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!
I recently had the great honor of taking a trip to Washington, D.C. on behalf of the nonprofit health care clinic I work for. I felt very undeserving, having been with them for just under three months, but beyond grateful nonetheless.
My husband and I have always been interested in politics. We often have conversations about American history, current political events, and our favorite Presidents. We’ve also talked about visiting D.C. at some point, so I felt kind of bad that I was making this trip without him! He was happy for me and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll make it back together.
Before I left, I was mapping everything out. Where I was staying, where the Capitol was, where the conference was. I then happened upon maps showing the National Mall. My excitement shot through the roof when I realized I’d be just 10 driving minutes from the White House! And from the White House, I could walk to the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial – two things I said I had to see before leaving. Any doubts I had left me in that moment because I felt so lucky to be taking this trip.
Getting to D.C. was a breeze. Round trip I was able to see four new airports I’d never been to. I had downloaded transportation apps before I left – Super Shuttle, Uber, DC Taxi. Uber was my favorite but Super Shuttle got me from the airport to my hotel. When I arrived in D.C., I had just 30 minutes to get checked in, freshened up, and driven to my first destination. I got there right on time, was inspired by the conference’s opening session speakers, and met others from Iowa who work at other community health centers before heading to a (long) dinner with them. After waking up at 4 a.m. and traveling for eleven hours, I was SO TIRED. Although I enjoyed dinner, getting to bed felt better than it had in a really long time.
My second day was the one I was fearing the most – meetings with legislators on Capitol Hill. Although I was just there to observe, not knowing what I was walking into was bothering me. I figured if I didn’t puke or poop (which I didn’t), I’d be golden! Sadly, this the standard that helps me put high anxiety situations into perspective. Anyway, the day ended up being amazing, I felt bonded with the Iowa folks who attended with us (because we were all nervous as heck), and walked away with a new perspective on how politicians and Congress work. I got to experience a view of the inner workings of our congressional system in a way that many will not have the privilege of doing.
Here are just a few photos I snapped inside some of the House and Senate buildings (I didn’t want to be too touristy):
As a reward to myself for a successful day, I planned to sight see that evening after reading D.C. at night is a must-see – which was so true. During drinks with our colleagues, I mentioned to my boss that I was going to catch an Uber to the Lincoln Memorial (look at me sounding all fancy). I was surprised when she said she’d like to join me! And I’m so glad she did.
Here’s a quick recap of what we saw and how it made me feel:
The third day was great, but won’t be interesting to most of you. It was conference day, back to back educational sessions. My head was bursting with new ideas by the end, which is exactly what I wanted and needed to happen.
Overall, the experience was just wonderful. From what I saw and learned to the people I met and bonded with. I felt very proud to 1) be an American, and 2) be a community health center advocate.
I’m happiest that this trip lit the political activist fire within me. I’m learning politician names, parties, districts. I’m paying attention to their words vs. their actions. I will say I’ve already been disappointed my one of the Iowa politicians I met. The words he spoke and the character he portrayed DO NOT match up with his recent actions. I was sad this happened, but it has led me to take some additional steps to stay informed, hold these people accountable, and take action in getting others to VOTE people like him out.
I’ll share a couple of the additional steps I’ve taken so far before closing:
“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’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.
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 tear up every single time I read this quote. This is what centering ourselves is all about. We should perform this action not once, but multiple times daily. Constant recentering.
There have been many moments over time when I have asked myself, "How did I get here?" It has felt like I arrived at a particular point in my life without a conscious thought about it. Like I was asleep during the days, months, years that led up to that moment.
When I catch myself thinking this way, I say to myself, "I need to take control. I can't let life get in the way, going through the motions - doing things to avoid conflict, defaulting to what I think I should be doing at this point in my life."
But then my days continue as they always do. Full speed ahead. Making decisions on the fly minute by minute to ensure at the very least my basic needs are being met and I am pointing myself in a direction that is moving toward a state of contentment.
I recently wrote about "following our path." I think in order to do that, the message I'm writing about right now is so very important. It takes strength and persistence and constant recentering to ensure you are staying true to your authentic self. Listening to that inner voice. Avoiding arrival in a moment a year from now wondering how the heck you got there.
I'd love for you to think about this concept and the areas of your life where you can (or should) yank your hand back to remind yourself of what's important - the path you intentionally want to follow.
