Making Lemonade of Life’s Lemons, by Larkin Oates, MA

As I travel through plush lemony woods, I trip on life’s lemons just like anyone else. Sometimes it is comically obvious I cannot see the citrus for the forest.

Recently, I have been so overwhelmed, it seems as if part of my brain is offline. I bump into furniture which I normally navigate unharmed, and I feel like I am functioning outside of the normal timeline. I strain to consider my choices in these lemony situations, and yearn to make the proverbial lemonade. However, my juice has no sweetener. I am worn to a nub, as is my partner. Although we are ‘cup half full’ people, our cup has a leak, and I feel our lives rapidly draining out of it.

Our solution to complete exhaustion therefore is to make this summertime juice via family vacation. We all but throw his offspring into the rental van, and drive directly to the beach. Unfortunately, both parental units are mentally overloaded and do not notice looming citrus orbs on our horizon.

After driving ten hours, our mammoth transport pulls up to this year‘s cottage. I turn towards my step-children as each slowly lifts their awareness from an electronic device, pulls out their ear buds, and unfolds from their cramped position. Cramming phones and computers into backpacks, they grab empty food containers, and one by one, these youths spill out of the minivan.

Standing in the 100 degree non-digital world, these squinting juveniles look stunned by the muggy barrier into which we walk. Personally, I feel like I am shrouded by an amorphous alien entity which instantly fogs my glasses, and disorients me. But, I tune in to their Dad asking for help with the baggage. As I slip back into the family space time continuum, I begin to unload luggage and beach gear with him. The youths on the other hand, continue to stand blinking, as if needing release from a steamy obstruction that renders them immobile.

Admittedly, these adolescents have been agreeable the entire trip; each alone in their virtual worlds. Yet, as I look at these sweet blank faces, I wonder why I imagined a family holiday would be relaxing, even with my nearest and dearest.

My hair is eschew, my sweaty clothes crumpled, and I am exhausted to the core. After the bags are carried to everyone’s rooms, I rummage through kitchen supplies to find coffee and filters. I brew a pot of coffee, pour myself a cup, and sneak away to our designated room.

Properly caffeinated, I grab pen and paper, throw myself on our bed, and determinedly write an outline of enjoyable seaside activities to help me relax.

As the narrator of this tale, I now look at you, the reader and say, “You see the problem here already, right? I’m on vacation making a list of things to do!!!!!”

Every day, I plan to check items off of this agenda. I will photograph, walk, lounge on the beach, frolic in the ocean, and read. The family will swim, rest, joyfully cook meals together, work on puzzles, and repeat the next day. My plan looks idyllic. Now, if I can cram it all into the next six days, I am golden.

Coffee mug in hand, I venture back into the heat and onto the back deck. I gaze seaward, and as I lean against the porch rail, I deeply inhale the briny ocean air. Before me, sea oats sway atop dunes, and a sandy path leads its way through tall grassy clumps to the water’s edge. I listen as waves slam into the shoreline. With each breath, I feel a special life force filling me. I believe few things are better than this. Therefore, I try to seer the moment into my brain; with all the sights, sounds, and smells.

Soon the stifling heat is so unbearable, I step back inside to flee its oppression. Clearly, air conditioned lounging is in order. I grab a novel and settle into a couch. My mind is quickly hooked and trails after the narrative. Its theme echoes my environment with coastal breezes and sandy living. In both, time passes and the tides reverse. At sunset, characters in life and in fiction eat and sleep. The next morning we all awaken to eat again.

My days continue similarly. With my family; I walk, photograph, track sand inside, play in the ocean, trail more grit inside, and talk. Thankfully, one of the most stressful projects of the week is the 1,500 piece puzzle of repeating patterned buttons that the family feels compelled to put together. In truth, many in our cottage lack the steely inner resolve to resist the lure of puzzle completion. And, in light of someone’s challenge to finish it, the accursed many buttoned puzzle holds our attention for days until its resolution. Much sleep is lost.

At week’s end, I have experienced quality time with family at the beach and over the dining and puzzle tables. Such time is priceless. And, while I had a great holiday, many people would agree that managing four young people amidst other families in one cottage is not exactly a restful experience. Also, I am sad to announce that my project to absorb the beach rhythms and salty air into my soul was left incomplete.

My spouse and I return home drained and our normally cohesive teamwork is oddly disjointed. I consider the adage, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Although this blithe statement provides no recipe or clarification, I have come to believe said lemons are strewn along life’s path, not aggressively hurled or assigned. Life’s lemons just are. As humans, we navigate over and around them the best we can, hopefully with some finesse.

Normally, my husband and I navigate life’s challenging and tart obstacles together quite well. We alternately aid each other like a beautiful duet, playing our coordinating parts. However, back home, I am again swamped in my efforts to manage life. I feel a bit like Mickey Mouse in a wizard’s hat, conducting the lemons swirling around me to the crescendo of Fantasia. I frantically try to bail out my life and wish I could magically fix the sour flood of late.

Instead of finding a healthy solution, I briefly land in the hospital. Although it is not the coastal retreat I had envisioned, I enjoy resting. During this medical leave, I begin to journal again. I relish writing and doodling with watercolor pencils and paints. With these simple calming gestures, I feel enormously restored, as if I am returning to myself.

While reclining in the hospital, I read an amazing tip for couples managing stress. Frozen songwriter husband and wife team suggest eating carbs for comfort food. I love this tip because clearly eating carbohydrates while stressed is as vital as breathing air. They might have suggested exercise in the article somewhere but I glossed over that part.

I now remember that when personal balance is illusive, I can ‘be with’ or ‘allow’ my sense of confusion or of being overwhelmed. As abstract as that sounds, that simply means quit beating myself up for having human qualities. As neuro-imaging would certainly show, being hard on myself usually prolongs my misery.

Happily, I am out of my funk and I envision bumping into less furniture. I appreciate my supportive community during the recent citrusy period. Of special note are the fearless terrier Spike and the yellow lab Corky, now curled up and snoring under my writing table. They loved me unconditionally, as did my family, friends, and cohort at work. Although to clarify, the humans are not snoring under my desk.

I hope I remember this useful information for any future citrus storms. If not, I can refer to this list below, and I will certainly enjoy the clarity of hindsight once again.

Notes to Self for Re-Centering During Rough Patches Along The Path of Lemons

1.  Recognize signs of imbalance. (These are mine. What are yours?)

  • Overwhelmed feelings
  • Irritability
  • Dietary choices increasingly devoid of nutritional value
  • Increased Infusions of coffee and chocolate
  • Mussed hair or shirt worn inside-out when leaving for work

2.  Shift my focus to self. Mind, Body, and Spirit

3.  Figure out my needs. (Ideas. What helps you?)

A lazy day relaxing, sleep, different nutrition, intellectual or creative stimulation, help with childcare, a session with a counselor, a date night with partner, a different form of exercise, any form of exercise. Maybe it would help to vent in a journal, read fiction, learn yoga, meditate, or paint

4.  Identify my resources. friends, family, spiritual or healing community, mentors, nature, counseling, exercise opportunities, health apps on phone

5.  Consider specifically how I might I achieve my goal. What are my choices? How do I imagine rest? Is it ten minutes watching shallow t. v., napping, or reading before dinner? Meeting with a friend to hike or talk over coffee?

6.  In case I have forgotten, consider my choices/resources and ask for help!

Print out your own Refrigerator guide .

by Larkin Oates, MA
Integrative Therapist, The Estuary
(615) 945-8950