Hi friends and readers. It’s been a while, I know. Apologies. I have been busy, in a great way, the past few months. I thought I’d share a life update, to keep everyone posted on what I’ve been up to. Positive changes in my life are making me feel pretty hopeful about where I’m headed, and while I struggle regularly still with anxiety and depression and mood cycles, this hope stemming from these positive changes helps to keep me afloat most of the time.
First, I graduated yoga teacher training, and am now officially an RYT-200 Yoga Teacher. I have a website for my new yoga/writing/and more business, if you’re at all inclined to check it out. And if you happen to be in the Philly/South Jersey area, I list my upcoming classes on there as well. I have one private yoga client (it’s a family member, but still!), I’m on a sub list for a studio, I’m teaching two upcoming community donation-based classes for charity at The Grant Building where I did my teacher training, and I have a workplace benefit class that’s in the works, which I can’t yet share details about, but I’ll update when I can. So on the yoga front, pretty exciting stuff.
I also sent my novel to the self-publisher, and I received the first 25 copies of the soft cover book yesterday. Technically, my parents received them at their house because I don’t have things shipped to my city condo, so I haven’t seen them yet. I’ll be there Thursday, and plan to open them then. I’m still getting together the book sale details and release date, so I’ll also file that under “more updates coming soon”.
This past weekend, I completed my 6th AFSP Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention. I traveled up to Boston this year for the walk (the other option was San Francisco, and Boston is significantly closer and less hilly), and as usual, it was an incredible experience. I’ve already filled out the “save my spot” for next year’s event, despite not yet knowing the when or where. It’s that amazing of an event, and of course, such an important cause. The walk is filled with connection and community and tears and hugs and sadness over those lost, but also so much hope for the future as we continue to raise our voices and speak out about mental illness and suicide prevention, to let others know that they are not alone.
So that’s what I’ve been up to. It’s been a productive and busy and exciting spring and summer so far. What have you been up to? What’s giving you hope this summer? I’d love to hear!
I have some exciting news to share! I’ve been nominated for the Disability Blogger award by Amber Blackburn of The World Sees Normal. I’m super excited and honored – Amber, thank you so very much! And also, a huge thank you to Georgina from Chronillicles for creating this Award. Amazing work you are both doing!
I love the opportunity to nominate and be nominated by peers – after all, I’m really about community, connecting, coming together and award by peers, for peers, offers exactly that. Here are the rules:
Use the Disability Blogger Award logo somewhere in your post
Copy these rules onto your post
Answer your nominator’s questions
Write 5-15 of your own questions (they don’t need to be illness related)
Nominate 5-15 other disability, chronic illness, mental illness, or special needs bloggers
Comment on each of your nominees’ latest posts to tell them they have been nominated
So, Amber’s questions for me, and my answers.
What is the biggest lesson you learned from starting your blog.
I’d say the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that it’s OK to not be OK, and that it’s ok to share this too. I find that so often, when I blog that I’m struggling, having a difficult day, flaring, that far from pushing people away (my concern), I find deeper connection. Often, there are so many people around you (in person, or virtually online) going through similar to what you’re experiencing, and yet each of you feels so alone and isolated. When you share your story, you offer that connection to others, and in connecting, you each are reminded that you are not alone.
What is your favorite way to spend your free time?
With family and loved ones. Activity wise, traveling. I love to travel, and I do so every chance I get, though this year time/money/life have made that less possible. Still, though, I love exploring new places, even if it’s just a new coffee shop in the neighborhood, a new nearby town, something more local.
If you could tell people ONE thing about living with a chronic illness what would you want the general public to know???
That my illness is always there, lurking in the shadows ready to pounce even when it’s not obvious to anyone else. When I have a good day, it doesn’t mean I’m “better’ or that my illness has gone away, or that I’m cured. It means I’m not flaring that day, and I’m feeling better (I have a cycling disorder, so by nature, it changes regularly). But even on my best days, I am always aware of it. Always wondering when it it’s going to get bad again. And so often, even when it seems fine, it’s not. Most days are an effort, and for the few that aren’t as difficult, please, just let me enjoy it without questioning my illness.
Do you prefer sweet or salty? What is your all time favorite treat?
Salty! Sweet actually makes me nauceous and gives me a headache much of the time, so no contest there. Also, I’m borderline hyponatremic (low sodium), so I’m encouraged to eat more salt/sodium. All time favorite treat, hmmm… probably fries or vegetarian nachos!
Why did you decide to start your blog/advocacy work?
When I god diagnosed with rapid cycling cyclothymia, I set out to learn as much as I could about my condition, to connect with others who had the same diagnosis, to find communities. And I found next to nothing. My condition is rare, but I thought surely there were others “out there’ that had this who might also want to connect and be looking for resources. And since they didn’t exist, I decided to create them. I started by blogging, and then forming a closed Facebook group (it’s expanded to mood disorders more generally now), and sure enough, I connected with others also in search of community and learning/sharing about this condition. Eventually, I expanded my advocacy to mental health in general, as I saw the amount of stigma surrounding the topic, and wanted to do my part in combating that.
What is your favorite show or movie currently?
I’m not a big movie person because I have very little attention span for basically anything but reading or writing. Most of the time, I tend to watch shows that are low stress, because there’s enough stress in living with chronic illness and just in life in general, and I definitely don’t want to invite more of it, when it’s not even mine! So I watch a lot of things like House Hunters, Hallmark Channel, Cooking shows, and other such shows that let me relax and unwind without being too intense. I also watch a lot of PBS, and particularly, Call the Midwife. It’s the one of the few “dramatic” shows I like.
So now, my questions for my nominees:
What is your favorite part about being a chronic illness blogger/advocate?
If you could visit anywhere in the world (perfect world, no budget kind of scenario), where would you visit?
What’s your favorite animal? Why?
What’s one unexpected positive thing that you’ve experienced since you started blogging/advocating? (It can be something big that’s happened to you, or something more subtle that you’ve experienced internally).
Mountains, beach, city, countryside, or some other type of geography? Why?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 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!
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!
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.