Tag Archives: negativity

Ringing in the New– In Which I Disembark the Struggle Bus and Celebrate Myself as I Really Am

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A funny thing happened after I gave my notice of resignation at the place where I worked for over a decade.

I started hearing things like, What is this place going to do without you?  You’re a rock here; I can’t believe you’re leaving!  You’ll be so missed.  How will your program run without you? You’ve made sizable contributions to this agency.  I’m sad to see you leave.    

People expressed heartfelt respect, admiration, and affection for me and for the work I’d done for the community.  While people were happy for me, some expressed fear, worry and some even cried.  The reactions of my clients was very similar to that of my coworkers.

It was surprising to me, and initially was difficult for me to accept the kind words.  I thought maybe people were just being nice, or maybe they were just flattering me.  The compliments felt awkward for me to hear, and it took me a few days to realize they were utterly gracious and genuine.

I’d never felt that way about myself in that job.

I’d felt overworked, stressed, frustrated, burnt-out, and traumatized.

I’d never felt valued or like I was doing much more than showing up day after day.  It was really hard to see any change in the clients with whom I worked, so deep was their trauma, poverty, and despair.

The vicarious trauma of over a decade of riding this struggle bus to and from work took its toll on me emotionally and physically.  But I continued to show up.

Sometimes showing up is about all you can do.

It makes me think of Super Grover from Sesame Street, who’s motto is “I show up.”

It is hard to celebrate that just showing up is a worthwhile endeavor.

It also can be hard to see ourselves and appreciate ourselves as others do, to appreciate our strengths and not focus on all our short-comings.

While my new job will be in the same field, it will have a lot less focus on poverty and trauma.  Working with a high-risk population is a very worth endeavor, however it can deplete our resources quicker than we can replenish them, even while attempting to practice the best self care.

For a long time, I beat myself up for not being able to hack it as well as I wanted in this field.  I blamed myself for not being strong enough or good enough to balance everything.  Looking at things from a different angle now, I see it wasn’t me at all.  It was the job.

I did my best.

Accepting a new position at a new agency isn’t just the start of a new job.  It is changing my life.

I’ll be working less hours with less stress.  I’ll have more time to focus on taking care of myself and my family.  I’ll also have more energy for honing my clinical skills as opposed to the constant fire fighting of chronic crisis work.

I’m already feeling a difference in the lightness of my spirit.  I’ve been more present with my family as my psychic space has opened up.

I have a couple more weeks before I start my new job.  They will not be particularly easy, as I say good bye to a lot of people for whom I really care.  But as I complete this circle in a loop of my journey, I will be able to accept people’s kind words about me and know they are true and deserved.

It’s the Most Wonderful (Read “Complicated”) Time of the Year for Family Issues

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IMG_6540There is nothing like the holiday season to bring out the fun in dysfunctional families.  Complex family dynamics hit me like a sheet of soggy snow sliding off a roof every year. 

My family is a bizarre, blended mishmash of political dichotomies.  Take me, on the faaaarrr left, for example.  I am about as liberal as they come–  a social worker who believes in equal rights for all, and sees a lot of shades of gray.  I do have a line I draw in the sand on vaccinations (adamantly for them), eating my own placenta (not gonna’ do it), and bringing children to Burning Man (no way, no how).  I also won’t allow my children to watch movies with smoking or swears, but other than that, it’s pretty much all fair game.   

On the other side of the spectrum, there is my extended family of way-far-right-wing-born-again relatives.  Think Tea Baggers and Billy Graham. 

I don’t write about my family often, outside of my children and husband, for several reasons.  One, I respect their privacy.  Two, they are just not all that relevent to my mommy blog.  And three, I struggle to articulate how confused and ooogy they make me feel. 

On one hand, I feel bad my children don’t know that side of my family better.  I also fear those relatives judge me harshly for not visiting more often, which makes me want to visit more often even less. 

On the other hand, sometimes a little distance is best, and sometimes a lot of distance is even better.  A few hours every few years is just about all I can handle. 

I am friends on Facebook with some of them, and for the most part it is cordial.  My cousins and I set aside our religious and political differences to admire pictures of each other’s children and marvel at how fast they are growing. 

