Full Life Reflections

Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in a chaotic world

This post has been in the works for a few weeks, but I have set it aside twice because what I was writing wasn’t adequately reflecting what I wanted to express. That’s part of the reason I went so long between debriefing my recent closet KonMari in late October and introducing my fall wardrobe challenge last week. I also haven’t had as much time to dedicate to the blog since I started my educational program in June, but I definitely don’t want to let it lapse as it’s still important to me. I like having an outlet to write about various topics and I enjoy interacting with readers and gaining new insights from what you share with me.

The reason I named this blog Full Life Reflections is because it’s an extension of what I was working towards with Recovering Shopaholic, which was to trade my full closet for a full life. Over the years of writing my previous blog and this one, I’ve learned that paring down a super-sized wardrobe is actually a lot easier than cultivating a full – and fulfilling – life. That’s not to say that the wardrobe part is easy because it’s not. I’m definitely still struggling with that, as my posts over the past few months show. Writing about my wardrobe foibles can be challenging and sometimes emotional as well, but today I want to write about something that’s much more sensitive and raw for me. I hope that what I share will be meaningful to some of you and will perhaps strike a chord in relation to the struggles you’re going through or have endured in the past.

happiness and peace

A big challenge in life is finding our own place of inner calm amidst the noise and chaos.

Clothes and Shopping Aren’t the Real Problem

A lot of my issues with clothes, shopping, and wardrobe management have been distractions from my deeper life challenges. I came to understand this more fully in my third and fourth years of writing Recovering Shopaholic, and I started dipping my toe into the water of other topics at that time. But most of my readers seemed to be more interested in my wardrobe musings, so I mostly stuck to that subject since I didn’t want to disappoint people. As time went on, however, I found that I wasn’t enjoying blogging as much, so I decided to take a break, which ended up lasting almost a full year.

When I came back, my passion centered mostly on the full life side of the equation, which led me to start this blog. I was excited to write about a wider range of topics, but I still feel like I’m struggling to set the right tone with my writing. While I always want to be open and honest here, I also feel the need for self-protection after dealing with some critics and trolls on my previous blog. It’s not easy to share my thoughts with the Internet at large and to be as raw and revealing as I often used to be. It’s scary to be vulnerable, especially when one is a deeply sensitive person like I am. Above all, I want to be helpful with what I publish, so I’m trying to strike an appropriate balance with what I write and what I reveal about myself.

I haven’t written much about my struggles with depression and anxiety, but I want to do so now. These issues aren’t nearly as easy to write about as my clothes, but they impact my life to a much larger degree and have for as long as I can remember. Just as I’ve written about my gray hair transition with the hope that I might help others to better cope with that journey, I also hope that sharing about this battle may be of service to some readers.

Today’s post is the first part of a two-part series. This first part is more descriptive in nature, while the second part will be more solution-focused. I’ve discovered some simple (but not always easy…) lifestyle practices that have helped me to maintain my sanity and increase my feelings of serenity, so I will share those things with you in my next post. I will also include some other resources that you might find beneficial.

Striving for Happiness, Peace, and Fulfillment

The tagline for this blog is “Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment… in a chaotic world.” With so much chaos around us each and every day, how can we find “the eye of the storm,” that place where we don’t feel like the walls are closing in on us? If you struggle with anxiety like I do, you know how challenging it can be to breathe deeply and focus in on what matters most when everyone and everything seems to be going at the speed of light. Some people navigate the chaotic waters better than others and I applaud their resilience, but I have always been more of a sensitive soul who becomes overwhelmed quite easily.

The truth is that I still don’t have a full life, but I’m continuing to work on it and I feel like I’m now on a better path than I was even a few weeks ago. For me, it’s starting with acceptance and self-awareness. I’m tired of comparing myself to others, to those who seem to be able to juggle a hundred balls in the air without breaking a sweat. I am not those people. I am me and I am learning to accept my nature and my limitations. I know I will be far happier if I look within and work with the realities of who I am instead of continually judging myself for my failings and everything that I’m not.

I have been trying so hard to answer the big questions that I’ve lost sight of the fact that it’s the little things that make up the bulk of our days and make or break our happiness. I’ve berated myself for not having a five-year plan or a good answer to the ever-present question, “What do you do?” I’ve belabored these issues ad nauseum while neglecting to care for my well-being and my spirit. I let my to-do list be my master rather than a tool to guide my activities. I became more of a human doing than a human being, and I have suffered as a result. I worried so much about what other people thought of me and about living up to their expectations that I failed to give much consideration to what I wanted my life to look like. This all contributed to my depression.

