Friday, August 31, 2012

Ah Blog Challenge, It's Been A Pleasure!

Just over a  month ago, I challenged myself and a few friends to blog every day in the month of August. Keep in mind, July was very busy and I believe I'd posted a whopping two blogs on here that whole month. This was one of the reasons I created the challenge. I realized that if I had a chance of anyone subscribing to my blog I'd have to actually, well, blog!

In addition to this, I have my Chimera Travel blog, for which I was also undertaking the challenge. That meant writing 62 posts in the month of August. I'll admit that sometimes I "cheated". I wrote several blogs in a day, to be posted on subsequent days. In fact, as of the writing of this, I've written about 9 or 10 posts between my two blogs today, because I have company company coming in next week (this week if you're reading this) and don't know what my schedule will be like. Besides, sometimes when the muse hits you, you just have to write. Seems silly to squelch it simply because you've already written your post for the day. The point is, though, that I have successfully written 62 blogs in the month of August - this one being the finale (yes, it counts!).

My blog challenge was exhilarating, especially on this personal blog. With so many posts to write, I let my brain wander quite a bit to come up with ideas, though honestly it wasn't usually very difficult. I had to become more creative and imaginative, while still keeping the general loose theme of the blog itself. I allowed myself to go deeper into my brain an emotions, and bring it forward on this page. In the process, I learned a lot more about myself and others as well - many people have reached out to me to discuss my blogs and/or let me know that it resonated with them.

With this challenge complete, I still plan to blog a couple of times a week. I'd like to keep it at two posts per week at least, more when I have something I just really need to get out of my brain and want to share.

To those who urged me to keep writing, who undertook the challenge with me, who shared my posts with others, and who supported me in general, especially with some posts that weren't the easiest to write, a huge thank you! I might take Labor Day weekend off from blogging - I'm sure you've heard enough from me the last month to sustain you for the couple of days! But I always welcome topic suggestions and am happy to answer questions, either pertaining to a specific blog or just in general. Have a wonderful holiday weekend, and I'll see you back here in early September! 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shall I Publish a Book?

I have loved to write for as long as I can remember. Somewhere in the far back stretches of my mind, I've always dreamt about writing a book. When I was younger, say youth and teen years, I assumed that if this ever came to fruition, it would be a novel. Probably because until I was in my mid-20s, that's primarily what I read. I also truly didn't ever think I'd write a book, so it was ok to let my mind get carried away with the idea, as my mind tends to do.

As my 20s slipped away, I began writing increasingly more - I don't think there was a connection, other than perhaps my no longer being married, and hence having more time to write. It became apparent to me that I infuse my personality so much into everything I do that there's no way I could write a novel, and to be honest, the desire to write purely fiction rather all but ceased. A fact based fiction maybe, but never a full on novel. It's just not my style to create something totally different from myself and write about it for x-hundred number of pages. I envy those that have this level of creativity.

About two years ago my best friend and I joked that I should write a book about my dating/relationship life, substituting names and rearranging some situations of course - it wouldn't be an exact autobiography. Without going into detail, my "love life" has been quite the experience. Never a dull moment for sure. Just for fun, I started just writing a few pages here and there, but I didn't even make it past the age of 21 before I realized that this wasn't the subject for a book that I wanted. There were numerous reasons, not the least of which was respect for others' privacy and the fact that hindsight is always 20/20. It's honestly tough for me to write about something that's not happening right now.

When I started opening up about my condition and my journey, I briefly wondered if it would be a good book topic. I'd read the book An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, about her life with full-blown bipolar disorder. It was interesting and inspiring, and while what I would write most certainly wouldn't be in the same league, the notion of writing about my mood disorder did appeal to me.  A big goal of mine in this process is to not only tell my story, but to raise awareness and education others about mood disorders, and also to show others that may be struggling with similar issues that it's ok to open up about them.  So the idea of writing a book on this did tempt me. Still, I didn't do any more than wonder about it . I think I'm intimated by it being compared to other books on similar topics, and I don't want to seem like a copycat. I know that might be silly, but it's the truth.

The other day, though, the thought randomly hit me - with all of the options for self-publishing ebooks these days, what if I compiled my blogs here into some sort of ebook? It would be snippets of the various aspects of my life and my experiences, and in doing so perhaps even encourage others to share their story. Oddly, that same day, a friend of mine whose opinion I value very much, told me that she thought I should compile my blogs into a book. I thought, "wow, serendipitous". I'd never mentioned the idea of compiling my posts to anyone.

So, my question is two fold. First, what do you think? Let me be clear that I'm not planning on this being a best seller and retiring on the profits. I plan pretty much on doing it for my own satisfaction and it maybe being interesting enough for my family and best friends to purchase, if it even has a price attached. I'm not sure how self-published ebooks work price-wise. Secondly, to that specific point, how does one even go about doing this? Does anyone have any suggestions or experience with such a thing? Are there recommendations for sites/resources for doing this? I'm honestly clueless when it gets to this part of the "plan."

