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.

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What Are You Really Afraid Of?

This week’s topic is fear – a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. To clarify, not because I love fear. Not by any means. But because I have fear, or should I say fears, and plenty of them.  While I do deal with some more external fears, like claustrophobia, heights, flying (ironic, for a travel planner I know), and a particularly strange fear of getting locked in a bathroom (there’s actually history to this one), my biggest fears are internal:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of loss of control (of life, of my mind, of anything)
  • Of never being truly happy
  • Of never finding my path in life

So if you, too, battle these, know that you’re not alone. Often, fear of failure and rejection, and even fear of loss of control, can show up as behaviors such as self-sabotage (whole week’s focus coming up on this), procrastination, talking ourselves out of going for something we really want, giving up on our dreams and goals even if they’re attainable or in reach. And frequently, because of these, our fears become a “self-fulling prophecy” and form a vicious loop.  If you struggle with depression or anxiety, this loop is often even trickier. To clarify, I am NOT saying that these things are our faults, that we’re to blame for feeling depressed or for having low self-esteem or confidence or self-worth. I’m not saying that at all. Here’s what I’m saying:

Depression and anxiety make it difficult for us to fully trust ourselves. They lie to us, telling us that we’re worthless, hopeless, not good enough. They tell us we’ll never be successful, or catalogue a list a mile long of all the things that will go wrong, to the point that we may be overcome with anxiety. When you’re consistently being told you’re worthless and hopeless and not enough, that you’ll never succeed, that nobody cares about what you do, or whatever other lies our illnesses tell us, the results are often low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and low self-worth. Afterall, being told this enough, even by ourselves, has a lasting impact. And if you’ve ever been told this by others too, that only compounds it further (note, we’ll go into stigma and dealing with other people’s B.S. later in this topics series). Speaking from personal experience, convincing yourself that you’re going to succeed, that you don’t need to be afraid of failure or rejection or anything like this,  can be incredibly difficult when you’re really struggling with feelings of worthlessness.

This is something I’m working with actively at this moment, and it’s something that I think a lot of us experience, at least on some level. Over this week, I’m hoping to offer some thoughts to help maybe break down the fears a bit, to make them seem more manageable, and also offer some tools to try to work through them.

To start with, here are a few questions to think on:

1. What do you truly fear? This could take a little digging, but it helps to get to the bottom of the fear. A few tools that might help dig deeper here.

  •  Note that the true fear may be hiding behind another fear. For example, you may be saying, “I want to start my own business, but I’m afraid I’ll make less money, and I won’t be able to pay my bills.” And maybe money is where the fear ends – maybe you are making six figures now and your business plan you’ve created for your own business doesn’t account for that kind of salary. But often, it’s not this cut and dry and we have to dig deeper and ask ourselves, “Is a this really what I’m afraid of?”  Or to put it another way, in this example, “If you started your own business and you were successful, would you have less money and not be able to pay your bills?”  See if this assumption of success changes the inner dialogue. If so, the real fear not be simply be the salary to bills ratio, but that you’ll fail in your business venture. When examining your fears, look for what’s being left unspoken, and that might help you get to the heart of the issue. Often our fears are layered, and we need to address each aspect of them to fully work with them.
  • Also note that sometimes, fear disguises itself as anger. For instance, say you’re a writer and have a dream of getting published. And someone says to you, “You’ll never be published. You’re not all that good. Why don’t you go after a more realistic dream?” Sure, most people would get hurt. Because it’s a hurtful statement. But if you get really angry, and (internally or actually) start screaming at them, “How dare you say that. You’re an a$$hole! You don’t know what you’re talking about. You wouldn’t know good writing if it hit you in the face!”, make note. Make further note if you’re still mumbling to yourself about how wrong they are days or weeks later. It is true that it’s a pretty rude (and unless they’re your editor, probably unnecessary) thing to say. But often, we get most angry at something because deep down, there’s a tiny voice that says, “what if they’re right?” It doesn’t mean it’s a justified voice, but it’s often there all the same. People putting a voice to our deepest fears can make us feel exposed and vulnerable, and that’s often not a comfortable place to be.Often, to protect ourselves (think fight or flight), our body goes into anger mode, to mask feeling exposed. So take note of those moments. They can often be the most telling.

