Habits as a Safety Net

For as long as I can remember, I have been on the path to establish good habits in my life. The habits on my list have shifted over time, but among ones I have tried to establish are:

  • floss daily
  • go to bed and rise the same time each day
  • write something every day
  • complete “Morning Pages” everyday before work
  • drink a cup of tea in the morning
  • drink a cup of green tea in the afternoon
  • pack my bag, my lunch, and pick out clothes for work the night before
  • cook dinner at home at least 3 times a week
  • dedicate one evening a week to hanging out with friends
  • reach out to distant friends once a week
  • walk on my breaks at work
  • go to the gym 3 times a week
  • set 3 goals at the beginning of the work day that take priority

And so on, and so on.

I have always looked at these goals, these habits I was trying to establish, as a way to improve my life. Yes, I took some of them straight of of magazine articles. And Yes, I realize that simply having a routine, that establishing good habits, does not automatically mean that my life will be better.

I understand that there is no perfect combination of actions that will unlock happiness for a given day. Yet still, I wanted to set myself up for success as much as possible, and these habits seemed the way to go.

The Points System is simply a new iteration of this same idea. A way to reward myself for achieving something I hope to establish as a habit.

It was the routine, those habits, that got me to work today. Wake up after 3 snoozes. Take my medications. Sit and watch the day’s weather. Stretch. Set the kettle on. While the kettle warms, medicate and feed the cats. Make tea, and put it in a travel mug. It’s Monday, so take out the trash and recycling. Grab my bag (which is sitting in the newly designated spot by the door), and go to work.

I did not want to go to work today. I wanted to curl up in bed. I wanted to sit on the couch, with a cat in my lap, and just sit, feeling the warmth on my legs, and revel in the purring. I wanted to drop everything and cry.

I didn’t. I followed my routine, my habits. And by mid-morning, things weren’t so bad. My anti-depressant had kicked in, and while I’m still not terribly motivated to do work, it is easier. And the routines and habits I’ve put in place at work are also catching me from just staring at the screen, feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

I was diagnosed with depression earlier this year. Before this, I attributed my lack of motivation and my moods to stress. To my own inability to handle life. It wasn’t until I talked with friends and family who were also being treated for depression that I realized that I may not be failing at life – that something may be chemically wrong in my brain.

With their support, and the support I felt from other public figures I respect talking openly and honestly with their own experiences with depression*, that I talked to my doctor. I am still in the phase where we are trying to get the medication right. Some days are harder than others, but I find that the habits and routine that I’ve been trying to build over the years are really a safety net of sorts.

For the days when I don’t feel like doing anything, if I can do the habits I’ve set, I will have accomplished something. It will be the minimum, sure, but I will have accomplished something. And looking back at myself over the years, over all my attempts to set these good habits, I wonder how long I have been in the grips of depression, and have been fighting it in the only way I could see, without knowing what I was fighting.


 

*Mur Lafferty talks honestly about depression on her blog and in her podcast; Howard Taylor does likewise on his Facebook page (like February of this year), and his wife, Sandra Taylor did a wonderful post on being married to someone with depression.

 

Retro Post: My Thoughts on Why I Write

The following is a post I made on an earlier iteration of the CrushedMuffin site. Below the post, I will toss in my current-state two-cents; what the “now” me thinks about what the “then” me wrote.

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My Thoughts On Why I Write

POSTED  10-AUGUST-2002
I think I’m a writer at heart, or rather, soul. As my current project I was was going through my filing cabinets, purging things I’ve had tucked away for who-knows-how-long, and I have found a lot (several folders full) of my creative writing. I also have, elsewhere (another project to go through) a box of journals. I think I started keeping them off and on around the fifth grade. I began to wonder why I write so much. I think it is in order to explain me to myself.Skimming my poetry, and setting it aside to type and save on a CD ROM disc (another new project) I see some creative imagery, but also a lot of introspection. I have, in the past, tried meditating, feeling it was important to try to find the inner me, what I mean to myself, my beliefs…my core. It never seemed to work. It has just occurred to me, 25 years into my life, that perhaps I don’t need the candles, the quiet music the lying still on the bed trying to relax my entire body and clear my mind. Perhaps I just need a pen and paper. I write to release my soul, to discover who I am.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not closing my eyes and doing that automatic writing exercise, where you let the pen do what it will, calling on whatever may be present in you. Rather, I figure things out on paper. I go through my thoughts, my mind, my soul, step by step I pick up the pieces, turn them over in my hands as I examining them in words, and place these pieces in a (hopefully) logical place in myself where I can find it again later. I write to get to know me.

Well, I’ve decided, once I begin that monumental task of typing all my handwritten prose, I’m going to select bits of my soul that I don’t mind sharing, and placing them on my writings page. And this writing- it started out as a write for myself, but I decided to invite an audience. Welcome to a little piece of my soul.

