The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season has become a time of year I dread. This year I am having an especially hard time. I literally feel like the Grinch – which is so unlike me! Unfortunately, my mental illnesses have a grip on me this time around that no amount of meditation, yoga, baths, water, or wine has been able to remedy.
With so many commitments, the days fly by. Personally, this makes the time we spend with others feel less authentic and more like we’re just going through the motions in a valiant attempt to make everyone happy. Always watching the clock for the next place we need to be. Small talk. Eat. Small talk. Games. Next event. Repeat. Sound familiar? Not necessarily my style. Certainly not a series of events that is good for my mental health when I’m running on empty.
Some years I have the strength for this routine with a genuine smile on my face and in my heart. But to be candidly honest, this year is not one of them. My Advent Calendar is counting down the days until all of this is OVER, versus a countdown in anticipation of the magic of Christmas. With so many large group interactions on the calendar (my worst nightmare) paired with an already depressed outlook over the next few weeks I can feel my brain joyously preparing to overanalyze and vilify each moment, making me the bad guy in every situation. If this doesn’t happen to you, trust me, it’s the absolute worst and is only amplified by the weight of the holidays.
For me, getting through this period will require taking one day, one event, at a time. Attempting to be kind to myself following interactions that I have major anxiety about and reminding myself to be realistic about them along the way. I’m holding on to the hope that if I continue to come from a place of kindness with no intentional malice (it’s none of my business if someone reads it that way), no matter what I say or do should be OK. I’ll just have to show up as I can and give what I can. Which doesn’t feel like a lot at this point!
I wanted to share my experience with you before the holidays because I hope that it encourages a sense of empathy within you towards those in your life who have a known mental illness or are simply acting a little “off” this holiday season. We all carry a certain level of stress during this season, but for someone with a mental illness, that stress can trigger feelings that send them spiraling into a blinding black hole. <Slowly raises hand.>
Sometimes you can seemingly “have everything to be thankful for,” but when you are dealing with mental illness, gratitude for what you have can be hard to feel and express. Being surrounded by lots of family can be suffocating. Simple interactions can feel too heavy. A lot going on, in general and in the moment, can completely drain someone.
Here are a few things I’d love for you to keep in mind this holiday season as you spend time with family and friends who may have a mental illness:
Although my view of the holidays may be through tainted lenses right now, believe me when I say I do truly hope you all have a wonderful holiday season that fills your heart with happiness and joy!
Becoming a gardener has been one of the most rewarding hobbies I’ve ever stumbled upon.
Flowers have always been my favorite. I worked really hard in the yard and flower beds of our first home to establish landscaping that made me smile each time I was outside (while adding charm to the exterior of course). When we moved to our second, and potentially forever, home on two acres of land my head started swimming with ideas of what I could do with so much space.
In a little over two years’ time, my plants have been the best teachers. As I’ve sweated over landscaping around the entire house, planted a huge vegetable and wildflower garden, and made plans to fill in spots begging for the chance to host perennials – nature has spoken to me.
There is so much to learn from the simplicity of the outdoors. It exists. If you allow it the basic necessities to live – off it goes. No pomp and circumstance. In its own time and at its own pace, it grows.
I spent a few hours in my vegetable and wild flower garden last night since I haven’t been able to be as hands on with it as I was last year. I was missing it. And you know what I realized? Even though I wasn’t there to pluck every single weed, prune every little tomato shoot, or thoroughly water every one of the plants – there they were – growing stronger before my eyes. The control freak inside of me softened. There were weeds, the tomato plants were out of control, and it could have used a watering – but it was my garden and my tiny seedlings were well on their way to bearing their fruit without any handholding from me.
In their own time, they will bloom.
And sometimes…they won’t. Enter – the humbling part of being a gardener.