2. Do you feel this fear is holding you back? I ask this because it’s not always the case. Three reasons: First, some fear can healthy. It can keep us from situations that are actually potentially dangerous. Second: Fear can make us think things through more. For instance, if you think starting your business will result in a lower salary, you probably should address the “how will I pay the bills” question, even if it’s not your deepest rooted fear.  Third, some people use fear as a motivator. They are determined to get past their fear, and it fuels them to push themselves when they otherwise might stop. Sometimes, pushing past the fear in itself is a goal, and it can be a good one. But if this does not sound like you (I know it often doesn’t sound like me), here are some ways to figure out if fear is holding you back.

  • Do you notice you often get stuck at the same point in tasks/projects/activities?  I, for instance, am gung-ho in the idea and brainstorming stage. I am great at the planning, I make content calendars and marketing plans, I have business plans bulleted down to the tiniest detail. And then, when it’s time for implementation, I freeze. Or I make one small effort, and if it doesn’t seem to immediately return a positive result, I get discouraged and often back off. It’s easier to find reasons why it’s a bad idea or it won’t work or I’m too busy, or I just can’t do it right, now than to face potential failure.
  • Do you procrastinate consistently when it comes to certain tasks or goals (by which I mean tasks or goals that you want to do, at least in theory – not like taking out the trash or cleaning the toilet)? To clarify, procrastinating doesn’t have to be scrolling through Facebook for hours (though it can be). But if you find that every time you have to do xyz, you suddenly realize that you’ve been meaning to organize your sock drawer, or rearrange the kitchen pots and pans, or clean the tub again, note it. Or, if like me, you constantly think you’ll just make one more list or read one more applicable article just to make sure every tiny detail is perfect, instead of actually starting on the next steps, you may well be procrastinating. Procrastination can be sneaky, so look for it in non-obvious places – like working around every other item that could possibly ever be on your to-do list, instead of starting on the one task you said you were going to do today.
  • Do you deal with all or nothing thinking when it comes to your goals? For instance, for the writer above that wants to be published, if they say something like, “It’s not like it’s going to be a best-seller, so what’s the point?”, fear is probably holding them back. This falls under the “I’ll never succeed so why try” category.  When you deal with a mental illness, gray areas can be especially tricky. Speaking from personal experience, when I struggle to trust my own brain, it can often feel like I need “solid” thoughts to hold onto – something is good/bad, right/wrong, this way/that way, success/failure. And having that anchor can be really important, because there are times that the whole world can feel gray, fuzzy, wobbly. But it can also feed fears of failure or rejection, because we may see the only possible outcomes as success or failure, not a sliding scale. This is something I am especially working on right now, and there will be a whole theme on “gray areas” later on.

If you’re working on determining your fears, I hope these help. My next post will be on what we can do once we have determined what are fears are, and how (if) they’re holding us back.

And to close, a final reminder: fear is a natural part of life. It’s ok to feel afraid. I’d venture to say nobody lives without some fear – even if it’s a small, less-obvious fear that they may not even be aware of. Having fear is part of the human experience.  We don’t have to be fearless. We just need to work on identifying those fears, and how we can best work with them to move towards our goals and dreams.

 

It's perfectly OK to be afraid.

 

 

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

 

A Note to Those Experiencing Thoughts of Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day.  Suicide Prevention is a cause near and dear to my heart. A family member (my mom’s cousin, who was my second cousin) died by suicide approximately eight years ago. I have friends who have struggled with suicidal thoughts and have attempted. A family friend died by suicide this past year. I have struggled with suicidal thoughts myself, and have battled a rapid mood cycling disorder my entire life. Being a suicide prevention and mental health advocate is, for me, one of the absolute most important task I have undertaken in my life.  It can literally save lives.

