Friday, March 30, 2012

Writing It Down

About a week and a half ago, I wrote a blog about my commitments list. This week, I added journaling to each day's commitments (I gave it a qualification of "at least 10 minutes" to have something a bit more tangible to track). It's a task that I've gone back and forth on through the years, and I've decided to reinstate it, but in a slightly different manner.

I used to be an avid journaler. I didn't have a thought in my head that I didn't write down virtually every day. Then something changed. I realized that instead of journaling giving me a release, that it was bringing me down. I was having to relive every difficult thing that I had gone through the past day/week/month. I somehow felt compelled to write down every detail, great and terrible, of my day and things that I'd manage to let pass or get over were being recycled. The worst part was, I was doing this to myself. I also noticed that I was focusing way more on the negative things than the positive. I think that perhaps this is a widespread tendency when journaling - we need to "get out" those things that are bothering us. Still, I realized that despite all of the good things going on, if I looked back on my journals five years from now, my life would appear in shambles. 

Despite this, I am still a proponent of journaling. I feel it allows me to provide insight to myself that I might not have otherwise. There's something about writing things down that seems to somehow offer a new perspective. Maybe this is because I generally tend to journal later in the day, and I've given the events some time to rest, allowing for a more objective view.

 On this go round of journalling I decided I needed to preserve the benefits of the activity without falling into the habit of negativity. In an effort to keep to this, I've set up a few rules for myself. 

1. I always start with something positive. Even something as small as "I had just a great grilled cheese for lunch". That's an exaggeration, but you get the idea. I never start out by "complaining". It helps set the tone for the entry. 

2. I try as much as possible to write about my feelings and thoughts, not relive every event in full detail. I have to remember that this isn't an autobiography for others to read (or at least I hope not) - I'm not telling a story , I'm writing my thoughts. I already know the story, no need to do a play by play commentary. 

3. As mentioned earlier, I gave myself a time suggestion. Sometimes it's much longer than this, but it reminds me that I don't have to write a novel, I can just write a few key thoughts. 

4. I have put this on my commitments list as a daily commitment. When I don't journal on a regular basis, I tend to revert into that long-winded story telling model of writing. When I write daily, I tend to be more reflective and insightful because I don't feel the urge to "catch up" (catch who up I'm not sure, but it's an urge I get none-the-less). 

If you're not usually much of a writer or are nervous about falling into the negativity trap, you may want to target your journal to a specific topic. I know people who have kept happiness journals, gratitude journals and meditation journals.  You could focus it around a specific task or project. This narrows your focus and can help from falling into pessimism. If you're still not sold, try it for a few minutes. Pick a topic (something not super negative) and jot down a few things. Bullet point it if you'd like. Set a timer so you don't focus on too much but get out a few ideas. If you have any additional journaling hints or types, I'd love to hear them! 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sitting With Stress

Anyone that has ever had a panic or anxiety attack knows that horrendous moment when it sets in and you feel like must do everything possible to get away from it as quickly as possible. If the attack is bad enough, you feel like you can't breathe, and nobody can go on not breathing for very long. Fight or flight instinct kicks in. It's this that causes people, or at least me, to start to, for lack of a better phrase, freak out. It feels like the anxiety is chasing you and you can't get away from it, and nothing you can do will help. Unfortunately, adrenaline is sure to kick in when we get worked up and only fuels the feeling anxiety. It's seems like a never ending cycle until somehow we manage to get our mind away from what's panicking us - either by a trick we've learned or by distraction from it of some sorts - or the emotion makes us so exhausted that we no longer have the energy for fight or flight.

While it's a relief to be rid of the anxiety or fear, it doesn't actually help us to be less anxious in the long run, and every time that anxiety or panic kicks in we're likely to go through the process all over again. Minus perhaps medication designed for this fact, I've never been able to figure out a real "fix" for these anxiety attacks. So when they happen, I keep on freaking out, keep on getting mad at myself after the fact for freaking out (not to mention embarrassed if anyone witnessed this display of apparent irrationalism), and in the end, nothing changes.

