Five Ways to Work Through a Funk


Photo by Kary Schumpert
Photo by Kary Schumpert

The other day I was feeling funky. Others might call it a bad mood, but I think feelings and moods are neither good nor bad. They pass and are temporary. There was no event, person, or situation that caused the funky mood. I was just in a funk. Rather than wallow in it, I wanted to get back to my “normal” self as soon as possible. Here are my tried-and-true tools to get out of a funk:

  1. Exercise through it. My preferred method is to run, but a session of swimming laps feels great. The other morning, I got up early and headed to the pool. The shock of cool water and then the soothing monotony of swimming laps from wall to wall helped to lift my mood. Of course, the endorphins from exercise can also be great mood elevators, but I do not know if I ever reach that level when I swim. For me, it’s more the movement of my muscles and the reward of a hot shower afterwards that shakes me out of the mood. The swim and the feeling of my body working for itself and my mind helps every time. On a morning like that, the workout is more for my spirit, rather than my fitness, but it’s really hard to separate those things. For me, they are tied up in a beautiful, tangled knot. When it’s the middle of the day, or I need to be somewhere where the smells of sweat or chlorine are not welcome, a quick walk down the hall or around the block helps. A few minutes furiously jumping rope also does the trick.
  2. Dress and groom for it. It seems counter-intuitive, but this pretty much works for me every time. I generally think of myself as a fresh-faced, wash-and-wear girl, but on funky days, I reach for my favorite, slightly dressier clothes. On Tuesday, I found my new red, over-the-knee skirt and paired it with my favorite black sweater, black tights, and my trusty kick-a$$ knee-high black leather boots. I brushed out my hair and put on makeup. I accessorized with silver earrings, silver necklace, and a silver ring. This is for me. For years, I ignored my appearance and I now feel a new appreciation for my body and face. With this past morning of a funk, the extra pampering signaled to me that I must love myself. The bright skirt and accessories were physical symbols. It’s not vanity, it’s self-care. I was giving myself those few extra precious moments on a hurried morning, the not-so-subtle reminder that I am worth the effort. Plus, the twirl of a new skirt is a thrill I love.
  3. Sing through it. I am a big believer in the healing power of music, but I also simply love it. I sing while showering, driving, cleaning, and, when I have enough air, I even sing while running. On that funky morning, I put on an old reliable favorite CD and belted my way through familiar ballads and pop tunes. Sometimes it’s the harmony, or it’s the feeling of that particular song that returns me to a happy memory. Occasionally, it’s my silliness that cheers me up as I chirp away. I realize there is something meditative about singing and for me, some songs become a way to escape my thoughts and get back to my heart, to my being.
  4. Dance to it. Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” literally moves me out of my funk into a completely enjoyable kind of funk. It’s the catchy tune, the impossibility of not dancing while hearing this favorite song, that brings me right up into a new space. I can’t think of any other song that delivers this much unadulterated fun. It’s like no other and I feel completely different after dancing off my mood to it. “Uptown Funk” obliterates my funk.
  5. Write through it. Sometimes I use my writing to articulate my mood, much like I did in my “Dear Diary” moments in high school. Because writing is just about my favorite thing, by participating in one of my treasured hobbies, I lighten my mood. There are the sensory aspects that also help: the scratch of the pen on paper and the physical act of my fist grasping the pen while moving it across the page. When I feel like I am in a writing funk (different than just a mood), the only solution is to write more. With a recent move, a new job, and new town, I have been writing less and I realized that the funk might be partly caused by what is missing: my writing ritual. Taking time for the things I love, even five minutes, propels me forward.

Reliably, these five habits and routines shake me up and shake me out of my funk. It’s the snap I need to get back to me. Despite their seemingly superficiality, they are my spiritual adjustment. The funk clears and the heart becomes whole again. It’s glorious as the funk passes away, all with the steam of my effort, and the comfort of my own care.


A quote from Mary Oliver

Image used under Creative Commons license.
Used under Creative Commons license.


“You do not have to be good./ You do not have to walk on your knees/ for a hundred miles through the desert repenting./ You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves./ Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine./ Meanwhile the world goes on.”–Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese” (2004, Wild Geese:  Selected Poems)

Photo by Kary Schumpert
Photo by Kary Schumpert

“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.“–Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter Four (16 July 1903), Letters to a Young Poet.

Photo by Kary Schumpert
Photo by Kary Schumpert

“How does a man live, after all?/Does he live a thousand days, or one only?/For a week, or for several centuries?/How long does a man spend dying?/What does it mean to say ‘for ever’?”–Pablo Neruda, “And How Long?”, Selected Poems, 1970

A Go, A Goodbye


You sat at the bar. I was a couple of minutes late, as usual.

You looked at your phone. I opened the door. You glanced up at that moment.

It might have been my imagination, but your grey eyes lit up when you grinned.

I walked in and headed straight to you.

We hugged. The bartender smiled.

I ordered a beer.

You signaled that my drink was on your tab.

I asked about your commute. You asked me about packing.

We relaxed. It was quiet for a moment.

It was comfortable.

We caught up on the day.

We told silly jokes. We laughed.

We turned to each other.

You told me about your upcoming fishing trip.

