Life Updates

Hi friends and readers. It’s been a while, I know. Apologies. I have been busy, in a great way, the past few months. I thought I’d share a life update, to keep everyone posted on what I’ve been up to. Positive changes in my life are making me feel pretty hopeful about where I’m headed, and while I struggle regularly still with anxiety and depression and mood cycles, this hope stemming from these positive changes helps to keep me afloat most of the time.

First, I graduated yoga teacher training, and am now officially an RYT-200 Yoga Teacher. I have a website for my new yoga/writing/and more business, if you’re at all inclined to check it out. And if you happen to be in the Philly/South Jersey area, I list my upcoming classes on there as well. I have one private yoga client (it’s a family member, but still!), I’m on a sub list for a studio, I’m teaching two upcoming community donation-based classes for charity at The Grant Building where I did my teacher training, and I have a workplace benefit class that’s in the works, which I can’t yet share details about, but I’ll update when I can. So on the yoga front, pretty exciting stuff.

Photo credit: Awesome friend, yoga instructor, and photographer, Aly Gaul.

I also sent my novel to the self-publisher, and I received the first 25 copies of the soft cover book yesterday. Technically, my parents received them at their house because I don’t have things shipped to my city condo, so I haven’t seen them yet. I’ll be there Thursday, and plan to open them then. I’m still getting together the book sale details and release date, so I’ll also file that under “more updates coming soon”.

This past weekend, I completed my 6th AFSP Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention. I traveled up to Boston this year for the walk (the other option was San Francisco, and Boston is significantly closer and less hilly), and as usual, it was an incredible experience. I’ve already filled out the “save my spot” for next year’s event, despite not yet knowing the when or where. It’s that amazing of an event, and of course, such an important cause. The walk is filled with connection and community and tears and hugs and sadness over those lost, but also so much hope for the future as we continue to raise our voices and speak out about mental illness and suicide prevention, to let others know that they are not alone.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. It’s been a productive and busy and exciting spring and summer so far. What have you been up to? What’s giving you hope this summer? I’d love to hear!

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. 

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?

The Procrastination Cycle

In my last blog, I talked about self-sabotage, why we do it, named some of the most common methods of doing so. I also promised to dig a bit deeper into each of those methods throughout the week. As a self-saboteur, procrastination is one of my key tools. In fairness, it’s not an intentional tool. It’s a super convenient one, and I’d say that it’s probably one of the prime self-sabotage techniques for people in general, when it comes to avoiding our fears.

Why is procrastination so commonly used to self-sabotage?

1.  You can literally procrastinate by doing anything – scrolling social media, walking the dog, picking your nose, you name it.

2.   Most of the time (picking your nose perhaps notwithstanding, but who am I to judge), procrastination can seem convincingly justified. For instance, you may know that you have to start on that guest post you were asked to write, but wouldn’t it be so sweet if your spouse came home to a clean house and a special dinner? They’ve been working so hard, they deserve that, don’t they? And they may well deserve it. And you also have been working hard, and were finally asked to write a guest post and you deserve that too. But if you’re worried about your post not being good enough, getting negative feedback, repercussions of others reading it (i.e. if you’re talking about a personal topic like I do with mental health), it’s super easy to justify putting that off, especially when it’s to do something for someone else.

3.  It often helps us feel accomplished, even when we’ve avoided our main task. And sometimes, it really is getting things done. We manage to tick of smaller items, less scary items, all while skirting the one thing we really needed to do to reach our goal.

4.  Starting is often the hardest part. Think about a morning workout routine. I can say with full honesty that the toughest part of my morning workout is not the workout. It’s hearing the alarm, getting up in the dark, getting dressed, and getting set up for my workout/going outside for my run. Rarely do we jump out of bed at our alarm, eagerly get dressed, hurry to the gym/get outside for our run and then stand there and say “Nope, not doing it.” It’s that getting started. It’s that first initial push to move forward with the plan.  Especially because once we start, we’ve often forged some sort of internal commitment to ourselves to see it through. Which opens us up to things like failure, rejection, and all sorts of other things that make us feel vulnerable. But when we procrastinate, we don’t have to get to that stage.

5. It can be super tough to identify. Obviously, if you’ve chosen to pick your nose for hours instead of work on the guest post, it’s a bit more obvious. But if like me, you procrastinate with productive activities, maybe even activities related to the task at hand, it can be significantly more difficult to pinpoint. I, for example, am a procrastination brain-stormer/researcher/list maker (I’ll delve more into lists and self-sabotage later this week). I have more notebooks and documents and apps filled with varying versions of the same brainstorm for Spread Hope Project and advocacy work that I’ve lost count. I always tell myself I just need to think it through a little more, or make one more list of ideas, or read one more article about xyz to make sure I have all the possible ideas and information I need. When really what I need to do, after the umteenth list and brainstorm, is just get started. I’ve finally recognized this, because I have recognized that my strength is in the big vision and little details but the implementation (part where I get started) trips me up. But it’s taken me a long time to recognize that.  When your activities seem productive and goal-oriented, it’s a lot trickier to identify them as procrastination.