People who haven’t dealt with depression themselves often have misconceptions about what this condition looks like. They envision a person who barely eats, doesn’t bathe, and spends much of their day in bed. Yes, depression can look like that, but there are many other manifestations. In my case, depression makes it difficult for me to get motivated and get things done. Time often seems to pass by unnoticed and a day can end with my feeling baffled as to where the hours went. The smallest tasks require what feels like a Herculean effort. This isn’t every day, as there are many ups and downs, but it’s the case more often than not.

Just a few weeks ago, I felt like I was almost at my breaking point. I was experiencing a flare-up of most of my health symptoms, and a few new ones had cropped up just to add insult to injury. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t fulfilled, and I certainly wasn’t feeling peaceful. Something had to give and something had to change. That something was my attitude and my perspective.

A New Look at “Essential”

My word/theme for 2018 is “essential.” I have pondered a lot of aspects of this word thus far, including information, technology, productivity, connection, and wardrobe (see additional posts on these topics on my archive page). All of those explorations have been helpful for me and I hope for you as well. I plan to re-read all of my posts about “essential” before the year ends and I will definitely do a recap before revealing my 2019 theme to you. However, there is another aspect of “essential” that I feel is most important of all, which is:

What are my essentials for experiencing happiness and peace?”

“What will prevent me from falling into the abyss of depression and the treacherous terrain of intense anxiety?

That will be the focus of part two of this series and I would love to get your insights on these questions. I’d love to hear about what helps you to experience more happiness, peace, and fulfillment on a daily basis. What helps you to stay sane in the midst of all of the chaos around you? If you have thoughts on this topic, I invite you to share them here for inclusion in part two. If you have things to say but would prefer to be more private, you’re welcome to email me as well (click here to do so). I welcome your feedback however you want to send it to me.

24 thoughts on “Essentials for Happiness and Peace, Part One

  1. Di Collins says:

    This so resonated with me. In amongst all the chaos at work I find it easier to deal if I concentrate on just getting from break to break. But on my days off, on bad days, like you I cam be so unfocused and achieve absolutely nothing and I wonder where the day as gone too. Little things become major descisions, causing anxiety. I seem to be out of work life balance and not sure how to deal with it. The thought of what happens when I retire from work is sort of paralysing as I want to have a plan of action but don’t know where to start. Looking forward to your next post. In the meantime big hugs.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you for weighing in and opening up, Di. I live from day to day, too, and get a lot more anxious the more I look into the future. Work/life balance (and even just life balance for those who don’t work) is hard. I hope that as I write these types of posts and we all give our input, we can figure this out together. Anxiety and depression can paralyze us for sure and it’s challenging to pull ourselves out. I have found some things that help me, but I still need more tools, which is part of why I did this post. I knew in my heart that a lot of others out there are struggling and there is power in the sharing. Big hugs to you, too, from the other side of the world!

  2. Sally says:

    Hi Debbie,

    I really appreciate your openness and honesty in this post. I am quiet similar to you and have been struggling with many of the same issues as you over the years and your posts always strike an emotional chord with me, as I have shared with you in my previous email & comments.

    I am currently off work sick due to anxiety, panic attacks, stress and depression caused by bullying at work and a hostile work environment, which has been going on for ages.

    I am on treatment for anxiety and depression and have also had lots of counselling sessions, but I just can’t cope with work anymore, or anything else stressful. I have lost all my confidence, I am very fragile emotionally and easily get upset, I feel worthless, not valued or appreciated, useless and unlikeable. I have put on lots of weight due to emotional binge eating and now hate my body and none of my clothes fit, so I don’t want to go out.

    As part of my counselling, I had to complete these 2 values questionnaires, which I found useful to work out what was important to me at this stage in my life and whether I am achieving this or not.

