Life Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Hope,

Maya

Letting The Light In (Weekly Roundup)

This week brought ups and downs (as life with a rapid mood cycling disorder is likely to do). I had some really amazing advocacy opportunities that I’m super excited to be a part of, which I’ll be sharing shortly, and I also had a couple of pretty difficult days.

One thing I noticed, as I was posting my daily “Hope Is” pictures on Instagram, is that a good number of them involved light in some way. This isn’t a novelty in the context of hope – we often hear phrases like “the light at the end of the tunnel”, which illustrate hope as a light that leads us from the darkness or a difficult time. Still, I loved seeing that in looking for my daily images of hope, I was literally drawn to the light as a visual representation. I hope that if you, too, are struggling this week, perhaps these thoughts will help give a tiny bright spot in your day as well. I’ve also changed up the format of this one because, well, I really love these photos, these visual representations of hope, and I wanted to make them slightly larger.

Yogi Tea Wisdom

Hope Is living by your inner knowledge and strength. I love the inspiration I get from my Yogi Tea bags. Sometimes, we just need these simple reminders. Even when we struggle to see it in the depths of depression or anxiety, we have so much strength within us. Even just getting through the day sometimes takes so much strength. Never forget how strong you are (or at least try to remind yourself repeatedly!).

Be silly, be honest, be kind

Hope Is reminders like this that make me smile. We were at a friend’s house over the weekend and I saw this, and asked if I could snap a picture of it. If some asked me to give a brief directive on how to live, this might about just some it up. And of course, be hopeful.

Sunrise over Collingswood, NJ – post early morning yoga class

Hope Is a gorgeous sunrise literally brightening your commute to work on a cold, January Monday morning. I take an 6AM morning yoga class at least one day a week as part of my yoga teacher training. While getting up in the 4 o’clock hour to get ready for the day (since I leave for work right from yoga) isn’t my favorite thing to do, I love coming out of yoga to see the sun rising over the main street.

Orchid that my parents got me for Christmas

Hope Is the gift of a beautiful orchid in full bloom. I love orchids. I’m not sure how it started, but a while back, each time I was going through a rough time, I got an orchid from… someone… it varied who the giver was, or how the orchid came into my life. But each time, it seemed as if I was on the precipice of something, I would get an orchid, and I would, amazingly, manage to keep it alive, to keep it blooming and beautiful, and this somehow restored my belief that I’d come out on the other side of whatever I was going through and be OK. So the orchid came to symbolize a sort of hope during life transitions. My parents got me this orchid for Christmas, and so far, so good on the keeping it alive front. And as even my not so green thumb knows, orchids need the light to thrive.

Sign-making party goodies!

Hope Is getting ready for a Spread Hope Project Sign Making “Party”! A while back, I wrote a blog post asking the question “If I Made You A Hopeful Sign, What Would It Say?” I subsequently posted this question on my social media outlets, with the acknowledgement that answers may, unless specifically requested, actually wind up on a sign that I made, and be posted on social media. I got some amazing responses, and now, I’m keeping good on my promise. This coming Sunday, a few friends and I are getting together to make signs old school arts and crafts style. It’s not to late to request a sign, so if you have a something hopeful you’d like to see on a sign, let us know!

Luminaries at the finish line of the Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention 2018

Hope Is thousands of people walking 16-18 miles overnight for suicide prevention and awareness. These luminaries lit up the finish line of last year’s walk in my home city of Philadelphia, and how amazing that they spell out the word HOPE!

I just signed up for my 6th Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention. This is an absolutely incredible event that, despite the sadness of loss that brings so many to participate, offers hope that with each step we take, we’re raising awareness, eroding the stigma, and offering hope to those who struggle, so that they know they’re not alone. Shameless plug here – I need to raise $1000 to participate each year. If you’re inclined and able to donate, the link to my page is here. No amount is too small, as there’s no minimum, so you can literally donate $1.

The light catching the trees in my neighborhood just right to welcome me home from work.

