Chasing Happiness

Garden of the Mind

What is happiness?

According to Merriam-Webster, “…happiness is a state of well-being and contentment: joy.  It is a pleasurable or satisfying experience…”

I often feel that I lose my contentment with life when I purposefully search for the elusive feeling of “happiness.”  I guess you could also say that it makes me unhappy to try to be happy!

Sometimes finding happiness, or feeling content with life, seems as if it arrives as spring sometimes does.  One day I notice that the chill is gone from the air and new green and spring flowers are appearing.  New birds have appeared to migrate through our backyard…and even though it happens every year…it still is a bit of a surprise and it sneaks up on me at times.  When I am in a wintry place like depression or anxiety, I stumble upon happiness and contentment in a similar way to a change of season. One day, I wake up and my mood is slightly better and I feel more positive, calm, and grateful for what I have.

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Does this day come randomly or by chance? Sometimes it seems that way!  Just as a change of season from winter to spring brings a few days at a time of beautiful sunny warm weather in late winter/early spring and I think “Spring is here! Get the sandals out!” …only to wake up the next day to pull my sweatshirts and blankets out again.

Coming out from a depressive episode works in a similar way, for me.  I explained this to my psychiatrist and she helped me understand that this is normal and that it was a good sign even to have a mood swing type of day where it might be half “good” and half “bad.”  It means that the depression is lifting and eventually days will be mostly “good” again.

In the last two years, I have focused on self-care, goal setting, a little organization, consistent boundary-enforcement and positive coping strategies to help me improve my mood stability, relationships, and overall outlook on life.  Exciting stuff, right?!

I have spent many hours in therapy working through my “stuff” and it has been just that, work!  I have read self-help articles, worked on my communication style, and learned how to graciously say no to things that were not growing me or helping me live as my best self.  Who is she?  I am working daily to find her and figure that out.  Some days, the “work” on myself is just getting out of bed, eating regularly, and getting dressed.  Sometimes, that’s all I have in me to be my best self…and I’m learning that that is OK.  This in itself has been a hard lesson to learn since I have been prided myself on being an overachiever most of my life.  Fear of other people’s negative opinion of my productivity (or lack thereof) is something I’m dealing with currently.  Hello, my name is Heart Gardener, and I’m a recovering people-pleaser.

Have you every heard someone use the phrase “Happiness is a choice”?  I believe there’s even a book entitled this.  It makes me sigh deeply when I hear these types of phrases as I have struggled most of my life to be happy and content.  This particular phrase makes happiness sound easy! But as many of us know, finding lasting happiness is hard!

The chemicals in my brain and the negative behavioral patterns I developed as a child and young adult often have an effect on my ability to see the world with rose colored glasses. Instead, I am prone to catastrophizing, ruminating on the negative, generally keeping tension in my muscles, and not taking care of myself by not drinking enough water or exercising regularly.

I had someone tell me this week that their friend was depressed and his doctor prescribed him a daily walk.  Mmkay… That might work for many people.  In fact, that was what my first therapist advised me to do at 15 years old when I was first treated for depression and anxiety though talk therapy.  I replied to my friend with some information on my experience with depression: that ny the time I realize it has arrived, it is often difficult for me to leave my house or sometimes my recliner on “bad” days, so a walk per day isn’t an easy fix treatment for me during those times. 

As I have said before, when I’m that depressed, my first priority is to focus on self-care in order to make it through the day/week and eventually get out of the pit. Usually my most basic self-care routine involves making sure I shower daily and talk to at least one person other than my husband.  Sometimes that’s all I can handle for a day…and as I said… I’m learning that “whatever I do is enough.” Even as I type that I am allowing it to seep down deep to the roots of my heart’s garden. Whatever I do is enough.

Another technique when battling depression that I have used before, is writing a list of things, people, places, etc. for which I am grateful.  I list everything from a good cup of coffee to my supportive husband.  It helps me realize that today is not so bad.  That the depression is just making the garden of my mind have storm clouds overhead and storm clouds, just as seasons, do pass.  They might leave some debris in their path, but clean up and restoration is possible.

I hope the photos in this post bring you some joy whether you are experiencing mental health challenges or not.  I love spring and took these photos two years ago just walking around my neighborhood as I was exiting my typical seasonal winter depression.  I was so relieved to see that spring was returning that day.  Beautiful nature makes me happy.  The things that “spark joy” for us are everywhere and sometimes you just have to step outside your own thoughts or maybe your front door to experience it.


