April Linkup Party

Happy April! It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve had a lot going on, both in illness and in life – in fact I still do – and I’ve been needing to recenter and refocus a bit. However, I saw the April Linkup Party Prompts from A Chronic Voice, and these always inspire me to post. This month’s prompts are:

I love each and every one of these, so I’ve decided to write on all five.

Tiring

Right now, a lot of things seem tiring. My schedule has been intense for the past few months, as it’s been unusually busy at work and yoga teacher training is coming down to the wire (spoiler alert – see educating for more on this). The lack of down time/free time has been tiring. Not in a bad way, per se, as it’s all towards a greater goal, but still, tiring. More so, my brain has been tiring. Because I live with a rapid mood cycling disorder, my brain is all over the place. It spent all of January and February berating me, telling me I’d never succeed, picking at every tiny vulnerability. I was a giant weeping mess for the first two months of the year. Enter March, and things started to feel better. Not sure why, but they did. I’d been doing a lot of work on myself, and though I know my condition won’t ever go away, I thought at least I was pulling through the darkest pieces, and that my intense work on myself was paying off. And then, April hit. Hit me like an emotional ton of bricks, that is. I’m back to gooey, weepy mess, low self-worth and self-esteem, struggling to see light at the end of the tunnel. And this back and forth, this two steps forward one step back, this constant internal struggle and emotional roller coaster, is incredibly emotionally and mentally tiring.

Educating

As mentioned above, I’ve been participating in 200-hour yoga teacher training since the end of September. I am due to teach my “first class” (basically practicum part of our final) on April 26th, and I have my written final exam April 28th. The past few months have been tons of learning and educating, in everything from philosophy to the physical movements of yoga and everything in between. I’ve been learning how to put yoga flows together, how to choose the right music, the business and ethics end of being a yoga instructor. We were educated on trauma informed yoga (the basics, it’s something I want to pursue further once I graduate). I’ve been steeped in education.

I’ve also been doing a lot of educating myself on myself – everything from working on my courage and learning how I self-sabotage out of fear, to recognizing my codependent tendencies, to learning how to rediscover myself (if you have any tips for this, I’ll take them, this is still a work in progress), to so much more. It’s been super eye opening, helpful, frustrating, and just about every other emotion possible.

Receiving

I’m working on learning how to receive compliments/praise/acknowledgement/basically anything positive, either from others or myself. Low self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence make me generally sure that everyone’s “just being nice”, and that I’m not worthy of anything positive actually said about or done for me.

I’m also working on not receiving other people’s negative energy, painful words and actions, judgements, lack of belief in me, or anything else that falls into this realm. To clarify, I’m realistic and value honesty. I don’t want everyone to walk on eggshells or be all fluffy kittens and rainbows with me. But I have often defined myself by other people’s opinions/thoughts/words/actions. They thought the way I did something was wrong? I must be wrong. They didn’t believe in me or doubted me? I stopped believing in or started doubting myself (note: I already do this enough on my own, I don’t need others’ help to do so). This is all part of the codependent tendencies mentioned earlier. It’s still a big issue for me. I”m working on separating my belief in myself and my self-worth, from the negative I receive from others, while still being open to genuine constructive suggestions, alternative ways of doing/seeing things, etc.

Giving

I’m a giver by nature. I give time, I give understanding, I give empathy, I give forgiveness, I lend an ear, I help if someone needs help. Sometimes, in fact, I’m too giving. I try to be everything to everyone, except for to myself. So right now, what I’m working on is more focused giving, both internally and externally. For instance, instead of offering to be everything to everyone, I’m working on specifically reaching out to individual people, checking on on them, saying hi, etc. Not like a quick Facebook comment or like, but sending a persona text or message, really reaching out. I’m working on cultivating close relationships, instead of trying to be everything to everyone. It doesn’t mean that I am not there for others. But I am protecting my own energy a little more. I’m also working on giving to myself. Giving myself the kind words, the encouragement, the belief in self that has often been missing. I’ll get a bit more into this in “Quieting”, below.

Quieting

I’ve been doing a lot of self-work, as I mentioned. Much of this has to do with quieting the negative thought patterns in my mind, as well as reigning my mind in when it tries to run amuck (often). I’ve also been working on spending more time in meditating, yoga of course, prayer, reflection, and body access exercises/body scanning, which all help me with quieting my external environment (I tend to do each of these best in a quieter setting), but also my internal one.

Thanks, as always, for these prompts! It’s good to be back to blogging here again. Don’t forget to go to Linkup Party link in the first paragraph to check out others’ posts for these prompts!

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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

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

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

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!

Getting Away From All Or Nothing Thinking

Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought or said anything akin to the following:

My blog will never have thousands of followers, so why even keep it up?

