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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Hope,
Maya

How to Stay Hopeful During the Stressful Holiday Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy November

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

What awesome things happened this past month?

Actually a lot of awesome things happened this past month.

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

What are you looking forward to in November?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Happy November!

It’s My First LinkUP Party! Thanks to A Chronic Voice

ReconnectingConfessing RelaxingRomanticizingSharing

Happy September, slightly belated! Recently, I learned of something pretty cool – LinkUp Parties hosted by A Chronic Voice (shameless plug, go check out her site and learn more about these!). The idea is, she posts writing prompts, we write about them, we share our posts, and we read and comment on others’ (there are more specific guidelines, this is generalizing it). I love writing, prompts, sharing, and connecting, so it seemed like a must do. This is the first time I’m participating in this LinkUp Party, and the writer-geek in me is pretty excited. The prompts for this month are:

  • Reconnecting
  • Confessing
  • Relaxing
  • Romanticizing
  • Sharing

I’ve decided to write a little on all five of the prompts because… well, why not!

Reconnecting

This one is super timely for me. This past weekend, my family suffered a tragedy.  It’s not my place to give details, as it wasn’t directly related to me, but my family members are dealing with an unfathomable loss. As tragedy tends to, it’s drawn us together, which has in turn made me realize how unconnected I’ve been to much of my extended family. I have cousins that I used to spend every holiday with that I haven’t seen in years. If it weren’t for social media, I am not sure I’d know what to half of my family is up to these days. I used to send birthday cards to even the most widely extended family members, and yet this past couple of years I’ve become increasingly bad at doing this. And so I’m actively working on reconnecting with family. Friends too, as I’ve been a bit of a social hermit lately, but family especially. Even if it’s a card, or a text, or a quick email to say hi or check in – we all live scattered throughout the country, many with families of their own, so in-person visits aren’t always feasible logistically. But even in this, I want to improve. I like road trips, I have airline miles. I should take the time and make the effort to see family more – time is our most valuable asset. It’s the one thing we can’t ever get back, and I need to be more cognizant of this and use more of my time reconnecting.

Confessing

Confession: I’ve been big time procrastinating and unintentionally self-sabotaging. Not in an obvious sort of way. Not the “oh yeah I’ll do the laundry tomorrow” and end up with no clean clothes type of thing. Instead, I’ve been procrastinating by continually brainstorming – subconsciously up until this point at least, but now that I’ve realized it the gig’s up. The thing is (confession part 2): I have a pretty serious fear of failure and rejection. Depression makes me convinced that I’m basically always going to fail and be rejected. And this fear often stops me in my tracks. So instead of actually writing pieces to be submitted, or starting on an advocacy project, I brainstorm about them… continually. I make lists. Lists of lists. I do everything but actually get started.  Now don’t get me wrong, brainstorming and list making can be incredibly useful and important tools… when they’re actually needed. But I’m realizing that I’m basically repeating lists and brainstorms over and over again in slightly different ways. I’m getting nothing new out of them. They’re just stalling me from actually beginning. But I just can’t make myself start. It’s like I sit down, ready to go, and poof, there goes every thought I ever had, gone from my brain, and I literally sit there staring. I know that deep down somewhere, it’s fear. And so, I’m trying to work through that. Even if at first I keep most of my articles or posts or projects or whatever it is to myself, I’m trying to get started on them. Even if what I end up with is a bunch of super rough drafts that I’d be embarrassed to show anyone in their current state, at least that gives me a starting point. Because true, the more I do, and the more I eventually, hopefully, put “out there” for others to see, the more chances I have of being rejected, or of failing. But also, the more chances I have of being successful as well.  And I also know that a sure fire way for me to stay afraid of something is to continually avoid it – because often, at least in my anxious brain, the anticipation is way more frightening than the actual situation itself. So I’m working on getting past that.

 

Relaxing

I am decent at relaxing physically, but relaxing my brain is a whole other story. Most frequently, I get engrossed in books, as a way of kind of “tuning out” the difficult thoughts and worries and fears in my head. But I also realize that relying solely on others’ worlds (via books) to escape doesn’t necessarily help me when I need my brain to relax and cannot simply pick up a book and read for an hour(s). So I’ve been making a conscious effort to meditate on a regular basis. While “the spirit is willing”, my physical commitment to doing this ebbs and flows – I’ll go a week meditating every night, and then miss several before I get back in the swing of it again. I’m working on making it more of a daily habit. I’m hoping that the more I meditate, that it’ll become easier for me to use my meditation techniques throughout the day, without having to stop, get out my meditation cushion, and do a full on guided meditation.

