Monthly Archives: September 2014

Retreating into Silence

Tomorrow I’m going to an overnight silent retreat with my church. I did the church retreat a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. It wasn’t a silent retreat though.

An angel signaling "quiet"

One of the signs my depression is getting worse is the voice in my head runs on and on. It’s not even that I’m thinking. Sometimes it’s music playing in my head, sometimes it’s me narrating to myself something that just happened. I never really experienced a truly quiet moment until I started taking an anti-depressant.

I have tried having periods of silence though. Before we had kids, I would take a weekend day and just not say anything or talk to anyone. This would drive my husband absolutely batty. He wanted so desperately to be able to talk to me. I confess, I kind of enjoyed his frustration, it was cute.

Years ago, I used to be afraid of silence and being alone. I somehow instinctively knew that it strips you down to the bare bones of who you are, and I was afraid of what I would find. I was terrified that some horrible part of me would bubble up to the surface.

Now I understand that getting quiet and noticing the thoughts, sensations, and feelings that come up are the best way for me to let go of all distractions and to notice the peace and calm that’s present in every moment.

It seems a little contradictory to be surrounded by a big group of people, then insist on being silent. Are we still supposed to make eye contact? Do we smile at each other? I’m not sure. We’ll get to talk to each other during the orientation and dinner. Then we’ll do guided meditations and be in silence until the afternoon of the next day. We’re not supposed to read or write at all.

I’ll be honest, the thing I’m most looking forward to is sleeping. My dog Maggie has been keeping me up for about four or five nights. I let her sleep in bed with me, and she was all polite at first, but then she showed her true colors and started hogging the bed. Now I’m putting her in her crate at night, but she cries and barks for awhile before settling down. (Note: If you adopt a dog that is crate-trained, make sure you always put her in her crate when you leave the house and at nighttime. It will be better for everyone, trust me.)

Retreat is always kind of a funny word to me. It implies defeat, a “running away.” In some ways, I guess it is, running away from the hectic daily routine, the overwhelming to do list, the constant needs of my husband and children, my dog, my friends, my kids’ schools, etc.

It is also a “treat” to take care of myself. It feels almost child-like to care only for my own needs. I suppose some people might consider it selfish, but most people I think recognize self-care as something we all really need. None of us is the Energizer Bunny, try as we might to imitate it. We can’t always “keep going.” Sometimes it’s our responsibility to stop, and listen, and rest.

I don’t expect the retreat to be life-transforming, but I hope to experience some healing: physically, emotionally, mentally. I hope to connect with the people from my church and to whatever it is in the universe that binds us together. Some people call it God. I just know that when I get really quiet and still sometimes I do sense Something that is beyond my thoughts, worries, and fears. I know way deep down that I’m okay, we’re okay, and in the end, we’re all going to be okay.

Do you carve out time to sit in silence? What do you get out of the experience?

My Dog is an Anti-Depressant

I’d read that owning a pet can improve mood, but it surprised me how quickly adopting our dog Maggie helped alleviate my depression. I still feel anxious sometimes, but Maggie has brought a sense of security to my life that I didn’t realize was missing before.

Maggie and Kaylee

Just two days after we adopted Maggie, my seven-year-old son Zach melted down for an hour, making me late for my exercise class, then taking up my attention for the rest of the class so I didn’t get to work out at all. My four-year-old daughter Kaylee was making him more upset, and after I’d finally calmed down, she pooped so I had to change her pull-up.

Normally, I would have lost it, yelling, feeling bitter and resentful, and laying guilt trips on my kids. Instead I showed more patience and kindness than I knew I had. I came up with idea after idea to try to comfort Zach and help him regain his composure. It helped that I knew that he was tired because it was only the second day of school, and it was the first full day.

Even though I know I am loved by my friends and family, there really is something special about a dog’s love. It is so innocent and complete. Maggie has bonded the most with me, probably because I feed her and spend the most time with her, but it does feel special to be someone’s absolutely favorite person in the whole world.

I’m hopeful that Maggie will bond more with the kids. Last night she did lean against Zach’s leg while we were reading books.

It’s been especially helpful for Kaylee not to be “the baby” anymore. Zach is so easy-going, he gives Kaylee her way a lot because it’s not worth the bother, but Maggie’s walks and feeding take precedence over Kaylee demanding attention every minute. I think Kaylee also feels more grown up because she doesn’t need as much help as Maggie in some ways.

Taking care of Maggie has of course triggered my perfectionism, but it’s also given me an opportunity to practice letting go of trying to do everything “right.” Some dog owners highly recommend feeding your dog in a “Kong” or other feeding toy that makes your dog work to get their food out. It keeps them busy and mentally stimulates them.

I tried repeatedly to feed Maggie from a Kong, then felt like a failure when she showed little to no interest. Then I took her to the vet and found out that she’s missing a bunch of teeth. I remembered that when she was found, she’d been covered in foxtails, including having some in her mouth.

I imagine there are dog owners who train their dogs to be super well-behaved and to eat their environmentally-friendly organic food out of feeding toys instead of dog bowls. Maybe there are, but I don’t have to be one of them. We’ve created a home and a family with Maggie, and if there’s anything I want to celebrate, it’s that we are all great, interesting, and extraordinary, each as our imperfect selves.

How does having a pet help you cope with stress?

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