Glitter has been sprinkled all over the water, and the light is blasting it to reflect like lasers into my retinas. The sound of a mild slosh hits the old wooden dock, and the 50-year-old metal rowboat with peeling green paint and a maroon Evinrude outboard stands ready, with poles hanging over the sides awaiting today’s fishing expedition.
Brilliant Morning Light
The tops of the trees are orange, while the shaded part of the pines remains deep greenish-blue as the trees eagerly await a sunbath when it rises further. The mountain in the distance is looking especially inviting today, as if to say, “Come, climb me on the first day.”
We arrived here in paradise late last night, ready to go into our two-week self-quarantine after breathing the mask-filtered air on an almost empty airplane. But oh! What a place to be stuck. A boat-access-only cabin that was built 140 years ago, and we have nothing to do but absorb its silence and dust its shelves. I’m ready.
Thirty Years and Counting
If I were counting, I would guess this is summer number 31 for me on these lakes. I first visited in 1988 or ’89 and never wanted to leave. I fell in love with the smell of pines and the stunning scenery of the mountains. These lakes have become my muse, first for photography and then, many years later, the joy of painting. Though I want to see the whole world, this is a part of the world I want as a constant in my life, a place to go for some mental downtime.
A Sea of Paintings
Last summer, as we were driving in from the airport, I saw things with fresh eyes and made a list of a hundred different spots I wanted to paint. Yet I barely painted all summer because moving into the old cabin and doing repairs and projects consumed all my time. Yet again this year, I’ve set my sights high, in hopes of painting daily this summer. Time will tell.
Like you, I’m tired of being stuck inside, and like you, I’ll self-isolate for a couple of weeks after arriving and avoid situations that put anyone else at risk. Thankfully, the wilderness does not put me in touch with anyone for miles if I’m out painting, fishing, or hiking. So, to the extent you can in your situation, try to get some fresh air and some time outside if possible.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health
Each of us is in a different situation, a different place, with different circumstances. But all of us have had to face things we’d never imagined were possible. We’ve been stuck inside, we’re not exercising as much, we’re not getting a healthy dose of social activities, and we’re eating differently. And with the double whammy of quarantines and unrest, we’re filled with uncertainty and fear. Perhaps we should consider what Roosevelt meant with his “nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Fearing fear is actually a wise thing. They did not have the science data we have now, but It turns out that fear triggers massive releases of cortisol in the brain, which actually impacts your thinking ability and launches you into a fight-or-flight mode. According to Psychology Today, “low-grade cortisol baths” seem to be the biggest immune system culprit of all. These “baths” are smaller influxes of cortisol all day long, primarily due to a stress-dominated thought process … “When added to the concept that your brain, in many ways, doesn’t know the difference between what you vividly imagine (or worry about) and what is real, you can see the damage your panic may be wreaking on your risk of contracting a circulating virus.”
They go on to say, “When stress, anxiety, worry, overwhelm, depression and isolation are left unchecked they actually reduce the effectiveness of your immune system and make you, and those around you, much more susceptible to getting sick.”
Not only does fear impact our physical health by weakening our immune system, causing cardiovascular damage, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome, it can accelerate aging and premature death. Fear also creates memory impairment and tends to “lock in,” making things worse by increasing anxiety. Fear causes brain processing impairment, which results in erratic decision-making, increased negativity, explosive behavior, and impulsive reactions. All of this then leads to fatigue. It seems to me that with COVID-19, our immune systems have to be our highest priority.
My Downward Spiral
This week I found myself glued to the TV, staying up watching protests and rioting until two in the morning, worrying about my community and our own safety. I stopped sleeping, tossing and turning all night. Laurie pointed out I was not myself. I had become grumpy, irritable, and negative, and I realized I was falling into a negative spiral. I was not my normal upbeat self. I was suddenly depressed, then started having some wine to self-medicate and escape, and of course I felt bad the next morning. I was defeated.
A Moment of Clarity
Upon awaking with a slight hangover and little sleep it struck me that I had to snap out of it, and not let my emotions drive me further down. I knew I had to lead my family, and with my daily broadcasts, lead my friends in the art world. So I worked hard to elevate my mood (yes, dancing like no one was watching with some loud music in my studio). I committed to eating right, exercising more, getting up and getting to bed earlier, and insulating myself from all the bad news. Though I check enough to get a minute or two of basic information, I’m no longer watching the TV news, no longer watching the unrest unfolding, no longer allowing that to dominate my thoughts. I’ve pulled away from social media and am unfriending everything negative.
Your Number One Priority
Your health, your mental well-being, has to be your number one priority. Without it you can’t make good decisions, can’t take care of your family, and can’t provide the emotional support others need. And if you allow your thoughts to destroy your immune system, you’ll fall deeper into the spiral and could get infected with the virus.
Is it time for you to consider the toll all this negativity is taking on you?
Once I got to the woods, to the lake, I realized just how keyed up I was, and how getting away has been such a relief. I did not know how badly it was impacting me till I changed my perspective.
Enough Is Enough
Psychologists tell me that worry and fear are usually unwarranted. We tend to amplify the story and then ruminate about it, but most of what we worry about, we cannot change. Change what you can, but don’t worry about the rest. So I’m officially declaring this the summer of joy.
The Summer of Joy
You deserve joy. You deserve laughter, fun, walks in the woods, time doing what you love with those you love. You deserve hugs, silliness, and happiness. And, after all you and I have been through, we need it and appreciate those things more than ever.
I for one refuse to allow anyone to destroy my joy. I’m going to protect myself by avoiding the news, avoiding social media (other than my daily broadcasts and reading the comments), and taking another break from all media. If the world ends, I’ll eventually find out. Meanwhile, life will be better and I’ll be happier.
Joy is not up to someone else, it’s up to you and me. We control our joy. We may get it from the actions of others, but we can get it by simply looking into ourselves and pulling it up like a great pair of happy socks. The media and social media are robbing us of our joy. If you want a summer of joy, you may want to consider a summer away from the things that are feeding fear. Just something to consider.
Control Your Reaction
Right now things feel like there is no end. No end to the virus and its possible return, maybe a lifetime of masks and distance. No end to the protests or the causes of the protests. We can’t control those things, but we can control how they are controlling our emotions and feeding our fear.
I want the best for you, I want you healthy, happy, strong, and vibrant. It’s OK to run from the fear, to hide out and put your head in the sand for a while, and consume yourself with fun distractions. In fact, it’s healthy.
Here’s to a summer of joy.
Distractions: I have lots of them if you want to learn about art.
- Free lessons for beginners at www.paintbynote.com
- Free daily broadcasts of art instruction samples at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. on YouTube Live (@streamlineartvideo), and I’m live daily at noon on Facebook and Instagram (@ericrhoads) and on Youtube (@streamlineartvideo)
Last summer I wrote about taking a digital holiday, getting away from the negativity of social media and all media. Today, social media and TV have become unbearable, and because of fear, fatigue, and explosive behavior, things are worse than ever.
I’d like to invite you to join me in putting my head in the sand. No, I’m not ignoring real issues we have to deal with, but our mental health is at risk.
I for one cannot sit night after night stimulating fear in my system. I’m not willing to allow current events to destroy my health, my life, and my mood.
And the reality is, I’ll change what I can change, but beyond that, my worry is a fool’s game.