So what can we do about it?  

As a self-proclaimed procrastinator, I wish I had all the answers. But I do have some tricks that have helped me.

Identify the procrastination technique(s).

  • Record it old school. You can keep a bulleted list of what you’re accomplishing/doing. You could also use an old school planner, that breaks down the day in increments (usually by the hour). Traditionally, this is used for planning out your day, and you an use it that way. But you could also use it to write down how you spent your time throughout the hour. And don’t cheat either – if you spent 15 minutes scrolling through social media, include it. It doesn’t have to be exact, but if you notice that Facebook comes up in every hour (and your job doesn’t involve primarily social media), it can help indicate patterns.
  • Use a task  timer. I like the Task Timer app for iphone, but there are other (free) options I’m sure. This app uses the Pomodoro Technique, and allows you to assign different task categories. Each time you restart the timer, you can select the task category. Be honest about your tasks – if you plan to spend the next 25 minutes checking social or doing laundry or whatever it is, mark it as such. You can then go back and notice how much time you spent doing what.
  • If you’re primarily on the computer, look at the open tabs on your browsers. This often shows you what you were doing to distract yourself.
  • Have an accountability partner. This obviously takes someone who’s willing to participate, but it can be a big help. Set a frequency with with to regularly check in. This also means we’re more likely to keep track of what we’re accomplishing, which can help identify patterns. Often times, others are better at noticing our patterns than us.
  • Remove those things you think *may* be your procrastination culprits. Put your phone away. Log out of social media. Close all browser tabs/apps/etc except for the ones your specifically working in right now.  If cooking/doing laundry/etc is your distraction, close the door to those rooms or go in a room far away from the kitchen as make sense. If you start feeling “naked” without these outlets, you’ve probably hit on (at least some of) your procrastination techniques.

You’ve Identified the Techniques… Now What?

  • For starters, keep up with the bullet point above. Move away as many distractions as you can, if you know that they’re your procrastination techniques.
  • Schedule in time for your favorite procrastinations, and stick to it. If you use a timer or a planner, dedicate one or two of those time blocks to your favorite procrastination. This is especially helpful procrastination techniques that double as tasks that actually need to get done (eventually). If you do indeed need to do laundry, knowing that you’ve blocked that time to do it during the day can help that gnawing feeling of “What if I forget or get too busy, I better just go do it now…”.  Not all procrastination is intentional – sometimes we think “oh I’ll just pop a load of whites in the laundry before I get started on that blog post”, and two hours later we’ve washed and folded our entire wardrobe and organized every drawer by color.
  • Pare down your to do list to three items max. Fewer is better, but I get that we all have deadlines.The bigger ticket/scarier/more complicated the items are, the fewer you include. I’ll talk about this more in a dedicated post, but often procrastination comes from feeling overwhelmed – again, that whole “getting started” piece.
  • If you get stuck just do something, anything (related to the task). As I mentioned, fear often keeps us from getting started. It’ll tell us something like “You can’t write that article. You don’t even have a title. You can’t turn in an article without a title.” Our brains psyche us our and we’re frozen before we even get started. And the more this builds up in our head, the more that rides on this title, the more we tend to freeze. So if you have to, put in a placeholder. It can be “Insert title”. It can be a general topic of the article (Procrastination). If you get stuck on what to write in the article itself, just start write anything related that comes to mind. Go back and fix it later, but get something down.  I talk a lot about writing here, but this can be true for just about any task that we’re dreading.  We often procrastinate – and self-sabotage – when we put so much pressure on one decision (the title of the article), when really, if we just got started in some way, we’d figure it out as we went along.

I hope some of these help! In my next post, I’ll be talking about the Endless To Do List and procrastination.

Are You An Awesome Self-Sabotager Too?

Welcome to week three of the Spread Hope Project weekly themes. This week’s topic is one that I’m super excited to talk about: Self-Sabotage. Why, you might ask, am I super excited to talk about this topic? Because:

I am an awesome self-sabotager.

