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On a Satin Dime
by Jill Hodge
I can make it through the week with a pocketful of candies
To help me plaster on a smile, that’s syrupy and sweet.
I can fool myself, hands tied behind my back as I slide down the wicked slide
But only for so long
I can look between the trees to see what lies beyond
While moss grows up the trunk and sap rolls down my roots
They meet me in my crevice and strangle by my feet
So that walking stops, as does the breath. Across a brutal way, basic and replete
Hush the wind as pounds beat my temple, and find me half asleep
But as I feel this bitter sheath
there rises up a simmer then a boil
the other side begins to speak
Of sassafras, blackberry, bold and prime
Echoes of past days bursting at the seams
Laughter did billow like marshmallow dreams
I know this too is life and so I wait through heavy times
for a new day when things do show how life can turn
fast and quick, on a satin dime
Why do my poems start out dark and then lead themselves toward brightness? Because I am by nature resilient. Because I can’t take it when life feels broken for days on end. Because I find hope in small gestures, natural beauty, and primal beats. I find the bright side of the beat, and I want you to find it too. I won’t try to cover up my pain, or yours, but I will open the door to comfort for both of us. We need that.
The Roots of Authentic Positivity
Let's explore positivity. Not the sweet version of positivity where butterflies fly around our heads and we talk about how blessed every day is. But a more nuanced sense of positivity. One that’s tied to building resilience. I may take a meandering road, I may fall apart for a time, I may cry, or yell, or take a faulty step, but I always manage to come back to what’s good in my life. What I feel blessed over. It’s part of my nature and something that I developed during my early childhood.
But, I do have moments when I’m down and stages of life where I've lived with depression. The last few years have been particularly rough. That’s one reason why I created my podcast—I wanted to move forward and look for and cultivate the positive takeaways of the dark times as I dealt with my mom’s dementia.
There are different sides to this experience—the darker side of watching her lose herself (her independence, her thinking, and her communication skills) and of losing her slowly with each new stroke and health crisis. On the other hand, while I wouldn’t exactly call it a positive feeling, I do have a growing sense of peace about this long and slow transition toward that inevitable time when she won’t be around. When she’ll die. It’s hard for me to even say that word, but these months and years have helped me get it out and face it. Lately, I realize that the slowness of the transition, while exhausting and terrible at times, has prepared me to say goodbye to her in phases (and to discover who I will be when she isn’t here anymore).
I think in our desire to feel better and happier, we’ve tried to simplify what it means to live a happy life by looking for a list of tools. We try to reduce our concept of what it takes to be happier into a series of orderly steps (perhaps from some top 10 list), but it's starting to feel harder and harder to justify that simplistic view of positivity given the state of the world, and the hard times we’ve had (whether that be from the pandemic, economic stress, natural disasters or deteriorating race relations). Somehow advice to get a facial, take a bubble bath, or walk in nature doesn’t cut it anymore (and on its own, it’s not really a framework from which to heal). We need more resources on the healing process—and that isn’t the same as a list of enjoyable or even healing activities. We need more insight into both how to fortify ourselves against pain and how to sit with it. I think that’s especially true if we are in a transitional time in our life. A transition to college, leaving a job, dealing with a health issue, or saying goodbye to a family member.
The combination of emotions that I felt—anger, sadness, frustration, fear, and life-sucking fatigue due to my mom’s health crisis could not be overcome by a quiet night of reading a favorite book with a cup of coffee. There were physical and emotional wounds that needed healing, and a surface mode of self-care just wouldn't cut it. Even typically helpful self-care acts like talking to a friend felt like too much.
Cultivating Patterns of Resilience
So I’ve been thinking about what I relied on during those times. How did I manage to bounce back and recoup my resilience after many nights of exhaustive sadness and pain and crisis? In some ways, the answer was easy—I returned to my natural state—I returned to the person that I am, one who needs to cry things out and feel depressed, even numb for a while, before pulling myself up, regrouping, and beginning to look again for the good in my life.