A few days ago I decided I was going to try something different. I often wake with rather unexplained anxiety either in the middle of the night or early in the morning (say 5 or 5:30 AM). Perhaps it's because my brain is starting to wake up and subconsciously mull through all of the stressors (good and bad) in my life. I'm truly not sure. Normally, I respond to this by tossing and turning for a little bit and then getting up and heading to the gym if it's an appropriate enough hour (my gym opens at 5 AM), to try to work out some of the energy. I figure I can always nap later. A few days ago I decided I was going to change things up. I didn't get up and go to the gym or toss and turn hoping to go back to sleep. I simply laid there and let the anxiety happen without fighting it. Then something odd happened - the anxiety slowed down. I wouldn't say it disappeared all together, but it didn't attack me. In a way, it was a bit like a meditation, in which thoughts may come to you, but you just gently let them float away and quiet your mind again. I found that by actually letting the anxiety take it's course, I was able to get through it and not too painfully. I further realized that perhaps much of my anxiety and panic may be, ironically, about having anxiety and panic. This doesn't mean the fear isn't real, it doesn't mean my anxiety is cured or that I'll never have another panic attack. It also doesn't mean that I can always control these when they come over me. But I learned that by just sitting - or in this case laying - with my anxiety, I was able to not "freak out" and not have to distract myself by doing something else until it finally calmed down. Simply put, I just let myself have anxiety. I let it be what it was - a feeling about something that may or may not be a real threat. It gave me some hope that if I can get through my attacks like this, perhaps I may be able to have more control over my anxiety. Not so much if it hits or when, but what to do when it does.  As an added bonus, the fact that I was able to deal with this made me feel good about myself, and I didn't experience that stress that I feel after I have a bad episode and feel like I should be able to control it better.

This being said, I'd assume this technique will be most likely work when the feeling comes on for no apparent reason (or something that's apparent to you but not others). If you are truly in a situation that's outwardly dangerous to you or someone you care about, just sitting there and letting yourself be anxious probably isn't the best course of action (ie don't stand quietly while a truck comes barreling down at you because you're trying not to be afraid). I'm also pretty sure it won't work every time this rather random anxiety comes. Many anxieties and fears have a deep history - whether we know what it is or not - and can take a long time and hard work to conquer.  If this can give you some food for thought for the smaller anxieties though, great. If it can help you ease some them, even better!

I'd like to add a PS here: Stress, anxiety and panic are not all the same thing, though often they all "work together" so to speak. Anxiety can cause panic, both can cause stress, and vice versa. The feeling I tend to get in the mornings that inspired this post is somewhere between anxiety and stress, so I felt the blog appropriately named, and I liked the catchy alliteration. Furthermore, if you have instructions from your doctor that are counterintuitive to this suggestion, by all means, follow those. I just blogged this, as I mentioned, for some food for thought given that it seemed to help me and I hope it might help others. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Forest or the Trees?

You know that saying - the one that goes something like "they can't see the forest for the trees". It basically means that people can see details, but they can't see the overall picture. It's a trait that afflicts probably about 50% of human beings. I'm guessing the other half can see the trees and not the forest. For the record, these are completely guestimated stats to make a point. I have no scientific or psychological data as to exactly what percentage of people see the trees versus the forest. The point is, there are people who are great with details but can't see the overall picture, and there are people that are better at seeing the grand view, but not so good with the day to day. The key when it comes to working on your mental health is to be able to do some of both.