I tried starting seedlings this year. I was off to a great start – everything was sprouting. And then it wasn’t. I tried more water and less water. Airing them out. Time outside. Every combination I could think of. Unfortunately, only six green bean seedlings were the sole survivors out of 54 pods of seedlings. The seedlings that once showed promise shriveled away and the egg shells I started them in were worked into the dirt around the seedlings I was forced to buy. Ouch. My mighty green thumb wasn’t as mighty after all. Turns out I’m not naturally good at everything. Sometimes, even if you use all of your charm and try all you can, you fail. Fall right down on your face. Into a pile of dried up seedlings.
In addition to pride, humility, and more patience – my plants have given me a feeling of purpose and contentment.
If you have read my blog, you know I’m my worst critic. I beat myself up a lot. But since becoming a gardener, especially at our new home, one of the most comforting things I can say to myself is, “You may not be good at everything. You might not do everything perfectly. But you are good at something. And after you’re done with X, Y, Z – you can come back here, to your garden, and you’ll be OK.”
Having something in my life that makes me feel that way is truly priceless. I suppose you could say I’ve found my happy place in the garden. The place you can close your eyes and visualize and smile about.
I hope you’ve found your happy place, too. And if you haven’t – take time to reflect on what makes you feel and keeps you grounded. Run towards it. Throw everything you’ve got into it. I promise the lessons it teaches you along the way will be worth it.
I’ve written recently about “going through instead of around.” This has become my primary mantra for a variety of different reasons.
But you know what? As necessary as it is, going through is TOUGH. My feet have been dragging when I get to the point of having to go through, and because of this, I have a lot of ickiness going on inside. I don’t like it, but I also don’t want to start reflecting out of fear that I’ll hate what I uncover. Along with being tough, going through isn’t always much fun, either.
A lot of my current physical and mental struggles have to do with being way too busy, but not knowing what I can weed out for the personal time I need. Everything seems equally important and the people pleaser in me is out in full force. Social events that I continue to deeply struggle with keep crashing into me, non-stop, forcing me to be “on” all the time (if I can muster the brain energy – sometimes all people get is my physical body in the same space as them, nodding and smiling along). Breathing exercises during car rides to and from commitments are “my time.” And that’s not enough.
My marriage is feeling it. My work is feeling it. My relationships are feeling it.
I need to start going through. UUUGGGHHH! But I don’t want to. But I want to. But I really don’t want to…But I should.
I have a precious five hours to myself one morning this weekend that I’m hoping to take advantage of for a good ol’ self-check-in – reevaluation of my current priorities, and dissection of my physical and mental state. (All while I try to get my garden planted.) I’ve let things go a little too long. I’ve avoided going through one day, one week, one month (or more) too many.
Life is something, isn’t it? Sometimes no amount of gratitude for what we have can relieve the pressure it puts on us. With or without our permission.
It’s the journey through that counts. If you can put things into perspective, the trenches are some of the best places to trudge through because that's where the true strength that each and every one of us possess comes out. Takes care of us. Gets us back on track. Maybe even onto a better track that we didn’t even know we were looking for. Bring it on – let’s go through!
“It’s about building a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. It’s about truly living the way you want, not what’s expected of you. There’s a difference between enjoying life and escaping life. Build a life you want to BE in.”
Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times, YES! Although salt baths and chocolate cake can be part of the life you want to BE in – we shouldn’t depend on them to act as periodic band aids for “getting through” life.
The phrase “self-care” has been thrown around a lot lately. Including by yours truly. I think it’s extremely important. I also think it’s extremely complex.
Self-care is so personal to each of us. Many times it is marketed to us as one-stop-shop remedies like salt baths and chocolate cake, when really, it is deeper than that. Or should be deeper than that.
We normally cry, “I need time for self-care!” when we’ve reached our limit, something has pushed us too far – when we need to escape. Not always, but many times. And in my opinion, true self-care means diving deep, feeling those things I don’t necessarily want to feel, and figuring out how to fix or change the root of why I’m feeling that way. Going through instead of around. Pinpointing the reason why I’m trying to escape the situation or thoughts while in my salt bath eating chocolate cake (or truly, drinking wine or a Coors Light…I’m real classy).