    I thought they may be helpful for you do too:

    https://www.actmindfully.com.au/upimages/VALUED_Living_Questionnaire_-_adapted.pdf

    https://www.actmindfully.com.au/upimages/Values_Checklist_-_Russ_Harris.pdf

    If I were there, I would give you a big hug of support

    Sally x

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Sally, your comment brought me to tears. I could feel your struggle in your words and it touched me deeply that you wanted to help me and others in the midst of the dark place you’re currently in. I’m so sorry to hear that you’re struggling so badly at the moment. It angers me that you have been the victim of bullying at work and didn’t feel safe there. I hope you never have to go back to that toxic environment and I hope you are able to heal. I’m so glad you’re in counseling and I thank you for sharing the values questionnaires. I’m definitely going to complete them and will very likely write about what I learn from the exercises here. I think a big part of my problem is that I don’t have a compelling future and I can see how looking at values can help. I really appreciate your reaching out and I send you virtual hugs and healing wishes. I get how hard it can be to not have confidence and feel useless. It’s hard for me to cultivate those feelings in myself, but I want to tell you that you matter and that you touched my heart with this comment just as you have with your previous comments. Thank you.

  3. Tara C says:

    I have been struggling with anxiety and depression as well. A lot of my days pass in the same blur you describe, and I feel like my life is pointless and boring. The way I am dealing with it is to go to yoga class five days a week, regardless of whether I feel like it or not. I always feel better afterwards and can at least say I did one positive thing with my day. The other thing I use to motivate myself is to tell myself that I can feel bad and get nothing done, or I can feel bad and get something done anyway, so I need to just pick one thing and do it, regardless of how I feel. This is how I got through my working days when I had no choice, and it still works pretty well now that I’m retired. But overall I still have trouble with the lack of meaning and focus in my life. I have no desire to go back to work, and I my life felt just as meaningless when I was working, so that’s not where the answer lies. I want to do some serious reading of philosophy to see if that will help me find a way to feel mentally at peace with my existence. Religion didn’t do it for me, maybe philosophy will.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I know you have had a very challenging year, Tara, so I’m not surprised that you are also struggling with anxiety and depression. I do wonder if there is something age-related in this, as you and I are so close in age. My husband has thought that my getting a job might help me, but I feel it would likely add to my anxiety while not necessarily giving me any sense of meaning. Your comment has validated that feeling sense you said you didn’t feel any more meaning back when you were working. I do think that jobs we are passionate about can bring meaning and purpose, but only a small percentage of people are lucky enough to have a calling. For most, I feel work is just a means to an end. I know that I am fortunate not to have to work and sometimes I would like to have the structure that a job can bring, but I know that solving my depression and anxiety issues is much deeper than that. I’m so glad that you push yourself to go to yoga five days a week and it’s helping you. I do much the same with going for walks, but I don’t do it often enough and should probably have the five times a week practice, too. I love the idea of just picking one thing to do each day. I often try to do ten things and then feel bad when I only get through half or fewer of them. I’m tired of feeling bad and I think your way is better. I haven’t connected with religion, either, although I wish I had. I like your idea of reading philosophy and hope it’s helpful for you. Please report back on how it’s going for you. Hugs to you and best wishes always.

  4. Tonya says:

    I understand Debbie. I’ve struggled with both depression and anxiety as well. Both kind of low grade. Bad enough that it makes it hard to do things, but not bad enough to be a “good” reason. I’ve found some peace in just letting it be. Not trying to change it or fight it. I also try to do what Tara does and pick one thing and start. Even if I only accomplish something small it feels better than having a whole day pass in a fog. Often the one thing will turn into more and I will feel better.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I love the positive and healthy attitude toward life that you always have, Tonya. I can feel the hard-won peace that you have cultivated over the years. I often wish I could be more like you, as you don’t stress as much about life as I do and you don’t get down on yourself for not having a career. You and Tara have the right idea with picking one thing to do to help build a sense of accomplishment. It’s early Monday morning and responding to these comments is my one thing. I feel it will turn into more, but I do feel better already 🙂

  5. Terra says:

    Debbie, thank you for this beautiful barefaced post. I very much can identify as I felt similar at various times in my life. I believe I was nearing a breakthrough back in 2013 when I first found and began following your other blog. For me, it was necessary to clear out all of my external clutter, including my large wardrobe of clothes, before I was able to peel back the layers and find the source of my anxiety and then I was able to find my own pathways to calm. What I discovered is that what I “really wanted” did not match with what I thought was expected of me and this produced much anxiety and at times depression. Not reaching what I perceived as my own expectations caused me to feel like I was failing. But when I realized that I didn’t really want what I thought I did, a sense of peace began to take hold. I’m rambling here, much like my journey rambled on. Some of us must take the long way home to find ourself.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I have thought a lot about your comment, Terra, since it came into my email box the other day (I often read the comments on my phone but wait for a chunk of time on my computer to reply). You always seem to know the right things to say. The part that made me pause the most was this, “What I discovered is that what I “really wanted” did not match with what I thought was expected of me and this produced much anxiety and at times depression.” Bingo – That is really a huge thing for me! I think that I feel I SHOULD have an important career, especially since I didn’t have children and this expectation has caused me a lot of misery over the years. I have trouble accepting that a person can be happy and satisfied with a smaller life and that’s okay. I do want a sense of purpose, but maybe what that will look like is very different from the expectations that “society” and people around me have placed on me. I don’t feel that you rambled with your comment at all and I thank you for it. I have definitely taken the long way home, but hopefully I will find my way soon…

