5 Experiments for a Happier, More Productive Self

Something had to give, or I was going to give out.

This past winter got dark. I’m not talking lack-of-daylight dark — that happens every winter, thanks planetary axial tilt. I’m talking about the kind of dark where your brain keeps running, your spirits keep sinking, and you just want to wrap your body in a fuzzy blanket and hibernate for a few months until things get better. Seeing as that’s not an option, you get up, bemoan your ever-increasing waistline as you pull on clothes that used to fit, scrape the ice from your car, battle traffic to work, endure pointless meetings, try to make the best of irate customers and mixed messages from management, get a text about your family’s newest health crisis, then come home and slip into yoga pants and a bottle of wine.

It was the first day of February, and something had to give. I’d spent the entire day in a hospital waiting room. Winter had slowly spiraled me down, down, down, in such a subtle, creeping way that I’d hardly noticed how dark a hole I’d gotten my mental and physical health into. The hospital was a less of a wake-up call and more of a slap across the face.

My father had gone in for surgery on a broken arm only to have the anesthesiologist stop prepping him. Her pause: a heretofore undetected heart murmur.

I was supposed to have accompanied my father to outpatient surgery that morning and driven him home that afternoon, bandaged and on pain meds. Instead, they admitted him for further tests, and I drove home alone.

Inside of me, things were quiet. Not the calm sort of quiet, but the numb sort of quiet. I finally noticed what a dark, scary place I’d gotten myself into.

My normal numb-out tools — comfort foods, wine, novels, cancelling social obligations at the last minute in order to curl up at home — wouldn’t work. I needed a physical and mental shift or 1.) I wasn’t going to be happy, 2.) I was only going to be productive inside the cubicle I hated, 3.) I would spend the remainder of my waking hours “recovering” from the day (in truth, I was avoiding thinking about my day or acting to change it, but I hadn’t yet admitted that), until 4.) someday I would become the patient in the hospital room.

I went home, got on an elliptical machine, and I kept peddling until I couldn’t stand it. I crashed into bed that night, worn out.

Something needed to change. But I didn’t yet know what that something was, so I started experimenting.

. . . . Read more on Medium.com about the five experiments that helped me dig out of this hole: https://theascent.pub/5-experiments-for-a-happier-more-productive-self-219b9f1c436b. Thanks and all the best! — Eileen

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