This is tough though. Really tough. Mainly because it’s not where our mind goes first. To feel or “sit with” uncomfortable feelings. But you know what, that’s where the good stuff lies. So we have to start training ourselves to feel life. The good right alongside the bad. Listen to it. Ask ourselves the difficult questions. And then do the work to build that life we don’t want to escape from.
In order to continue building a life I’m proud of, I’ve been trying to dig into the tough stuff more and more lately, especially regarding the things in my life that will most likely be there forever. The constants. The things that make me cry, “Tap the brakes. I need time for self-care!” A few that have bugged me for years, continue to bother me to this day, and will fester within me for the rest of my life if I don’t do the uncomfortable work of figuring out why, and then how to come to terms with them. They are things I can’t bow out of – so how do I repair and prepare myself to see these out of my control situations in a way that fits into my big picture?
This leads me into my other thought about a big part of self-care being what we tell ourselves. Perspective. If we can’t fix or change something, how can we look at it differently so that it doesn’t send us running for the hills? What can we say to ourselves to make the situation feel OK? Make ourselves feel OK? Allow it to exist inside our life peacefully vs. trying to escape from it every time it presents itself? Using perspective to protect ourselves in a way that allows us to reshape the “unsavory” parts of our journey into something that doesn’t necessarily fill us up in a genuine way, but doesn’t drain us either.
I think to do this takes consistent practice and strength. But ultimately, this type of internal work is the best type of self-care you can give yourself. It’s yours to protect. You can’t allow external forces to have a voice. You have to be fiercely persistent.
Make the baths and cake – or exercise, oils, movies, travel, animals, nature, whatever your heart desires – part of the life you want to be in, just don’t use them as crutches to help you hobble away from or around the real life stuff that is at hand.
Make it right with your soul. Self-care at the soul level. Soul-care. Get your soul-care on!
I wanted to share a quick mindfulness tip that I apply to my daily life that I hope you find helpful.
I am a little impatient, especially when I’m in a hurry. And sometimes even when I’m not in a hurry. I usually blame those moments on being hangry.
A long line. Slow traffic. Service that’s taking forever. The list goes on.
Instead of allowing myself to become consumed with unnecessary rage, I look at the situation as an opportunity vs. an inconvenience. In most cases, my only option is to wait it out. So why not use that time wisely, in a way that benefits my mind and body?
By the time I’m through with this short routine, the circumstances causing me to feel poorly most times have passed. And if they haven’t, I’m in a better place, able to handle the wait with more tolerance all around.
Give this a try and let me know what you think! If you have any other good mindfulness tips, I’d love to hear them.
I’ve been feeling a little exhausted by personal development lately. I read the books, the quotes, the encouraging posts every day. I reflect, I practice, I preach as often as I can. I celebrate victories and try learning from setbacks. Yada, yada.
Like many others, I’m always working towards the “best version of myself.” That’s the whole point of personal development, right? But I never feel like I get there. And I beat myself up for that. I tell myself that “next time will be better.”
But what if it’s not? How can I come to terms with that?
I’m really struggling to find a balance between who I am now and the “better” me. I can’t seem to make myself believe that I am loved as I am now, before the “better.” And if I continue to think that way, I fear that I’ll never truly internalize the love I KNOW I am SURROUNDED by. Taking it for granted in a way, which is something I am terrified of.
My personal development is, and I feel always will be, quite a roller coaster. When my anxiety and depression subside, I excel. Connections are made, joy is felt, creativity radiates. When they appear, they take me down. Negative self-talk creeps in, isolation is in full force, physically I run on empty. One step forward, two steps back. A painful dance I’ve been forced to learn the steps to.
In either state, I leave interactions and experiences saying to myself, “Next time will be better.” Every single time.I feel that if I tripped over my words, acted awkwardly, didn’t say or do the right thing – I’ve lost any love that existed in that moment. Without fail. Like the love that was present before or in that moment disappeared the moment I felt I wasn’t “better.” For a woman who preaches presence and joy in the moment, this isn’t a very healthy way to think.