 

Self sabotage

(Grammar note: I realize the proper term may be “self-saboteur”, I like sabotager better). And by awesome, of course, I mean this is something I understand all too well, because, if I’m being totally honest (and why wouldn’t I be?) this is probably something that I do daily. In fact, it’s something many of us do regularly. Sometimes without even realizing it. The truth is, self-sabotage is way more common than you may think, and it often shows up in forms nobody expects – in fact, often, it shows up in forms that, on the surface, look quite positive and productive (more on this later).

Why do we self-sabotage? Well, we’re all unique people living unique lives, and so therefore I can’t speak for each and every one of us, but there’s one thread that tends to tie together a lot of self-sabotage efforts.  If you’ve been reading these weekly theme series, it’s one you might recognize from last week: fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of success (yep, this exists – if we’re successful, there’s pressure to continue to keep becoming more successful, and that’s freakin’ scary), fear of the unknown/uncertainty, imposter syndrome. I could go on and on. And underlying these fears may be feelings such as low self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it’s not uncommon. If we’re struggling with our self-confidence, it’s a lot easier to convince us (and for us to convince ourselves) that not only are we going to fail, but that the results of failing are going to be awful. For those of us who live with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, these feelings can be magnified further. And when these are magnified, so too may be the fears, and that can lead to even stronger self-sabotage.

Now let me stop for a moment to clarify something: the word sabotage sounds pretty awful. And when it’s done intentionally, maliciously, towards someone else, it is. If you intentionally sabotage someone’s relationship or big day or something like this, obviously that’s not OK. But when it comes to self-sabotage, I believe that often, it isn’t a conscious decision, and it’s certainly not intentionally malicious. Rather, I think we frequently do this as a form of self-protection, a sort of preservation of self. When you are struggling with depression and experiencing extremely low self-worth, for example, rejection or failure could be especially devastating, furthering the depression and feelings of worthlessness. So our brain, without our conscious input, says “Hey, that doesn’t sound good at all, so I’m going to do what I have to in order to not get rejected”. And one of the ways in which we can not get rejected, is to prevent ourselves from going after something fully in the first place. Thus, self-sabotage.

That said, just because it’s not a conscious decision to start with doesn’t mean we can’t bring consciousness to it. Which is to say that when we learn to recognize our patterns of self-sabotage, we can potentially spot when our brain starts veering that direction, and hopefully learn some ways to intervene.

 

how do you self-sabotage

 

As I said, I’m awesome at self-sabotage. Which isn’t awesome, but it does mean I’m pretty familiar with it. And while there are so many ways to self-sabotage, there are some methods that, from my observation and experience, seem to be particularly common.   I’ll be delving into some of these more thoroughly later in the week, but wanted to give an overview here.

  • Procrastination. This might be number one. Raise your hand if you, too, find just one more really interesting article to read or Facebook post you must comment on before starting that task that makes you nervous/concerned/etc. I’ll be delving into this a lot more later.
  • The endless to do list/always being too busy. If day after day, week after week, you’ve built up your schedule or to-do list to the point that there’s no humanly possible way you’re going to get through it all, you might want to take a closer look. If you’re one of those people who wears “too busy” like a badge of honor, please don’t hate me just yet. I’ll explain further when I do a deeper dive into this topic later this week.
  • All or nothing thinking. For those of you who, like me, struggle with gray areas, all or nothing thinking (“it’s not worth it unless I get this exact, specific result”) is a super easy way for our brain to freeze us where we stand, thus sabotaging our efforts to move forward.
  • Setting goals with unreasonable time frames, requirements, or that require all “outside influence” (i.e. where you have very little to no control). It’s OK to be optimistic and go outside your comfort zone. In fact, I encourage it. But have some smaller in between goals to build on too. If my only plan for paying off debt is winning the Powerball, I’m probably setting myself up for disappointment (aka sabotaging my efforts).
  • Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We’ve heard this before in slightly different context, right? Now, this doesn’t mean giving up after the first failure or rejection. Persistence is key in reaching goals.  But every disappointment, or at least most, provide a learning opportunity. If you learn/ change/tweak nothing, you’ll probably get the same result. Think Charlie Brown kicking the football here.
  • Not being true to ourselves. Have you ever tried to dedicate yourself to job or project or program that goes against everything that is you? I’m not just talking about “my job isn’t my dream career”, but something that really, authentically doesn’t feel like you. It might work for a while, but eventually, you burn out. Furthermore, resentment and bitterness often set in. It’s incredibly difficult to feel successful and fulfilled when you’re bored, burnt out, resentful, and bitter. Knowingly setting ourselves on this course, therefore, sabotages our efforts.

There are more, certainly. These are the ones that I see most commonly. I personally have done all of these at times in my life, and some are still tough habits to kick. Over the next week, I’ll be digging deeper into each of the above, offering ways to recognize them, and tools and tricks for dealing with them.