I’ve previously addressed the myths about mental illness suicide, the ones that create such a stigma and make the topic still so taboo to many. And addressing those myths is extremely important. But today, I would like to “speak’ directly to those who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, or bad depression, or are struggling in some other way.  Here’s what I want to say:

I know you feel alone. Having a mental health condition can feel incredibly isolating.  Depression often makes it feel like nobody will ever understand you. I know it’s dark. That right now, it’s impossible to see any light, any hope. I know you may even at times blame yourself for how you feel.  Feeling guilty about your illness, the way it affects your life, and others in it. I’ve been there. Being ill, and then taking the burden of that illness on yourself, blaming yourself, can make the pain feel inescapable. I’ve felt that. I know.

But I am here to tell you that it is not your fault. You have an illness, and  you are not alone. One in five people in the U.S. has a mental health condition. Twenty percent of our population is with you. Not perhaps experiencing exactly what you’re experiencing – we are all unique, as are our situations and illnesses. But we, too, struggle. We too, know the lies that depression can tell us, and how convincing those lies can be. We too know what it’s like to feel utterly alone in this world. To feel like you don’t matter, to feel like you aren’t enough.

And I bet you could look at so many of us and think, “Look, they still manage to ‘have it together’. They aren’t alone. They matter.” Or maybe you look at us and think, “They don’t have it all together, but they’re still doing so much better than I am. They’re strong, and capable and getting through this.”  Well I’ll tell you something:  we’re looking at you and thinking the same thing. We’re thinking how strong you must be to go through everything you do.  We’re thinking how much you inspire us, motivate us, experiencing all you do and still fighting each and every day.  Because you’ve made it through every day so far, and that’s incredible. Or maybe we’re looking at you and thinking how much you matter. How “enough” you are.

So please, if you are this person, sitting there in the dark, not feeling like there’s anyone who understands, who you can reach out to, reach out to me. Because I’ve sat there in the dark feeling that same way, possibly by your side, in reality or virtually, near you and so many others, but feeling so hopeless and isolated.  And I’m here for you. Because you do matter. You are enough. And you are not alone. 

 

You are not alone.

 

Guest Story: My Passion Project

Exciting stuff today! Last week, I shared my story and the story behind how Spread Hope Project came about. I also asked others to share their stories, and received a message from Alana Michaels, creator of My Passion Project.  Alana’s story touched me, and I wanted to share it here on Spread Hope:

One year ago today I was in the middle of a ten day stint with absolutely no sleep. Those few days lead me to a $400 hotel room in the middle of bustling New York City to spend a night completely by myself (I hated New York City). The morning after my hotel stay I was to the point where I was convinced I had been being filmed. I was awake all night “realizing” that I was being watched and observed by a camera crew and I started to question if my family and friends were “real” or just actors. I’m not quite sure how I made it out of the city that day and back to my car in New Jersey. I had numerous family and friends texting me trying to get me out in one piece… I guess they succeeded … well, sort of. It was that day that I was admitted into the psychiatric emergency room where I spent 8 hours before being taken by an ambulance to a mental hospital where I would spend 6 nights and 7 days … the reason for my stay? A severe manic episode of bipolar disorder. 

This was not my first experience with mania … but it was by far the worst episode. This particular one was triggered by the decision to get a divorce from my husband. Every time I’ve had an episode it’s been because of some sort of stressful and major event in my life. The one prior to this one was brought on by the birth of my son … I spent a year on a roller coaster of ups and downs and that was when I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

It’s a disorder that’s very hard for others to understand. Hell, half the time I don’t even understand it. But when the episodes hit, my life stops. The mania is hard … but the depression is devastating. 

Just as the manic episodes seem to get worse with each one … as does the depression. My most recent depression (that followed my severe mania) was by far the worst time of my entire life. I was in a suicidal depression …. to the point where I had a plan to take my own life. The thoughts of my 5 year old son and friends and family could barely save me.