Contentment, meet Fulfillment…

Garden of the Mind


Being content and fulfilled is another seemingly lofty goal that I have had for the last decade or so.  The quote on my photo above reminds us that we can be content now. Today.  Even if everything’s not perfect.  As a recovering perfectionist, I understand that this can be a very difficult practice to adopt into one’s life:

Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have. – unknown

I have improved in recent times, but still today, if I’m not careful, I can assign high expectations to the next milestone of life as if it could be the oasis in the desert of whatever life stage I am currently experiencing.

A quote from one of my all-time favorite movies, written by Richard Linklater, describes this common human experience:


Richard Linklater

I loved the movie Dazed and Confused so much as a high school kid because it so accurately depicted our common urge to rush through childhood because we thought that the freedom of adulthood was going to be way better than this dependent child thing.

As many angst-filled adolescents, in high school, I was wishing for college freedom.  Spreading my wings and becoming a college grad would bring me contentment and fulfillment, right?

Wrong. While approaching college graduation, contentment was delayed while I focused on starting graduate school ASAP.  Sure, I paused for about 2 months and basked in my accomplishment (and the sun at my cushy lifeguard job).

I was definitely content those two months.  However, as content as I was that summer, I was not yet fulfilled because I was in a state of countdown once again – to graduate school so that I could fulfill my lifelong goal of attaining a master’s degree.  Surely that would leave to contentment and fulfillment, right?

Yes and no.  There were times, after achieving that lifelong goal, when I felt content and fulfilled in many areas of my life.  But, at the same time, I felt discontent and unfulfilled because I was wishing for a mate.  I didn’t think that I could feel fulfilled or content until I found “the one.”  In my mind, meeting and marrying him was what would bring me eternal contentment and fulfillment.

Do you see how I always think I’m, as Linklater says, reading the preamble to my own life…waiting for it to start?

Even as I’m now happily married, the life goals have turned into having kids, buying our dream home, etc.  To this day, Contentment and Fulfillment only visit me periodically.  They haven’t decided to move in and stay a while…or maybe it’s that I haven’t accepted them as part of my life?

I hear this country song called, “You’re Gonna Miss This” on the radio sometimes which as lyrics sound like something my Dad would say to me about this feeling of chasing happiness and rushing through today to get to tomorrow.  See below:


Trace Adkins, You’re Gonna Miss This


Thankfully, in the last few years, I have taken song lyrics like this and others to heart and have learned more about being mindful of the present moment in order to notice my own contentment and fulfillment.

I’m learning that there is contentment and fulfillment in big and small things every day.  We just have to take time to notice them.

Days get busy and over-scheduled.  Life’s demands tug us in many directions.  Everyone wants a piece of us sometimes.  And yes, we have to give a lot of ourselves away, as we should.  But, as we give ourselves away, we must remember that self-care comes before everything else in order to stay healthy and balanced.  At least, this is true for me.

One of my favorite songwriters, Paul Simon, echoes my repetitive search for contentment and fulfillment in his song, “Slip Slidin’ Away.”  He tells us that “the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away,” which to me, has translated to: the closer we get to the next major milestone in life, the more life we have behind us…and while life passes by, moments of contentment and fulfillment may be missed while we are searching or hoping for happiness…instead of being mindful of what there is to be grateful for today…what’s right in front of us…even if today is imperfect…because life will always be imperfect.  I’m learning that imperfections make our lives unique and sometimes even beautiful.

In this same song, Simon describes a woman who “became a wife (and tells us that) these were the very words she uses to describe her life”:


Paul Simon, Slip Slidin Away

I have sung these lyrics many times, seeing myself as the woman who “became a wife” thinking that marriage would be happily ever after.  I know that when I’m depressed or anxious I’m the woman who lies in bed of thinks of things that might have been.  In those moments and all others, I strive to remind myself to focus on what is going right today…like a day with no rain.


Therapize Me! 

Garden of the Mind

Anyone who has had more than 5 conversations with me in the last couple years knows that I am a supporter of therapy for all!  I believe that everyone, at some point in their life can benefit from therapy. It’s an investment in yourself and your future. No one should have to stay silent or whisper about going to therapy, yet still many do because they fear they will be seen by others as weak, damaged or worse. 