 

How Do You Work With Fear?

It’s natural, as we grow older, to have a bit more fear (at least, I feel it is). As a child, we  didn’t know all the ramifications – we could fall and get hurt if we did this or that, we could get emotionally hurt from xyz, we could be rejected or fail if we went after such and such goal. As we get older, and we learn more about how things work, how life happens, as we experience more struggles and challenges, there’s more to fear. As a toddler, you didn’t (hopefully) have to fear that if you went after your career dreams and failed, you may not be able to pay your rent or mortgage, or feed your family. Fewer responsibilities often meant fewer fears of what would go wrong.

As adults, we’ve been through a lot of life experiences, ups and downs, successes and failures, achievements and disappointments. We know what can go well, but we also know what can go not so well. And often times, especially when you’re dealing with depression or anxiety, it’s that “what can go wrong” that gets magnified. And often, that can lead to fear. Furthermore, because depression and anxiety often like to lie to us, clinging on to those fears and reiterating that we’ll fail or be rejected or some other concerning outcome, that fear begins to sound a lot more like fact to our brain. It slowly morphs from “but what if I fail” to simply, “I fail”. To clarify, I’m not blaming us for this. It’s our illness, doing what it does so well, grabbing hold of the most vulnerable pieces, and clamping down on them, and makes it feel impossible to see any other outcome. Furthermore, it often feels impossible that if this “worst case scenario” happens – we fail, we get rejected, we mess something up big time – that (at least in time) it’ll be OK. That maybe, in even trying and failing, we’ll move closer to where we want to be.

This is a challenge I’m actively working on with myself right now.  While I am not trampling over my fears thoroughly, I am learning a few tricks along the way that I thought I’d share.  Sometimes, in these situations, it helps me to approach things a bit backwards – look at all the awesome possibilities first, and then bring it back down slowly to “ground level”, so that maybe I can begin to work on the fear of other, less awesome, outcomes. In order to do this, I’ve been asking myself a few key questions.

So here goes a big first question. I’ll share some of my own responses to it, in case that helps you to record your own.

What would you do or be if fear wasn't holding you back_

What would you do/be/go for if fear was not holding you back?

To clarify, this isn’t a “perfect world” scenario. It’s simply, “if you are who you are, where you are, with all that is you, but without xyz fear(s) holding you back.”  As promised, here are a few of mine – they range from the mundane to the big, because we (or at least I) have all kinds of fears, and big or small, they can hold us back.

  • I’d submit writing to more sites/sources
  • I’d cook/bake/try more culinary stuff without worry that they’d be awful (told you some were smaller than others)
  • I’d try my hand at growing my own herbs and veggies (I make half-hearted attempts, but I know I’m afraid I’ll fail, and haven’t pushed myself).
  • I’d work on publishing my novel
  • I’d work for myself again – I’d dig in, and figure out what I had to do to make it happen, instead of hemming & hawing & “I don’t know”ing.
  • I’d expand my advocacy to things like videos, or maybe podcasts.
  • I’d reach out and try to get more involved in advocacy panels or speaking or something along those lines.
  • I’d reach out to friends more, and try to get consistent get-togethers planned (like “we play board games every Tuesday” or whatever). Yes, this is a fear thing. Friend rejection is a serious issue for me me.
  • I’d learn how to do more around the house – fix more stuff, etc. My husband is awesome at this, but I’d like to learn too.

As you can see, there are some big items, and some seemingly silly items. “If you weren’t afraid, you’d cook?” you might ask. Yes.  I’m so afraid I’ll mess it up, do it “wrong”, embarrass myself (I don’t even know what this means in relation to cooking but it’s a fear), set off the smoke detectors because I’m burning something, etc. And it may not seem like something that’s holding me back, but I hate feeling like I can’t do simple things, and it wreaks havoc on my self-confidence and self-esteem. So whatever your list entails, don’t cross it off because it seems silly or unimportant or like it can’t possibly be holding you back. If it came to your mind, it’s important. Plus, these “silly” fears play an important role in getting us “over the fear hump”, which I’ll discuss later on.

 

Question number two:

If your fears came true, what's the worst that's likely to happen_

If you try and your fear comes true, what’s the worst that’s likely to happen?

Two clarifications here:

1.) I’m not talking about fears of serious life events – like fear of losing a loved one, or of serious illness or injury.  Obviously, when it comes to serious impacts on our lives and health like this, we have to consider these serious possibilities. I’m talking about “What if I do try to cook that dish or to grow those plants or to make those plans with friends, and it doesn’t work out as I hope – i.e. I fail, mess up, get rejected.”

