This Autumn found me in a periwinkle blue funk. Life is great and I’m incredibly blessed, but in a funk I was nonetheless. Of course, Seasonal Affective Disorder runs in my family so I blamed it on that and scarfed Vitamin D.
Then we adopted two adorable little kittens, Cuddles and Snuggles (Cuddly and Snuggly for short) and suddenly, voila! My funk was a thing of the past. To quote Phil Robertson, I was “happy, happy, happy.”
So what changed, I mean, apart from that new delightfully fishy smell of kitten breath in the morning? I was busy. VERY BUSY! Instead of my brain trudging the same ol’ post-narcissistic-abuse paths of introspection, suddenly I was busy, busy, busy with, y’know, kitty stuff. I let everything go to feed, pet, cuddle, chase, clean up after, wash, play with, pet, search for, find, disentangle, scold, rescue again, brush, love, delete their “butt typing” cause I cannot keep them off the computer, clean up after (oh! I said that) and be bitten, stabbed, pierced and scratched by two loving, purring, personality-plus, very vocal six-week-old, one pound kittens who are into e-v-e-r-y–h-i-n-g. And not just things on a horizontal plane. Oh no! They climb!!!! LOL (Who knew the edge of a pillowcase could be so much fun just to chew on! Cats certainly know how to enjoy the simple things in life.)
One week later, things calmed down a bit and I felt a smidgen of slippage back into that ol’ funk. Noooooooooooooo!!!! I put on my brakes like a kitten who’s stepped in her own poo and is facing a sink bath. I don’t want to go back there. I want to stay happy, happy, happy. And the key? STAY BUSY, BUSY, BUSY.
Our grandparents knew that trick. I suppose that’s why so many of our grandmothers cleaned, cleaned, cleaned and then cleaned some more. When my great-grandmother got too old for house and garden work, she lost her drive for life and died soon thereafter. But this article isn’t about working yourself to death. It’s abut keeping your mind busy, busy, busy so you’ll be happy, happy, happy. Boredom is the enemy!
Back in the dim, distant past, I read a book called Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential. It was about the unique challenges of those with high IQs. It particularly explained how the reticular activating system (RAS) of a “gifted” brain must be fed with constant information or, well! Bad things happen. Very bad! Basically, the RAS is the gearbox of the brain. It requires constant feeding or it grinds too slowly, rather like trying to bicycle up a hill in the wrong gear. It’s torturous when your RAS begins to grind. If you have a particularly hungry RAS and fail to feed it and keep it busy, guess what? You’re going to be one unhappy camper.
Which brings me to Thoreau. (Stick with me here! I promise all the seemingly loose ends of this article will come together in a nice tidy bow soon!) Every person who’s thrown houses and jobs up for “the simple life” on the open road in a camper or RV has a copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in their back pocket. He was their inspiration to pursue the simple life. And while I agree with Thoreau’s whole “and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” thing, let me tell you the dirty little secret about The Simple Life: 1) it doesn’t exist and 2) you wouldn’t want it.
We all dream about living the simple life. Perhaps our dream home is a cottage in the mountains, an old lighthouse on a seashore or an RV trundling down Route 66. Ah, the simple life we sigh from our desk jobs. Maybe when I retire….. Let me tell you something about the simple life from experience because, as far as humanly possible, my husband I actually live the simple life. First, it doesn’t exist. Just because you embrace simplicity, normal life stuff still happens.
Cottages need upkeep and lots of it. RVs break down and repairs are expensive. There are still doctor appointments to keep and bills to pay. And, of course, there’s always the everyday work of cooking, cleaning, laundry, grassmowing, garden weeding, house repairs, form filling, paper filing, dog baths, kitten care and once a year, nasty taxes. If you’re living a small and simple life, you probably don’t have a lot of room nor a lot of money. So that means no accountant, no dryer, no dishwasher, no handyman, no lawn service. You do everything for yourself. Simple life…my ass!
But on the other hand, you wouldn’t want life to be too simple. Your job, hated or not, gives you identity and self-esteem. Free time seems like a treasure when you’re “working nine to five, what a way to make a living, barely gettin’ by, it’s all taking and no giving” but when you actually get it…uff da! What a shock. What to do with all that extra time!? A 2016 study over eighteen years discovered that retirees had between a 12% and 25% chance of kicking the bucket after retiring. Both you and I know of many people who died within, oh, about two years of retiring. Let’s face it: As much as you may hate your job, it does keep your brain busy.
Busy! You’ve got to keep the brain busy to not only stay happy…but to stay alive! Gotta keep feeding that little ol’ RAS to keep it chugging along. Internal work, journaling and recovering from narcissistic abuse can feed the RAS for a few years, but after awhile, you will realize that the pain will never really go away because the past cannot be changed. When your narcissism obsession wanes, you’ll know its time to reassimilate into “normal” life and learn how to live-live-live perhaps for the first time.
But what will your replace your “narcissism passion” with to keep your RAS fed? Aye, that’s both the scary and the fun part. When I was going through the purgatory of recovery, my husband often encouraged me to find my passion so I would find my happiness. But it was too early. I felt rushed. I wasn’t ready and I definitely had no idea where my passion, my happiness lay.
Five years on, it’s come. My passion is food. I’m a hardcore foodie. Oh! Not in a gluttony way, not even in a cooking way. In an information way. I simply can’t learn enough about food: how to cook it properly; hacks for cooking it even better; how and what people eat worldwide (deep-fried tarantulas!?!); molecular gastronomy; culinary science and the men and women who are at the top of the culinary food chain. Food photography. Culinary competitions. Chef autobiographies. If it’s about the food world, I love it. And looking back, I always have. The passion for learning about food was born as a little girl when I wiped (and smelled) all my mom’s spice bottles and poured over her copy of the beautifully illustrated 1978 Betty Crocker Cookbook. I loved that book so much I bought my own vintage copy off eBay. Heck! The passion even spawned a new blog: Gastronomy Meets Psychology.
The trick is not to feel guilty for your passion. I struggled with that. Like being a foodie meant I was a glutton. Or it was a stupid passion or whatever. If you love something, go for it. Work hard at your passion, devote yourself to feeding your RAS. Don’t let anyone guilt, shame or put you down for your God-given passion. It’s just how He wired you. Go with it!
Learning about food is an endless lifelong journey that, three times a day, expresses itself in a sort-of climax when I enter my own kitchen to cook a meal. Between you, me and the fencepost, I don’t actually enjoy cooking – but my foodie passion makes it fun. I rarely make the same dish twice. That’s be boring drudgery. (Tip of the Day: You can turn a $1 tough chuck steak into a delicacy by cooking it to a perfect rare with a blowtorch.)
So what do you love that will keep you interested for a lifetime? What was your passion as a kid. Too much introspection can be bad for the soul. It needs to be balanced with a passion to learn something else. Do you want to be happy? Stay busy, busy, busy!! Learn, learn, learn! Don’t ever give up on your appetite for learning and for life.