This book I’m writing will never be a best seller, so why even try to publish it? (Insert creative outlet here – i.e. My art will never be displayed in a gallery so why bother; I’m never going to be a famous musician so I’m just wasting my time…)

Or on a smaller scale:

I’d like to try my hand at cooking/gardening/knitting/etc but I’ll never be as good as my mom/dad/best friend (insert family member/friend/whoever).

I just wanted this event/holiday/gathering to be perfect and it wasn’t. I’m such a failure.

If any of these sound familiar, you may dabble in all-or-nothing thinking. And in fairness, we probably all have this on some level. Rarely do people cheer because their football team almost won the game. If you’ve ever watched your team lose the super bowl on a game-ending field goal attempt that went wide and to the right, you know that it doesn’t matter how close they were to winning (go ahead and guess my football team now). But unless you’re kicking the potential game winner in the super bowl, rarely does something we aim for have to be categorized as either perfection or a devastating failure.

Often, though, this is where self-sabotage steps in. Many of our brains like to see things as all or nothing, good or bad, success or failure, perfection or devastation. Especially in the throes of depression, our brain is excellent at convincing us that if we can’t achieve our ultimate goal, there’s no sense in trying. Take, for instance, the book example above. In this all or nothing thinking, our brain refuses to see that there’s a whole range between “nobody ever sees this book I’ve drafted” and “I’m a best selling author”. It tells us that we’ll get rejected if we try to publish it. And if we do manage to get published, nobody will read it. And if they do, it’ll get panned – everyone will realize what a crap writer we are and that will be the end of our writing career. We’ll be a laughing stock. Because to our brain, there are only two options – complete success or complete failure. There’s nothing in between. When, in fact, there’s plenty in between:

  • I could self-publish our book (and in fact, I know people who have self-published the first, and it did so well a publisher signed on for their next).
  • The number of people who read my book could be somewhere in between zero and best-selling author status.
  • Some of those people could like the book, even if all of them don’t.
  • One person may give it one star while another gives it five.
  • I may sell a decent amount, even though we’re not a best seller
  • By getting my name “out there” with any type of publishing, I could make a connection I never foresaw, and that connection could help me in the future.

But for some of us, our good old friend fear steps in and gives us an ultimatum: This either has to be perfect, or it’s a failure. And especially when we’re battling depression or anxiety, when we’re feeling particularly vulnerable and hurt, when failure and rejection can do their worse, our brain tries to get us to avoid them at all costs. Thus, self-sabotage.

So what can we do if all-or-nothing thinking sabotages us? My suggestion is to break it down. Let’s look at our goals piece by piece, and that may help us to see where we can still succeed, even if it’s not the “all” of all or nothing. I do this with a series of questions, and it helps to get to the bottom of *why* we think this way.

  1. What do I want to achieve?  
  2. Why? This piece is critical to the process. List as many reasons as you have. Be honest. It’s completely cool to have a goal of, say,  “I could stand to make a little more money.” Not all of your goals have to be big dreamy creative goals. Paying the bills is key too. Or you may say “It makes me feel accomplished/good about myself.” Cool. You deserve that. It’s completely ok to have a you-centered goal (assuming it’s not depriving/hurting others big time).
  3. Is there any other way to accomplish these goals? Or, put another way, if this doesn’t go perfectly, are there ways you could supplement this, and reach that thing you want to achieve?
  4. If this doesn’t work as you planned, what can you still gain from it?
  5. If this particular situation doesn’t work out the way you planned, will this absolutely, without doubt, have to be the final end of this path for you? Note: I said the final end. As in, you can never, ever go down this path again in any way shape or form.
  6. If the answer above is “no” (hint: it’s almost always no), why not? Why/how might you be able to readjust and follow this path in the future?
  7. If this doesn’t work out as you hoped, could it lead to something else that does?

These questions, and the answers, help us to see what other possible paths or options might look like. And in doing so, we may come to see that it doesn’t, in fact, have to all go perfectly, exactly this one particular way. And in fact, we may realize that we don’t even know why we held on to some of these thoughts/beliefs/feelings so long, once we look more closely.

I once remember saying to my therapist that because I’d had one rough hour, that the day was ruined. She replied, “Why? You still have another 23 hours to make it a good day.” I try to come back to this now when I’m tempted to “go big or go home’. I would self-sabotage 23 hours of my day, based on the idea that it had to be perfect, instead of accept that one hour was not. I wouldn’t give myself credit for the other 23, no matter how good they were, despite the fact that clearly, they outnumbered the bad hour.  And it wasn’t until I started thinking of the bad hour as a chance to make the rest of the day better that my perspective changed. I still struggle with this sometimes, but it’s really helped to pull me away from that thought pattern. It’s the same with goals. It’s great if your goal or dream works out exactly as you hoped. But sometimes it doesn’t. And it helps to keep us moving forward if we plan for alternative options, if we try not to allow our accomplishment to be all or nothing. Because often, the fear that it won’t turn out perfectly stops us from going anywhere at all.

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.