Blog Life

Into the Blues

Leewoodruff-dog2During the winter months, when the thermometer hovers below “chilly” and the sky turns metallic, I have to dig a little deeper for my joy.   This stretch of calendar feels trip-wired for small bombs of worry and valleys of melancholy.   Going about my day, the blues sift around in the background, like a mist or vapor.  But at 3:30 AM,  they puff up into full-blown fears as fast as a packet of microwave popcorn.

I have the standard grocery list of concerns now that I’m on the other side of 50.  This middle place was described to me once as the period when “the only big unknowns left are to meet your grandkids and die.”  While the comment is humorous, it’s also a version of the truth.  At some point, each of us will wrestle in different degrees with the narrowing aperture on our world of possibilities.

The 20-something me who once thought 40 sounded ancient, now believes firmly that 70 is the new 50.  Aging brings a sense of perspective, and hopefully, a patina of mellow.   It’s not a version of settling for something less, but more about accepting the way that life rolls out.   At this stage, I am more the antique brass gong than the silvery tinkling wind chime of my youth.   I’m the golden retriever by the fireside, no longer the Chihuahua on the pant leg of life.

snowsceneleewoodruff2We have seen this all before, we remind ourselves when the blues float in without a solid explanation or obvious trigger.  We tell ourselves that better times can chase the tough ones.  Our moods can be refreshed simply by walking outside, calling a friend or getting into downward dog.

But yet there I am, wide awake in the middle of the night, running through my “to-do” list and stringing the mental worry beads.  I touch on my own mortality, my aging parents, the deep desire for our children to be happy and healthy.  Those are the garden variety worries; the usual.   And naturally there are others, monogrammed with our family crest and tailored to our specific issues.

A few years ago, having made it through a family trauma and gotten the rest of them safely to shore, I myself was out of gas.  A remarkable counselor entered my life that knew how to listen and, more importantly, dole out practical wisdom.  One basic pearl has stayed with me, and it’s essentially just a version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  It’s a form of meditation and it works.

I have learned to employ this tactic when the blues perch on my headboard, studying me like a desert vulture over a dying man.  And when I answer “yes” to the questions below, I can usually roll over and go back to sleep.  Which is why I share them with you.

So, when you find yourself anxious, worried or tossing and turning about things you cannot control, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have a roof over my head?
  • Do I have enough to eat?
  • Am I loved?
  • Do I have people whom I love?
  • Do I have “enough” (whatever that may be)
  • Have I always been able to figure something out, one way or another, to mostly make it work?

If you can answer “yes” to all of these, (and I recognize that many Americans cannot) take a deep breath, roll over, go back to bed and I guarantee it will look a little more possible in the morning.

tulips-leewoodruffOf course everything DOES look better when the dawn begins to pink up the sky and the coffee is percolating.  In those hours, the future brims with untapped potential.  As I roll through the winter days and weeks, I work on being mindful of what I call “small wins.”  These are the moments I try to be more present; to focus in on, freeze dry and shrink down to savor.  I make a point now of standing still to watch a sunrise and I relish my first cup of coffee with frothed milk.  I keep fresh tulips in a vase by the sink and breathe in the smell of my daughter’s skin as I wake her for school.  A friend calls to walk on the golf course and we marvel at the grace of a blue heron.

These aren’t the big ones; the diamond engagement ring in the soufflé or baby’s first steps.   But the moments of being present, of cherishing the little joys, are the rungs on the ladder out of my mental mineshaft.  I’ve worked to make peace with the fact that there is good with the difficult, truth with the hard parts, discord with the comfort and beauty even in the ugly places.  This has been the gift of aging, to understand that real life mostly toggles in between the extremes, ever the see saw and so rarely the straight-away.

And here is the other thing I know.  On the first warmish day toward the end of winter, I’ll look down at the purple flash of something embedded in the snow and see the tip of a crocus, pushing up toward the sun.  It will remind me that spring follows winter, that joy exists on all bandwidths and that we all have the power to push back as we head into the blues.

