Staying Warm, & Hopeful

If you live in the U.S, at least the continental U.S., you probably experienced at least some of the polar vortex situation that happened this week. You may well still be experiencing it. I consider myself lucky, since the worst we got here in the Philadelphia were wind chills in the low negatives (I think we had something like a wind chill of -7 Fahrenheit). As I was hearing of wind chills around -40 in other parts of the country, complete with feet of snow and ice and all kinds of wintery mess, I can’t really complain about -7. I also consider myself lucky that I have a home with good heating (albeit drafty windows, but still, good heating) and a roof over my head. I have a very furry doggie that likes to snuggle up with us to keep us warm, so all in all, I am fortunate when it comes to polar vortex-ness.

That being said, cold, dark days where it physically hurts to go outside – because negative windchill is still negative windchill regardless of how cold other places are – often doesn’t feel very hopeful. Unless you’re my dog, who freakin’ loves this weather and must have been a musher dog in a former life or something. The point is, for many of us, especially those who already struggle with depression, hope might have been a little bit tougher this week. I know for me, the fresh air, the sunlight, the warmth all can positively contribute to my mood cycles, and when those basically aren’t an option, it can have the opposite effect. So this week, I had to turn a bit more inward for my daily hope posts.

Colorful pens and field notebook set for journaling, reflection, and brainstorming!


Hope Is colorful pens for journaling (one of my favorite modes of self-care) and little notebooks to keep on me for when I need to jot down thoughts, inspiration, brainstorms, or anything else. As a writer and creative, I get super excited about things like pens and notebooks, at all the possibilities they hold. These pens could write the first lines that inspire me to start another novel. These notebooks could one day have drafts of ideas for #SpreadHopeProject or other advocacy efforts that I one day look back at and say, “that’s where it started!” So much possibility. And color. And elephants (for those who don’t know, I LOVE elephants. Which is why my personal blog is named Lilies and Elephants).

You Be You sign from Spread Hope Sign-Making Party!

Hope Is friends who encourage you to be authentic self. I love this sign from our sign-making party. Be beautiful, amazing you. We all have something wonderful to offer, even when we can’t see it ourselves. Don’t ever let anyone convince you that you need to be anyone else.

Me being me, as suggested by the sign above!

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s been a rough road with depression lately. This past Monday morning though, I woke up feeling a bit better. No rhyme nor reason to it, it just happened. Not super happy per se but more like myself. I felt more solid, physically too – I don’t know how else to explain it. Like I physically felt more at home in my skin, felt more grounded than I’ve been feeling. I felt more secure in myself (as in not questioning my every move or thought) than I have been in ages. I have no idea why, but I did. I realized that it’s literally been years – like close to 20- since I truly felt fully comfortable with myself, since I felt like I was on the right path, like I wasn’t floundering. Since I felt like I was fully worthy, fully enough. Since I was totally OK just being me.

And I’m not there yet because that kind of change doesn’t happen overnight. At least not for me. Some things tripped me up later in the week that brought back into the forefront a lot of self-doubt and lack of self-love that I’ve been working through. But for the first time in almost two decades, this past Monday morning I thought, “I wonder if this is how people who have good self esteem and self worth feel ALL the time?! (Generally, at least because nobody feels great all the time). It was incredible to feel. It was amazing to think “Hey, I actually don’t dislike myself today.” Which is huge! I wasn’t in a hypomanic cycle, so I didn’t have any of that jittery, anxious “i just drank ten cups of coffee “ feeling, which is always a relief. I was just …me. It felt so freeing.

You are enough.

Hope Is a reminder that you are enough. This sign that my friends made at our sign-making is my mantra many days.
So often with depression and anxiety it can feel as if you aren’t enough. But you are. And so am I. We all are. Don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise.

Note I left for my husband when I headed to work one morning this week.

Hope Is little notes. I wrote this note to my hubs bc I was leaving super early (for 6AM yoga) before my husband was up. I like trying to connect through notes when schedules don’t coordinate in the morning. Sometimes, it’s just nice to know someone is thinking about you when they’re going about their busy day. And it also feels really good to write these!

Morning coffee and flower… and they match!

Hope Is simple pleasures like coffee on a cold morning, and my favorite spring mug and flower to cheer me up. Thursday morning was rough. Some things happened Wednesday night that made me question myself, and made me question others’ belief in me (others close to me not random people). It hurt. Bad. Not going to lie. What hurt worse was that depression likes to cling to those things said by others and convince me they’re true. It also hurt because I’d had three good days in a row. I felt like I was finally starting to believe in myself again, for the first time in probably ten years, and this happened, and the hurt it caused made me realize I still am so far from that point. Others’ beliefs still affect me so, so harshly and get me to question myself. And I felt so disappointed in…everything.