      1. Terra says:

        Debbie, another key discovery I’ve recently made is that a large wardrobe of wonderful clothes makes me “feel” like I should have and build a life much fuller than I really want. Often times I’ve caught myself thinking that I needed a life for my clothes. But now that my wardrobe is much smaller, matches the slower paced, lower key life I’m really living and want to live, I no longer place those crazy making expectations on myself.

        1. Debbie Roes says:

          I have felt that way, too, Terra! It’s not as bad as it used to be because I’ve been buying more for my real life than for a previous, imaginary, or wished for one, but I have often tried to invent things to do so I could wear my clothes. That’s pretty backwards, isn’t it? My wardrobe is still too large for my real life and that’s something I definitely need to change. Our wardrobes should serve our lives rather than the other way around. You’re on the right track and I need to better follow your lead…

  6. Ruthie Critchley says:

    I have depression and have got a multi faceted approach to dealing with it including medication, counselling, self help books as per the NHS website and the free and fun Chilled Panda app. I do exercises with the panda and it makes me laugh.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m so glad you have found tools to help with your depression, Ruthie. I have never heard of the Chilled Panda app, but it sounds like fun and I plan to check it out. I have taken medication and gone to counseling a lot in the past, but I’m not doing either at the moment. I’m certainly not ruling them out, though. I feel that whatever will help us is what we should do and that will vary from person to person and over time. Still smiling about the panda 🙂

  7. Anne says:

    Thank you Debbie. I’ve struggled with low level depression and anxiety for years but because I managed to get up and go to work, I put my feelings of overwhelm and my inability to achieve what I felt I should be doing down to laziness. I do make lists of things I hope or need to do over the week and ticking items off makes me feel I’ve achieved something.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m sad that you have attributed your overwhelm and difficulty accomplishing things with laziness, Anne, but I have done the same thing. I also use lists a lot, but I make them too long, as my husband has often told me (his are much shorter and he doesn’t struggle with confidence like I do). I think that the isolation of not being about to talk about depression and anxiety makes it worse, but those who have shared here have helped me. I hope the same is true for you and the other commenters.

  8. Katrina B says:

    “But you don’t look depressed!” That’s what I always hear from people. I suppose it’s better than the people who tell me to get some exercise. Debbie, I sympathize very much and I thank you for sharing your struggles. I appreciate your generosity because I’m just thinking about my latest year-long bout of depression and anxiety with everything that entails and I just can’t imagine the courage it takes to write about it online. I’ve been cycling through anxiety and depression since my early 20’s so that’s almost 40 years now. I realized the other day that I’d lost count of the number of therapists I’ve seen!

    Your questions are intriguing because I think I might have answered them differently at different stages of my life. As I’m now at the bottom of the well, it’s hard to get a clear view of what could prevent me from falling into it. However, from my journaling and therapy I’ve learned that my biggest trigger for anxiety is not work or relationship, but financial insecurity (that could be caused by work or relationship problems!). So my essential for maintaining some semblance of peace is to have financial security. I think back to the times when I experienced happiness completely unencumbered by anxiety, and I was financially secure and not dependent on anyone else at those times.

    I look forward to part two to find out what lifestyle practices you have found!

    1. Tara C says:

      I think that’s true for me too. My anxiety and depression are always worse when I’m not in a good place financially. For me though, the compulsive spending creates most of the financial insecurity, and then it becomes a vicious circle of spiraling debt as I spend more to try and make myself feel better. It all goes back to bad habits I learned as a girl with my mom. She never spent herself into debt, but the answer to bad feelings was always to treat yourself at the store. I just took it further than she did because credit cards were easily available to me.