I was under the care of a nurse practitioner through an outpatient program… she was not the right fit. I would be sitting there staring at the wall with tears pouring down my face and she would ask me if I was doing positive affirmations and eating enough protein. 

I eventually found my own psychiatrist out of network so he did cost a lot of money … but he was worth every penny because he saved me. Medication is what saves me from this life-threatening illness. 

It has been one year since my illness hit me harder than it ever had. I’ve been in therapy and keep up with my psychiatrist appointments. I haven’t been able to share this part of my story until now. I used to speak to large groups of people about my experience with my illness … but this last episode took away so much from me. I haven’t been ready … but I am now. I have H.O.P.E …Hang On Pain Ends. I hung on … and now I’m here able to share my story with you… in the hopes that it can save someone out there… like I was saved. 

Please make sure to check out My Passion Project on Instagram and Facebook

Thank you so much, Alana, for sharing your story. I’m so glad that you were ready to speak about your illness again, to help give others hope (H.O.P.E.).  Keep on being amazing!

 

passion project

(Photo credit: From the Facebook page of My Passion Project.) 

One Month to Go

A year ago June 1, I started the #365DaysofHope campaign. The idea was to post one picture every day with some sort of Spread Hope Project gear in it, based on suggestions of photo subjects from others. I did it for several reasons: of course, to raise awareness of Spread Hope Project, to focus on even the smallest things (or seemingly smallest) that can bring hope, and to get me doing/trying some things that I may not think to otherwise.

I didn’t get a full 365 suggestions, so I had to improvise a bit. Additionally, I’ve switched jobs and have less free time to get these photos, and also realized I just don’t have *that* much SHP gear, so I’ve had to be flexible with the rules I set. Basically, I’ve been trying to post a pic a day, either with a message of hope, or doing something that makes me hopeful, using the hashtag #365daysofhope. When I can, I try to wear/use Spread Hope Project gear.  You can check them out on Instagram.  Well, it’s just under one month until June 1, and therefore the technical completion of  the#365daysofhope campaign. I have not yet managed to get all of the suggestions given. Some due to time/monetary/logistical restraints, others I just… haven’t yet gotten. Here are the picture suggestions I have yet to get:

Bike ride 

Underwater pic of fish

Jersey Jets (this is where I trained gymnastics my entire youth)

Kids performing something

Swinging on a swing set

Running through a sprinkler

Playing catch with Grace (dog)

Mailing card/letter in a mailbox

Reading an actual newspaper

Playing a board game

Walking on a boardwalk

Toes in the sand

Doing a cartwheel

Rock climbing/rock gym

On a ferry

On top of a human pyramid

Plant a tree

Draw with a child

Cook a meal from a different culture

Draw with a child

Plant a tree

Go to the ballet

Go to Niagara falls

Go camping

Magic gardens on south street

Mosaic at the Curtis Center

Lobby of the customs house

Jail at Eastern State Penitentiary (in case you’re wondering it’s now a historical site in my neighborhood, not currently working jail!) 

Lucy the elephant

Swimming

Rolling down a hill

Building a sand castle

Watching fireworks

I’m not sure how many of these I’ll get to. I’d REALLY like to get to the top of a human pyramid, but I’ll need some help. So if you’d like to volunteer for that particular tasks, please let me know. I probably (read: definitely will not) get to Niagara Falls, go camping, or to the ballet in the next 23 days. It’s unlikely I’ll go rock climbing. I may be able to improvise some pictures (I did climb on some rocks in Greece!). But let’s see how many I can get to. What are your favorites?

Of course, if you’d like to help me get these photos and/or experiences, please raise your hands! And naturally, keep an eye on our Instagram to see how I fare!

Below are two of my favorites: Climbing/hiking up a mountain (taken in Ronda, Spain – technically I climbed down it first), and doing a handstand. Well, technically it was supposed to be a press handstand but I like to keep all of my parts in tact and I’m not that strong anymore, so handstand it was.

 

ronda

Hikiig a mountain in Ronda, Spain

handstand

Handstand. Grace doesn’t look impressed.