So Thursday morning I sat there journaling and letting tears fall and sipping my coffee, because I just needed to let the hurt, the emotion out. But then I looked up at my mug and my orchid from my parents (who support and believe in me unfailingly) and noticed they kind of matched. It made me smile and the fact that, despite the hurt and pain and tears I was experiencing, I was able to still smile at something so small like, this gave me hope. I can get through this, like I have so many other hurts and disappointments, and hopefully I’ll learn something from it as well. I have to look at it as an opportunity to grow, to examine why it hurts so badly and how I can work on that, to work on getting myself to where I want to be.

Happy February! Happy Wear Red Day!

Hope Is days of awareness for illnesses so that we can help educate and inform, and bring awareness to the illness. (And of course the advocates that share their stories every day!) Today is Wear Red Day for women’s heart disease. While it’s not an illness I live with, heart conditions do run in my family (almost all males, however) and I have close friends that live with heart disease. Plus, I just think it’s important to bring awareness to as many chronic illnesses as I can, and if I can do a little by wearing a color and posting, why wouldn’t I? Happy Friday, everyone!

Also, I’m always updating my content calendar so if an illness you advocate for has a “wear x color for this illness” day, let me know! I’ll do my best to dress accordingly and post on that day!

This week was a lot of ups and downs, as life with a mood cycling illness tends to be. Perhaps it was a bit more than most, because of internal factors and external factors. What I held on to, when it got tough, was the work I’ve been doing on self-love and self-heeling. If you too, have had a week like this, please remember you’re not alone. And also remember, as I said in my post yesterday, I believe in you!

With Hope,

Maya

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I Believe In You

I believe in you. Whoever you are. Whatever your dreams. I’m serious. I might not even know you personally. I might not know your plans or goals or dreams. But I believe in the human potential. In every human. It doesn’t mean they always live up to it (I can think of plenty of examples in which people took their potential and used it in really harmful ways, or squandered it all together). But the potential is there.

Why am I telling you, potentially a total stranger, that I believe in you? Because from time to time, we all need to hear it. We especially need to hear it if you, like me, have ever shared your dreams with someone or someones, and been told that you aren’t capable, you’re unrealistic, you don’t have the education or training or qualifications, that you’ll never make it happen.  Or put another way, that they didn’t believe in you. And if like me, you’ve ever struggled with self-confidence or self-esteem or self-worth or feeling like you’re not enough, if like me you’ve ever battled depression and anxiety that magnifies these feelings, you know that this can feel like someone physically tearing you apart. It can feel like they reached into your chest cavity, grabbed ahold of your heart, and ripped it out. Maybe for you it wasn’t that extreme. For me it is. Because to me, one of the most amazing things you can have in this world, in the darkest moments, the moments when you struggle so hard to believe things will work out, is hope. And telling you that you can’t accomplish your dreams can tear this hope, potentially the only thing keeping you going at times, to shreds.  And yes, when this happens to me, is it on me a bit that I rely so heavily on others’ opinions? Absolutely. I’m working on that daily. I’m putting huge effort towards self-love and appreciation, self-worth and self-esteem. But when you already feel like you’re not good enough, and others basically tell you you’re right, it’s pretty natural that it’ll affect you seriously, at least temporarily, perhaps longer.

Now naturally, there are going to be things we’re not qualified to do. I’m not qualified to perform surgery because I haven’t gone to medical school. So if I were to say, “I think I’m going to get a job as a surgeon”, the response of “you don’t have the education and qualification for that” is legit. But if I said, “I think I want to go to medical school because my dream has always been to become a surgeon” and someone replies “At you’re age? Come on, that’s so unrealistic. You’ll never make that happen!” that’s where the dream killing happens. And the thing is, they may be right. I am 39 years old. If my dream was to go to medical school, I’d probably be in my 50s when I finished (I’m eyeballing this, not calculating the actual years so excuse any innaccuracies), and it’s probably pretty tricky to get accepted to medical school at 39, then interneship, residency, get hired for the first time as a surgeon in ones 50s. But telling me right off the bat I’ll never be able to do it? It might be unlikely. It might be improbable. But I likely already know this, so shutting down my dreams  in one stroke and saying you don’t believe in me literally serves no purpose. there are ways to voice the struggles, to help someone be realistic, without telling them you can’t. For instance, “This could be really tricky. It could be tough to get into medical school at that age, and it’ll be a long road, but if you really want this, let’s talk about what the next steps could be.” Or maybe you help them “troubleshoot”: “Well, you’d need this qualification to get into school, so maybe start by taking pre-requesites somewhere local. Also, it’s going to cost a lot, so let’s talk about how you’re going to be able to support yourself while doing this.” There are numerous other ways to approach it. But flat out: you can’t make that happen is just a hurtful one. And if you’re anything like me, it’s probably one you’re already telling yourself. So what does someone telling you this actually accomplish, besides making you feel worse about yourself?