The quote I shared at the top of this post really got me thinking. I have to reach a point where “better” isn’t always a factor. I can be who I am – WITH SO MANY IMPERFECTIONS – and still feel worthy of being loved in that moment and beyond. Good day, bad day – loved for it. Gold star performance, F grade performance – loved for it. Internalize that I am loved for who I am, not who I think I should be. Which for some reason I think would be a more loveable person?
I’ll close with this. When we feel that we could be/need to be better – that’s great, it drives us forward towards being good human beings – but don’t get distracted by only looking forward/waiting for next time. Take time to be present and think about this: “I remember the days I used to dream about what I have now.” We are a version of our “better” every day. It may not feel like it, but if that’s what we’ve been working towards, then there has to be a bit (or all) of it that exists in who we are in this present moment.
Before it gets too late in the month, I wanted to do a quick post for you about a yoga opportunity that I highly encourage you to take advantage of if you’re looking to challenge and center yourself in the New Year!
Check out Yoga With Adriene’s TRUE series. It’s a free, 30-day program on YouTube guaranteed to open up your mind, heart, and body. I have done other 30-day series with Adriene and they are absolutely transformational. I start feeling the mental and physical benefits of daily yoga immediately, and by the end I am fully recommitted to my practice.
I’ve talked about Adrienne before in past posts (here and here), but she’s one of the best yoga teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of learning from. Beginner or expert, you can make her sequences work for you. She’s funny as heck, too, which is what I really love about her.
It’s not too late to start. Start today. Start tomorrow. It doesn’t matter – just get on your mat! Show up. If you miss a day, pick up the next day where you left off. Be kind to yourself. Life happens. No one’s keeping count but you.
If you choose to or are already following along with this 30-day practice, let me know! I’d love to practice along with others I know (or don’t know, I don’t care!) and support you in any way I can.
Namaste, my friends!
I recently turned 33. I'd love to share an upbeat story about what a beautiful day I had and how wonderful I felt, but that would be a lie. I spent the first day of my 33rd year in the midst of a swirling mix of emotions. Mostly anxiety, some sadness, with an undercurrent of feeling special and overwhelmingly grateful. I cried. Hard. One of those deep down cries that catches you off guard and ends up being a welcome release of emotion.
I couldn't put my feelings into words. I'm not normally a person who is bothered by birthdays. I actually look forward to them as times for reflection, looking back and setting personal goals for the future. Wanting to be a better version of myself year after year. But this year was different. I'm hoping for good reason.
Over the past few months I have felt a major shift inside myself. I've been faced with messages of overcoming fears, embracing change, the importance of connection, of showing up. All things I'm admittedly not very good at. Actually, I would identify all of these things as my top weaknesses. But over and over again, I'm hit with truths about how in order to live in a full and authentic way I should embrace these things. And I believe this is true.
There will always be characteristics about ourselves that will be hard to face, but need to be faced in order to grow.
I don't want to make any declarations about what I'd like to see from myself over the next year, but I do have some thoughts:
Whew. That was much more of a download than I was expecting.
Even though I recognize there's still work to do - I also have to appreciate the good things that have occurred within me this past year. Limitless patience, recognizing the impact and power of my reactions and words, finding outlets for my anxiety, being present, finding the best in everyone and leading with the positive when referring to them, showing love without expecting love back. Good things. Good strides. Good vibes.
Two things in closing:
The first - I felt so very loved on my birthday due to the calls, texts, messages and hugs I received from my friends and family, both near and far. I also got some of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever gotten - which made me cry even harder.
And second - I've covered a lot in this post, but I feel the quote below best captures who I think I am at this time in my life. This is my 33.
I'm a natural leader who has no desire whatsoever to be a leader. Does this sound familiar to you? Tell me I'm not alone.