But every once in a while, things get a bit tense. 

For example, last year, after watching the Netflix documentary, Blackfish, I posted about human hubris at keeping gigantic sea mammals in bathtubs, and ranted a bit about animal cruelty in general.  I mean, it just seemed like common sense to me, and most of my pals online agreed.  One of my relations, however, took offense and posted how wrong I was because “humans are created in God’s image, and animals do not have souls.”  She went on to accuse me of having “a radical agenda.”  Mmmmmkay. . . 

I responded that there were heaps of Hindus who would disagree with that as they are worshipping their cows, and what makes Christianity the only “right” religion anyway?  And besides that, just look in the eyes of an orangutan and tell me it doesn’t have a soul?! 

After a couple of days of rumination, I eventually let it go and got on with my life. 

Then at my uncle’s funeral, paths (and wires) crossed again.  Some relatives sat extolling the benefits of formula because it makes babies sleep longer.  I bit my tongue to keep from shouting about how babies are supposed to wake frequently at night as it is biologically imperative to their survival, as is human milk.  I mean, if you have to feed your child formula because of whatever reason I have no judgement.  While I believe whole-heartedly in the benefits of breastmilk, I am happy as long as babies are fed.  But if you are feeding them formula to sedate them so you can get a few more minutes of shut-eye, I can cite a whole bunch of stuff about why that is not a great idea. 

I casually mentioned that neither of my children slept through the night until they were 18 months old.  Jaws dropped around the table.  Because, you know, if your children don’t sleep through the night at 8 weeks old it must mean you’re a bad parent. 

I explained that I didn’t believe in making them cry it out, and eventually they slept and it’s all good.  For the record, they are both great sleepers now.  They went on to another topic, one of politics, and made some biting remarks about “those liberals.”  Again, I bit my tongue. 

When bidding my farewells, the same relative who got up in arms over my Blackfish rant suggested I, “Get some sleep, and get a life.”  I”m not sure if she meant it quite so snarkily, but it felt that way. 

While I try to follow the Dalai Lama’s advice and “not let the actions of others affect my inner peace,” it does hurt.  I want my family to love me, and I want them to know I am a good, hard-working person who tries to be fair and loving in all that I do.  I’m a good mom and a faithful wife.  I value kindness almost above everything. 

I’m liberal, but I’m lovable too, god damnit! 

So, it was once again disheartening when my relative posted a passive-aggressive snark on my Facebook.  I had posted a link to an article about the top conservative corporations to avoid.  Again, this seems like a no-brainer to me.  Chick-Fil-A=gay bashers.  Cracker Barrell=racist/anti-gay.  Walmart=indentured servitude.  Hobby Lobby=anti-woman’s rights.  Isn’t bashing people and infringing on basic human rights a bad thing in America? 

The relative posted, “Thanks for posting this.  I am a proud right-winger and will continue to support infant lives and human decency.” 

Human decency

My sensitive and obsessive little brain immediately took this to mean my relative thought I was an indecent excuse of a human. 

I interpreted the comment to mean:  I will continue to eat my chicken with a side of hatred, and buy products from slave labor in China that keep Americans in poverty because my beliefs are more important and they are the only ones that are right.  I will continue to buy from corporations that want to set women’s liberation back hundreds of years, and in case there is any doubt about it, you are no longer welcome at my home.   

I didn’t reply.  My finger hovered over the “unfriend” button, but did not press it. 

I tried to be grateful for the comment, hurtful as it was.  I tried to respect, accept, and appreciate where my relative was coming from. 

I tried to be thankful that it opened my eyes to the 1% of my Facebook friend population that is not as open-minded as I am, and that maybe I might offend someone with my radical posts about attachment parenting, breastfeeding, and human rights.  I live in a fairly liberal part of the country, and was raised by very socially conscious and liberal parents.  Sometimes I forget that not everyone thinks like me.  So, in some ways, it was a good reminder. 

In another way, it was a really terrible reminder of how depressing and regressive much our fine country’s mentality remains when it comes to people of color, women, people living in poverty, and the LGBTQQ population. 