If you're part of this group that focuses so much on every day that you can't look at the bigger picture, you're certainly not alone. What you do day to day is important, and in fact, these actions create the bigger picture. When you're going through a tough time, people often tell you "one step at a time", "this too shall pass", "take it day by day", "right now is all we have" and other similar inspiratory phrases. I myself have given, and heeded, these words of advice.  Indeed, it's incredibly important to not create stress that hasn't happened yet by thinking about the "what ifs" of the future and worrying about difficult situations that may not even occur.  This is one of my biggest difficulties and always has been. However, turn that around for the person going through a very tough time. What if "right now" is the most difficult part. What if you're in bad pain - physically or emotionally - and focusing on right now feels like the equivalent of standing on flaming hot coals? If every "one step at a time" is another step on those coals, it's not very inviting and you can't imagine how it's going to help matters much.

The trick in these situations is to ask yourself what the end result will be. If you stand there on the coals, your feet will get burned, and you'll get no closer to the end. If you run backwards, you may find out that the only way to get where you hope to go is to in fact walk over the coals, and you're going to have to go through the whole painful process again. If you walk forward, unless you've been grossly tricked or misguided, you are at least getting closer to the end. The truth is, sometimes we have to experience something very difficult and painful to get to where we want to be. The longer we try to work around it and avoid it, the longer we stand on the coals with our feet getting burned. Alternatively, if we make a beeline for the finish line we may exhaust ourselves halfway through and have the ability to go no further. It's a balance, and a delicate one at that.

I battle with this concept daily. Literally. So often there is something that I want to do or say because I feel I "need to get it out" or "can't stand this anymore". Sometimes I follow through on this, and almost without fail, it doesn't work out as I'd hoped. In fact, it generally hurts my cause. What I'm trying to do now is to step back and say "where do I want to be with this situation or in this area of my life?" Then I look at the action I'm about to do or thing I'm about to say, and try to take the emotion out of it, at least somewhat. If I can do this, I can ask myself "If I do/say this, what are the possible results? What's most likely to happen?". It helps to bounce it off a friend who's willing to listen and give an objective opinion (a therapist would also be ideal here, if you have one). If you need to, write it down, leave it and do something completely unrelated, come back to it after a little while, write all the possible results and how you'd feel about each." If after giving it some time and looking at it as objectively as possible you feel that it's going to help move you towards where you ultimately want to be, then go for it and prepared to deal with the results either way. If you're not so sure, consider your other options. It might be that just letting time pass allows the feeling to dissolve itself. Perhaps your just tired, irritated with something else, simply "woke up on the wrong side of the bed." If you're a rapid mood cycler, it might be that once this cycle passes you'll feel completely differently and wish you'd not acted as you did. This, I can attest, happens all the time.

I am finding, albeit very slowly and with a lot of trial and error, that you have to see both the forest and the trees. You have to know where you want to go, and always keep that in mind. However, it's those smaller day to day details that get you there or move you further away. If you can align these two, you're moving in the right direction. I suspect there are very few people that could get this down perfectly. Everyone has an emotionally bad day, their last straw, their bad moods, and during these we're bound to say or do something we shouldn't, even if once in a long while. When you do, repair it as quickly as possible. An I'm sorry, admitting you were wrong, and doing something to recover where you've gone astray can go a long way.

I suggest you start by practicing with small things. Pick a task that you might struggle with but that you know will help you in the long run. Meditation is mine. It's tempting to let my mind wander because sitting there "doing nothing" doesn't feel efficient, but I know that eventually it will help with my patience, and that in turn, will help with how I handle numerous aspects of my life. Start slowly, and while you're doing this task think about the end result. Repeat it to yourself if you have to (out loud is even better if no one else is there or if you don't care that they hear you). As I said in my last post, it's all about baby steps. Take these baby steps with your end goal in mind, and you're on your way.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Baby Steps

Patience is a virtue. One that I don't posses much. I've always been the "now is the time" type of person for just about everything. I do truly believe that many times this is the best option - if you always wait for the "right" time, you'll often find that the "right" time never comes (ask any new parent if waiting until the 'right' time to have a child made it a breeze). However, even excitable, impatient me realizes that when it comes to ones well-being, it's not an overnight process. Just as you couldn't decide that you want to lose 30 lbs and wake up 30 lbs more svelte the next morning - disregarding and surgery that might actually do this - it would be silly to assume I can just decide to make a major change to my life, and boom it's done.