I hope that in my lifetime, it will be as stigma-free to tell someone that you have a therapy appointment as it is a dentist or hair appointment. 
Therapy with a trained professional is in the same category of self-care, for me, as getting my teeth cleaned. It’s usually uncomfortable at first, but once I find a good hygienist and doctor and get used to the process I leave feeling better than when it started.

Just as when you are finding a new hair stylist sometimes finding the right therapist takes a while. If you’ve tried therapy before and it didn’t “work” or you didn’t like it find a new therapist. They are not one size fits all. 
When someone wants to change their physical form, some hire a physical trainer to improve their physical fitness, teach them proper exercise techniques, motivate and hold them accountable. Going to therapy or counseling works in a similar way. It’s like hiring a “mind trainer” or taking behavior modification classes. 

You improve your mental health through learning positive communication and coping skills while having an objective non-judgemental person listen and help you sort through things that need venting or processing. 

I used to say that therapy was the one time I could sit and talk about myself for whole hour and not feel selfish, guilty or second-guess everything I said. 

I have been going to therapy through good times and bad for 20 years.  I wrote a post on an old blog describing all of my therapists and the therapy I received under their care. I will add that to this post soon. Until then, enjoy this article from Psychology Today and if you haven’t already find a therapist if you would like to see what all the fuss is about! 💜🌷

Find a therapist near you.
Therapy for all!

The D Word

Garden of the Mind

Watching someone struggle with depression or anxiety while being in denial about having it is like watching someone with the flu deny they are sick. They have many of the symptoms and they are not themselves, while they say things like: it’s not that bad, they don’t need to see a doctor, it will pass, etc. 

It’s easy to point out the speck in a loved one’s eye while ignoring the plank in your own isn’t it? 

I am often quick to notice and diagnose others’ mental health struggles, but usually slow to admit my own when it comes to the D word. I live with anxiety most of the year and deal with it pretty well, but when D comes to pay me a visit…I usually don’t realize it was here until it’s gone. 
This is what I’ve been dealing with recently as I enter a period of (seasonal?) depression. (Sigh) There. I said it. I admit that I am feeling depressed. 

It’s probably the most common time of year to be depressed…January.  Songs have been written about it:

In the bleak midwinter…

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray…

So I’m not surprised really that here it is January, the month that also includes the anniversary of my father’s death and other family tragedies, that I am sitting on my front porch typing away about depression while I’m wading ankle deep in it. I know this month is usually a difficult one for me for these reasons and more. 

I prepared for winter before it arrived  like a chipmunk does, storing up nuggets of sustainable joy by planning ahead with tangible things such as special lightbulbs to mimic sunlight and setting up an area inside to tend and overwinter plants. I planted pansies and violas outside and redecorated my Gnome garden with a sign that says “Happy Everythjng!” so I would both be reminded to be grateful for life when I get down and to also have reason to step out onto the patio on days when I want to stay inside and hide. 

I memorized mantras and made a Pinterest board with coping strategies and uplifting quotes. I downloaded two apps to help me track my mood and help me relax and breath and meditate. I took my meds. I focused on self care.

But D still knocked on my door, my brain chemicals shifted and Depression entered my life again. 

There were triggers that preceded D’s appearance on my doorstep, sure.  I will keep them private for now. My therapist has helped me through the details and the plan for coping and moving forward. 

But that’s the rational brain talking…depression is irrational at times.  It tells me that no one likes me. Not even my mother or my husband or my best friend of 20 years. It tells me I’m damaged and dysfunctional. It tells me that this is how my life will be forever. 

I know these are all lies, but it still hurts to hear your own voice using such hurtful language against yourself. 

And then there’s the crying and the anger and the irritability and the tension and the panic attacks…(sigh)…and the physical exhaustion from all the mental ping pong of it all! 🏓 I’m tired. But the irony is I can’t sleep because…insomnia. 

Depressing to even read about, right?!

Tell me readers, that I’m not alone in this. My social support network has taken some hits over the last couple years, so even strangers on the internet showing some love could help me to know that someone has been here and someone reads this and cares. Neediness doesn’t look good on me so I hate to even ask for moral support here…but I need it.  I need a hand or two to hold to help me get through this. 


Winter is Spring’s Waiting Room


I’m usually not a lotion person. I like the way it smells and I like the way my skin feels after I finally use it, but the sad fact is that most bottles of lotion I have purchased in my lifetime have never been used up by the end of their shelf life. Most days, I don’t take that extra minute to apply this little dose of TLC that my body sometimes needs.

