In the spring of 2017, the women on my mom’s side of the family gathered in Austin to celebrate my aunt’s birthday. I come from a big extended family with a lot of smart, witty, and resilient women at its core. Aunts, cousins, mothers, and daughters with a connection that can’t be broken. Some of us go a year or more without seeing one another, but when we get back together, it’s like no time has passed at all. We are woven together by threads of outspokenness, love, brutal honesty, and a tendency to drink too much wine and cry over everything. So needless to say, the weekend we spent together was one of my most memorable. I love that every time we gather, I learn something new about these women I get to call family. A struggle someone overcame, a lesson in womanhood, or the discovery of a perfect pair of jeans (on sale!).
One day we were sitting around (drinking wine) and talking about exercise and other wellness regimens. One of my cousins, with her signature tell-it-like-it-is attitude, said, “Routines just bum me out.” Man, I love her. In many ways, she’s right. Routines can be so stale, holding us back from the excitement and exhilaration that comes with spontaneity. Whenever I feel like my daily life has become a little stagnant, I remember my cousin, perched on the couch with an easy smile and an air of confidence I have always admired, speaking her truth. To speak my truth, routines do not bum me out! I have always been an advocate for routines and commitment to “the process”. Creating daily habits and rituals that will take you from where you are now to where you want to go or help you maintain the things you’ve already accomplished. However, I have recently shifted my perspective to value the ability to adapt just as much as I value the ability to commit to routines.
About a year ago, I started considering certain daily actions as “grounding practices”, rather than “routines”. I started picking up on small activities throughout the day to which I could give deeper meaning. It started with my morning coffee - sipping slowly in bed before starting my day. Then I added a new, simple skincare routine for morning and night. What I didn’t realize at the time of establishing these practices, is that I was setting myself up with simple mechanisms for saving myself in times of strife. Life preservers for the inevitable flood of mortality. Practices that could not be taken away from me, even during life’s most vicious storms. The problem with elaborate, inflexible routines is that life will always show up to disrupt you, and amidst the chaos, you will have to learn how to adapt without going completely off the rails. Your car will break down. You’ll get the flu. Your favorite fitness instructor will move away. Or in the worst case scenario, you will lose something so precious to you that your entire life and worldview crumbles. And with it, your routine crumbles too. Are you ready to adapt?
The worst case scenario is what happened to me. In May, my baby girl died just hours before she should’ve been delivered alive. My world fell apart. I am still broken. I still feel like I’m drowning. I still live in fear of the next tragedy. I still battle anxiety and desperation in some way every day. And in the middle of all of this devastation and turmoil, I cling to the smallest of actions that keep me grounded. My routine went out the window, but my grounding practices remained. In the very early days after we lost Marie, I would stand in front of the mirror, apply my moisturizer, and spritz my face with rosewater spray. This was my skincare routine, and had been for many months. I would take a deep breath and congratulate myself for this small action. “Look at you, taking care of yourself. You are still here. You are still living.” I had no desire to put on makeup or do my hair. I didn’t for at least a month. In fact, I barely did anything at all. But something about this tiny act of self-care reminded me that a sliver of the human being I was before this loss was still there. It tethered me to life, when all my heart wanted to do was spiral into the depths of darkness.
Sometimes I feel like a doomsday prophet...constantly reminding people that really terrible things will happen. I don’t want to scare you or make you think negative thoughts, but I want you to be ready to adapt. I want you to look at the small things in your life, and give them meaning. Pick a few things that can’t be taken away from you - and I say “a few” because you always need a failsafe. One day you’ll wake up and realize you’re out of coffee, or you’ll drop your bottle of rosewater spray on the bathroom floor and it will shatter into a million pieces (can you tell I’m speaking from experience here??). Life is imperfect. Life is beautiful. We can’t have one without the other. So if you’re like my cousin and routines bum you out, don’t put pressure on yourself to ascribe to some elaborate, hour by hour regimen from which you refuse to stray. Life is going to throw a wrench in your plans, eventually. My advice is to stick to “grounding practices”. Small actions that might seem meaningless to an outsider, but in those actions, you take a deep breath and connect to the gift of your existence. You remember that when the storm surrounds you, there are ways to stay grounded. To stay tethered to your voice within. To stay connected to your muse.
If you only look back at what life has taken from you, or you dwell on all of the ways life has disrupted your precious routine, you’re going to feel heavy. It’s going to bum you out - the understatement of the century when you’re dealing with a major loss. Prepare yourself to adapt. Give the small things in your life meaning, before big things are taken from you. And as you eventually experience change and start to create your new normal in the aftermath of that change, you can remain grounded in those things that remind you who you are at your core.