This time, the New Year didn't seem quite as shiny and promising as it has in years past. Partly because every day the radio alarm spouts still more economic bad news. Also because of a particularly rough patch in my girls' sisterly relations that caused multiple family members to give me more than the usual "input" about how best to parent.
There were a few weeks, from December into early January, when it all peaked. It started with a snowstorm that trapped me in the house for nine days with two wild-eyed, manic preschoolers. Then there was the drop-off in work projected for '09 by a number of my belt-tightening clients. And it didn't help that, during my first official commune with nature of 2009, my purse was stolen out of my car.
It was enough to make a normally optimistic gal a bit snarly and defeated.
I was ready for the clean slate and the return to normalcy that the New Year usually promises. But this time, it took a good ten days into '09 before the psychic clouds broke and a little sun got through. Looking back, when I see how I narrowly skirted a permanent malaise about the world and my own piece of it, I get a hindsight shudder like that of a plane-crash survivor realizing how close he came to eating his cabin-mates.
What saved me? Certainly the crucial support of my husband and other family and friends. But from inside, it was also a strong desire to feel good again: a forced optimism that became a true optimism. At my lowest points, I just cried and yelled at my family (and then cried about yelling). But somewhere in there, knowing I didn't like that version of me, I began a conscious decision to find, sometimes moment by moment, something to be happy about.
Gradually, I found little joys in a time that, personally and globally, seemed determined to obscure them. One example: After lamenting my stolen purse and the $300-plus dollars of gift cards I had lost, it occurred to me, as I looked at my new, empty wallet, how this one area of my life had been instantly simplified - a goal I've had for more than a year. In some weird way, it was comforting. I didn't need any of the stuff those gift cards would have bought - it would have just meant more shopping, and more things in my life to wash, dust, or arrange. Now I could turn my energies to other things, like the baby books I've been meaning to finish. The new business I'm launching. And most of all, like the effort to relish my children's childhood while we're all still in it.
Yes, it's that same old adage: your attitude determines your altitude and all that. I've long been a believer, but really came close to going to the dark side this time. In the end, it was so heartening to discover that this old approach still works. I hope it does for others, too, as we all muddle through job losses, daily parenting challenges, and the work it always takes to be human and humane.
Four tips to keep you bullish:
1. Hang on to whatever shred of perspective you can muster: The health, safety and love of family and friends are the markers around which everything else revolves. If you have at least some of those, you're way ahead of the game.
2. Get back to work: When your spirit's drained it's hard to muster energy to do what needs doing. That's got downward spiral written all over it. Starting just one thing on your growing to-do list can rejuvenate your will and your attitude.
3. Be honest: Share your fears - people will offer surprising amounts of support.
4. Take care - When you're overwhelmed it's tempting to neglect yourself. But self-care can be a crucial subconscious lifeline. Keep eating foods that make your body happy, keep exercising or spending time in fresh air, and keep doing the little things that add up to daily care of you.