Hope Is the light catching the trees just right, so that even the stark, barren trees of winter look radiant against the lit up sky. I love the idea that even in the cold, dark days of winter, where there’s little blooming (except my orchid!) and life just seems to be stalling, that we can be reminded that if we look at it from the right angle, it can still look beautiful, even in its starkness. I find this can be applied to my life as well. Of course just “looking at it differently” doesn’t magically make my anxiety or depression vanish – they’re illnesses, and you can’t cure an illness by changing your attitude or viewpoint. But sometimes, when I’m really struggling with the way that I’m feeling about myself, it helps to remind me that there may be another way I can look at the situation to get a slightly different view of it. I’ve found that in my advocacy work – there’s nothing good about having a chronic illness, but having my illness has led me to some amazing communities and people, to my work with Spread Hope Project and my other advocacy efforts, and but for my illness, I likely would not have been part of any of that.

If you have pictures of light (literal or figurative) that’s inspired you, I’d love to see them!

With Hope (and light!),

Maya

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.

 

Pardon the Interruption

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. In addition to loving hope, I also love puns and cheesy word play. So, pardon the interruption in my blogging. It’s been a minute, as I’ve had a lot of exciting things going on. Namely, I got a new jobby job, which has been keeping me pretty busy. And my travel work has simultaneously ramped up (good things come to those who wait, right?), keeping me busy in my spare time.

But I haven’t forgotten about Spread Hope Project. Far from it. I still have my dream of spreading hope as far and wide as possible, and my more  feasible goal of one day turning SHP into a real, living and breathing organization (with more people breathing in it than just myself).  I’m working on giving my mission and vision for SHP a more solid description, because it’s tough to explain what you do with “I just want to help everyone and give them hope.”  The basic idea is, in addition to my photo taking and individual participation in, and organization of, events,  I want to partner with local and hyper-local organizations to help get the word about their work and events as well. A collaboration of sorts.  I want to serve as a resource, a liaison, between local organizations doing charitable work, and people who want to participate in those activities. Because I know first hand that it’s tough as a solo person or small organization with a big dream to compete with the “big guys” (or ladies) when it comes to marking, promotion, and resources. And while social media certainly makes it easier, the more people you have helping you out, the easier it becomes.

So there’s that.  As for myself and Spread Hope Project, here’s a few things that I’ll be personally participating in/doing:

  • I signed up for my 5th Out of Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention. This cause is very personal and incredibly important to me. I’ll be walking 16-18 miles, overnight, this coming June, in no other than my home city of Philadelphia! I have to raise $1000 to walk. So far I’ve raised $315. If anyone’s so inclined, donation link is here.  You can also help in ways that do not include monetary donation, so feel free to reach out to if you’re interested in that.

 

  • I *may* be walking the Get Your Rear in Gear Philadelphia walk for Colon Cancer.  Potentially more coming on that soon. Anyone else in the area planning to walk? Let me know!

 

  • I’m going to Greece in just over a month! I’m attending a conference in Athens, and then heading to Santorini and Crete. Greece has been on my travel bucket list for a long time.  Keep an eye out for copious Spread Hope in Greece photos in the next month or so.

 

  • My family is doing a full fam (20 of us) trip to Stiges, outside of Barcelona, this summer. Just booked the flights for that. I love Barcelona and Spain. It’ll be my second time in six months. I’m super lucky. Again, lots of Spread Hope in Spain pics on the way in the next few months.

 

  • #SpreadHopeAmbassadors program is still happening. If you’re interested, reach out to me! And don’t forget to hashtag those photos!

There’s probably more, but this is running long, so I’ll stop for now.  Don’t forget to like us on Facebook, and follow us on Instagram, where we post each day as part of the #365DaysofHope Campaign!

Peace, love, and HOPE!

~My

Follow Me As I Walk Overnight

As I write this, I realize that title might sound like a creepy stalker invitation. To clarify, follow me on social media, as I walk the AFSP Out of Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention this weekend.  Saturday night will mark the fourth year that I’ve walked 16-18 miles overnight to raise funds and awareness for Suicide Prevention. We begin the walk at dusk, usually around 7:30PM, and walk through the night until we finish the miles, with the course generally closing around 4:30AM.

It was an event I’d long wanted to do, given my own struggles, those of friends and loved ones, and the loss of a second-cousin to suicide about 6 years ago. When the event came to my home city of Philadelphia for the first time in 2014 (it’s held in only two cities each year), I felt it was a sign. Knowing nobody else walking, I signed up. I raised the $1000 required to walk and trained hard. (Yes, you have to train for a walk. Have you ever walked 18 miles nonstop, only sitting down to pee – or not, because the only bathrooms are port-o-potties? The loss of toenails and other foot injuries are very real threats). The night of the event, I was lucky – weather was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky, and I connected with a group of other solo walkers who walked at my speed, which can be tricky as I like to walk fast – I’m not a night person, and the staying up that late is tougher for me than the walk.

