Yesterday, I had coffee with one of the most amazing women I have ever met, whom I will name “Liz.” I originally met Liz—who is retired and in her 70s—at a party where she was drinking, laughing, and telling us about her upcoming trip to bring solar power and education to people in Uganda and Ethiopia. We talked and sang oldies into the night, and I knew that I needed to know Liz better.
At coffee, I spoke to Liz about her life. I could feel her joy and sometimes her sadness. But I could also tell that Liz had truly spent her days living. She spent 20 years of her life in love with a man who later died doing the dangerous sport that he loved. She spent time partying in parking lots outside of the hospital where she worked as a nurse. She read everything, travelled to countries all over the globe, and went backpacking on her 3 day weekends. Talking to Liz, who is now my oldest friend, filled me with life and energy. It made me want to live the kind of life she has lived.
Sometimes, the idea of even leaving the house in the evenings can feel like torture and all I want to do is turn on Netflix and zone out. But Liz reminded me that self-care also involves doing things that challenge us, inspire us, and connect us to others. Never married, but never without love and connection, Liz has spent her life doing the things she loved and constantly trying new things. She pushes herself—continually—to help others, to go to foreign countries, to learn to cook strange, elaborate meals without running water, and to take off on a whim to go see the wildflowers in Texas.
We all deserve a life like Liz, and we all have that life inside of us. Part of our challenge is to find out what inspires us. This is why much of my work as a therapist is about helping people understand and reconnect with who they truly are. Part of this work comes from reflecting, and part of it comes from acting.
To guide ourselves towards remembering who we are, we can ask some questions: What are the people and activities in my life that give me energy? What are these people and activities like? If I had an entire day to spend doing exactly what I wanted, what would I do?
Sometimes these questions can be difficult to answer because it’s hard to get out of the mindset of obligations and the things that limit us. For example, we might be so focused on taking care of kids, or trying to live within a budget that we don’t even consider some answers to these questions.
Here it can be helpful to recall the past: What were the things that gave me joy as a child? What memories light me up? What do these memories have in common? What people have been important to me throughout the years?
For me, reading and writing have always given me joy. My best memories are of being active, especially while barefoot. I love to think of going rollerblading on a trail in the country with my dad and brother and then swimming in the river as an 8 year old girl. I love to think of eating and making wonderful food with my friends. I love being outside and in the garden. I love playing and pretending to be someone I’m not.
Realizing that I needed to challenge myself and be present for my life is how I first got involved with improv comedy, which has been one of the most meaningful things that I’ve ever done. I was missing creativity and play in my life as a therapist for children with sexual behavioral problems, but I was so terrified to go to that first class that I almost threw up. 2 years later, I can say that the decision to drag my brother to a drop in class has been immeasurably important to my self-growth, relationships, opportunities, and personal happiness.
Though it’s easy to talk about challenging ourselves, the truth is that pain and fear often hold us back. On top of trying new things and being in the world, Liz also had gratitude for even her most painful experiences. After talking to me about her lover of 20 years, and recounting to me the last time she saw his smile before he died, she said. “He was the love of my life.” And then, with tears in her eyes, “isn’t love wonderful.”
Everyday we get up, we have a choice. We can let depression, anxiety and sadness guide our days and make the day seem like something we must trudge through, or we can move towards what we love. We can take that energy, which often manifests as anxiety, and make it into something so that we are creating, helping the world, and loving others. We can see love as full of loss, or we can see love, even with all its pain and complications, as ‘wonderful.’
Emma Kobil is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Denver, Colorado. Her philosophically informed therapeutic approach is designed to foster a sense of strength, understanding, and joy. Her expertise focuses on adults, adolescents and teens suffering from depression, anxiety, self-esteem and identity issues, and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Learn more about Emma, or schedule an appointment, at mindfulcounselingdenver.com.