So I’m here to tell you I believe in you. I don’t care how silly or weird or out there your dream ism how unlikely it is or how much effort it’ll take, because if you really want it that badly, you’ll put in the effort. (Caveat: I can’t support you in something I think is illegal/unethical/immoral because that would be going against my core values, and we should never ask someone to compromise their core beliefs and values.  But I’m going to assume here you aren’t asking me to support you doing something immoral, so with that exception, I believe in you.) If your dream is to dress up in a chicken costume and dance around and make viral videos and get sponsors to make money, go for it. Hell, that sounds fun and I might even join you.  If your dream is to travel the world, to restart your career, to start your own business. If your dream is invent something new, to run away to the mountains and build a retreat, to go back to school and get a new degree/desertification/training. I believe in you. If your dream is to find a way quit your 9-5 so you can stay at home with your kids, I believe in you. If your dream is to write a book, I believe in you.

And if you ever need someone to bounce idea off, or someone just to listen, or someone just to remind you that someone believes in you, I’m here. Because there way too many people in this world that’ll tell us we can’t do something. So I’m here to tell you that you can. 

Finding Hope In a Difficult Week: Weekly Roundup

As a spreader of hope, I generally try to be… well…. hopeful. But I also try to be super real, because to me, that’s what sharing our story is all about. Yes, I want to offer hope to people, but I also want them to know that I get it, that I understand depression and anxiety and mood cycling (and IBS, and migraines, and other health issues). I want others to know that they’re not alone. That even though I focus on hope, I know that hope isn’t always easy to find. In fact, sometimes, it feels downright impossible. This week was one of those weeks.

It started off well – I was featured on the Voices for Change 2.0 Podcast, which aired Saturday morning. I did well on my first quiz for yoga teacher training. I had a post about my advocacy journey and starting Spread Hope Project featured on What’s The Fix (#WTFix). Several friends and I did our first ever Spread Hope Project Sign-Making Party, and it was a blast – plus, we made something like 26 hopeful signs, which I’ll be sharing more about in a future post. But, cyclothymia is an illness. And it doesn’t care if you did well on your yoga quiz or had your work published or were featured on a podcast any more than, say, cancer would. My depression doesn’t happen because of something. It happens because I have a genetic mental illness that involves depression. Of course, certain things can urge it along, and others can help me feel better at times, but when it hits, it hits. And this week, it hit. Hard.

I share all this because this week really forced me to focus on the tiny moments. I had to dig deep, to look hard to find my daily #HopeIs pictures. I had to look at the mundane that I often ignore. I had to string together small moments to find hope among the clouds of depression and anxiety, of feelings of worthlessness and not being enough. And that’s where a lot of these photos come from. So if you’re struggling this week as well, please know that you’re not alone. And I hope that perhaps these photos will help you find the tiny moments of hope, even if they’re fleeting. Because those tiny moments add up, and they can help us get through those days when the biggest thing we’re going to accomplish is getting through that day.

“More than ever, let’s be together.”

Hope Is being together (as in support, not always physically together, fellow introverts!). Saw this shirt at Grooveground Coffee in Collingswood, NJ, where I am doing my yoga teacher training. I go to Grooveground to get coffee (and on days where I’m feeling like treating myself, a scone) after 6AM yoga at least once or twice a week. And I love this message. It can mean so many things. But to me, the key is “together”. There’s so many things that seem to divide us these days, but supporting each other and being there for each other can be so crucial. So where we can, let’s support each other, let’s be there for each other, let’s be together. The idea of support and togetherness, the knowledge that I’m part of a community, gives me hope, especially on days I’m feeling alone or badly about myself because of my illness.

Snowy Sunday morning in the courtyard at my condo.

Hope Is the calm, purity of a snowy morning before the world disturbs it. I love watching the snow gently fall. At almost 40, I’m still reminded of the excitement of potential snow days as kids- the happiness and carefree nature of a day full of play, of sledding and making snow angels, of coming inside and warming up with hot chocolate. As an adult of course it means shoveling and traffic and all that, not to mention creaky joints and sinus pressure and all that, but early in the morning, undisturbed like this, I can still appreciate all the fun and anticipation snow can bring, and it makes me smile.

Mural on my commute to work.

Hope Is using ordinary spaces to create extraordinary things. Philly is known for its murals. It’s not uncommon to see incredible artwork beautifying and bringing a vibrancy to what was an ordinary train trestle, wall, building, etc. I love the idea that we can truly make any space a place for hope- weather its through a message written, a story told through images, or just bringing color to a place that might seem to need some vibrancy.

I feel this way about life as well. Sometimes it’s in the most ordinary moments that we find the most extraordinary. It may be having a good where we feel a little better after so many difficult ones. Or a surprise message of courage and support in an unexpected place or from an unexpected person. It may be finally being able to smile, if even for a moment or two, after being in a really dark place with depression. And it may all happen on a cold, dreary Monday when you least expect it.

(Note: The pics of this mural look way more vibrant on our Instagram, so check it out).

A bench in Collingswood, NJ.