2.) Note that I say “is likely to happen”. Yes, there’s always technically the chance of the absolute worst case scenario. I could try to cook something and end up burning down my kitchen. That does happen. But the worst that’s likely to happen is I burn it, have to throw it out, and order pizza for dinner. And in the process, I’ve perhaps learned what not to do when cooking that particular item, so I have more knowledge for next time I try.

So, what’s the worst that’s likely to happen? Of course, the bigger ticket items are more risky. If I try to work for myself and it fails, then that’s a bigger problem than if I try to garden and it fails. But knowing these, even the more serious concerns, is a first step, because it helps us get a plan in place.

 

Question number three:

Are past failures or rejections actually what you think they are_

If you’re basing your fear on past experience, is the past failure/rejection/etc actually what you think it is?

Confused? Let me explain. Real life example: The first time I cooked for my now-husband (then boyfriend) in our house, I decided to make breakfast for dinner. I knew I could make omelettes so I felt pretty solid, despite my cooking fears. And I burnt them. Horribly. Like, smoke detectors going off and scaring the dog, horribly. We had to dump them and order pizza. My brain, in those moments, turned on me faster than a sworn enemy would: See you can’t even cook the most basic things! You’re incapable. How can you be almost 40 years old and not even be able to make eggs? How pathetic!  Except what I never considered, and my (now) husband then pointed out, is that it was the first time we’d used the oven in the new house, it was a very old electric oven (I was used to gas ovens), the coils weren’t even so it wasn’t cooking proportionally, and it looked like it hadn’t been used in probably months, if not longer, so the oven itself was metaphorically rusty. In short, maybe the issue was the oven, and not me (at least here – admittedly, with some cooking, it is me). So, are the failures/rejections, mess ups, etc actually that? Or could there be another reason they’re occurring. Note: Answer this honestly. This isn’t to push away all responsibility. That’s the opposite end of the spectrum. But it could be that your fear is based off a failing or rejection or mess up that actually… isn’t. This can help dissect that.

 

Question number four:

What small steps can you take to build up to your bigger fears_

What are some small steps that you can take to work up to your bigger fears?

Another real life example: I’ve been wanting to attempt publishing my novel since I finished writing it over a year and a half ago. But I’m afraid of rejection, that it’s not good enough, and all these other things. So, this past September, my dad came up with an option: He produces Wordgathering Journal (an online journal), and suggested publishing a draft of the first chapter in the journal. Despite the fact that it’s my dad, and I trust his judgement on what’s good enough to go into the journal, it was nerve wracking – this was the first time any fiction work of mine was being put out for public consumption. But the fact that it was one chapter, and my dad was publishing it, made it less scary. Now, I’m looking into eventually self-publishing the full thing. That one small step gave me confidence to go further. It also gave me the insight to look at other options for getting my work out there – it didn’t have to be “big publisher or bust”.

So look at your fears, and see how you can break them down. It probably won’t dissipate the fears all together, but they may break down into manageable fears, as mine did above.

 
And finally, a tip/thought:

Practice doesn't make perfect, but it helps.

This is where to address those seemingly “silly” fears first. It’s way easier to think, “Tonight, I’m going to try to cook a simple dinner” than it is to say “I’m going to go for it and try to get my novel published”. These smaller things, when we start to move with the fear (note: not past it, but with it, meaning, we’re not unafraid, but we’re not frozen with fear), can help us build up to those bigger ticket items.

The bottom line is, the more we practice (thoughtfully) doing things we’re afraid of, the less frightening it becomes. I say thoughtfully here because I’m not saying “throw all caution to the wind and hope it all works out OK!” But the point is, often, one of the most frightening things is the unknown: What will happen? What if this? What if that? What if, what if, what if… But the more we practice moving forward with our fear, the more we get used to it. That’s not to say that we should just all be used to rejection and failure. Those hurt, sometimes terribly, and if we were all completely ok with every rejection we ever got, that might be just as concerning, especially when it’s on a personal level (friends, relationships).  But the more we work with our fear, the more we understand that sometimes, rejection and failure and messing up happen, and that when they do, we can get through it. And sometimes, they don’t happen. And that’s even better.

 

Happy November

Happy 75 degree first day of November from here in Philadelphia! This isn’t part of my weekly theme, but it’s the start of a new month, and the start of something new always feels like a good time to pause, reflect back, look forward, and acknowledge where we are in the moment. And this being (for us Americans) the month of giving thanks, it seems especially right to start it off on a bit of a happy/fun/thoughtful note. I thought I’d give myself some of my own prompts, and others are welcome to join in and use them if you’d like.