So, ironically, one of my biggest challenges during this journey is increasing my patience. I'm working on actually slowing this process down to make sure I get it right instead of diving in head first and trying to be exactly who I want to be overnight. Now, for those who have seen me go between cycles, it might seem that I can change quickly, and indeed I may have the ability to adjust quicker than most (sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse). However, I'm talking about an overall change in my approach to life, and moving from focusing solely on others to making myself an important part of my own life as well. Small bits and pieces can change overnight, but as a whole, it's a longer haul. I realize this might be frustrating for those around me. It's ok for me to be 'going through a process' for a few days, or a week or even a couple of weeks. It probably gets old after a while, and I understand that. It's one of the reasons I'm doing this blog - to document my journey for myself, and for those who want to witness it, at their own pace. It allows me to get things out here instead of having it constantly be the focus of every conversation. I'd even frustrate myself with that.

For anyone that knows me, I work best with timelines. Part of this may be from running my own business and frequently working from home - if I don't give myself timelines, who will? It's easy to get distracted by doing the laundry and grocery shopping if I don't have a self-imposed deadline to get xyz tasks finished by the end of the day. I find without some sort of at least loose timeline, people (myself included) tend to be more lax on their responsibility and accountability. I have a very hard time with the idea of "letting things happen" because all of my life I've worked to make things happen (and because I don't believe in axioms such as "everything happens for a reason," but that's a whole other blog). While I don't think that working hard to get what you want is at all a bad trait - in fact I think it's an admirable and important one - I have to, as I've said in the past, let go of the need to control absolutely everything. Or rather, I should say that I need to let go of the need to actively control everything. I've realized, even in this short time that I've been intently working on myself, that sometimes the best control comes from stepping back and not working every minute to control things. This allows one to have better control of themselves and their actions, and ultimately that's the most effective and most enjoyable way to get where you want to be.

I know, I know - what's the point, and where do the "baby steps" come in? I promise, that was all leading up to it. With the help of a very special friend, I've decided to create a "commitments" list. These are all small (or seemingly small) actions that I will commit to doing every day or week, as is appropriate, to make the changes I want to make. These aren't "to do"s which I can push off until tomorrow. They are commitments that I'm telling myself I must do when I've agreed (with myself) to do them. They are every day actions to get me to focus on each day,  in fact sometimes each hour or minute, instead of extrapolating days/weeks/months into the future, getting impatient and wanting to "be there now". Each week I will create a checklist, which categorizes the actions day by day. I add on from the previous week. Remember, these are small items. Some weeks, the "new" item will just be an improvement to last week's item (ie instead of 5 minutes of meditation each day, I'll do 8).

I started with the absolute basics. These are actions that I truly need to physically do in order to even start to focus on working on myself. This week I had four action items listed for each day. Ambitious, right? Not really. Here were the items:

1.) Take morning medication by 9 am
2.) Take afternoon medication around 2 PM
3.) Take evening medication around 9:30 or 10 PM
4.) Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep

Note:  every one of these has been prescribed my doctor and is something I've already aimed to do, but it made a good starting point, since they're essentials. I realize that 7 to 8 of hours of sleep is laughable to a lot of people (as in, "who the hell gets that much sleep?") but sleep is one of those things that can make or break my condition for the day. A steady sleep pattern is almost as important as medication for me, and it was somewhere I was slacking. That needs to change.

I'm happy to announce that this past week I could successfully check off all but one item - I didn't get 7-8 hours of sleep on Tuesday night. I just couldn't sleep well, and that's truly through no fault of my own. I went to bed early and tried to sleep well, it just didn't happen. Overall, I consider this last week a success in terms of my commitments list. This week I've add in 5 minutes of meditation each day. I started "practicing" this last week by actually doing stress relief yoga at home several days and doing meditation for 5 minutes a couple of times. I wanted to get to work on them before I was "committed".

