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  • Leslie Mathews

Finding today in a mind that is full. ACCEPTANCE

It is December 13th, 2020. Enough said... right? It is the longest, darkest year most of us have lived. Each day is full of uncertainty. Worries creep out of every corner. It has become hard to stay mindful even though hope is on the horizon.

The holidays are upon us. A time that is supposed to be filled with joy, family, friends, memory-making and celebration has arrived.

Is that really what it has become though? For many of us, it is a time of stress, extra hustle, meeting expectations we think others have of us, and telling ourselves that we probably are not enough. We eat ourselves into our lowest place, neglect our bodies and put self care last on our list of priorities. Why? Those stories and beliefs we have about not being enough (or being too much) tell us we must come last. That might not be sustainable in 2020.

This year brings more stress and confusion than ever before. I miss my family and friends more than I ever have. I have never gone this long without seeing my mom, sisters, best friend, nieces, nephews... everyone. I know I cannot see them safely. I am grateful that a vaccine is coming. Soon it will be okay to hug them. We just have to stay safe and healthy a little longer. Just a little longer...

Then there is the other stress and confusion. Family and friends don't look the same. Politics and racial tensions have clouded feelings about those I love. It is time to move on, make life better for people of color, vaccinate, lift up the suffering small businesses and find unity. Why are we still arguing about masks and elections? Ugh... This damn year!

This holiday season, like so many in the past, I started putting myself last, getting caught up in the craziness, and allowing the false stories to stir up. I also allowed worry about what might happen take over my thoughts. Fear and self doubt are poison in good times. This year my body said HELL NO! The symptoms came hard and fast as I went from positive and focused to stressed and exhausted. Insomnia and reflux kicked in... I don't know what the trigger was exactly, but I think it was news of Covid spreading, seeing others ignore recommendations to distance and mask, and general unrest in our country. I consumed too much outside information and lost touch with the world I am actually living in.

It has taken me a week, but I am trying to practice and understand ACCEPTANCE. Anything else is making me sick. For me, right now mindful acceptance means looking around at my world and living in my situation. If I just focus on what is happening in my space with the people present in my life, things look pretty good. We are healthy. We have more holiday decorations than ever. The sun is shining. Flowers are blooming. We have a pantry full of food. Everyone has clean underwear!

Most importantly I have to stay mindful of our health. We are healthy. My kids are learning at school. They are not sick. I don't know if other kids are coming to school with Covid. I just know that my kids do not symptoms and hopefully do not have it. We are distancing, avoiding groups and wearing masks. I cannot control what others are doing. Worrying about it is toxic. My mom is healthy. My siblings are healthy. We are all doing our best to stay that way.

Acceptance also means living with my feelings. I try to bury discomfort, but that never works. It puts me on the fast track to anxiety attacks. I have to accept and feel the sadness, loneliness and disappointment. I am working on it.

When I get into my "now" I can breathe. When I can breathe I remember to put self care first. After 4 days of letting my body suffer, I took back control. That looks different for each of us. For me it meant walking (even though I didn't feel like exercising), listening to Eckart Tolle for 15 minutes (even though I needed more than 15 minutes), eating veggies (even though I also ate cookie dough), drinking more water (even if I added some tequila), meditating (even though I didn't have time), letting the house get messy (promising to clean it tomorrow), and picking up my camera (even though I felt uninspired before doing so). Other things that help me include calling a friend, creating something beautiful, writing this blog post, and hugging my kids and puppies.

I feel good today, both physically and mentally. The world has not changed. Problems have not been solved. I changed nothing outside of myself, and yet here I am feeling happy, creative and focused once again. I even feel a little bravery sneaking out of the shadows.

If you feel overwhelmed today, or you are so full of worry it hurts, stop what you are doing. First, stop pushing it down. Let it out, whatever it is. Then try to focus your energy and thoughts only on what is happening to you right now. Let yourself live in this moment and ask if it is so bad. Be safe. Do your best. Take in only what is present right now. Find your peace right there.

I recently started a new project as part of a larger project I will begin in 2021. The portraits in this blog post are a sampling of the self portrait portion of that project. They were taken yesterday as I could feel myself coming back after days of living in fog. The writing is part of my story. Writing stories is also part of my self care.

A 2020 silver lining for me has been finding the coping strategies that get me through the hard times. I hope you have found your own! Without them, I don't know how we could survive. I would love to hear what is working for you. Let me know in the comments section!

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