What awesome things happened this past month?

Actually a lot of awesome things happened this past month.

1. I taught my first tiny bit of yoga as part of my yoga teacher training – albeit it was a 10 minute opener to other trainees, but still, it feels awesome to have gotten through this.

2. I also had tons of exciting things happen in the advocacy world.

 

 

Big thanks to my friend Jason over at Ain’t No Shame In Chronic Pain, who nominated me as a Webewarrior and Breakthroughcrew member! Go check out his work/site! 

 

3.  I began talking to someone about self-publishing my novel (you can read a draft of the first chapter in the September issue of Wordgathering). I realize saying I “began talking to someone else about self-publishing” sounds like  a weird accomplishment. But the person I’m speaking with works at a self-publishing company, and just reaching out and saying “Hey, I’m thinking of self-publishing my novel” was a huge step. I’m now in the process of having it edited by someone other than myself (bonus, my dad’s an editor), and thinking about publishing details. It might seem weird that I blog about things like my depression and anxiety, and am nervous about anyone seeing my fiction writing, but I am. The thing is, nobody can (accurately) tell me that my thoughts about my own experience with my illness are wrong. Because they’re my thoughts and experiences, as they pertain to me. Regardless of what anyone else might think, I’m confident that I’m well-versed on my personal experience with my illness. But my fiction could get rotten tomatoes thrown at it (I know that’s a movie thing  but all the same), and I’d have no real ground on which to stand and defend myself. And that’s scary.

 

What are you looking forward to in November?

1. My husband and I are flying out to a family wedding in Minneapolis this weekend. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen these family members, and I’ve never been to Minneapolis. So I’m really looking forward to that. It’ll be a bit of a whirlwind trip, but a quick trip is better than none!

2. Thanksgiving! I love thanksgiving. Family and food and football watching… what’s not to love?

3. Random midday yoga classes. One advantage of your jobby job being in a government building is that you have off for days like election day (PSA: Vote!) and Veteran’s Day. These give me the opportunity to go to yoga at times like 9:30AM, when I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. These classes tend to be less full, and being the socially anxious introvert that I am, this is ideal for me.

4. I now consider it completely acceptable to begin all things Christmas. I’m a huge Christmas dork – it’s my absolute favorite time of year.  I fully believe any time after Halloween is completely appropriate to start celebrating the Christmas season. And I fully intend to.

 

Being the month of Thanksgiving (in the US), what are you grateful for? 

So much. My husband, my family, my dog, my spoonie community, the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world, my relative health (I know so many people going through SO much more than me), my home, the amazing people I’ve met throughout my life – even the ones that I’m not still in contact with, or don’t play a big part, because they’ve all helped me get to who I am right now.

 

Happy November!

Depression, Anxiety, and Trusting Yourself

When you live with mental illness, it can be difficult to trust yourself. Not in the “I don’t trust that I’m going to do the right thing” sense (though there’s plenty of that for me too!), but in the sense that often, it’s difficult to tell if you’re assessing a situation as it is, or as it is through the lens of our illness. Now of course, everyone looks at life with some sort of lens. None of us are completely objective about every single situation. But when you live with a condition like depression, anxiety, or a mood cycling disorder that includes mania or hypomania, it often feels (at least after the fact), like our brain might be lying to us. Depression, for example, often makes us feel that we’re hopeless, worthless, that our lives and what we do is pointless. It can make us feel unlikeable and unlovable. More than that, it can make us tell ourselves these things, repeatedly. When depression hits, a small setback may feel like a massive failure. It may throw us completely off course, not because “we’re over-reacting”, as we may be accused of, but because our brain actually sees it this way. Anxiety can act in a similar way, running away with worst case scenarios without our permission or cooperation – it isn’t conscious thought, it just happens. Mania, or hypomania, on the other hand, can make us overly energetic, sometimes to the point that the energy feels almost uncontrollable. On these days, distinguishing the (hypo)mania from just feeling really positive and good about ourselves and capable, can be tricky (at least for some).

 

trust yourself

 

All of this makes it difficult to trust yourself. Because when you have difficulty determining a good day from hypomania, and depressive lies from the realities about yourself or your situation, it makes it difficult to trust anything. This feels especially true these days, when we’re constantly reading phrases like, “You can’t control what happens in life, but you can control how you react to it.”  A nice sentiment in theory, but it can make you feel like you should be able to control every thought in your brain. You should be able to just tell yourself not to be so anxious, not to feel so hopeless or worthless. And when you can’t, it may feel like “If I can’t even trust my own brain, what can I trust? Certainly not myself.”

