Alzheimer's / Lifestyle / Making Lemonade / Travel

Making Lemonade #2: What to do when life gives you lemons

Lots and lots and lots of lemons

Cross-posted from Substack. View original post

This is the fifth time I’ve tried to start writing this Substack. I remember reading something earlier this week from one of the biggest creators on the platform that it took them 10 hours to write each post. I’m down more than that and I’m still feeling stuck for words. Substuck, if you will.

I made a promise to myself that I would stick this out and push through the discomfort, but, in a week beset by a plague of lemons, it feels harder than ever to make lemonade – and keep it short and sweet and snappy.

So this is a special one-off extra long post, and then we’ll go back to regular programming next week.

Lemon overwhelm

This week, it feels more important than ever to talk about why we need to make lemonade. Not only for ourselves, but also for others.

No one can pour from an empty cup – and for us to be able to have the biggest impact on the world, we need to find ways to fill our cups – not just let the world poke holes in them.

Depressed, empty, numb people can’t change the world. We can barely change our clothes (absolutely speaking from experience).

And so, today’s message is all about how we can’t make lemonade without adding sugar and water. As hard as we try, staring at a bunch of lemons won’t turn them into anything else – or make them any less bitter.

Which is why I believe it’s more important than ever for us to find ways to disconnect from the 24-hour news cycle and go out and find small joys- as an antidote and a small act of rebellion in an increasingly overwhelming and scary world.

This could be as simple as walking outside, putting your feet in the grass, feeling the sun (or rain) on your face, and reminding yourself you are a 3D human who exists in a real-life body. We need to give ourselves space to breathe and be – especially if we’re humans caring for and/or raising other humans.

Sometimes we just need to go and look at a tree instead of a phone

If that feels too hard, you can go even simpler than that – like seeking out those sweet‌, sweet milliseconds where the light of the setting sun hits the wall just right and for a moment you forget that all of life is suffering. Another great thing to do is to escape into your imagination – or someone else’s. Draw, knit, watch a movie, read a book.

This might sound a little trite, but art – and creativity in all its forms – has always been a great way for humans to process and move through their feelings and/or all the things happening in the world around them.

Whether we’re creating or consuming it, it can be something that gives us hope, meaning, purpose. A safe port in a storm.

In those times when it all feels like it’s too hot to handle, it’s also worth reminding ourselves that although technological advances have helped us become more plugged into all the goings-on in the world than ever, our nervous systems haven’t had the chance to catch up.

Overexposure to traumatic events – whatever they are – floods our body with stress hormones, kicks us into fight/flight/freeze/fawn, and burns us out because we can’t get the rest and safe space we need to recharge and fill our cups.

It’s a closed circuit – we rest so we can keep on going and keep showing up in the ways we want to in the world. And then we recharge again.

Without this crucial part of the cycle, it’s no wonder a lot of us are struggling to get out of bed and do our silly chores and go to our jobs so we can pay our silly bills – let alone show up for anyone else.

So, while I’m all for keeping ourselves informed, it’s also important to know when to switch off. To take a break, and find some meaning in the mayhem.

Joe reminding me to slow down and watch the birds

As a long-distance carer for my mum who has young-onset Alzheimer’s, I found out the hard way what happens when I try to pour from an empty cup: it’s a slippery slope into a steep-sided, lemon-filled pit of despair with not an ounce of sugar in sight.

I spent years believing that I needed to be the most informed, most clued-in person in order to help anyone else. I felt like it was my responsibility as a human to be in-the-know about all the things there was to know.

After my mum started going downhill, I devoured books, articles, and studies on Alzheimer’s. Every time there was some sort of crisis or conflict, I studied it like I was writing a thesis, pouring over the facts, pulling at every thread I could find, and overloading my mind and body with exposure to the horrors of humankind.

I told myself it was because “knowledge was king”, but all that happened was that I not only burned myself out – I also built the woodpile underneath me and struck the match.