May Is Mental Health Month

Happy May! It’s sunny and getting warmer here in Philly, which is amazing. It’s incredible how much difference a little sun and warmth make, at least to me. While I can certainly battle depression on the brightest, warmest days (because it’s an illness, which doesn’t care about the weather forecast), I usually feel significantly worse in the short, cold days of winter when it’s difficult to even go outside for fresh air. So I’m super excited for the weather to finally be turning.

I haven’t blogged in a little while. I’ve been trying to get my sh*t together, reorganize my thoughts, plus I’ve been traveling in Greece. Side note: if you ever get the chance to go to Greece, go. It’s a gorgeous place, the people are the friendliest, the food is the freshest, and …. just everything about it. You can check out pics on our Instagram.

But I digress. May is Mental Health Month. A cause near and dear to my heart, as most of you know.  Every day my brain wages a battle against me, and every day I win, even if sometimes just barely. I am the one in five adults in the US that has a mental illness. Specifically, I am one of the 0.4-1% of the US population with cyclothymia. There is little known about written disorder, and it’s difficult to find others who have it. It also tends to be pushed aside as “not as big a deal”, which anyone who’s dealt with the rapid cycling nature of the mood cycles knows is inaccurate. The lack of information and difficulty finding others who have it has driven me to do two things – 1.) start my personal  blog over at Lilies and Elephants. 2.) Help others whose causes and/or organizations need exposure. Because nobody should feel like what they’re going through or fighting for is “not a big deal”.

This month, I’ll be focusing on mental health causes and organizations, as well as those causes that can be associated. Here’s what we’re looking for:

  • Local organizations or projects raising funds or awareness for mental health.
  • Local business partnering with an organization to raise funds or awareness
  • Local, orgs, businesses, or even individual advocates looking to be more involved in mental health and related causes

We want to know about you, and help others to know about you! Zero cost, I promise. It’s just what we do here at SHP.

Questions you may have:

  • Does local mean Philly area where SHP is based? Nope. Just means not a big global or national  company. In other words, we’re a small org helping other small orgs/businesses.
  • Does it really cost nothing? Yep. Our thing is promoting your thing. Or you. Or your cause. That’s how we spread hope. Or at least one of the ways.
  • My cause/project could be related, but I’m not sure. How do I know if my cause/organization/business qualifies? Ask us! You can hit us up on email, Instagram, FB (we’re less frequent on there), or my personal account on twitter.
  • How can you help my cause/project/etc? We can help you tweet, post, and share. We also can add you under our Projects tab on the website, and if you’re interested, we can “interview” you for a blog post. We can also help you with additional ideas specific to your cause/project/event.
  • I know I/my company/my organization want to do something, but I’m not sure what. Can you help? We can. Or at least we can try. Reach out to us at the above.

Mental Health is important. It affects 20 percent of the US adult population, so the chances are, we all know someone affected – even if we don’t know it.  Let’s help erase the stigma and raise awareness together.

 

The Bigger Picture

I was thinking about hope, as I of course tend to do often, and I realized that it’s been awhile since I really sat down and thought about the things in my life, right now, that make me hopeful. There are the everyday inspirations, of course – a beautiful sunset, a warm spring day, flowers in bloom, a positive conversation with a friend. And those things all keep me going in the day to day. They’re the pictures I post on Instagram in my #365DaysofHope campaign. They’re crucial for getting through the rough days, and I’m lucky to experience them. But I sometimes, ironically, forget to take stock of the bigger things that offer me hope. 

It’s not that I’m not grateful, or don’t appreciate these “big picture” pieces of life – I am, and I do. It’s that they sometimes get lost in the day to day. And I find that, when I sit down and list them out, when I truly focus on those hopes, it surprises me just how much is on that list. My brain can play so many tricks on me, making me depressed and anxious, bringing tears out of the blue, telling me I’m worthless and hopeless and incapable, that it becomes easy to spend my days just trying to get out of that, just to not feel so bad.  I often am so exhausted – mentally, emotionally, physically –  from that struggle, that I lack the energy to look beyond them. To look beyond “well today isn’t so bad” or “Ok I got through that” to “Wow, these other things offer so much hope.” And while it’s incredibly important to find hope in these moments of getting through, of not feeling so bad – because they often comprise much of our day and carry us through those rough times, I wanted to also voice those really positive, exciting, hopeful “bigger things”, for lack of a more eloquent phrase.