 

If you’ve been here, or you are here, know that you’re not alone. So many of us go through this feeling. And I wish I had all the answers, but quite simply, I don’t. But I’m hoping, through this series of weekly topics that I’m starting, we’ll cover topics that will help you (and me!) learn to trust ourselves more. By digging deep into some of our fears, patterns, and struggles, especially those that often make us feel stuck, that we can learn how to trust ourselves better. I do, though, have one piece of advice that I have to remind myself of time and again, and it’s this:

 

When in doubt, go back to your core values. When it’s all said and done, what really, really matters to you deep down at the core?  If you took away all the external factors, people’s thoughts and judgements, even some of those critical self-judgements and lies our brain tells us in a bad flare up, what would be most important to you?  If you aren’t sure how this ties back to trusting ourselves, think of it this way: Our core values, the ones we’ve held since we can remember, that are so near and dear to our heart, that make us feel like something’s off when we aren’t holding true to them, don’t tend to change drastically without some sort of major life change (i.e. having children may zoom “keeping my children safe” right to the top of your list, and alter your perspective on other, previously high ranking items). But for the most part, without major life changes, these stay consistent.  Therefore these core values be can generally be relied upon to guide us. For example, one of my core values is putting people first. My loved ones especially are the most treasured piece of my life. Money, on the other hand, is not (don’t get me wrong, I like money, but it’s not a “treasured piece of my life”). So no matter how stressed I get about money – and I get highly stressed about it at times – when it comes down to it, if I have to make a decision that puts the choice between my loved ones and money, I can always look back to my core values, and know that putting my loved ones first is the right decision. I can trust myself, when I look at my core values, to make the choice that I feel is best, even when I’m severely depressed.

 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about topics that I hope will help those who may struggle like me, especially during bouts of depression and anxiety, to trust ourselves. Often this requires us to dig deep, and examine those things that are really tough to examine. I’ll be doing this right along side my readers, so please know that you’re not alone in this.

 

And of course, thoughts and inspiration are always welcome, so if you have something that helps you trust yourself, even when you are struggling to trust your brain, I’d love to hear them!

And remember….
You Are Amazing

When You’re Tempted To…

When you’re tempted to start talking negatively about someone/thing you don’t like, instead say something nice to/about someone you do.

When you’re tempted to get frustrated with someone for something they did, ask yourself what their struggle might be that lead them to do that.

When you’re tempted to think you aren’t enough, think of something you do well, or something positive you offer. If you struggle to, ask someone you trust.

When you’re tempted to put yourself down, pretend you’re talking about your best friend and see if it changes the narrative.

When you’re tempted to keep falsely smiling and saying “everything’s fine” when it’s not, think about how someone else might benefit from hearing your story.

When you’re tempted to focus on those you think don’t care, instead, make a list of people who do – even if they’re not people you know in real life (spoonie online family totally counts!).

When you’re tempted to feel guilty because of your symptoms or illness limitations, gently remind yourself (and anyone else who may need reminding) that you did not choose to have this illness, and you’re doing the best you can with what you have.

When you’re tempted to think you don’t matter, list three (or more!) nice things you’ve done for someone recently (even if they’re tiny things). Those things made a difference to someone – often we don’t realize how big of a difference the smallest kind actions can make.

When you’re tempted to think there’s no hope, remember that you’ve been here, or somewhere similar, before, and you got through it.

When you’re tempted to compare yourself to others and feel less significant, remember, someone else is looking at you and thinking they wish they were as strong and motivating and inspiring as you.

And finally, when you’re tempted to give up on your dreams….

 

pool noodle

 

As I Close In On The Last Days of My 38th Year

This was originally posted on my personal blog, Lilies and Elephants. But it seemed relevant here, so wanted to share!

If you aren’t aware, I love birthdays. My birthday, your birthday, my dog’s birthday, your dog’s birthday. If it’s a birthday, I love it.  Why? Well first off, it celebrates life, and as someone that so passionately advocates for life in my suicide prevention efforts, I think making it through another trip around the sun and still being here, even with all you’ve had to endure, is a pretty damn good reason to celebrate. Also, here’s the thing: unless you’re a twin/triplet/other multiple birth, or share a birthday with someone you’re likely to celebrate with, your birthday is the only day of the year that’s ALL ABOUT YOU!! I mean granted, it’s not only about you because somewhere in the world there are others who also have their birthday the same day (looking at you, Bruce Springsteen, who shares my birthday). But in your sphere,  your day is about you. It’s not about your clients or your boss or your friend, or your dog or your cousin (OK my cousin and I have a birthday a day apart, so this is actually a bad example, but you get my point). It’s about you.  And often, because you don’t get to celebrate with everyone at once, you get to stretch it to a couple of days – birthday weekend, birthday week, etc. Hell, DSW sent me something in August that said “your birthday is almost here!” That’s what I’m talking about! And the beauty of it being all about you is that if you want to spend your birthday/weekend/celebration time going to yoga or going out to dinner (if you can afford it) or gardening or sitting around picking your nose, that’s totally your right. We spend so much of our time trying to accommodate everyone and everything, trying to meet those deadlines and get that work done and do those chores and tasks and do whatever else we have to do that we all deserve this time.You get to be Queen (or King) for a Day! (Fun fact: My Grandma Northen was actually on the show Queen for a Day years ago, which is what made me think of this phrase). 