    2. Debbie Roes says:

      I have gotten “but you don’t look depressed!”, too, Katrina (as well as “but you don’t look sick!”). Such comments are extremely unhelpful. Yes, it took courage for me to write this post, which is why it took three tries to actually do it, but I’m glad I did because I know how isolating it can be to live with these issues and not have a place to talk about it. Like you, I have struggled with anxiety and depression for decades and have seen countless therapists. Sometimes these issues are manageable and sometimes not so much. I’m glad you have expanded your awareness of what has contributed to your anxiety. Financial insecurity can definitely be extremely troubling and I know I contributed a lot to that situation at times with my shopping problem (what a vicious circle that has been!). Like Tara C, I learned from a young age about “treating myself” to things at the store and it snowballed with credit card availability. Of course, I always ended up feeling worse not long after the purchases were made, though. I definitely don’t have all the answers about depression and anxiety, but I will share what has helped me and I appreciate you and others sharing insights and tools as well.

  9. Gail (Helen) says:

    Those of us who are anxious perhaps are more realistic in our reaction to the sate of the world than those who are not. The key is the management of this anxiety.
    Rereading your post previous to this, Debbie, where you spoke about career changes and dissatisfaction with some related choices, I have to address: career is the big picture, the total of those efforts, schoolings, jobs one has over a lifetime.They are all related and build up to one’s career. In many cases the last position, project, or creative effort one makes before retiring is a culmination; for others, career is more of a series. Even if one hold quite different occupations–in the literal sense– they are related by definition of ownership and by the fact that we use our experiences in moving forward. They are all parts of a whole career–and parts of who we are as a person.My babysitting, proofreading, teaching of preschool, Scrabble playing, attention to literature all are part of me and as such have made me the English/reading teacher that I was for 30-some years. Now as a grandma, it is still building. Debbie, you can make a similar statement with blogging, counseling and psychology degrees, and so much more that has been part of your life and part of you. Your continued learning is definitely a reflection and integral part of your life-long career of thinking about life and helping people and yourself become the best they can. I know you do that for me. In a way, I am saying one’s life is inseparable from one’s career.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      You’re so right, Gail, that management of anxiety (whether it be realistic or not) is key. I like the perspective you introduced in this comment. It can be a lot more life-enhancing to take a long-range and wider view of our careers and our lives. We are so much more than whatever our current job title may be – or not. I don’t always remember this and can be extremely harsh in my assessment of myself and my value. Thank you for letting me know the positive impact I’ve had on you. It always warms my heart to learn that I matter to people, even those whom I’ve never met and likely never will.

  10. Magda says:

    I have never commented on any of your blog posts Debbie, even though I followed most of RS posts and I’m also coming back here quite regularly. I really appreciate these spaces. Today however I thought that I could perhaps share my insights from my life with depression, that I think also resonates with what many others here wrote. I just got out of a few years long depression, thanks to therapy and a lot of reading and self introspection. For me some of the crucial moments were the acceptance of living with depression and it’s limitations, even if that required going through a lot of grief, as well as, (and that came much later, after I dealt with the reasons behind depression) acceptance of discomfort (also requiring grief work). What I realized was that when depressed I was constantly limiting my world in order to avoid any discomfort or difficult and exhaustive situations, but that also kept me in the depressive mode. Only when I realized that I cannot avoid some level of discomfort in my life (I cannot live a perfect life or have perfect work, clothes that always match perfectly, people around me that always make me feel good, etc) and when I started to expose myself slowly to this discomfort and accept it as part of life while at the same time doing what I thought is valuable, my depression lifted. What I learned was that when depressed we see difficulties as much bigger and rewards as much smaller. It is therefore more difficult to act if that means effort without reward. But the more exposure one gets the more the balance can shift and the life expand. This is at least what I experienced. I hope this can help at least some. Thank you all for sharing your experiences.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you for your readership over many years, Magda, and for coming here to comment on this post. I appreciate your sharing about your experience with depression. I’m so happy that you have come out of your most recent bout with depression. I resonate with what you wrote here and you stated it all so perfectly. I know that I definitely do what you described in terms of trying to avoid discomfort. I also struggle with accepting things the way they are, including aspects of myself. Sometimes I push myself to do certain things even though I’m anxious and I’m usually glad that I did so. I’m sure your comment was helpful to many who read it. It definitely was for me.

  11. Miriam says:

    Are we really supposed to be able to deal with everything the world throws at us? It was just a few hundred years ago that humans lived very different lives after all. How about a little thought experiment… If a zoo wanted to “keep” a family of humans, how would they go about it? What would their habitat look like, their nutrition?
    Apologies, I fear the paleo movement has influenced me quite a bit 🙂

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