For others who don’t have that natural pattern to fall back on, it could be much harder; I don’t want to downplay how hard that is, especially in times of struggle. I still think there are better routes to contemplate than a bubble bath. Here are a few options for moving toward a more positive place during hard times. I’m gonna talk about a bunch of interrelated topics instead of steps because there is nuance in how you approach this, and a list of items reduces that in a way that I think is unhelpful (and not truthful to the depth of your feelings).
Own Your Feelings
During challenging times, if you feel numb (which is my default mode and probably related to my underlying depression), then feel numb. Walk around and experience it and don’t apologize for it. Hopefully, you can move through it, but being fully yourself in your exhausted, emotional state helps you own your state of mind. I think that’s a more helpful place than ignoring it, covering it up with drugs or self-harming behaviors, ignoring it, or trying to sweep it under the covers (it always comes back). Sit with your feelings or lack of feelings, and don’t judge yourself. Judging is a waste of time. Don’t do that to yourself.
During this time, give yourself extra space by setting boundaries with others if needed. You don’t need to feel watched or waste mental energy (that you don’t have) to explain your feelings to others unless it helps you to talk about it—then I would recommend a good friend or therapist. Anyone else, especially casual friends, coworkers, and strangers, can be put on the back burner for now. You don’t owe them an explanation. At work, I sometimes close my office door and find that I can write my business proposals with added intensity and energy when I’m going through tough times. Work helps me shut off my emotional brain and turn on my rational one. It helps take my mind off my troubles. I reduce my personal interactions and focus on concrete work tasks that take my mind off my worries for a while.
Develop Comfort Routines
On days when I can’t get off the couch, I don’t get off it. Couch time is part of my self-care. Walking around the apartment in comfy clothes, crying when I need to, talking to myself about how I feel, sleeping a bit more, and watching tv— these are all transitional activities for me when the world is too much. I plan for them and use my days off for this type of self-care.
Connect with Your Caring
But I do know deep in my heart that I’m gonna get back on my feet because, as I mentioned, that’s my nature. For those of you who struggle to get out of these stages of depressed feelings (or other painful emotional states), I think it’s important to ask yourself what you care about (even in your darkest times). Is it your dog or pet, a child or younger sibling, your art, music, your lover or good friend, maybe it’s your plants and your books. Try to claim something that means a lot to you and reflects a feeling of love within you. Something you care about and something that helps define your worth or reflects your true identity.
Often it’s certain people in our lives, our volunteer work to help someone who has less than us, or an artistic passion that comes to mind. This is what moves and enervates your heart. Thinking about these passions helps you reconnect with your inner self. You offer comfort to yourself as you would comfort another person or an injured pet or sick family member. You call up a pleasurable or authentic feeling state and sit with it. Your closeness to this caring, whatever it is, connects you to one of your strongest internal capacities—your sense of compassion and inner joy. It may not feel joyful at the moment, but you are building the capacity for joy by sitting in close proximity to something or someone you care about. I hope this helps reawaken your heart because taking action to rejoin the world helps grow joyful spaces in your heart and spirit.
I mention comfy clothes, fluffy pillows, and comforting food, but other sensory experiences can set the atmosphere for experiencing more positive moments. Water is one of my favorite sensory experiences, but bubble baths leave me feeling “eh”. I can take them or leave them, and when I’m sad, they can make me feel more down. They don’t fit into my self-care, but short walks (head down and staying to myself), walking can start me on the path to a better mental state. I remember that I’m part of a greater universe; I make small connections to the nature and beauty around me, even if it’s just for a moment.
Here's a small, recent example of a sad moment I had when saying goodbye to my daughter as she returned to college this year. I’ve struggled with that empty nest feeling— saying goodbye to her each year as she returns to school. It turns out that you don’t just say goodbye once in Freshman year when your child goes off to college, but you have to say goodbye four times before the start of each year!
So I’m in Boston, and it’s a beautiful weekend, and I’m helping my daughter unpack and get her apartment ready, and somewhere this switch just turns on, and I start to think about leaving her to return to New York. It’s a lovely day, literally there are birds chirping outside under blue skies, and one minute I’m enjoying setting up the room and shopping with her, and the next minute I’ve started thinking about leaving her. Yes, I’ve left her before and done it without crying, but not this time. This time I had this sadness come over me.