It felt uncomfortable and sad.  It seemed strange that almost a year to the day since this relative’s last comment, they were making another.  In a way, these comments coming right at the holidays served to remind me how different and distant I am from my kin at a time when we are all supposed to be hugging around a tree, getting muzzy on eggnog.   

The relative who left the comments is actually someone who is highly educated, and who I used to really like and respect. 

Look.  I appreciate that there are always two sides of an argument.  But this just felt mean-spirited.  Like my relative was trying to put me in my place, and my place felt very much outside of the family circle. 

Because I have an extensively blended family, as does my husband, it is really hard to cover all the bases evenly with our relatives.  My extended, out-of-state family (to which this relative belongs) has only met my children a couple times.  I used to spend a lot of time out there when I was younger and single.     

On some level I accept this fact, and my own limitation to be spread already so thin.  On another level, I worry about what my family thinks of me, and feel a loss and sadness that there are gigantic chunks of my ancestry and herritage I will probably never know. 

Maybe, as usual, I am being overly sensitive.  Maybe I should be more careful about what I post on social media.  I really don’t like offending people.  I like family tension even less. While I enjoy the platform for witty banter among like-minded peers, I almost never post something if it is mean-spirited, contraversial, or intended to provoke diversive discourse.  And I never leave negative comments.  If I have nothing nice to say, I usually don’t say it, even if I feel I am in the right.  Or the left.  You get it.  Whatever. 

I wonder if my relative felt that my post was a personal attack on their views and beliefs, as I felt their comment to be an attack on not only me, but on millions of minorities who have struggled for basic rights and safety. 

I guess I don’t really mind that my relative disagreed with me, but I did mind the way in which they expressed it.  It just felt pointed.  And mean.  It made me scared to send them a Christmas card with the picture of my happy family in front of our new house, because I was scared it would get ripped and thrown in their conservative trash. 

Most families have some version of drama and dysfunction, and these dynamics can seem even more evident during the holidays.  Siblings revert to their childhood roles and squabbles.  In-laws bicker and try to control things.  It might be the festive and colorful lights only serve to make all our old hurts, insecurities, and grudges more blatant during what is ironically called, “the most wonderful time of the year!“.       

Isn’t there a way we can all love one another in spite of all our differences and get along in honor of this season of light and hope? 

I don’t know the answer.

But I am glad I won’t be travelling in the direction of that relative this holiday season.

Finally, for the record, I am an incredibly decent person who is raising amazingly decent children who will have a delightfully liberal regard for what we consider “human decency.”  Just in case there was any question.   

Peace on Earth.  Happy wishes to all.  Momaste.  The mom in me bows to the mom in you. 

What family stuff will you be experiencing this season? 

Haters Gonna’ Hate, I Do Suppose

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When I get up in the morning, I am usually excited to see if there are any notifications on my blog, since some of my readers live in various time-zones, and read my posts while I am fast asleep.

This morning, I awoke to find a comment wishing me a speedy death from breast cancer in response to a post I’d written a couple months ago.

I try to keep away from extremely controversial topics here at Momaste, because it doesn’t really “fit” with the vibe of my blog and site.  While I’ve made myself very vulnerable, at times, in my writing, I try my hardest not to criticize anyone other than myself.

My intent is certainly never to enrage anyone as I write my truth.

I began blogging because I wanted to create a positive little pocket of support, grace, and encouragement in the universe.  For the most part, my readers have become friends, and have showed deepest lovingkindness and respect while visiting here.  I’ve said before, and I will say again, it never ceases to amaze me how generous and awesome people can be.

That said, I will add that I try really hard not to be judgmental of others, and try really hard to be mindful of when I am being judgey-wudgy because I do not like or enjoy feeling that way.  I find that usually it is because an issue raised is making me insecure, angry, or confused and I don’t like those feelings, as opposed to actually having a bona fide problem with whatever the issue is.

I do not find that judgement, hatred, or cruelty lead to any constructive understanding.

So. . .  following that logic, wishing me breast cancer will not convey anything to me other than ignorance and extremism.  You may find this incredulous, but I don’t take it personally, either.  I read a comment like that for exactly what it is.  If you know me at all, you will know that I am deeply flawed and insecure, however I have been blessed with just enough ego strength and confidence to not be offended.  And you should also know that it does not make me “see your side” of the situation.