I described my upcoming writer’s retreat.

We finished the beers.

I walked outside.

You settled the bill.

You gave me a t-shirt with the brewery logo.

I thanked you.

We held hands and stepped off the patio.

We took your car to the grocery store.

We giggled like little kids in the deli section.

We picked out dinner, a Wisconsin specialty. Brats.

We walked to the liquor store for more beer.

We drove to your house.

Your dog greeted us, all puppy enthusiasm, muscles, and expressive ears.

You built a fire in the basin of your grill in the backyard.

I teased you.

You lit the fire.

I sat back, in a blue dress, petting your sweet puppy.

We watched the sky.

The fire warmed us on a rare cool summer night.

You fashioned tree branches into grilling sticks.

We roasted brats over the fire.

We were distracted by the shooting stars of the meteor showers of August.

We ate enthusiastically and unapologetically from sticks and chuckled at our summer feast.

We gazed at the fire and found peace in the flames and sparks.

The sky turned darker and the wood burned down to embers.

The large pile of firewood shrank to twigs and scraps of bark.

We were silent. The pops and cracks from the fire punctuated the night.

The fire burned down, the night became morning, the summer diminished.

We held on for a brief moment, a few weeks.

We found summer.

You grabbed your keys, folded down your collar, and headed down the highway to work.

I put the last box in my car. I looked up at the trees.

The train screeched on the tracks around the corner.

I lingered and took a deep breath.

I opened the car door.

I slid the seat forward and my sunglasses slipped.

I straightened my blue t-shirt, the brewery logo reflected in the rearview mirror.

We were like the campfire, a brief intersection of two flickering flames.

In that moment we found healing.

We helped each other to dust off our hearts.

We helped each other get ready for the next, to prepare for real love.

Then there was goodbye.

My mind turned to my new home, the direction of my heart, a dear friend, school, writing, running, and teaching.

Your mind moved to work, your friends’ upcoming visit, making a home, fishing, and the dream of someone new.

I drove to New Mexico to begin.

I remembered what you said, “I’m glad we gave this a go.”

A summer, a fire, a go.


Three Little Actions Make For Big, Big Steps

Photo by Kary Schumpert

Follow your dreams. Live your bliss. The memes fly across Facebook feeds, the inspirational quotes get tweeted and retweeted. With all of these positive thoughts, why are we still staring at our screens?

It is fear. Of change. Of upheaval. Of not knowing. Of growth. Of disappointment. Of work.

I lived with that fear for a long time and then one day I realized I wanted things to be different. Realizing, though, and doing, are different things. There are lots of think tanks, but how many “Do Tanks” are there? We love nouns, but verbs are scary. They mean action. They mean doing. In fits and starts over the last four years, I have slowly, but surely, begun to live my dreams. In the day-to-day realm of things, my life does not look that different. Examine my heart, my mind, my soul and it is as different as night and day.

Here are things I did and do and keep doing. The process is constant, the effort continuous, the results contagious.

1. Write down what you love.
Three years ago, after an especially depressing set of news headlines, I turned off the radio, shut down the computer, and closed the newspaper. I pulled out my journal and instead of reflecting upon the bad news, I made a list. I made a list of everything I love from the small to the substantial. I kept writing and the list grew longer. Eventually my hand cramped and my writer’s bump on my left middle finger swelled. The list included quilts, thunderstorms, Mr. Rogers, Dolly Parton, and road trips. I still come back to that list to remember all the special things on bad news days or just days that I want to savor beauty and love.

If writing an exhaustive list seems intimidating, start with five things you love in that moment. Keep a journal nearby so that you can jot down those special things as you think of them.

2. Make time for creativity.
Some people paint, knit, draw, take pictures, sculpt. Some are intimidated by the process. What creative things do you like to do? What is something new you would like to try? For me, it was writing. I loved to write as a child. As an adult, I loved to read, but was too intimidated to really admit I wanted to be a writer. Finally, I realized the beauty of writing is the writing. Whether or not the results get published is an entirely different thing, but I can write. I started a blog. Eventually, I shared that blog with friends and got brave enough to submit articles for publication. I am far from making my living as a writer, but I love doing it and now I make time for it. Stringing together words is what I love. Typing sentences, finding just the right phrase, is the fun and the beauty.

Give yourself five minutes for your creative pleasure. Let the five minutes grow to a longer session. Keep practicing. What you make will not always be beautiful. Don’t worry about the results. Instead, enjoy the process, the mess, the blessedness of creativity.

3. Applaud your little steps.
Celebrations are all about marking the moments. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations. We remember the grand events, but what about the moments that lead to the meaning? Celebrate knitting one row. Celebrate writing one blog post. Celebrate painting one corner of the canvas. Celebrate the day that you started doing. Celebrate that you have dreams that are becoming actions. Realize that little steps lead to marathons, paragraphs lead to books, paint droplets lead to masterpieces.

Changes do not always have to be big and sweeping. Those little things can help us lead more creative lives. Making time for the things we care about can help us become more caring people. Keeping track of the things that we love and excite us can help us to live more loving lives. Giving ourselves grace and freedom help us to live more freely and gracefully.

Life is a big and beautiful journey. Let us celebrate our part of that.