  • Family and loved ones. I am so incredibly lucky. I have a large family, a loving husband, and some best friends that have been by my side for forever, even when they’re not physically by my side.  I know that, even on my darkest day, I am surrounded by love. It may not always feel that way. I may feel terribly alone, because depression often makes us feel isolated. But I know, deep down, that I have so many people who love me. That offers me hope. (This includes my dog, Grace, who is the absolute epitome of hope personified… or dogsonified….)

 

IMG_1415

Gracie, the epitome of hope, finding pure joy in a discarded paper towel roll.

 

augelli fam

Yep, we’re those people. Our dog announced our engagement.

  • I have a new job that I enjoy, and I am learning more and more each day. It’s not a sector I’ve ever worked in before, and it gives me hope not only of my ability to grow and learn, but to expand my horizons. It’s not a path I’d previously considered, and I now feel that the opportunities for my future are broader.

 

  • If I haven’t mentioned it 1000 times, I’m going to GREECE! And then in June our whole immediate family (all 20 of us) are going to Spain. It’ll be my second time in Spain in 7 months. I’m so lucky to be able to see the world like this, and to spend quality time with my loved ones doing so. Travel always makes me feel hopeful. It helps me view the world on a larger scale, and it feels incredibly freeing. Often, I find that a literal change of scenery does me a world of good (no pun intended – Ok, maybe a little).  Not to mention that as a travel planner, blogger, and someone that wants to spread hope around the world, it makes me feel hopeful for ways that I can expand my work.

 

travel collage

Some of my many travels. Clockwise from top left: Amsterdam, Paris, Jordan (Petra), Olympic Rings in Barcelona, Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania. 

 

  • This Spread Hope Project. I have no idea where it might take me. But I see possibilities. It offers me a purpose, a way to help others, which is something I crave. I have  big dreams for it, and even if those adjust, or are ultimately not realized to their full extent (I’m a big scale dreamer), it shows me that I do have the ability to help people and make a difference, even if on the smallest scale for now. And I have met, and continue to meet, some amazing people on this journey.

 

  • The future. My husband and I want to own a farm one day. We want to grow fruits and vegetables. He wants goats and chickens for milk and eggs, and I want a Scottish Highland Cow because they’re adorable and I’ve always wanted one (you now see why I’m the dreamer and he’s the realist in our marriage).  He has generously said that we can have up to three dogs one day, which I feel is a fair compromise since he’s fine with the one we have and I want to rescue every dog ever on the planet. Big emphasis on one day for the dogs, maybe when Grace gets older and doesn’t take the strength of the World’s Strongest Man to walk her. Even though these goals will take a lot of time and energy and funds to accomplish, we have them. Having dreams like this, together, for the future makes me so hopeful.

 

Mcow

Being silly with Scottish Highland Cows at a B&B in the Catskills. (Note the HOPE shirt!).

 

MB cow

More silliness at the B&B. 

 

I found that, just writing these down, I began smiling. My mind starts to fill with ideas that give me further hope. Ideas for my travel business and blog. Ideas for Spread Hope Project. Excitement about our future farm (and cow! and dogs!), and all the things we could do with it. Yes, a lot of it is my mind wandering, as it does so… err….well? But they give me something to reach for. Some “one day”s. And when you have “one day”s, you have hope. Because it means that, even if it seems so far off, almost impossible perhaps, you still can see the possibility, or at least consider that there could be the possibility, of a brighter time. 