I’m going to say this once, and then hopefully will never have to say it again (said in deepest, most grounded “mom voice”):  comments like the one left to me this morning will be immediately deleted, and hereafter will garner no response.

I debated if I was even going to dignify this issue with a response, and then decided I would address it.  Again this is not because I take it personally or fear someone’s wrath, but because I want to keep Momaste a safe and happy environment for my other readers and friends.

We all have different thoughts and opinions.  If I offend you that deeply for my choices, whether they are right or wrong, whether they cause me pain or regret, whether I stand by them with my whole heart, then please go away and do not read my blog.

To the rest of my community here, you guys are total awesome-sauce.  Big love and momaste.

I. Don’t. Like. You.

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Sometimes the universe reminds me why mindfulness is so important.  I also get reminded not to take myself so seriously.

One of these reminders came in the form of a client’s mother telling me she didn’t like me.  Without giving too many details (confidentiality and all), a mother called me to request a change in clinician.  When I asked for a little clarification she stated, “Because I don’t like you,” annunciating each word so there could be no mistaking her reasoning.

Taken aback, I let her know she was within her rights to request a change, but I would love to meet with them again to see if we could work through things.

No dice.

“You’re just not nice,” she told me.  I let her know I understood and that I would be in touch after I transferred her case.

I hung up the phone feeling wonder and confusion.   I mean, I consider myself to be generally pretty likable, especially to the kids and parents with whom I work, since I am always on my best professional and most engaging behavior.  But as a therapist, I have firm boundaries and set rules in my office with children and their parents.  I suppose that could come across as prickly or “not nice” in some cases.

Who knows?

I wasn’t hurt or offended at all, just kind of dazed.  I felt good that the mom had the guts to advocate for her child.  We don’t all like one another all the time and that’s okay.

A few days later, I was driving home from picking up pizza for my family and the situation came up in my mind again.

I realized that mom gave me a gift.  Without even realizing it at first, I started tuning in to how I connect with my clients.  Over the days following my conversation with that mother, I found myself much more mindful during my sessions, aware of where I was in relation to the family physically, emotionally, and professionally.

When I tell people what I do for a living they react by saying, “Wow, that must be so rewarding!”  or, “Wow, that must be so hard!”  While I would love to tell you it is really rewarding, it would be much more honest to tell you it is mostly hard.  I work with a really difficult population of families with severe and persistent mental health issues who live in pretty stark poverty.

Progress is measured in millimeters.  We don’t have “Eureka!” moments on a couch.

I sit with people who suffered traumas worse than anything Stephen King could dream up, and while I am often humbled by their resilience, there are also many times I am frustrated by limitations–  lack of basic needs for the poor, lack of understanding by other systems, lack of funding by insurance companies, and also the limitations that trauma has inflicted on the people with whom I attempt to work.

There are also times when it is really hard to put my own life on the shelf to deal with the crises of others.  Times when my own children are sick and I have to leave them at home to go to work.  Times when someone in my own family is suffering.  Times when I am just plain tired or hungry or have to pee.

So, I’m not always sitting there finding the joy in my craft, and I’m not always 100% mindful.  While I consider myself professional, I’m sure there are days when maybe I am less than present.

Those days of mindful awareness during my sessions were nice.  I realized that when I can be present in the moment, I am a lot closer to the joy because I am free of the other worries and frustrations.  It might not always be attainable, but it is something to reach for.

My gratitude goes out to that mom who doesn’t like me.  I thank her for letting me know in such a clear fashion.

Did you ever have a time when what could have been insulting turned out to be a gift?  

 

This Post Brought To You By The Sun

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I thought I should take a moment to give you a brief update, after the somewhat maudlin post about my mood I wrote a couple weeks ago.

Things have been mostly better.  The convergence of a few factors seem to have positively influenced my ill temper.  First, I blogged it out, and that almost always makes me feel better.  Second, you all wrote in such amazing, supportive, and empathetic comments- the effect of which was profound.  So, thanks for that!

