking a few spare minutes to enjoy a simple pleasure and practice being understanding with yourself.
The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe
The Mindful Way Through Depression by Mark Williams, John Teasedale, Zindel Segal, Jon Kabat-Zin (This book made a big difference for me at a very low point.)
The Headspace app is really handy, and can be used for free. They also have a subscription system that gets you access to more features. The app lets you set reminders for meditation, it offers little tips at customizable intervals, and offers guided meditations of different lengths so you can choose exactly how long you want to commit yourself for every time you sit down to meditate. They also offer bedtime tracks to help you relax and get to sleep.
The Insight Timer app is very simple. It lets you set a timer for however long you want, and then choose from a set of pleasant little bells and chimes as your alarm. I think it has some other features, but that’s really all I use it for.
Writing days this past week: 2
I’ve been pretty focused on family this week. All my siblings and I are back home for the holiday, and it’s been really nice. I haven’t done much else, so here are some photos.
Writing days this past week: 1
Man, I am really struggling to write this post. It’s not that I’m thinking about a difficult topic, it’s just that I don’t really have anything coherent on my mind. There’s plenty of stuff floating around up there, but none of it seems to be coalescing in a timely fashion. I’ve started a couple of drafts on different topics, but I’m not ready to share those ones yet.
I did go for a really nice walk around the neighborhood this evening, partly in hope of kicking my brain into gear. It helped a bit, I think. There’s a pretty little park a few blocks up from me with a really great view, and the pups and I wandered around in it for a while.
I’m working on weaning myself off using my phone to fall asleep, which is difficult, and a bit scary, because I’ve really relied on audiobooks to help me sleep for a long time. It was what I needed around the time when I started, but I think it’s become more of a distraction than a help as my general mental health has improved. Plus, I hate getting tangled in my earbud cord when I roll over. It’s so annoying.
Keeping myself occupied was a good strategy when I couldn’t generally control or predict my mental state, but I really want to get comfortable in my own head again. If for no other reason than to boost my general creativity. Taking inspiration and learning from other people’s work is awesome, but it can be hard to create your own things when you’re constantly exposed to the creations of others.
Writing days this past week: 4
I’m having one of those days where I sit down to work, get distracted by some interesting piece of information, spend an hour and a half researching that, and then realize that I am hungry or need to use the restroom, so I have to get up again. While I’m up, I typically try to get some household task done, which distracts me further. Then, I sit back down, and repeat the process.
It’s fun. It’s a fun time. I feel like my brain is full of mosquitos.
So, since this is a blog, here’s what’s on my mind: Today, I learned that all fuchsia flowers are edible, and they also produce edible berries. They’re named after some guy called Fuchs, which is why their name is spelled super weirdly. I don’t have any of them, because I couldn’t settle on a variety, but that’s pretty cool. I cannot order the kind that were specially bred to produce extra yummy berries, because they’re sold out and also only available in the UK. This makes me a little sad.
While I was watering the garden the other night, I found out that we have local slugs with adorable leopard markings. I hope they don’t go after my lettuce, because I love them.
My new home office is great, and I like my little pink office chair, but my hairless pup still insists on cuddles whenever I’m stationary for more than five seconds, so I’m writing this at a very awkward angle while she’s tightly curled up on my lap. She’s still grumbling loudly about my rudeness. My left foot is dead to the world.
I have a pretty folk song – played on a hurdy gurdy – stuck in my head. Pretty, but not helpful. In a little less than two hours, I really have to go to bed, because I’ve finally at least gotten that under control. I haven’t stayed up all night since we moved, and we’ve been here for almost exactly one month. We’re finally approaching a state of unpacked, but not quite there yet. As a result, we sleep in the guest room downstairs, and all our clothes and the non-scary bathroom are upstairs. It actually works pretty well, but I’m looking forward to moving up here the rest of the way.
I just picked up my phone to add those photos from Instagram, and opened Pokemon Go instead. Not promising.
Writing days this week: 1
I’ve been missing my favorite hiking places ever since we moved to Seattle from the bay area. I’d been hiking in the same spots since I was a little kid, and they were so safe and comforting for me, and provided a really great way to relax and get into a more creative frame of mind. The night I finished my rough draft of Somnolence, I called it done done around dawn and then went for a hike with my dogs as the sun came up. Moving was hard, and I still haven’t found a place around here where it’s so easy and comfortable for me to just go out and walk a trail. I still visit all those same places whenever I go down to see my family in California, but I really want to try to find places around here that fulfill that need.
To that end, yesterday I just googled some nearby trails, picked one kind of at random, and drove over there with the pups. It was absolutely gorgeous and so peaceful. Totally worth it.