It’s taken me nearly four years to dust off the ash and climb out of my self-dug hole, and the only way I’ve managed to get there is by finding ways to switch off, coming back to my body, and seeking out little moments of joy – like making my own lemonade.

I learned that you can’t fill a leaky cup by sheer will alone – and letting others poke holes in it wasn’t the way to go either. Good girl conditioning be damned.

And so, this week, when the world was getting too big and scary and overwhelming, I found myself craving smallness. I gave myself permission to drown out the noise by setting aside half an hour a day to go for bike rides around my neighborhood, local nature walks, and/or one of my favourite hobbies: macro photography. Often all at the same time.

I’d cycle out to my favourite spot, set up by a nice tree, and search for cool things to photograph.

My happy place

It’s pretty amazing what you can find when you get small. We’re so trained to look at the big picture that we often lose track of the small stuff – but tell me you can’t watch a bee buzzing around a flower getting its silly little bee legs covered in pollen and not be able to muster at least a hint of a smile.

In my case, doing just that gave me the little spark of hope I needed to be able to show up for my mum – and being able to make her day better helped make mine better too.

Since time immemorial, people have died in the same breath that others have been born. People have fallen in love at the same time others have had their hearts broken, people have lost their homes as others have moved into new ones. People have had the best days of their lives while others have had their worst.

The suffering we’re all feeling right now is not new, but before, we had to disconnect in order to survive – we couldn’t raise children or hunt and gather food or water if we were too depressed to move.

We couldn’t build new homes if we spent all day lamenting the ones lost. We’d all be hungry, thirsty, and out in the cold. We had to funnel that energy into survival, into community, and into ourselves and each other.

Now, with our worlds in our pocket – and often our jobs, communities, and lives all muddled together in there too – we have to force ourselves to disconnect to do the same thing.

If you need, reach out to a friend, go for a walk. Find a way to heal and process in community. Join a craft class. Build something. Do something creative. Go and gather yourself some groceries or hunt out a little treat. Hell, watch your favourite childhood Disney movie. We all need escapism sometimes.

Just try to be nice to yourself – and each other. It’s a tough old world out there, and we’re all we have. But together, with full cups, I’m sure we’ll find our ways to change the world.

I love you.

Cassie x

Some things we can do right now:

  • Reach out to friends – especially ones affected by all the things happening in the world. Ask them if there’s anything they need, and tell them you love them.
  • Journal your feelings to get them out of your head and give you some mental breathing room.
  • Get out in nature and remind yourself of how beautiful this world can be – even if it sucks sometimes.
  • Fact check anything you share online.
  • Try not to engage with the trolls in comment sections.
  • Write to your MP, sign letters and petitions, and attend peaceful protests.
  • Donate to organisations like World Central Kitchen – a phenomenal NGO I worked with when I was doing volcano relief work in Guatemala. Their entire ethos is about providing food to people who are suffering and in need and right now they’re on the ground feeding people in Gaza as well as refugees and displaced people in Israel and neighbouring countries.**

**In one of my earlier drafts, I talked about my experience in disaster relief and witnessing the UN/Red Cross/International Community in times of conflict and crisis, and how much I struggled with the red tape and politics behind it all.

In the end, I cut it in the interest of word count and flow, but I just wanted to explain that any personal recommendations are shared as a result of my own hands-on experiences.

While I abhor the human rights abuses happening in Gaza right now, I also believe access to food and water is a human right, and support WCK in their efforts to feed innocent and displaced people and children caught up on all sides of the conflict. This stance also means they’re able to move freely across the region, reaching those who need them the most, saving more lives, and giving more people hope and humanity in the process.

Lastly, in the interests of transparency, all donations to WCK go to supporting all their current relief efforts.

Right now, they are also supporting people affected by the war in Ukraine, the earthquakes in Morocco and Afghanistan, and the refugee crisis in Armenia.

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