I know these seem like simple things, not even worthy of writing a blog about, but the simpleness is the point - they make me slow down. They take the focus off the stress of my business, my interpersonal relationships and trying to make everything perfect, my trying to "fix" myself and my life so urgently. I don't know anyone that doesn't like to check off completed items on their list, and this list not only gives me that satisfaction and that focus, it simplifies my life into what's really essential, and helps me work on myself, day by day. It allows me to visibly feel my work and my progress in a tangible way, which makes me less impatient because I'm not waiting until things get better - I'm actually watching the progress with each task I complete. It gives me the hope that this process is indeed starting to work, and that I will indeed be successful in this journey (I'm tempted to say "sooner rather than later" here, but that would be impatient!).

I highly suggest a commitments list everyone. The key is to not let it get out of hand. Keep things basic and simple.  Commitments don't have to be exactly the same every day, just don't get too ambitious all at once. An important point: this doesn't mean you do nothing but these items (I'd be bored to tears and have no business if that was the case). Make sure this list never involves 'to dos' such as work tasks or home chores. Sure those are important and they can go on your "to do" list - just not your "must do" list. Keep it to those things you want to work on for yourself personally, or even those things that would give you joy that you haven't had time for (i.e. walk the dog to the park once a day), and I suspect you'll feel pleasantly surprised and accomplished with the results. After all, no matter how happy people are with their lives, we're all a work in progress.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Finding a Purpose

When you get diagnosed with a condition that you're going to have for the rest of your life, and battle for a good number of those days, there is rush of emotions. First, you're glad to have an answer. Better yet, you're glad that there's medication that can help with it - though unfortunately not cure it, but it's a start, and it's hope. Next, you go (or at least I went) into "I'm going to take this on and win" mode. Then, reality sets in. Knowing what you're diagnosed with doesn't mean that you can conquer the world. It means, well, you know what you're diagnosed with. It also means that you can start to understand it, treat it, and most importantly, deal with it.

After a while, you get into a rhythm. You have good days and bad days, up days and down days. Then at some point, you have a really bad day, or week, or month. Your optimism takes a big hit. In the case of mood disorders specifically, it may start to affect not only you, but those around you, those you care about. This is when many people, and I'll admit myself included, get into the "why me" phase. You have a terrible day, it's not fair, you're doing every thing you can, why do you have to deal with this, etc. There are two schools of thought in this. One is what I call the 'there are starving kids in Africa' approach, which is when people tell you things like "it could be worse", "there's always someone worse off", "at least you have....".  Fair enough, these are true and it is important not to always let it get you down. But guess what - it's also true that it's not fair and you didn't do anything to "deserve" this. It's a delicate balance for yourself and those around you.

Just before I started focusing this blog on my new journey, I was in the "this isn't fair, why do I have to deal with this" phase. Then something shifted. Slowly. Very slowly. I started to realize that yes, perhaps it isn't fair. But I don't have a choice. I can't give my cyclothymia back and say "no thanks, what else do you have that might not suck as much, because this isn't working out too well?" It was time to stop being a diagnosis and start being me again, as I discussed in the first post I wrote about my journey. Equally as important, it was time to start being ok with having the diagnosis and stop trying to hide. All of a sudden I stopped being afraid of what people thought, and this was monumental.

Unfortunately, I was still feeling lost. I knew I wanted to work on myself, but I was still having trouble with my "purpose". I don't typically believe the familiar statement that "everything happens for a reason". But somehow I couldn't help shake the idea that if I was going to have to deal with this pain in the a** of a condition, there must be a really good reason for it. Put a different way, I had to do something with this condition other than feel bad about it. Gradually, it started to occur to me. Other people were reading my posts, commenting on my Facebook page when I discussed some of my issues, "liking" my thoughts about my journey in various discussion forums. People were actually saying I inspired them. And just like that, it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks (though much more enjoyable, fortunately). I was living with this because I was not only strong enough to deal with it, but because I was strong enough to help others dealing with this and similar mood disorders.