Third, I got my period.  Um, yeah, sorry if that is TMI, but as I get older, my PMS gets more erratic and abundant.  I have about ten days a month where my hormones seem stable, my head is clear, and my mood is upbeat.  I’ll leave it at that.

Fourth, things at work have been a little less insane (no pun intended, haha!), which has made a tiny amount of psychic space more available.

And finally, I believe it is no coincidence that the sun has been beaming.  Even on the days when it is still bitterly cold, the clean, clear light prevails as a natural mood enhancer.  While the weekdays have been frigid over the past two weeks, the weekends have actually been quite mild.  So, I’ve gotten my blubbery body out of doors with the hubs and kids in tow.  We’ve gone walking down by the bay, and splashed around the muddy playground.  I got a couple of power walks and the endorphin surge was euphoric!

There have been times over the past couple weeks when I’ve been grouchy or have felt hopeless.  But they have been moments as opposed to entire days.  I’m thinking maybe I’m pulling up and out of the depression, and that maybe spring will see me back on a more even keel.  Fingers crossed!

A fellow blogger over at Psychobabble (great blog, check her out!) wrote a post about her own struggles with depression last week.  It really resonated with me.  It’s called Reminders, and is about trying to remember what feeling good is like when we are feeling bad.  She wrote about using journaling to record those good days, so there is something to go back and read to help us remember during the not so good.  Anyway, it was a great post, and helpful.

I don’t journal with paper and pen like I used to.  But I have Momaste.

So, even if the depressing feelings do resurface (and I know they probably will some day), this post can serve as a reminder for me about feeling good.

This post was brought to you by love and light and happy days.  Momaste!

Everything to Everyone

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A constant sense of needing to be everything to everyone at all times plagues me.

It sucks my will to live.

Even my sleep is interrupted two or three times per night by Emily, who has lost her pacifier.  “Bubbie pwease,” she calls out politely in the darkness.  I find and replace her bubbie and she quickly returns to dreamland while I lie there, awake and frustrated, unable to go back to sleep.

I think about clients that I need to assign and how I have no one to assign them to, so will have to take them onto my caseload, which is already bursting at the seams.

I think about the mountain of laundry outside my bedroom door, and wonder when I will find time to do it.

I think about how I haven’t talked to my friends in weeks because I am numb with exhaustion and have nothing to talk about because all my thoughts are frozen up somewhere in my brain.  I think about what a crappy person that makes me.

I think about my son and wonder in what sort of mood he will wake.

I think about chanting.  Om shanti, shanti, shanti.  Om shanti, shanti.  Om. 

I think about how much I hate the cat who is yowling at three a.m.

I think about how much I fucking want to go back to sleep.

My job is as stressful, I guess, and has become more so over the past months.  The program I supervise is short staffed, leaving a lot up to me.  But that isn’t the part that really gets to me– I’m organized and fast, so I get done what needs doing.

The part that stresses me is the unyielding drain on my psychic energy.  People show up in my office all day, every day in pain and turmoil, looking to me to help or guide them.  Some parents bring their children to me, fully expecting I have a magic answer.  I piss people off more than frequently when I explain therapy is a process.  It takes time.  I can only put in as much as they do, etc.  I don’t have a wand.

Then I come home and, without skipping a beat, here are my children looking to me to nurture and care for them.  After the initial joy of seeing their faces, I feel utterly depleted as I tidy up the house, get the children ready for bed, and debate if I can get away with not washing my face tonight because I am just too freaking tired.

Throughout the day there are these constant voices, talking, wanting, demanding- my children, my co-workers, my clients, my family.  I hear them, but I don’t.  I’m dizzy, spiritually dehydrated.

Social work has made me a crappy mom and motherhood has made me a crappy social worker.  There isn’t enough of me to go around.  Prickly cactus is the only thing that grows in the desert of my soul, and even it withers.

Maybe it is the bleak winter months.  Maybe it is a need for more physical activity.   Maybe I am eating too many carbs.

Maybe I am depressed.

Either way, I feel overwhelmed, drained, exhausted.

I have found myself at the bottom of a very deep, bone-dry well, licking the dusty stone at the bottom, looking up and praying for rain.