I've been looked to as a leader all my life. If no one else is stepping up, I will. It's a sickness, really. I can't help myself. Need a President of a council? You got it. Chair of an event? I'm there. Group leader for a project? My spreadsheet is already laid out.
It just happens. Over and over again. But the craziest thing about it is that I don't want to be doing it at all! Playing the leader is something I accept as my fate, not something I seek out. And I get mad at myself about that. I've been given the tools to be a leader. Somewhere in my DNA a leadership gene is embedded in me. There are people out there who would love that type of gift and here I am wanting to drop it from my hands like a hot potato. To me, it feels less like a gift and more like a curse.
I'm happy as a worker bee, flying under the radar, with little weight tied to the tasks I accomplish. I'm not a negotiator or a presenter or a manager of people. I'm a writer and a designer and a manager of projects.
There's no ladder to climb in my 10-year plan. I think that's what bugs me the most about being seen as a leader and not wanting to be one. I'm happy here. As I am. But others see potential in me. They tell me over and over again that I could do it...and that's when I dig my heels in, "yank my hand back," and remind myself that even though I can do it - doesn't mean I have to or should.
To me, it's not worth it. The extra work, planning, dealing with drama, ANXIETY, etc. Not interested.
Dealing with this "issue" has been a continued learning experience for me. But as of late, I've been paying more and more attention to it, trying to figure out how to move forward. In most cases, I land on:
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I've removed myself from it (RIP Facebook and Twitter accounts). I've stayed in step with it (Hi Instagram and Snapchat accounts). And amid all of this, I've constantly struggled to figure out its relevance and value in my life, fearing that it is a necessary evil I can't fully pull away from.
My mind has gone a lot of different places regarding social media and its role in all of our lives (except for my dad's and grandma's - bless them for staying out of it), but today I want to write about the tricks we let social media play on us.
Our social media accounts are a reflection of our "personal brand." Carefully crafted (whether we realize it or not) profiles that present "who we are" to the world. We endorse what we like, criticize what we don't. Show all that is good, with a little bit of the bad (immediately followed by all that is good - can't show major cracks in the facade). Experiences that make our heart beat fast. Beautiful views. Perfect homes. Yummy food. Smiles, smiles, smiles.
It's hard not to compare yourself and your life to others' after taking in all of the posts and images and videos and stories that reflect "the good stuff" 99% of the time. And it's easy to forget that behind the curated scenes is a person, just like you, with the same ups and downs, messes and misses. They are, again, just like you (if you partake in social media), presenting their personal brand. Sharing a collection of moments, mostly good, to the world in order to add some form of "normalcy" to a life that a lot of times feels out of our control.
I'm beginning to truly appreciate and respect the social media "rebels" that drop the perfect personas and shine a light on what is real. Monotony. Disarray. Tears. Posting images of dirty laundry and stories of struggles takes guts when shared alongside an overwhelming amount of "good news."
I'm not strong enough to be a social media rebel yet, but I thought about it last week. My depression was getting the best of me and I could not. stop. crying. Among the tears, this briefly ran across my mind: "Maybe I should post this. Maybe I should show that I'm human. That sometimes it's hard to be alive. That not every day is good, and that's OK." But I didn't do it. I couldn't. Why? I don't know, I just couldn't. Instead, I made a happy post about happy things.
Although I couldn't find it in myself to do it, you want to know who chose to be a rebel last week? Another person that I follow on social media. Same exact situation. Feeling depressed, tears on overdrive, and she shared it.
All I could think was 1) sending so many hugs to her, because I know what she's going through, and 2) how f***ing brave. It made me like and respect her even more than I already did. There was no veil of happiness. She was being real and in the moment, and as much as I preach that, I wish I could pull the trigger and do it more. In life and on social media.
I'm going to try to more honest with what I post, and I hope you'll do the same. But if that's not something you're into, that's totally OK. Let's see the good in this world and share it. Just don't get stuck comparing yourself to the mirages you scroll through. Remember, with the good always comes some bad, so don't be fooled!