This lotion though, is serving a purpose greater than merely moisturizing my skin. It is part of what the mental health community calls “a self care routine.” That is a term I have become very familiar with the last two years (since I resigned from my job to improve my overall wellbeing and most importantly my mental health). You can read about that here.

Who knew something so simple being an intentional part of self care could help not only my body, but also my mind!  Two nights of showering and applying this lotion before bed made me want to blog! Something I haven’t done in four months!  So obviously it reawakened some hibernating part of my consciousness, right?

Of course, on some days self care is easier than others.  On good days, it’s a reflex.  On symptom-filled days it’s like walking through deep mud uphill.  On terrible days it seems impossible.  Those days my husband says, “Why don’t you take a shower? You always feel better after a shower.” I resist and negotiate that I will shower if he will come sit in the bathroom and talk to me while I’m showering…who knew as a grown woman with a Master’s degree in developmental psychology I would need moral support to take a shower…

That’s the nature of the beast that is any chronic illness…especially the invisible ones.  If I had a visible physical disability, most people would understand that I would need assistance taking care of certain personal care routines, especially on “bad” days.  When ones has an invisible illness it’s harder to explain to others the husband-sitting-outside-the-shower-for-moral-support thing…unless they have lived it.

We must all remember on days when self care seems impossible that there is beauty in living life.  Everyday life.  Good days, symptom-filled days, and terrible days.  I need to type these words right now as a reminder to myself as well!

…and in months like January I have to remind myself that the beauty of the earth will return with spring green and flowers just like the ones on this lotion bottle. Until then, I will focus on beauty that is present in the wild birds at my backyard feeder and in the friends, family, and even strangers who surround me.

It’s not easy many days to do these things (shower, eat healthy foods, drink water, be grateful, be kind), but it’s possible when I focus on small starts like using my favorite lotion.

Happy New Year and Hearts & Flowers!



A little stream of consciousness is about to ensue so get ready…this blog post has a different tone than usual, but it’s still a post about how I deal with stress and how my OCD, anxiety, and depression can be calmed or aggravated.

(DEEP breath and pause…..)

Lately, I’ve been using deadheading my petunias as a stress management technique.  It helps me zone out on searching for the spent buds in a mass of colorful blooms, pinch or snip them, and then toss them into the empty flower-pot I use as a trash bucket.

It’s helpful for times when I find myself becoming obsessive about things.  Running past conversations in my head over and over, checking things multiple times (my email account, Facebook pages, etc.) Sometimes my obsessive thought is something like, “Did I turn the water off outside after watering?” and then some days I’m so absorbed in my anxiety that I actually forget to turn the water off and it runs for about 5 hours (shaking my head at myself).

Deadheading helps me calm my inner voice and slow down my thoughts as I physically focus on one thing instead of the storm of thoughts that are swirling around inside my head.

By definition, deadheading is “to remove dead flower heads from (a plant) to encourage further blooming.”

For the last year, I have removed or “deadheaded” a stressful relationship from my life by putting necessary (healthy) boundaries in place with this person.  It was hard at first as I felt guilty often for not returning emails (that were obviously manipulative and did not show any remorse for the things that lead to this “deadheading.”)  Today is that person’s birthday.  I can pray for her and send her good vibes, but do I send the sweetly worded card I’ve always sent and be the supportive person I’ve always tried to be (even though it didn’t do me a bit of good long-term)?

No.  Despite my best efforts to have a healthy relationship with her my entire life, I still ended up being manipulated by her destructive behavior over and over again…so…no more.  I’m not playing anymore.  I’m off the merry-go-round and there is nothing that can be said or done to entice me to get back on it.  I’m protecting myself once and for all.

Boundaries are empowering! (After you get over the initial guilt and people-pleasing habits) 💜🌷


Return of the Shamrock


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It’s May and little shamrock has lived through the winter on the kitchen windowsill waiting for it’s spring renewal.  Here is what my shamrock looks like today.  It took months for this plant to look alive again, but with patience and care it did reemerge looking strong as ever.  I will move this baby outside tomorrow and watch her flourish in the spring and summer air.

I’m feeling like the shamrock today as well.  Stronger, growing, renewed, hopeful…

Goodbye 2015, Hello future! 