Hope Is this colorful bench full of creativity and thoughtful words in the midst of the cold and the snow. “In a dream I saw the new city of friend’s robust love- it led to the rest.” I’ve admired this bench for a while, and with the contrast between the vibrant colors and the white snow covering, it was too good not to snap a picture and share!

A sneak preview of some of the signs from the Spread Hope Project Sign Making Party!


Hope Is friends who (drive through yucky weather) to come help you make HOPEful signs of encouragement, and who make you laugh and smile while doing so. As I mentioned a while back, I’d reached out to friends and fellow advocates asking “If I made you a hopeful sign what would it say?”. They replied with some awesome answers, and then my friends and I got crafty (OK they got crafty, I got an A for effort!) making the signs. I’ll have more up close pics of signs coming soon, and I’ll tag those that offered the inspiration accordingly. This is the first of many sign pics.


A super sleepy me after depression-fueled tears at about 6AM one morning this week.

Hope Is getting through the day even when it feels impossible. On especially tough days, I focus on the fact that when you struggle with illness, even the seemingly basic things are big accomplishments. I’m getting through this day, little by little, hour by hour, and today, that’s huge. So if that’s you too, know that you’re not alone. Much love and hope to you.

Appreciating my warm cup of coffee (and heated seats!) on a snowy commute to work.

Hope Is all the little moments that make up my day, that I can rely on to get me through when depression and anxiety are kicking my rear. Like a warm cup of coffee on a cold, snowy morning. Or the 6AM yoga practice I did this morning. Or the warm car that gets my door to door nice and dry even in the snow. When I’m having a rough time, I try to live from one of these moments to the next. It helps me feel less overwhelmed and makes the days more manageable.

If you’re struggling this week too, please know that I get it, I understand, and I’m here if you need. I hope that you are able to find some tiny moments to string together to offer hope each day, even if just to get you through. Happy Friday to you all!

With Hope,

Maya

Letting The Light In (Weekly Roundup)

This week brought ups and downs (as life with a rapid mood cycling disorder is likely to do). I had some really amazing advocacy opportunities that I’m super excited to be a part of, which I’ll be sharing shortly, and I also had a couple of pretty difficult days.

One thing I noticed, as I was posting my daily “Hope Is” pictures on Instagram, is that a good number of them involved light in some way. This isn’t a novelty in the context of hope – we often hear phrases like “the light at the end of the tunnel”, which illustrate hope as a light that leads us from the darkness or a difficult time. Still, I loved seeing that in looking for my daily images of hope, I was literally drawn to the light as a visual representation. I hope that if you, too, are struggling this week, perhaps these thoughts will help give a tiny bright spot in your day as well. I’ve also changed up the format of this one because, well, I really love these photos, these visual representations of hope, and I wanted to make them slightly larger.

Yogi Tea Wisdom

Hope Is living by your inner knowledge and strength. I love the inspiration I get from my Yogi Tea bags. Sometimes, we just need these simple reminders. Even when we struggle to see it in the depths of depression or anxiety, we have so much strength within us. Even just getting through the day sometimes takes so much strength. Never forget how strong you are (or at least try to remind yourself repeatedly!).

Be silly, be honest, be kind

Hope Is reminders like this that make me smile. We were at a friend’s house over the weekend and I saw this, and asked if I could snap a picture of it. If some asked me to give a brief directive on how to live, this might about just some it up. And of course, be hopeful.

Sunrise over Collingswood, NJ – post early morning yoga class

Hope Is a gorgeous sunrise literally brightening your commute to work on a cold, January Monday morning. I take an 6AM morning yoga class at least one day a week as part of my yoga teacher training. While getting up in the 4 o’clock hour to get ready for the day (since I leave for work right from yoga) isn’t my favorite thing to do, I love coming out of yoga to see the sun rising over the main street.

Orchid that my parents got me for Christmas

Hope Is the gift of a beautiful orchid in full bloom. I love orchids. I’m not sure how it started, but a while back, each time I was going through a rough time, I got an orchid from… someone… it varied who the giver was, or how the orchid came into my life. But each time, it seemed as if I was on the precipice of something, I would get an orchid, and I would, amazingly, manage to keep it alive, to keep it blooming and beautiful, and this somehow restored my belief that I’d come out on the other side of whatever I was going through and be OK. So the orchid came to symbolize a sort of hope during life transitions. My parents got me this orchid for Christmas, and so far, so good on the keeping it alive front. And as even my not so green thumb knows, orchids need the light to thrive.

Sign-making party goodies!

Hope Is getting ready for a Spread Hope Project Sign Making “Party”! A while back, I wrote a blog post asking the question “If I Made You A Hopeful Sign, What Would It Say?” I subsequently posted this question on my social media outlets, with the acknowledgement that answers may, unless specifically requested, actually wind up on a sign that I made, and be posted on social media. I got some amazing responses, and now, I’m keeping good on my promise. This coming Sunday, a few friends and I are getting together to make signs old school arts and crafts style. It’s not to late to request a sign, so if you have a something hopeful you’d like to see on a sign, let us know!