I'm making it my goal to think hard about this over the weekend and keep this quote in mind as I begin next week. Taking a deep breath and smiling as I literally put my hand on my heart to remind myself who I am, and who I want to be.
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!
When was the last time you went to a class, just for the fun of it? To learn something new or explore more about something you are already passionate about?
If you look in the right places, there are a lot of free or low cost options in the Cedar Valley that you can (and should) take advantage of! I'm going to tell you about three that I've signed up for recently and will urge you to keep learning by looking for classes you might enjoy!
Beekeeping for Beginners
Sure, you can look up all of these things online, Google it, YouTube it, etc. - but nothing beats sitting in a room of like-minded people learning about something you're all interested in. You learn from each other as much as you learn from the curriculum. Let me know what classes you plan to or are currently giving a try!
My new year has been off to a very busy start due to a large ad campaign I'm working on. My planning schedule is six Excel tabs and four supporting Word documents deep. The phone calls, emails, and confirmation memos have been flying. In total, I miraculously scheduled twenty physicians to have their photos taken in the span of five days. The biggest portion of my shoots wrapped up yesterday. Although I always love the rush of these big photo shoots, I earned the glass of wine and 30 minute bath I enjoyed at the end of the day.
The stress that I carry when I coordinate these campaigns is immense. I hadn't slept well for weeks before last night. My chest was tight, weighed down by the to do list that was around one hundred items strong in the beginning. My mind wouldn't shut off. I was putting the puzzle pieces of the campaign together, destroying the puzzle, and starting all over again.
The aforementioned stress spurred a really important moment for me - reaching my tipping point. I couldn't do everything. I just couldn't. Something had to give, just when I thought I had learned to master the to do lists that existed for both my personal and professional worlds. My daily routine at home was doing light housework, DIY projects, budgeting, cooking, etc. (I am becoming a real June Cleaver!) My daily routine at work was keeping on top of every detail, communicating and re-communicating, checking things off, moving projects forward, etc. I had a nice thing going. But sometime last week, I intentionally threw a wrench into my well oiled machine.
I had to give up "adulting" in at least one area of my life for a little bit. And because my professional life supports what I do in my personal life, I had to choose to be an adult at work. The wonderful thing about this decision was that at home, I could be anything I wanted. Do or not do anything I wanted. For me this meant staying in bed longer, no personal planner, no housework, minimal cooking. I am very lucky to have Joel who agreed to my making a conscious decision to postpone my responsibilities at home. And you know what? When I let go of some of the things that before I swore "had to be done," I felt so much lighter. And at the end of my shoots, Joel told me he couldn't even tell I was stressed. (That's big, because if anyone knows when I'm stressed, it's poor Joel!)
At certain points in our lives, some things just have to give. When those times come, we have to allow it to happen...and we can't feel bad about it. Intentionally making space in our lives when and where we need it is not weakness - it takes strength. And when we make these decisions for ourselves, to give up trying to "do it all" at all times, it makes us even stronger. Self care people, self care. If we don't take care of ourselves, we can't take care of anyone or anything else.
I plan to resume all regular adulting activities next week, but how nice it felt to let go of the reins for little bit!
Oh, and here's me on my last day of major shoots - happy to be running the shoots + happy it was the last day = genuine happiness!!
As a woman, I'm obviously biased in favor of my gender. I believe women are beautiful forces to be reckoned with. On their own, extraordinary. When supported by other women, unstoppable.
I'm tired of picking women apart. I'm tired of hearing others pick women apart. I'm also tired of the double standards that exist between men and women. A lot of times, women get the short end of the stick. We're judged on our looks, actions, intelligence in such a specific and critical way. More than men have or ever will be.
That's why we need to stick together. In understanding and in solidarity.
I want to live my life to the absolute fullest, being 100% authentic. Don't you? Yes? Then let's do it!
The thing is, we can't do it on our own. Yes, we are very powerful as individuals, but like I mentioned earlier, when we come together, there's nothing like it. When we stop picking each other part, and instead, ask how we can be of help in propelling each other forward, that's where the magic happens.
We need more comradery among women. I think it's getting better and better, but I want there to be an unquestionable unity among all of us. No matter if we are strangers or friends. See a woman, be there for them. Whether it is with a kind word, helping hand, or even something as simple as a "like" or positive comment on social media. Show your support.