It colored the whole rest of the evening, and as I was walking home through this beautiful section of Boston with historic homes with these grand flower beds, I was actually angry at the beautiful flowers because as I walked past them I could recognize how beautiful they were, but I didn’t want to see that beauty while I was holding back tears. Even when I was sad (and strangely angry too), I knew that my walk to the hotel was priming me to feel better (and I wasn’t ready to feel better in that moment), but I knew I would get over these feelings. So nature and sensory experiences can be powerful, grounding us as we recognize the beauty in the world. They can rebalance our thoughts as we connect with something that is bigger than our momentary worries.
I ask you: What feels good to your sensory system? Could a sensory experience like walking in nature, drawing, listening to music, self-massage, or walking on the beach help reorient you to see your uncomfortable feelings in the context of the larger world? I find that opening up the world through these walks reminds me of how I am connected to everything else around me, and that reorientation puts my sadness in its place. It’s no longer the center of the universe anymore. And from there, I can let my sadness express itself and just be and then watch it slip away.
What Do I Mean By the "Bright Side of the Beat"?
I often end each podcast episode with my little tagline: “may you stay on the bright side of the beat.” This saying is meant to remind you of a few things.
- First, there is a bright side to our situation (even if we can’t see it right now). Most stressful situations and challenges can work themselves out over time, and working through our challenges gives us the opportunity to strengthen our inner sense of self.
- The saying also contains a call to action to “stay on” that bright side. To actively try to see more of the blessings in your life. That doesn’t mean you don’t acknowledge the pain and struggle you may be going through. It’s more that you know in the back of your mind that you have some agency and control over how you perceive your life and that you can try to stay positive (and see the good) even while you try to heal from the painful moments and situations you may find yourself in.
- The “beat” I’m referring to is our heartbeat, our very life essence, but it’s also about the role that music plays in our lives. Letting the beat take you to another place connects you to it's healing power. From there, you tap into a mind/body connection; music (the beat) helps you get out of your head and into your heart.
Songs in the Key of "Resilience"
Speaking of music, there are some songs that I can put on when I feel uncomfortable emotions, and they help ease my mind. There’s something about the energy in these songs. They empower me. You can find them on my Season One Music Video Playlist:
- Headlines by Drake: the boastfulness and young up-and-coming quality of this song reminds me of my earlier stages in life and how I pulled myself up. Somehow the cockiness in his voice takes the edge off my anger. The heavy synth sounds throughout the song give it a powerful edge and build up a desire within me to fight back against my struggle. This song fuels my “I got this” moment.
- Middle Child by J. Cole: J. Cole makes sure that realness prevails. His authentic, thoughtful voice expands my view so I can see the big picture; so I can get out of my head. I know J. Cole speaks the truth when he promises to give us "something we can feel."
- Crzy by Kehlani: female empowerment at its best. She sings, “live for the challenge, only makes me stronger.” I love that inner strength she calls up, but she also changes her vocal quality throughout the song. There’s soft, there’s hard, there's self-assured, all that good stuff to remind us that we will pull ourselves up.
You can hear these three songs on the Season One music video playlist. Do you have a few songs that help you when your feelings are on overload? Share them with me. You can reply to this email or DM me on Instagram (at Let the Verse Flow) and share your picks so I can shout them out on a future podcast episode.
All of these ideas and songs contribute to this phrase of mine: “the bright side of the beat.” But where does my bright perspective come from? Ultimately, it comes from struggle, especially in my early childhood. Struggles that I overcame (or at least lived through) and then decided would not take me down. I made a pact with myself when I was a young child that if I could survive some of the dark days of my childhood, I could survive anything. Here’s me trying to unravel the puzzle. I call this poem, the Bright Side of the Beat.
The Bright Side of the Beat
by Jill Hodge
How do I know there is a bright side of the beat?