 

dog meditation

Sometimes my dog, Grace, “helps” me meditate.

Romanticizing

In my daydreams, my life has endless possibilities. I romanticize about how I’m going to grow my Spread Hope Project into an important organization and one day I’m going to run this successful nonprofit. I daydream about how I’m going to live on a farm and be more sustainable and have goats and a scottish highland cow (legit dream of mine!) despite the fact that I’ve never farmed anything in my life, am currently struggling to save my houseplants, and don’t know the slightest about raising farm animals. I daydream about traveling around the world – hiking in every country in Europe (not across Europe mind you, but some place in every country).  In the daydreams in my head, my life potential is pretty incredible. And in reality, I’m doing little things to help this along. But I also realize that reality probably lies somewhere between these ideal daydreams and the rut I’m stuck in now, feeling lost and like I’ll never get anywhere. Hence, my confession above, and my effort to actually take action, instead of just thinking and writing about them.

 

Mcow

Cow selfie in the Catskills

Sharing

I’m actually really good at sharing my thoughts, my emotions, what I’m going through. Becoming a mental health and chronic illness advocate and blogger has helped me tremendously in this regard. But what I’m not great with is sharing my time, or those I’m close to. Despite being an introvert that loves having a decent amount of alone time, when I want to spend time with people, I want to spend time with them. I’m not good at sharing in that regard. If I want to hang out or do something with you, I want to hang out or do something with you. Not you and your other friend and her cousin and her cousin’s sister. Just you. Despite my not having been great at connecting with people lately, once I’ve decided that I want to spend that time, I know that I’m demanding in it. Someone wanting to spend quality time with me is, above all else, how I feel cared for and valued and loved. I need to find a better balance in this for several reasons. First, not everyone is as quality time focused as I am,, and I have to respect that. We all feel cared for in different ways, and I need to be amenable to theirs like I ask them to be amenable to my need for time. Secondly, as an introvert with social anxiety, it’s rather unfair to say “much of the time I want to do my own thing and not be social, but when I want to be, you better be available and want to spend time together” So I’m working on trying to strike a more healthy balance, trying to share my time, and to share my loved ones.

So there you have it – my five prompts and my first Linkup Party! Definitely check out the other submissions for this month’s post over on A Chronic Voice!

What Is Hope?

Since starting Spread Hope Project, I’ve been asked this question several times. It’s a completely valid question, being that my goal is to spread hope.  And yet, it somehow trips me up. Hope has always been to me one of those things that just is.  It’s difficult to describe without using the word itself. And yet, to each of us, it most likely looks a little different.

In terms of spreading hope itself, my goal is to help people that are struggling to feel that something good, positive, or at least better than how they currently feel, is possible. When used in the context or mental health, it could mean that their depression can improve with proper treatment, or that they’ll find a way to work through their anxiety, able to manage it better, or simply that the anxiety attack or bout of depression won’t last forever.  For others, it could mean learning confidence and improving their self-esteem when depression knocks it so low. For some it could have a broader reach – it could be feeling less lost in life, or less alone in their illness. It could be feeling like they and their life matter. It could be connecting with others who understand, who can offer support when needed, or who can help motivate and inspire them.

Hope is surprisingly tricky to describe in and of itself, I’ve found upon trying. It isn’t even, at least to me, a determined belief or strongly held conviction. It’s a possibility. A possibility that things could improve, that there’s something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be based in fact or knowledge.  It can come from a feeling, even a flicker of one.  It can come from knowing that there’s even one other person who may understand, or one instance of feeling like you matter. It doesn’t require evidence or proof.  You don’t have to know that something will happen to have hope. You just have to feel that their may be the possibility. At least that’s how it seems to me.

And so, in my efforts to spread hope, I try to work with both the details and the general feeling. At times, I speak specifically to mental health and chronic illness. Other times, I try to focus more on confidence or self esteem. Other times still, I try to simply let people know that, however they are feeling, they aren’t alone, and that they matter.

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