grace birthday

I hope I enjoy my birthday as much as Grace when she realized there were fries in this bag.

But in addition to being a birthday celebration advocate, there’s another purpose to this post. As I like to do each year, I wanted to take a look at my past 12 months.  Especially as we get older/have increased gravitational pull towards the earth especially in the curvy parts/forget why we just walked into the room or why we’re not wearing pants add few more candles to the cake, I think it’s easy to think of all the things we haven’t yet accomplished, or where we hoped/thought we might be that we aren’t yet. This can be especially true if chronic illness has prevented you from being and doing some of the things that you hoped to have been/done at this stage of life. But so much can change in a year,  that I think it sometimes helps to look at those things we did accomplish, or those positive changes that have happened in the last year, to give us a bit of hope that just because we haven’t gotten there yet, doesn’t mean we won’t.

In this past year, I have: 

  • Gone on my honeymoon (it was a few weeks after our wedding, so technically, I was married in my last age year).

 

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Overlooking Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes, where we honeymooned.

 

  • We’ve gotten three new cars (clarification: we got two new to us cars, one of which was totaled by someone who didn’t stop behind me, and subsequently, I got an actual new car because it was actually cheaper with the Hyundai sale than getting a used one).
  • I left my part time job of four years, started with a new company, and then transferred sites with that same company. So my job has, essentially, changed twice in the last year.
  • Traveled to Greece (Athens, Santorini, Crete).

 

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My husband and I in Crete

 

  • Traveled twice to Spain – once with my cousin to Barcelona, Madrid, Cordoba, and Ronda; once with my parents, and all of us siblings and our families, to Catalonia.

 

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Hiking in Ronda, Spain

 

 

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From the house we rented in Catalonia. So ridiculously peaceful.

 

  • Signed up and been accepted to Yoga Teacher Training (I start Sept 28th!).
  • Celebrated my first Wedding Anniversary.

 

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Actually got cappuccino on our anniversary by chance.

  • Had to titrate completely off all medications temporarily for private, personal reasons. And you might say “this is something to celebrate?” No, but the fact that I’m still here while being off all meds is. Honestly, other than celebrating my wedding anniversary, of all of my accomplishments this year, this was the biggest. It was by far the most difficult (I mean, traveling through Greece and Spain in luxury was tough, but….).

 

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Actual photo of me off meds.

 

 In the Health Advocacy/Writing world, I:

  • Completed my fifth Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention.

 

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Finish of the 2018 Overnight Walk in Philadelphia.

 

  • Had my advocacy work published on numerous sites, including The Mighty, where I officially became a contributor – a huge goal of mine.
  • Had my advocacy work published on numerous sites, including The Mighty, where I officially became a contributor – a huge goal of mine.
  •  Became a Pioneer Member of the Savvy Coop, and was chosen to do an Instagram takeover for them.
  • Completed No Stigmas Ally Training, and submitted work to be published there.
  • Had the first chapter of my novel (or one day novel) published in Wordgathering Magazine.  Putting my novel out there for everyone (or the 10 people obligated by blood relation, whatever) to see was super nerve wracking, as I never show anyone my fiction work.
  • Been steadily working on getting over my fear of rejection and failure in submitting work and participating in advocacy projects.  But for the Overnight Walk, as I’ve done that before and it’s not a “work to be judged” so to speak, every one of the above took huge amounts of courage to pursue. My goal in the past few months has been “go for it”. I’ve had to tell myself, “The worst thing they do is say no.” I’ve made an increased effort to ‘raise my hand’ when people ask for submissions, participants, and the like. This is huge for me, and something I am hoping to continue to become better at with time.

There were so many literal ups and downs this year – I have a rapid cycling mood disorder, and had to come off meds, after all. But I made it through, and I accomplished quite a bit. And building on that momentum, I have some pretty big hopes and goals for next year, which I’ll be sharing in an upcoming post.

Thanks for all of the memories, 38! Looking forward to seeing what 39 has in store!