Luminaries at the finish line of the Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention 2018

Hope Is thousands of people walking 16-18 miles overnight for suicide prevention and awareness. These luminaries lit up the finish line of last year’s walk in my home city of Philadelphia, and how amazing that they spell out the word HOPE!

I just signed up for my 6th Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention. This is an absolutely incredible event that, despite the sadness of loss that brings so many to participate, offers hope that with each step we take, we’re raising awareness, eroding the stigma, and offering hope to those who struggle, so that they know they’re not alone. Shameless plug here – I need to raise $1000 to participate each year. If you’re inclined and able to donate, the link to my page is here. No amount is too small, as there’s no minimum, so you can literally donate $1.

The light catching the trees in my neighborhood just right to welcome me home from work.

Hope Is the light catching the trees just right, so that even the stark, barren trees of winter look radiant against the lit up sky. I love the idea that even in the cold, dark days of winter, where there’s little blooming (except my orchid!) and life just seems to be stalling, that we can be reminded that if we look at it from the right angle, it can still look beautiful, even in its starkness. I find this can be applied to my life as well. Of course just “looking at it differently” doesn’t magically make my anxiety or depression vanish – they’re illnesses, and you can’t cure an illness by changing your attitude or viewpoint. But sometimes, when I’m really struggling with the way that I’m feeling about myself, it helps to remind me that there may be another way I can look at the situation to get a slightly different view of it. I’ve found that in my advocacy work – there’s nothing good about having a chronic illness, but having my illness has led me to some amazing communities and people, to my work with Spread Hope Project and my other advocacy efforts, and but for my illness, I likely would not have been part of any of that.

If you have pictures of light (literal or figurative) that’s inspired you, I’d love to see them!

With Hope (and light!),

Maya

Weekly Roundup: Holiday fun, self-care, and a look back at 2018

This week’s Hope Is weekly roundup is a mish-mosh of holiday fun, self-care reminders, and a bit of a look back at advocacy efforts over the year. Plus, a bit thank you to all of those patient-centered organizations that welcomed me as a member! I know that the holidays can be a bit a tough time for some, so as much as I wanted to include some holiday hopefulness this week, I also wanted to include some self-care and gentle loving reminders.

Hope is celebrating the winter solstice with friends, yoga, and purple lotus candles. Love that the days are getting longer/brighter. Dark days are tough on mental health at times, so here’s to increasing sunlight!

Hope is sometimes just making it through the day. A friend sent me a photo of this sign and I love it. Right now especially, with increased demands of the holiday season, it can be especially tough on chronic illness. Holiday time is all about love and compassion- let’s not forget to give that to ourselves as well.

Hope is someone seeing the potential in what to others might look ordinary or even bare/empty. Love that someone decorated this tree in my neighborhood with a few Christmas bulbs. Sometimes life is like that – we just have to look a little harder to see the potential in the every day.

Hope is
family, traditions, giving, sharing, love. That’s what my Christmas was filled with. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate.

Hope Is
the chance to take time out for yourself when you need to recoup/recover/restore. For me, this is often mindfulness/yoga, or some other way to calm my cycling brain. Whatever you choose, self care is so important, especially during the busy, stressful holiday season.

Hope Is
finding so many incredible patient-centered organizations this year to be part of. This year I became a #MightyEvents host for @themightysite; became a #webewarrior @healthbeme; joined the @clarahealth #breakthroughcrew; increased my participation in @wegohealth and got nominated for a blogging award; and (not featured because I don’t yet have pics) became a #savvypioneer with @savvy_coop and a #nostigmas ally with @nostigmas. I also met SO MANY amazing fellow advocates through these. Their efforts and openness and hard work and the impact they’re making, and also them just being them and being amazing gives me hope every day.

Hope Is unexpected reminders that you are beautiful (in every way, inside and out, just as you are). I don’t usually whip out my phone in a bathroom, but I love this on the mirror at my yoga studio. Sometimes we could all use a reminder. This makes me smile every time I see it, and if I’m having a rough mental health day, that small moment in which it makes me smile can really help.

For more hopeful posts, and to follow along throughout the week, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram! Wishing you all a wonderful end to 2018!

With Hope,
Maya

Twas the Week Before Christmas – Some Holiday Inspired Hope Photos

It’s week two of my #HopeIs Campaign on Instagram, and as mentioned last week, I’ll be doing a weekly roundup each Friday of that week’s posts. This week’s photos go Saturday to Friday because I’m weird and that’s how I roll. Without further adieu, here are this weeks’ photos. Several are holiday inspired because… tis the season!

Hope is a reminder to appreciate and honor yourself, exactly as you are. (Inspiration source: bag of yogi tea).

Hope is a quiet morning of writing and coffee at a favorite coffee shop.

Hope is starting the week with grounding early morning (6AM) yoga at a place that always makes you feel at peace at home. These are my people, and finding your people can make all the difference.