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Joy

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“I had focused on coming to terms with the unpleasant, unacceptable, embarassing, and painful things that I do.  In the process, I had very subtly forgotten about joy.” 

—  Pema Chodron, from Awakening Loving-Kindness, page 49. 

Find the joy.

This is my new motto.

After writing my posts about financial struggles and my frustration facing the expensive holidays, I happened upon a chapter about Joy in my itsy bitsy Pema Chodron primer, Awakening Loving-Kindness.  If I could, I would copy and paste the entire chapter into this post.  Since I do not want to be held responsible for copyright infringement, I will just talk about a couple of the parts that really resonated with me. 

Pema Chodron tells the story about a woman being pursued by tigers.  She ends up going over a cliff, and barely hanging on, she notices a little clump of strawberries.  “Tigers above, tigers below,” Chodron writes (page 52).  “This is actually the predicament we are always in, in terms of our birth and death.  Each moment is just what it is.  It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat.  We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.” 

I have a feeling this statement might be easier said than done.  In fact, I know beyond doubt it is easier said.  However, I also know opportunities exist where I can choose pleasure or despair. 

I’ve been focusing a lot on how much I suck, then grappling with self acceptance.  While this has been illuminating and helpful for me, I sort of want to shift my focus a bit.  I want to make a little more room for joy. 

I’ve started by simply repeating to myself, find the joy, whenever I think of it.  I also try telling myself to find the joy when I am feeling frustrated, bored, annoyed, or worried.  For example, I tried it the other night when Jack was being a nudge about something or other.  Instead of talking things out, he started to bawl, went into his room and slammed the door.  With a wry smile, I told myself find the joy.  Before I knew it, I had switched from feeling frustrated about my challenging child, to feeling proud of his strength and intensity.  I was able to remember all the things I loved about Jack without bringing myself down for that one moment of not being able to reach him. 

It had worked!  Go figure.

I’ve also started trying to pick up on the moments when I feel a fleeting sense of joy, and try to stay with it.  Sometimes I actually feel myself struggling against joyfulness.  What is that all about?  There are times when my kids are silly and laughing and instead of joining in the fun, I feel myself tighten up with stress that things are going to get out of control.  Would it be easier, I wonder, to just give in and smile and laugh too?  What stops me?   Why can’t I enjoy my children’s artwork strewn around the house instead of worrying about mess and clutter?  Why can’t I sing along with my son instead of rushing to hush him? 

What on earth could be so threatening about joy? 

Many months ago, Emily and I were in line at Trader Joe’s.  There was a tiny plant with yellow flowers on the counter by the cashier.  Emily admired it, so the clerk gave it to us for free.  It was a nice gesture.  I took the plant home and we enjoyed it until it wilted, then tossed it out onto the porch where it quickly became scorched in the summer sun.  But then we watered it, and it bounced back!  It actually grew and bloomed again! 

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My husband transplanted it from its tiny plastic pot into a mosaic planter a friend had given me decades ago that had been long empty.  The plant grew and flourished.  Now it resides on top of my fridge, thriving in that pretty pot. 

I get a jolt of pleasure every time I look at it, thinking about the day Emily and I were given the plant in a random gesture of kindness, of my friend who gave me the pot it is in, of the thoughtful gesture of my husband transplanting it, and of how resilient the silly, little plant has been.  I try to be mindful of this pleasure-jolt, and to stay with it for a few moments in the midst of the daily flurry.   

I want my kids to grow up and know joy.  I want them to choose to see the light and love and happiness in things, and I know my example in this matter is of utmost importance. 

The tigers are always going to be there.  Money woe.  Work stress.  Sleep deprivation.  Time constraints.  Worrying about my children.  Bickering with my husband.  Anxiety.  Depression.  General household frustration.  These things are always there above and below me, threatening to sink their teeth into my heart and soul.  It is not always easy to look away from these riveting rivals to find joy in a little plant, in a drawing from my son, in the sounds of laughter or song. 

But maybe it should be easier. 

Pema Chodron says, “You could connect with your joyfulness.  You could start right now.” 

I think I will. 

What brings you joy?  Do you ever struggle to feel joyful?  What stands in your way of joy?