Due to the cooler weather I have been tending mostly my house plants lately. My shamrock had been neglected and became droopy and leggy so I trimmed it back. Way back. Here it is now…

We can’t even tell what kind of plant is lurking beneath the soil, right? Well, last year I took a fellow gardeners advice when mine became leggy and yucky looking and just cut the whole thing down. Within a few days new sprouts started coming through the soil and before I knew it I had a perky new plant!

Wouldn’t it be great if restarting or improving your life was this simple?  Just snip, snip, trash with the old and water and wait for the new?

Everyone talks about New Years resolutions about this time of year…or at least after we have eaten our favorite holiday foods and exchanged gifts.  This little pot made me think of resolutions, change, and growth during this special time of year.

In 2016, I hope to cut out some bad habits and add some helathier ones in their places. They are pretty much the same things I focus on most years.  I don’t have a new idea yet on how to be more effective at actually achieving my goals yet except that I have added many “how to set goals and reach them” pins on my Pinterest boards. 😉 So beyond that, for starters, I’m going to focus on praying for motivation and focusing on things one day at a time so not to get overwhelmed with how much weight there is to lose, how much house stuff needs to be organized (and cleaned) and how many relationship strategies I need to employ.

I am trying earnestly to savor this holiday season even though there have been times when I have literally said out loud “bah humbug.”  I had a conversation today with a someone who echoed the exact thoughts I had weeks before about this low holiday spirit I’ve been feeling.  She had been experiencing it too and she said it comes from, over the course of the year, experiencing hurt. I agree with her because that’s exactly what was making  me hesitant about celebrating Thanksgiving fully.  Yes, I was thankful for my life, but after being hurt and disappointed by loved ones and situations throughout the year I wasn’t in the best mood to put on my happy face, join hands around the table and give thanks…because I’m not thankful for the hurt I have had to experience. Loss. Rejection. Negativity.  Loneliness. 

The little pot above needs some nurturing. It looks a lot like how I have been feeling in recent months.  I’m hoping that I can start to bloom again and get back to my happier, more content self soon. Flashes of her come back when I’m in a social setting or with family, but in private she’s hibernating.

May the holiday season bring you fertile soil, sunshine, and just enough water to help you grow and prepare for whatever the new year brings.


Mixed Pot Makeover


Everybody loves a makeover, right?!  You might remember the sad looking pot below from a previous post?  I wanted to post an updated photo of how the new arrangement worked out…the cannas in the middle in the “after” photo were imported from my Aunt’s house on the coast and have already bloomed since this “after” photo was taken.  They are a fiery orange and rival any tiki torch I’ve ever seen!

              Before…                                                         After!




Have you ever watched a makeover show?  The lucky person gets either a new home or a new haircut, new wardrobe, and new skin care tips….and it’s supposed to make life easier and more fun….

The thing is…the audience is just shown the “before” and the “after.” We never get to see the messy “middle.”

Our house has been going through a bit of a demolition derby the last few weeks as we lost a precious member of our family last week. We have been grieving him while remembering how much joy he brought us.

Nesting” have been our therapies of choice as my husband rearranged the living room and I have found myself becoming buried in household tasks and endless list-making to keep the grief at bay. Our household is not new to grief as my husband and I have both lost our fathers and other precious family members in recent months/years.  We have attended more funerals than weddings in the 7 years we have been together.  We hope that in the coming decade it will be the other way around.

Despite being familiar with the reality of death and having working knowledge of the 5 Stages of Loss and Grief, we are still struggling to cope some moments.  It’s easy to just run away and hide yourself in community projects, household chores, shopping, etc. because sometimes it’s just easier to fold laundry than to think about the pain that death brings to the left behind.

An old friend told me on Facebook to “get out of the house!!!” as she sent her condolences about our loss. I have put those words into action this week and stayed out running errands two days in a row – which has been great – because it has been a welcome distraction from my grief.  But then, when I come home…he is not there to greet me and make me smile…hello loss my old friend…

Death is a subject that most do not want to delve into since, as my therapist says, “Everyone grieves differently.”  Since my father’s death I have definitely learned that the hard way when trying to share my heart with other people in my family who also lost their relationship with him.  Not everyone wants to hear old stories – it doesn’t stir/warm their hearts as it does mine.  Sometimes people just want to forget what happened and other people just stuff/slip feelings under the rug to be dealt with one day/never.

I respect the fact that Everyone grieves differently, but I do think that the healthy way is always better than the toxic way.  Stuffing anything down is toxic.

So, I continue to live one day at a time missing my beloved companion and planning for the future.

Until we meet again….