Hope is a quiet, clear late fall morning, the light from sunrise letting you appreciate how much you love your neighborhood, a day ahead to full of possibilities. Sometimes, this simple image can help me refresh the clutter in my brain.

Hope is sending messages of love, hope, & peace for the holidays – each one is hand written with and actual message. When I am feeling depressed or anxious, that personal connection, even by being the one writing the card, is huge.

Hope is communicating love. Simple as that. More yogi tea inspiration (I don’t work for them, I promise!).

Hope is a handwritten thank you note for bringing someone joy. In this case, from our neighbor, for brightening up our shared courtyard with Christmas lights on our deck. So kind of them to write.

I hope you all had a wonderful week! Happy Winter Solstice. May your days get brighter as the days get brighter. I hope you’re all having a wonderful holiday season!

With Hope,

Maya

How to Stay Hopeful During the Stressful Holiday Season

Some people love the holiday season. For some people, it’s an extremely stressful time. For many, like me, it’s both. In a bubble, I love the holidays, especially Christmas. I love everything about it – the sites (lights), the sounds (carols, Christmas music, bells), the smells (holiday cookies). I love spending time with loved ones, exchanging gifts – not because I love getting stuff, but because I just love the whole idea of offering to another, of exchanging.  Christmas to me is the ultimate time of hope. I’m not sure why – I can just feel it. I’m like a kid eternally riding the Polar Express, anticipating its arrival at the north pole. But it’s also a time of stress.

In the bottom right, our dog Grace, waiting (a week early) for Santa Paws. (Note: please ignore the mess that is my home).

First off, when you deal with depression and anxiety, the continual month long holiday party that is the month of December can be draining. One can only go to so many social gatherings that make them feel awkward and anxious, pretending all is great while secretly holding back tears, feeling alone and lonely in a room full of people, so many times. It’s not that I don’t enjoy holiday parties, because I do. It’s that I only enjoy a limited number of them, with a limited number of people, a limited number of times. Secondly, when you battle illnesses that heighten sensory perception (migraines, anxiety, and many others), the sights and sounds and smells and especially the crowds can go from merry to debilitating in a short amount of time. Additionally, all of the focus on “togetherness” of the holidays can be particularly difficult for people who often feel alone and isolated because of their illness (there’s possibly nothing lonelier than feeling completely alone and isolated in a room full of people, especially people you know, who are all enjoying themselves and expecting you to). It can also be difficult for those who have lost loved ones, especially if they’ve lost them around this time of year in the past.

So with all of this conflicting emotion, how can one stay hopeful during the holidays? I don’t have all the answers, of course, but I do have some suggestions that I hope might help.

  • Remember that the holidays are a time of giving and kindness. And that includes you too. It’s easy to forget that you, also, deserve generosity and kindness. Be gentle with yourself. Remind yourself that this is a stressful time of year, and that you’re doing the best you can. And give yourself breaks. Actual ones (rest and recuperation are key), but also mental and emotional ones. You’re human. The best you is the best you can do.
  • Take time for something that’s really important to you. I’ve bolded the word intentionally. This means really for you. Not, “This is important to my boss or my kids or my significant other and I don’t want them to be mad – them not being mad at me is important to me.” No, that’s for them. Now, if what you really love to do is go hiking with your spouse, then do so. And if your spouse enjoys hiking too, great. But make sure it’s something you truly want to do. Finding time for things that bring us joy offers hope that we can get through the stress, and still find some happy moments.
  • When conflict arises, focus on finding solutions that give a little to everyone. Let’s face it, family and interpersonal dynamics at the holidays can be stressful. Everyone has their own ways of doing things, their own traditions, their own views on things. Work together to find solutions that bring a piece of everyone’s traditions/ways/viewpoints (assuming they aren’t actively harming someone else). All  have some say, no one has all the say. Remember, it’s a season of giving, of kindness, of hope, of joy. If everyone tries to offer these to each other when conflict arises, nobody feels completely unheard. Managing conflict in stressful, and making sure everyone feels like they’re being given some kindness and understanding definitely gives me hope. You might even start some new traditions.
  • When it’s tough to find hope in the bigger events of the season, see if you can find hope in the smaller moments. For me, that’s often a warm cup of coffee and writing on a cold morning. It’s coming into the house to see our Christmas tree lit up. It’s hearing my favorite Christmas song. It’s seeing people give, donate, volunteer, help each other, even in the tiniest ways.
  • Get back to basics. The last time you really enjoyed the holidays, what was it about them that gave you joy and hope?  Was it spending time with loved ones? Was it certain traditions? Was it the feeling of hopefulness and expectation you felt as a kid? Is it something rooted in your faith or beliefs? Whatever it is, can you find a way to reconnect with that again? It might not be exactly the same, but perhaps connecting with it in a way, and bridging the past joy with the present, will provide a way to reconnect with hope and joy.
  • When all else fails, remember that it’s called a holiday season for a reason. It passes, and eventually another, hopefully less difficult season, will come. You’ve gotten through it before, and you will get through it again.