This week I started a Facebook group called, appropriately, Mood Disorders Support System. Right now, it has a very impressive 8 members, several of whom I personally said "hey, I know you're going through something, please join my group, I think it will help". But it also brought in a few people that surprised me, that I didn't realize were going through these troubles. I actually find myself feeling closer to these people, discussing things with them that I don't even discuss with some of my close friends because I feel more understood with these group members. For the first time in a long time I'm started to feel empowered rather than overpowered by my condition. I'm truly hoping to grow this group. I'd love for it to be live some day. My next step is to put together more concrete goals and a plan for expanding my reach and ability to help people with mood disorders. I don't mind that it's not a paying job  (because I have one that is). It's a passion. It's something that I need, and that others need. Even if right now it's only 8 of them.

I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I don't feel quite so lost. When I'm having a bad time, I can reach out to my peers who deal with similar issues. I can, in return, help them with theirs, if even just by listening and letting them vent. Having a group such as this helps you reason through things and take your own advice. Discussing with others provides a deeper understanding, because it allows you to look at an issue you have, but not when you're in the thick of it, frustrated, confused or upset.

I am wide open to any suggestions people may have for my new mission, for getting people involved in the group and for goals down the road. For those already participating, I can't thank you enough, and I truly hope this can help you as much as it's already helping me. For those that are interested in joining the group, you can either search for it on Facebook or you can just tell me and I can add you (though you might have to be my Facebook friend for this second option - I'm still learning the group rules). For confidentiality reasons, it's a closed group. This means that anyone can request to join, but I have to "approve" them, and it allows only the people in the group to see the content. I feel this makes for more honest and open sharing, as people feel more safe to do so.

To close this blog I'd like to thank all of the women of the I AM WOMAN Facebook group, who unknowingly inspired this a-ha moment. I was discussing within the group about things I've gone through and how I'd love to be able to help others going through similar issues, when all of a sudden it dawned on me that I already am and I can continue to do more. So thank you, all you amazing WOMEN, for helping me find my purpose, even if unplanned.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why I'm Great. Seriously.

I've read in several sources that a good way to help build one's self confidence/self esteem is to create a compliments list. Things that others love about you that you might not see in yourself or that you might so often take for granted about yourself that you don't see them as a big deal. If others recognize you for them and are willing to say them out loud, then why shouldn't you see them in yourself, and be proud of them. I want to clarify that I am not writing this post for anyone but myself. It's not to convince anyone of anything - heck, others were the ones that gave the compliments. It's simply a way for me to be reminded of  those positive attributes about myself that I can't always see.

Yesterday, I took the bold move on Facebook of listing a few qualities that I liked about myself and asking my friends to fill in the rest. I say bold because it could be entirely possible no one would respond, and that certainly wouldn't have the affect of boosting my confidence. Luckily, that's not how it played out. Here are some of the things they said about me (in no particular order other than the one they replied in):

I'm Energetic
I'm a very strong woman
I handle things gracefully (I'm not sure about this, but if they think so, I won't deny it)
I put my heart into everything I do
I'm fun
I'm an animal lover
I have a good heart
I'm compassionate
I'm creative in everything I do
My love of travel is inspirational
I'm fearlessness and courage about caring and sharing
I'm genuine
I'm analytical
I have a great sense of humor
I am a dreamer
I'm extremely committed to my word
Absolute honesty

I literally welled up with tears reading some of these. One of the things that hit me the most was that these didn't all come from my best friends or family (though some certainly did). These are the thoughts of old friends, new friends, casual friends, close friends, all put together. The fact that people that I haven't known all that long can tell me what a good heart I have or how fearless and courageous I am was so amazing to me.

Now, in fairness, there were some traits not added here because (or I hope because) I had already stated them as a few things I liked about myself and asked people not to duplicate. Since it's also important to share what I see as some of my favorite qualities, here were mine: I'm intelligent, I'm unfalteringly loyal, I make people laugh.