Because I have seen my love, shattered in satin, disheveled from wine
Beyond recognition but sure they were mine
Because I have tasted bitter hanging off the vine
Because I have fought against what I barely knew to do
Because I was made strong when I was finally through
My heart did pound and cycle through unrest and states of darkest blue
And through it all the beat was heard, faint, then louder like thunderous whirls
Because I have known warm sand between my toes and bear hugs in summer
Because I know no one can break us asunder
This is one of my favorite poems – you have to hear me recite it with music to get the full effect – check it out on my latest podcast episode! When I talk about shattered satin in my poem and bitter wine, I am talking about my early memories of living with a family member with addiction. Like many of you, I had some dark early childhood experiences. But when I didn’t have much, at least I had my own problems. I imagined that there were people who had it worse than I did because there were, and they were all around me. Even at a young age, I knew that I would make it. Of course, that doesn’t mean I made it out fully intact. My childhood left emotional scars for sure, leaving me with my own addiction—my addiction to food which I used as a coping mechanism to handle my fear and anger.
But because being overweight is more acceptable (and less intrusive and impactful on my ability to pursue school and work) than, say drinking or drug addiction, I managed to pass through without many people really noticing my issues. I had these scary, dark moments, but deep inside, I also believed that I would be alright.
I looked at the struggle as my particular struggle and put it in the context of the collective struggle around me. In that light, I could endure my circumstances. Today I feel stronger because of them. I don’t want to let them get the best of me or rob me of pleasures in life. If I could make it through alcoholic, abusive family members, heavy drug use in my home and community, loneliness, and adulting at a very young age, I can make it through my depressed periods. In comparison, my life now seems like a walk in the park compared to my early childhood, and I’m proud of myself for leaning into my tendencies to see the brighter side of things (or at least wait things out until things improve).
But that’s me, and you may have another temperament and sometimes feeling good is harder for some people and during some stages in our lives. Can you see your current state of mind as transitional, though? Is it possible that this state could be a transitional time in your life? If so, hold on to that opening pathway toward a more positive phase of life (or maybe it just starts with a single, more positive day).
A Good Therapist is a Lifeline
And if that’s not possible, perhaps a therapist can guide you toward new ways of thinking. I never had a regular therapist for any length of time, but as luck would have it, I started therapy with a wonderful therapist right before my mom’s first stroke. I look back and feel grateful that I had that new support system in place before her health crisis. It didn’t solve all my problems or even help me feel more positive in those early months, but over almost two years now, I’ve started to internalize my therapist’s little interpretive insights.
She has a knack for restating my convoluted mumbo jumbo into little kernels of insight; she finds little pockets of alternative viewpoints or ways of seeing. I carry her insights with me, and over time they seep in. She takes my thoughts and the things I share in our sessions and restates them in various combinations. New understandings start to emerge. These help me make really subtle shifts in my thinking, especially giving me permission to feel however I feel. That has led me to feel a bit more comfortable sitting with my feelings. That’s hard for me because I usually want to avoid my feelings or eat over them.
Now, I spend more time identifying my feelings. I found her via the Psychology Today website. I’m lucky that my health insurance pays for my therapy, but if you don’t have the money or insurance, please keep looking until you find a therapist who accepts a sliding scale or check out the free options. They are out there.
📚Journal Prompts to Process Emotions
Journaling will help you process your emotions more quickly than just about anything I know to do. Because I often overeat to avoid feeling, I struggle to identify how I feel. Am I sad? Angry? Frustrated? It seems odd to me, but sometimes I really don’t know. When I have a flood of emotions hit me, I use journaling, especially creating lists, to help me identify how I feel. Here are some journal prompts that can help you uncover and process your feelings:
I hope you have a better understanding of why I always say to stay on the bright side of the beat. It is my wish for you.🌞
Music: My thanks to all the musicians who make incredible music and have the courage to put it out into the world. All music for my podcast is sourced and licensed for use via Soundstripe.
Songs in this podcast episode:
Breakfast for Dinner by Dr. Delight; Winning Streak by JeesGuy; 5 Stars by Syncro; Uptown by NuAkemist; Pyaar Kee Seemaen by Cast of Characters
Related Episodes: Sitting with Shitty Feelings
LTVF Season One Music Playlist: Check out the songs that inspire me, and connect with artists from many genres who add to our collective, human soundtrack.
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