Do you have some favorite ways for bringing hope into the holidays?

Hope Is

This week (Tuesday, to be specific). I started a new project on Instagram. Each day, I’m posting one (possibly more, at least one) of things that inspire hope for me. After all, the Spread Hope Project is all about, well, spreading hope, and I want that message of hope to come through on my social media. Particularly, it’s the idea that hope can be found in seemingly average, every day pieces of life, along with of course those bigger moments that are more noticeable.

Among these pictures, as this project progresses, you’ll proabably notice themes among those things that make me most hopeful – animals, nature, sunrises, new places, open spaces, coffee and coffee shops (hey, it keeps me awake, and also, great places for creativity), books and anyplace with them, writing and creative pursuits, and probably a lot more.

I’ve decided to do a summary of each week here on my blog, because, well, not everyone is on all social media. Plus, I think pulling the individual images/representations of hope together can help to increase the effect. I get to see, weekly, just how many hopeful things there are surrounding me in my every day life, and I get to share it with you. And if that helps or inspires hope in anyone, well, that’s the point of the Spread Hope Project!

A note on the photos – they aren’t all “real time”. Especially as this is the first week, I had to pull up some from the past. But I plan, as I go forward, to try to post more things in real time. An additional note: I started this week on Tuesday, so this first week has only four pics.  From here on out, I’ll probably be including Saturday to Friday pics, since Friday tends to be my last major online (read), blogging, day of the week.

Hope is a warm mug of coffee on a chilly morning! Sometimes, it’s the little things, like a cozy, caffeinated way to start your day.

Hope is realizing that what you thought was a big scary empty bag is actually filled with delicious french fries! Often it’s the things that seem the scariest that end up being the most rewarding. (Featured: My dog Grace on her birthday).

Hope is experiencing a gorgeous sunset in an amazing place. New day, new opportunities, new hope. Also, open spaces can feel so freeing!

Hope is thousands of luminaries at the end of the 16-18 mile AFSP Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention. You are not alone.

Follow the Spread Hope Project on Instagram for more in depth details about the pictures, and to follow our daily journey of Spreading Hope. Have a suggestion for a picture, or want to share one of your own – just tag us, and use the hashtags #HopeIs and #SpreadHopeProject.

With Hope,

Maya

If I Made You a HOPEful Sign, What Would It Say?

Some days are a struggle. And even on those days that aren’t a particular struggle, we can all use a little encouragement, a little inspiration, a little Hope. And while it won’t solve the world’s issues or cure our illnesses or anything like that, sometimes, it really helps to hear or, in this case, see someone say “You are worthy. You are strong. You are courageous. You are beautiful. You are enough.” Sometimes, we need to be reminded “There is hope” or “You’ve been here before, and you got through it, you’ll get through this too.”  So we’re going to be making signs. And we have some plans for these signs, but for now we want to cultivate all you’re awesome sign ideas along with our own, and create.

We want to hear from you. What would your sign read? We could all use inspiration from time to time, so we’re asking for you for your ideas – after all, these signs would (will…. stay tuned) be for you!  Here are some examples.  Choose from these examples, or give us your own!

Sometimes, we just need to be reminded that we are already amazing.  Just by being ourselves.
You are enough.  Exactly as you are. We use this reminder often here at Spread Hope Project!
Maybe your sign reminds you that everything you experience is valid – from your struggles to your dreams. 
Or perhaps, you simply need the reminder that there is hope. 

So what would your message of HOPE say? You can give us as many as you’d like (there’s always room for extra Hope!). Let us know in our comments,  send us an email, or share it on social media with the tag #SpreadHopeProject.

December LinkUp Party – Holidays and Chronic Illness

It’s a new(ish) month, and that means it’s time for a new Linkup Party from A Chronic Voice.  This month’s linkup is all about the holidays and chronic illness, a topic near and dear to my heart. This month’s prompts are:          (Note: some of these are spelled the way that everyone but the U.S. spells them. I kept them that way – it’s how they were originally posted, and also it makes me feel fancy).

De-StressingD

Holiday stress is different for everyone. For some, it’s family dynamics.  For others, it’s the intense socializing and people-ing, which can be incredibly exhausting both mentally and physically, especially when you battle chronic illness. For others, it’s the expectation – it’s a season for joy and happiness and merriness, and those who are ill, especially those living with depression, often don’t feel this way. It can feel incredibly lonely and isolating, especially when you feel this way in a room full of people. For me, it’s a combination of all of these. 