 

leewoodruff.com

Lee Woodruff's Facebook  Lee Woodruff's Twitter  Lee Woodruff's Pinterest  Lee Woodruff's Instagram

 

11 Comments

  1. Jennifer Wolfe (@mamawolfeto2)

    February 12, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    This was beautiful, lee. i’m right there with you, and have been using mantras to help me get over the blues, the worries, and all the ‘what ifs’ that populate my mind. staying in the present is so vital – but why is it so very hard to do sometimes? thank you for your bit of inspiration today. it helps.

  2. regina

    February 12, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Wonderfully written as always …. really appreciate your work.

  3. Marybeth

    February 12, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    mY CAPS LOCK ISN’T ON YET THIS IS TYPING ALL IN CAPS, OY VEY! ANYHOW LEE, AS USUAL YOU WROTE A TIMELY BLOG. yESTERDAY I AWOKE AT 4:00 A.M. AND QUICKLY WORKED MYSELF INTO KLEENEX BOX EMPTYING FRENZIE! i will put your list of questions by my bed. i do answer “yes” to all of them. i’m so grateful for your sharing to know how big the circle is of women experiencing the same. I think the trigger for my anxiety was triggered by my daughter accepting a job 9 hrs. away to Virginia Beach. I am thrilled for her! family I never get to see anymore is within 2 hours of her, so it will be a great place for me to vacation at (accept I never vacation, workaholic, single mom thing). But, I sense it will be her last time living home. she lived away for college & in NYC for 6 yrs. but college finished in NYC & she was already in the apartment & I visited her so I didn’t feel a loss (although a twinge of emptiness) But, 9 hrs. is 2 hrs. further, feels so far. i also sense she needs me less (or wants to need me less) and possibly wants time & space to prove to herself she can do this “alone”, create a network of support outside of me. this may be the area she will take root in. the state she will call home rather than where she was raised. Oh yes, this was definitely the trigger…getting out your list of questions and box of tissues. my 21 yr. old son moved home 2 months ago so he can save for a house, or to move out of state also and I sense to help mom through this transition. he has a puppy arriving the end of this month to help distract me.

  4. Carol Black

    February 12, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Lee….

    This was so EERILY close to my own thoughts and feelings you surprised me! Your imagery is masterful.

    All’s well in south America…south texas that is (smiley face). We hope you’ll stop by and see us when you’re in part of the country.

    All the best,
    Carol

  5. Susan boswell

    February 12, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    lee, thank you for this excellent and very relatable piece. the FEELINGS WHICH YOU HAVE EXQUISITELY CAPTURED ARE NEAR EPIDEMIC IN MY MIDDLE AGED CIRCLE OF WOMEN FRIENDS AND SISTERS. thank YOU FOR THE REMINDERS OF THE BEAUTY AND SUCCESS IN OUR SMALL ACHIEVEMENTS AND FOR SPREADING JOY AND HOPE THAT SPRING IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.

    if YOU HAVE TIME, I WOULD SO APPRECIATE IT IF YOU CHECKED OUT MY LATEST BLOG CALLED “INCARCERATED”

    I aM VERY PROUD OF IT … MAYBE IT WOULD INSPIRE YOU TOO. thank YOU AGAIN.

  6. Deb Woerpel

    February 13, 2015 at 1:58 am

    Lee,
    Thank you for your Thoughts. This has been a difficult winter for so many, but your words help us to think about the good things in our lives. Your writings always provide a wonderful perspective. Thinking ahead to spring!
    Deb

  7. Alice

    February 13, 2015 at 11:34 am

    I love your musings. They always capture just what I am feeling and are so beautifully worded. being middle-aged myself, your topics resonate with me as well. thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with your readers!

  8. Louise

    February 13, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    Thanks for these wonderful words about the season of winter! Wnter is more challenging for me as I get older, even now living in Sarasota, we get some effect of polar blasts. Sometimes I wish I could be a bear, but our culture doesn’t support going within and just being.

  9. Dawn

    February 15, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Perfect timing as I wait for the coffee to perk and look out over yet another New englad blizzard ths month

  10. jill

    February 24, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    This is a beautifully written essay and just what i needed to read today, thank you.

  11. Susan

    March 20, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Beautifully written and so very relevant. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights!

Leave a Reply