The next year, I walked in Boston. It poured. I mean poured. Thunderstorms forecasted and 40mph winds actually caused them to shorten the route slightly, as apparently it’s ill- advised to be walking on a metal bridge over the water in lightening, and they removed that portion from the walk.  I was lucky enough to connect with one of the men I’d walked with the year before, and had a walking buddy for my second time around.  Last year in New York City, it again monsooned, but luckily only for under an hour at the beginning. While it’s not fun to begin 17+ miles in wet socks and underwear (it really, really poured), I again met a group of solo individuals who became my team for the year. Plus, my amazing fiance (the other half of Spread Hope Project), chased me around the city on the transit system and met me at every cheering station.

This year, I’m headed to Washington, D.C. We will be starting at the Lincoln Memorial, and walking past sites such as the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, U.S. Capital, National Archives, U.S. Treasury, Embassy Row, and through the heart of Georgetown. Our “Midnight Snack”, a.k.a lunch in the middle of the night, which we all know never to sit down for or you’ll never get up, is in Farragut Square Park. We finish back at the Lincoln Memorial.

Usually I finish the walk some time between 12:30AM and 2AM. It depends on how quickly I walk, how many “pit stops” I make (bathroom breaks, along with little snacks to take on the go and water/Gatorade refills), and a few other factors.  We shall see this year. I haven’t gotten to train as much as I’d like, due to the rainy spring and recent 95 degree heat, along with longer work hours. I’m crossing my fingers for no rain, though there’s a 60% chance of storms so I doubt a dry walk is likely. I’ve walked in rain before, though, and I’ll do it again if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

For those who want to follow along, I will be posting pictures on both the Spread Hope Project Instagram and my own personal Instagram, as well as tweeting.  For anyone in the DC area who may want to actually follow along and support those walking for this incredible cause, here are a list of cheering stations, along with “peak viewing times” (which kind of makes us sound like we’re safari animals, but is when they estimate the most people will be going through). If you plan to stop by a cheering station, I’d love to hear from you! And if you’d like to support the Spread Hope Project, feel free to get creative with cheering signage and/or to hashtag #spreadhopeproject in any photos you post.

And finally, if, by any chance any of my readers are also walking this Saturday, please let me know! I’d love a walking buddy if you like a quick pace, or to at least be able to connect and say hi. To all who are walking, who have donated, and who come out to support the cause, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

philly overnight steps

At the finish line in my first Overnight Walk in Philadelphia in 2014. Each luminary lit is for someone lost to suicide.

 

It’s Been A Busy Few Weeks

So, we’ve been a little behind in our blogging and posting, we know. We’ve been occupied with a home renovation and wedding planning (eek!), plus super busy work schedules,  which leaves us exhausted at the end of the day.  Throw in some chronic illness and viola! you fall behind on blogging.  And when you’re schedule is jam packed from sunrise until bedtime, you don’t get a ton of chances to travel around the region for Spread Hope Project photos.

Still, we don’t want to lose sight of our mission and vision, and we know that the way to stay true to those is through action.  Because as busy as life has been keeping us lately, we also want to be busy spreading hope to as many people in as many places as we can. So here’s what we’re going to be working on over the course of the next few months:

  • Spread Hope merchandise – more shirts, as well as some some non-clothing items
  • Sign-making day. We’ll be gathering friends, in person and virtually, to create Spread Hope signs. The more people who participate, the more hope we can spread, and they’ll be used in some additional upcoming projects.
  • Destination Day. Let’s see how many destinations we can reach!
  • Participating in the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) Out of Darkness Overnight Walk for suicide prevention.  This is our fourth year walking, and we’re excited to head to DC for the walk this summer.
  • Growing our future destination list! Ok, so we’re always doing this, but we’ll be doing a push for suggested destinations.
  • Mental Health Month. May is Mental Health Month, and we’ll be participating in as many special campaigns as we can!

Each of these efforts is worthy of their own post, and we’ll definitely be sharing more in the near future. For now, wanted to let you know we’re still here and still committed – just a little extra tired and running a little ragged. Thank you for sticking with us!