This year, I’m lucky that because of some… ahem… simplifying in my life (at least in my external commitments), I have fewer networking events, party obligations, etc. That’s helping considerably. There’s significantly less “Go to this party/event and feel super socially anxious and awkward and alone and depressed but smile and pretend everything’s fine because who wants to be the downer at the holiday party.” Additionally, I’ve been spending a lot of my previously free time in yoga teacher training and yoga classes (as part of teacher training), so while my schedule isn’t really any less busy, it’s filled with activities that, while intense, focus a lot on mindfulness, reconnecting to oneself, focusing on the present, and lowering stress levels. It’s also letting me surround myself with others who want to focus on these things, which can be a huge help. I feel emotions – mine and others’ – strongly and tend to absorb a lot of what’s around me. I find more and more, the company I keep and the atmosphere I’m in greatly affects me, and I have to keep this in mind, especially during super stress-induced, emotionally charged times like the holidays.

Savouring

I’m somehow both an old soul, and a kid at heart, and the kid at heart comes out big time during the holidays. Christmas is literally my favorite day of the year. Growing up, holidays were a big deal in my family. We’d have Christmas morning at our house, but usually the next day or so we would drive up to my Grandma’s in Buffalo, NY and that entire side of the family would spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day together. Three generations of family, all celebrating, enjoying the same yearly traditions, laughing, and joking and singing (my grandma loved to sing), doing Chistmasy things, ringing in the New Year together.  I remember walking with my grandma to get hot chocolate on the main street that ran through town. I remember all of the Italian Christmas cookies (some that we later found out were fruit cake made to look like cookies.. that was disappointing!).  I remember making ridiculous family videos for New Year’s eve and doing family “talent shows” at the insistence of my Grandma. There was so much love and fun and silliness – LOTS of silliness – and togetherness. We didn’t have lots of money and it wasn’t some big formal affair. We just got together and enjoyed each other and the season. And even though my grandma passed away ten years ago, and only one great-aunt from that generation is still alive, and even though we haven’t gone up to Buffalo for the holiday in years, that all still stays with me. I savour all of those traditions. The cookie baking, the Christmas carols, the lights, the tree-decorating, the laughing, the singing, the togetherness.

Simplifying

Simplifying is a huge goal for me for 2019. A lot has changed for me in the past couple of years. I got married. I went from running a business full time to running it part time and working at a regular job part time, to running it on the side and working at a regular job full time. I increased my advocacy efforts and founded Spread Hope Project. I started yoga teacher training, which I’m still currently undertaking. I went back to church and am slowly beginning to understand my own spirituality more. A lot has been going on, and it’s left me feeling a little all over the place – like I’m constantly in numerous transitions and trying to navigate them all simultaneously.

So in terms of simplifying, I’m focusing on two aspects:

1.) Looking at what in my life still serves me, and what has run its course. Everything from clothes to organizations to that friend that you continually try desperately to hang on to only to realize that it’s been one-sided for a while, and really, they haven’t really been in your life for quite some time. (Note, I didn’t say that with anyone specific in mind, and I don’t plan on friend-dumping anyone, but I don’t need to chase ghosts either). It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the organizations or the clothes or the friend. But not everything that served you at one point will continue to for eternity. And when you try to make it so, you often get stuck.

2. I’m looking to simplify my inner life. Yoga teacher training and getting back in touch with my spirituality have been a big help. I’m focusing on trying to be more present, to focus on the small moments, to focus on joy and life and hope, and being a good, loving, giving, kind human being in the day to day, instead of feeling insignificant or inferior because the grand scheme of my life isn’t where I hoped it would be. This of course doesn’t eliminate my anxiety and depression because they’re illnesses with no cure, but it helps me feel less overwhelmed at times, and that’s a good start. 

Resting

Resting is huge for me. If I don’t get enough sleep and rest, my moods cycle more, and I become more ill. It affects my IBS and migraines as well.  I’ve been working on trying to schedule things more in advance if possible, so that I can also schedule rest time. Whether it’s getting to bed early or an afternoon/evening of walking Hallmark movies and letting my brain relax, I aim to actively plan rest time. And I try as much as I can to stick to these boundaries. I’m no good to anyone if I haven’t slept, am depressed and anxious, if I’m in pain from IBS and am having trouble seeing straight from a migraine.

Finalising

This prompt is an interesting one, because it’s one I’m actually backing off on a little bit. In part because some of my main focuses are not the type of things that are finalized in the calendar year. For example, my yoga teacher training continues right on through the spring. The end of the calendar year only means we get a couple of weekends off to celebrate the holidays. But apart from that, the training continues on just like it would when transitioning between any other months of the year. 

It doesn’t mean I don’t have goals for 2019, and I’m especially going to work on some goals for Spread Hope Project. I have ideas that I’d like to put into place, or at least work towards, and want to start to plan those steps out.  But mostly, what I’m trying to “finalize” is to get myself into a better place personally, meaning internally, to start the new year, and I’m doing so by focusing on the above – the simplifying, the resting, the savouring, the de-stressing. I’m trying to take some of the self-imposed pressure off of myself, reset a bit, and be ready to start with a bit of a fresh perspective in 2019.

As always, thanks to Sheryl of  A Chronic Voice for hosting the LinkUp Party! Check out her site, as well as the December posts for other chronic illness bloggers here!