I think I’m going to try to write something, anything, for my website and change it out every week or two. It may be soul-searching, it may be a strong statement of my beliefs, it may be silly prose I come up with on a bad afternoon, but I have decided to invite you to join me in my life-long quest to understand myself.

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Current status: Well, I now have a two-drawer file cabinet full of folders of fiction, no fewer than eight three ring binders of novels and one of poetry (those are the ones correctly shelved, though I’m convinced I have at least one more novel somewhere). Additionally, I have electronic versions of the same stories, and of stories I’ve not yet had reason to print – on my computer, in the cloud, on flash drives and CDs.

I still journal, though for a while I was concentrating on the Morning Pages model from The Artists Way. I still have all these journals – stored away in my office in tubs and boxes and sitting on shelves.

I don’t recall how far I got typing in the handwritten pages, though I’ve had that thought (or scanning them) enough times since then that I think I didn’t get very far. At least not with the straight up journaling – A review of the old contents of crushedmuffin.com tells me I did manage to type up a significant portion of the fiction and poetry.

And I have considered traditional meditation again and again in the 13 years since this post (honestly, I was surprised to find that I had been trying it, or at least considering it, for so long – it feels like a more current development in my life). I think in some regards the younger me had more insight into how my brain works, or at least, more self awareness.

The idea that writing is how I explore my self, and come to know myself better feels both foreign (like it wasn’t my idea), and right. I wonder what has happened in the intervening years that made me lose sight of this – what convinced me that I need to seek other forms of meditation? I’m not discounting the fact that people change over the years, and how they interact with the world can subsequently change, but am opening myself up to the idea that maybe the younger me had some wisdom worth re-examining.

Biscotti Recipe(s)

At a recent writer retreat and workshop on Writing the Other (more on this later), I spent some time in the kitchen making treats for the writers and instructors.  A popular one was the biscotti, and I was asked to share the recipe, hence this post.  What follows is original recipe, from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, and then, below the photo, a variation on ingredients that I used (with the same steps to bake) to make a chocolate almond biscotti.

I hope you enjoy.

Cranberry White Chocolate Biscotti –

from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar pg 211

  • 1/3 cup almond milk (I used soymilk)
  • 2 TBSP ground flax seeds
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBSP arrowroot powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the almond milk and flax seeds, beating for about 20 seconds.

3. Mix in the orange zest, sugar, oil, and vanilla.

4. Sift in the flour, arrowroot powder, baking powder, all-spice and salt.

5. Stir to combine, and just before the dough comes together knead in the chocolate chips and cranberries. If cranberries and chips pop out,  just press them back in as well as you can.

6. On the parchment, form the dough into a log and press it into a rectangle about 12 inches long and 4 inches wide. Bake for 26 to 28 minutes until lightly puffed and browned.

7. Let the log cool on the baking sheet for about 30 minutes.

8. Preheat oven to 325F. Carefully transfer the baked log to a cutting board. With a heavy, very sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch-thick slices. The best way to do this is one motion, pushing down – don’t “saw” the slices off or they can crumble.

9. Stand slices, curved side up, 1/2 inch apart on baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until biscotti appear dry and toasted. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

biscotti-platter

Pictured – Chocolate Almond Biscotti (fancy style), Cranberry White Chocolate Biscotti, and Green Tea Walnut Biscotti – from my days running Sweet Thursdays, a vegan bakery. (photo credit Lila Sadkin (c) 2012)

 

Chocolate Almond Biscotti – a variation
  • 1/3 cup almond milk
  • 2 TBSP ground flax seeds
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBSP arrowroot powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup toasted almond slivers

Follow the same baking directions as above. For fancier biscotti, have an additional 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and almond slivers set aside for the recipe. Chop the almonds. Melt the chocolate, and drizzle it over the top of the cooled biscotti, and sprinkle the almond pieces over top.

Daruma Doll

A while back a friend of mine gave me a Daruma doll he picked up on his most recent trip to Japan. When I received it, the eyes were blank.

Following what my friend told me, I set a wish/goal that I wanted to achieve as I filled in one of the eyes. The doll sits on my desk as a reminder to me, and he earns the other eye when I’ve met my goal/ when my wish has been fulfilled.

DarumaSmaller

(You can read more about Daruma Doll eyes at wikipedia)

Now, this is very much a borrowed cultural item, and I am applying my use of it based on my (quite limited) understanding of the doll, and the tradition that drives it. I do so with respect to the culture from which I’ve taken it, trying to honor the spirit behind it, as I understand it.

As for the wish? Well, here is hoping it’s not like a birthday wish that is nullified when shared. My Daruma doll will get it’s left eye when I have sold and published 2 works of fiction.

I have one short story on the verge of going out, a second in the works, and ideas for a third. In the meantime, my one-eyed observer sits on the desk above me, reminding me of the goals I am striving to achieve.