A few weeks ago I wrote about feeling exhausted just seeing all the (well meaning) advice going around the internet, an intuitive rejection of trying to hustle during this time, pressure to perfect projects, hone new hobbies, and the like. I still bristle when I see pithy quotes and memes about using this time "wisely" or even "appreciating every moment". It all still feels like too much and gives one a sense that there is a "right"way to respond at this time and implies that if you aren't, in fact, feeling a sense of wonder, renewal, or revelation during this time, you have failed somehow. This is false.
There is no wrong way to feel. Too often we endorse certain feelings as "good" (happiness, hope, excitement) and other feels as "bad" (fear, negativity, lack of energy). Judging feelings and subsequently labeling feelings means to decide that it's not ok to feel however we are feeling and that instead we must chase positivity endlessly while cutting out the parts of our hearts that feel anger, anxiety, and confusion.
Even Shakespeare recognized the uselessness of labeling our inner experience as "good" or "bad:"
"...for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
Dismissing certain feelings as "not ok" is a recipe for suffering. Classifying feelings and emotions into moral camps and categories is neither realistic nor natural. Judging our feelings are good or bad is a mirage we've bought into. It's a habit we willingly participate in, and it's also one we can willingly unhook from. We are whole human beings designed to feel a range of emotions that span the spectrum from delight to despair and everything in between. Instead of heaping shame upon yourself by trying to squeeze yourself into an emotional box that is anything but natural, why not offer yourself grace and compassion during this time, and give yourself the permission to FEEL IT ALL?
I never used to believe this would work. When I first started working with my therapist and she suggested that instead of trying to hold feelings back, like a dam holds back a river, I might try experimenting with feeling the waves of emotions as they came over me, like waves upon the shore, not resisting them, but patiently sitting with them until once again receded. After many sessions of resisting this technique, I tried to let the waves of anxiety, anger, sadness, and fear wash over me without making them go away. And you know what? They felt ovewhelming for a bit. And after being with them and giving expression to them while they visited me, they did, in fact, recede back out to sea.
What we resist persists.
What we allow to be with us for awhile might make us cry, ramp up our anxiety, or make us fear that we will feel this way forever. But like a storm that is allowd to rage, the skies of our minds and hearts eventually clear again and make way for something brighter.
So. How are you feeling right now?
Anxious? That's ok.
Using this time to draw and doodle? That's ok.
Sleeping more than usual? That's ok.
Dancing without pants on in your kitchen to use that extra adrenaline you have? That's ok.
I urge you to stop the fight against yourself and simple welcome whatever you are feeling with open, if begrudging, arms. It won't feel good at first, but as the alchemy of feeling your feelings without labeling them as good or bad works its magic, you will find that the storm does pass.
In the spirit of this idea, though I'm still rebelling against any specific way I should be coping, I am trying to be as open minded as possible when it comes to what I feel like doing during this time. Here's some of the things I've been up to:
1. Cooking. I have always loved cooking and baking and it's especially comforting to me during this time. On a Sunday earlier this month, I cooked a big batch of my Grandma Lauricella's meatballs and tomato sauce. Not only is it one of my favorite meals, but it gave me comfort to cook this childhood dish knowing that my Italian and Sicilian ancestors made this for Sunday dinners to share with family during some of the hardest times of their own lives that they lived through and endured: World War I, the Spanish Flu of 1918, The Great Depression, and World War II. Food is so human and sustains us in dark times in a million different ways. And cooking or baking engages your senses in the present moment which helps to calm anxiety.
Grandma Lauricella's (Gluten-Free) Meatballs
2 lbs. ground beef
1 pound ground pork
3/4 cup crushed plantain chips
1/2-3/4 cup coconut milk
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp black pepper (omit for strict AIP)
1-2 TBSP olive oil
Prepare your plantain chips. I put 1/2 cup of plantain chips in a blender and use the chop function to make them as fine as possible; the goal is to have them resemble breadcrumbs. Pour into a small bowl and add the plain coconut milk over the top; you can start with the lower amount and add up to 3/4 cup, depending on how covered the plantain chips are. Toss lightly with a fork and let sit for at least ten minutes, until plantain chips have softened.
Mix the beef and pork together in a large mixing bowl. Add sea salt, garlic powder, and black pepper, if using. Add eggs to bowl and mix well with meat. Finally, add plantain chip crumbs/coconut milk mixture and combine well with meat. Roll mixture into one and a half inch meatballs.
Heat 1 TBSP of olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat, and add as many meatballs as will fit; it's likely you will only fit half at a time. Brown meatballs for 3-4 minutes on as many sides as you can. Remove to a plate once browned, and continue with the rest.
To finish the meatballs, you will need to simmer them in the sauce of your choice--it can be a nomato sauce OR if you can tolerate tomatoes, go with a homemade or store bought marinara sauce. Add a sprig or two or fresh basil to the sauce and meatballs and cover, simmering in the sauce at least 2 hours, or 3 for a richer flavor.
Serve with hot gluten free noodles and Parmesan cheese, if you tolerate dairy.
2. Sleeping. A LOT MORE. I normally require about 8-9 hours of sleep to feel rested and coherent, and during the last month, I have been sleeping 9-10 hours or more per night, often heading to bed at 9:30 pm and often heading back to bed on a Saturday morning after I putter around the apartment a bit. And it feels so good! No matter what people tell you, sleep is so valuable, especially at a time like this. It's easy to be sucked into thinking you are "wasting" time by heading to bed early or sleeping in or taking a nap, but that's just rubbish. Sleep is a wonderful way to take extra care during this time, guilt-free.
3. Watching period films and television series. I was the kid who loved history and went around the house trying to dress in old fashiuoned clothing using candles at night instead of the light in her bedroom, daydreaming that she was in The Secret Garden while walking around the yard. Now I'm an adult whose love for history and old fashioned stories endures, and I've been going down the period piece rabbithole and enjoying the heck out of losing myself (and my anxiety in the process) in stunning visuals and dramatic plots. Some of my favorites I've watched recently include Outlander on Starz, Mansfield Park, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (below), that was simply gorgeous.
5. Daily Walks. If there has been one thing I feel strongly about doing, it has been to get outside for some fresh air as often as possible. My allergies have been acting up as I spend more time in the apartment and my body and spirit have craved sunshine. I try and indulge my inner seven year old when I go out walking and make a mental scavenger hunt for fun. What flowers can I find today? How many different kinds of birds? I like engaging as many of my senses as possible. What does the bark of the willow tree feel like on my hands? How does it feel to walk through the mud? Snapping some photos of some of my favorite flowers has been soothing, too.
I hope you continue to take care the best you can and give yourself a permission slip to feel what you feel and do what you want to do without judgement or regard for how it might look to everyone else. And if you feel like sharing, tell me what you are up to in the comments below.
Looking forward to sending along some more notes, links, and photos soon!