 

Spread Hope This Spring

It doesn’t feel like it here today, but it’s finally SPRING! Which means the days are getting longer, and eventually, I’m sure, it’ll get warmer. Spring is nature’s hopeful season. Animals come out of hibernation, flowers bloom and trees bud, people seem to come out of virtual hibernation – out from behind heavy jackets and hats and scarves and the warmth of their houses – to enjoy the outdoors and interact with each other once again. So it seems the perfect time to focus on spreading hope – both to others, as well as to ourselves. Not sure how? Here are a few ideas:

  • Plant something – a flower, a vegetable plant, a tree (local organizations often hold tree-planting days).

 

plants2

 

  • Purchase something from a local farm/orchard/nursery/etc.Their livelihood often depends on seasonal business, and may be beholden to things outside of their control – like the weather – and each purchase can help offer hope of a season that allows them to support themselves/their families.

 

  • Smile at people you pass when walking outdoors. Not creepily, but a pleasant smile, wave, good morning, etc. Doesn’t have to be everyone, but just do it occasionally. I say outdoors because I notice this seems to feel less weird to people. We have no issue waving at the other lone morning jogger we pass, or the person walking the dog down the street. But most of us are significantly less likely to walk through the mall or grocery store randomly smiling or waving at people, and I get that 100 percent.

 

  • Donate goods or services. Go through your closet. Donate already read books to a local library, mobile library, or used book store. Bake for charity. Whatever it is you can offer.

 

  • Send a card or a note. Not an email or text or tweet. Write a “thinking of you card” to someone going through a tough time. Or a thank you note to someone who’s done something nice. Or a “just because” to a friend. This isn’t spring specific, but let’s face it – most of us are feeling more generous in spirit when it’s not 20 degrees and bomb-cycloning outside.

 

  • Let out your inner 1980s (or earlier) child. Remember when playing outside was the reward you got for a job well done/being well-behaved/etc? Put down the electronics, go outside – on your own, with friends and family, with your dog, whoever! – and do something fun/silly.  How does this offer hope? It takes us away from our daily routine, it takes our mind, even if momentarily, off of whatever it is that we’re struggling with, and it reminds us, and anyone else involved that we can find small moments of joy in life.

 

What are your favorite ways to spread hope, or stay hopeful, during the spring?

 

Nostalgia and Hope

To preface this, I have to explain a bit about my background, career wise. For the first five years of my adult working life, I worked in corporate fitness (I have a B.S. in Kinesiology). After getting my Masters in International Marketing, I started my own travel planning company, Chimera Travel, that I ran full time for eight years (shameless plug, you can visit my newly brought back to life travel blog here). But life happens, and with changes in technology and the economy and numerous other factors, I needed some extra help financially. So I took a part time position at a front desk, which has grown into an almost full time position, while still running my travel business. In the midst of all this, I became a significantly more active mental health and chronic illness advocate which is currently out of the goodness of my heart – i.e. I make zero money and sometimes spend money doing this. And believe me, I don’t do this for the (hypothetical) money but I can’t do full time, or even significantly part time, and still have a roof over my head and eat. So, I have my numerous jobs/would be jobs.

Yesterday, between my job job and yoga, I sat and wrote/blogged and had coffee at my favorite cafe. When I previously lived in Old City Philadelphia, I my apartment was literally around the corner from this cafe. I was there probably three times a week on average. I worked solely for myself at that time, and I’d meet friends there for coffee or breakfast, spend my days enjoying free refills and snacks while planning client trips, blogging, working on business marketing. I knew all of the staff, and many of the other frequent customers. I’d run into neighborhood friends there almost every time I went. It was like my Cheers, but with coffee (I also had my “Cheers” bar/restaurant, which was two doors down from my apartment, but that’s a different story).