I highly suggest this activity to anyone who might need a reminder about why they're great. Keep it somewhere. Print it out and hang it by your desk, your bed, your mirror. Anywhere you're bound to see it. Repeat it to yourself when you feel down or bad about yourself. These are the reasons people love you. Why should you not love yourself for the same reasons?

This picture pretty much sums up how I feel after reading and digesting all of those compliments:


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Vacation and Life Lessons

I've been neglecting my blogging (and basically everything else) as I've been traveling in Peru for the last 11 days. First, let me start off by saying it was an amazing trip and I highly suggest visiting this magnificently surprising country. With that out of the way, I am winding back to what I've decided will be the theme for this blog for the time being - my journey at this challenging time in my life. During my travels, I learned several important lessons, not just about travel, but about life. Some I learned by doing things right, some the hard way, and most a combination of the two.  These might be obvious lessons to others. In fact, some are tactics I know quite well logically, but holding to them is easier said than done, as the cliche goes. I'm working on working on these upon my return. And yes, I realize that working on working on something isn't exactly a sparkling inspiratory phrase, but it's the most brutally honest and if there's one thing I am, it's brutally honest.

Resort in Urubamba, Peru 

1. It's all about right now. Yes, we hear this so often in various forms but I think one needs to truly experience it in full effect before comprehending it on more than a surface level. Vacation is a perfect time to practice this. It doesn't last forever, or even for very long. If you don't enjoy each moment of it, you'll be looking at the pictures vaguely remembering a few details and wondering where the time went. Much of the time, I was able to do this and it helped create so many invaluable experiences. The times I failed at this - as anyone making a major transition in their life is bound to do - it cost me, and I regret that I wasn't able to just enjoy the current moment.

2. Prioritize. Life is all about priorities. You never want to be so focused on which outfit to wear each day of your trip that you miss the actual experiences you went for. Luckily, I didn't literally learn from this specific example, as I would much rather be out and about than picking out an outfit any day (as one can often tell from my outfits).  Once again the limited time one has on vacation is a great teacher of choosing what's most important and where to focus your energies and, equally as important, where not to.

3. Make sure your motives align with your actions. Using travel as an example, don't just go see some famous landmark because everyone says you should, when really you'd rather be exploring some off-the- beaten-path neighborhood that only locals enjoy. Same with life. Look at your motives, and look at your actions. Do they align? Don't only look at them from your own point of view because of course your point of view always seems right to you. Look at them through the eyes of others as well - not specifically to appease others, but also because it may help you to see the situation better as a whole, and be more effective in the long run.

My boot after traipsing through the mud in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest
4.  Step out of your comfort zone, even if you have to tiptoe. One of my stops on this trip was the Amazon Rainforest. Adventurous right? Before you agree, let me let you in on a secret - my "cabana" had a private plunge pool. But still, the rainforest experience was a bit of an important step for me. Here are a few reasons why: I'm quite allergic to mosquito bites. Needless to say, the rainforest is a haven for mosquitos. I don't like to rough it, at all. We didn't have electricity for about 4 hours of the day and 6 hours at night, including not even a fan in our room at 90+ degrees and about 120% humidity. We also had crawly creatures in our room and bathroom. I strongly dislike and feel uncomfortable in group tours and activities. We had to do some excursions with a group and we had scheduled meal times. My point is, it wasn't a gigantic leap but it wasn't the skyscraper Westin in bustling Lima that we'd had at the start of the trip. I didn't have complete control over everything and I dealt with this, even really enjoyed the overall experience (though still not the crawly things in the bathroom). This small example of enjoying something where I didn't have complete control is, in fact, huge.

I'm sure I've learned more over the past 11 days, but you can only work on so many things at once.  I'm happy to discuss in further detail with anyone that has learned important life lessons while traveling. In the mean time, stay tuned for another blog soon, possibly tomorrow!