So yesterday, I sat down at the cafe, ordered a coffee, and took out my notebook and computer to start working. I had some blogging and journaling planned. And I found myself almost in tears with nostalgia. I can’t really call them sad almost-tears, nor were they happy. They were nostalgic ones. I can’t explain it any other way.  I sat there with my coffee, hoping my face didn’t betray how I was feeling. And I began to understand that the way I remember feeling in those days was how I was meant to feel. I had felt a purpose. I felt motivated and inspired. I felt control over my life, at least pieces of it. No, I couldn’t control when a client’s flight was cancelled, or when someone had a last minute request on a day I’d planned to take as a wellness day. But there’s always going to be something like that, in any job. Or volunteer opportunity. Or life. And if it’s not your job or client or organization, it’ll be your child waking up sick on a day that you planned to be out and about and getting things done. Or your car breaking down when you absolutely had to get to an important meeting. Or something else.

 

coffee

From my favorite cafe. I love their mugs – and free refills! 

 

My point is, there’s always going to be something out of our control, as much as I dislike this (I need to work on my letting go). But those days in which I worked for myself, I had control over so many important factors: the company as a whole – the direction it went (or ideally went), the mission and vision, the goals, the values it all embodied. I had control of the marketing, both in print and online – not only the content, but what I chose to do/not. The target market. Not to mention that, client emergencies aside, I got to make the schedule. I chose when to start and end work. If I needed a personal or wellness or sick day, I took it. If I had to make it up later by working longer other days, I did. I made those decisions.  For someone with chronic illness, that’s particularly important. And possibly, most importantly, I felt like I was working toward something and for something. I had goals for my company, and for my life involving it.  I felt like a made a difference – not necessarily in the world at large, but to my clients. I felt important to my little piece of life. Because without me, the business wouldn’t run, and the clients wouldn’t get their travel planned by my company.

So I sat there remembering this feeling. Being reminded of what it felt like to really feel feel connected to my life’s work, like what I did 40+ hours a week mattered, not only to me, but to others too. I helped people experience the world. They explored new cultures and traditions. They had their first experience ziplining or swimming with dolphins or hiking a mountain they always hoped to hike.  They had exciting honeymoons and destination weddings. They had family reunion trips.  I had clients who came to me never having owned a passport and, after their first trip overseas, decided to take one every year.

And when I think about being able to help others, to Spread Hope to others, and to potentially be able to combine my love of helping people with my love of helping people travel (and naturally, traveling myself), I think about how amazing that would be.  To get back to that feeling of purpose, that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be. That ability to feel happiness at how I’m spending my days. To feel like I’m making a difference in my little corner of the world, both to others and to myself.  And thinking about it, while a bit sad at not being there, makes me hopeful. I begin gathering ideas, almost involuntarily (though certainly welcomed). I don’t try to, they just fly into my head. I get inspired and motivated.

Now if I could only stop the doubt from creeping in. The doubt that says that, once again, this won’t work well enough. That something – the economy, life, etc – will throw me off and I won’t be able to push through it to ultimately be successful. The doubt that says it’s too risky, that I’m being rash and careless. The doubt that says others will be disappointed me, will doubt me themselves.

And if I could only get some help. Not financially, but in the form of support. If I had friends that would be willing to help me create and run projects for Spread Hope. Or who would help me by participating – whether it’s hashtagging their instagram photos for a photo campaign, or volunteering with a community project I organize, or just sitting and helping me brainstorm ideas. And I know it’s a big ask. I know everyone’s time is so valuable. But we all need help sometimes, and I’m really terrible at asking for it. I’m strong and I want to be able to do it all on my own. And often I think it’s too forward to say, “Hey I want to do xyz will you help?”, despite the fact that if someone came to me and said something similar, I’d probably be super excited (assuming it wasn’t some sort of selling thing). Or I always think, “nobody will say yes. Or they’ll ‘like’ the status but not volunteer”, so what’s the point.

But I need to get over that fear. I need to reach out and ask for help. I may not get tons of help by doing so, but I certainly won’t if I don’t.  So I’m starting 2018 with some opportunities, and call outs, for help with Spread Hope Project… projects. Stay tuned!

And on this shortest day of the year, I hope it helps to remember that it literally only gets brighter from here – and I’ll do the same.

Happy Solstice, and Happy Holidays!