I'd absolutely love your feedback. Even writing this post gives me a decent amount of anxiety, in case people say, "no, awful idea!" (or something slightly nicer but with the same underlying message). But I'm working on overcoming my fears of embarrassment and rejection, and not letting them hold me back. So thoughts and suggestions, both yay and nay, are truly welcome! 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thoughts on Paper

I think I mentioned before that I have (originally blank) sheets of paper at my desk at Indy Hall where I pretty much write down any random thought that pops into my head. Well, ok, not any random thought, as that would be a novel with how my brain works, but anything I think of that intrigues me. The "theme" to these thoughts is that they are not "to do"s, or mental notes to remember, or anything like that. They are sayings and quotes, lines of songs that interest me, eclectic inspirational phrases, something someone's said to me that I find interesting or amusing.

One of the things that I've learned about myself is that very quirky things come into my brain that I can't really understand, but for whatever reason they fascinate me. I think this is part of that creativity and imagination that's struggling to come out of me, which I discussed in my blog Restless Creativity a week or so ago. I'll admit, sometimes I "steal" these sayings from Pinterest or the little motivational posts that some of the pages I follow on Facebook post. But regardless, they are important enough for me to write them down and keep them at my desk. I acknowledge, this is a little odd. That's ok, because I also acknowledge, so am I. And I'm pretty OK with that!

I was looking back over these and I realized that when grouped together, they tell a good bit about my journey over the last six months, when I started really opening up, sharing who I am, and discovering a lot about myself in the process. I thought I'd post some of those that jump out at me. As these are random, there is no rhyme nor reason to the order. They're just little tidbits of my brain and my evolving life inspiration that I wanted to share. I've made some of my own notes on them where I think applicable

  • "I wish I could share with the world how my brain works." - Interesting considering that I then decided to do just that! 
  • "If it doesn't exist, make it happen." - I'm not sure exactly what I was talking about here, but I love this! 
  • "Never look back and regret the things you didn't do. Take charge!"
  • "Go after what you want with all you have." - I see a theme with these last two. 
  • "Don't waste time thinking about people who aren't thinking of you."
  • "I must be a mermaid. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living" - Can't take credit for this unfortunately; something I saw on FB from one of the pages I follow. I believe it was the page Backwards Towards Light.
  • "Your flaws make you more human." - Nobody's perfect. I wouldn't want them or me to be. 
  • "Everyone has fear. Some people are just brave enough to admit it." - This one goes out to my Mood Disorders FB group. They amaze me with their courage to open up. Thank you for your support! 
  • "Let go of the shoulds and should nots" - Meaning, you can only control yourself and your actions. Things won't always go as you think they should/not. Believe this was inspired from a guided meditation I did. 
And, finally, for a rather funny, if slightly off color one. 
  • "I wish I had more b*lls about this. Figuratively, of course." I'm not entirely sure what I was referring to, but it makes me laugh that I added the clarification. 
I have four or five pieces of paper that are filled with these types of notions. Some are more directed at specific situations, and wouldn't make sense to anyone else (and maybe not particularly appropriate to share, if jotted down on the days I wasn't happy about something/with someone.) 

Do you have any sayings/thoughts/random spurts of imaginative words that come into your head? I'm curious if this happens to anyone else, and if they keep track of it. 

Idea Swap

The other day I had a wonderful conversation with my sister Melissa. I think I've mentioned before, and I know it's listed on my blog main page, but she writes the wonderful blog Swell Notes. You should read it. Seriously. I'm not just saying this because she's my sister. She's been doing this blog challenge with me, and I love taking a break from my blogging to read hers, as well as the others listed on my blog's favorites (check them out!).

During this conversation we caught up with each other, of course, and then talked about blogging and creativity. We have a lot in common, in our values and our beliefs, and it was great to explore our thoughts and pick each others brains a bit. We discussed books we'd read on the topic of creativity and inspiration, passed ideas by each other, an offered suggestions where the other might be stuck.

When I got off the phone, I was struck by this random idea - go figure! Wouldn't it be great to orchestrate some sort of idea swap? Here's where my brain went on this one. I've already mentioned numerous times how my brain rambles, but bear with me because I really like this concept. You could get together a group of people who feel stuck, or uncreative, or just even undecided about something in life. Everyone write a quick blurb about where they feel stuck on a piece of paper, fold it, and put it into a hat (or bowl or whatever). Each person draws out a piece of paper - if you choose your own, throw it back in. We'd provide a certain time frame, probably based on the type of ideas thrown into the hat, in which to come up with suggestions to try to help that person get unstuck. Reconvene, and share. I'm nearly positive that once the conversation got going, not only would the person who drew your piece of paper have ideas, but so would others.

Obviously, it would have to be something you felt comfortable sharing and discussing in a small group. For me that's pretty much anything, but I understand that's not the same for everyone. Think, though, of the creativity, imagination, and idea generation that could come out of something like this. I'm also willing to bet that once others start offering suggestions for your "sticking point" that you might even start coming up with ideas yourself. Sometimes all it takes is to get the ball rolling and talk it out.

I have no idea how one would organize such a thing, or how many people would participate, but I'd love to try. I wouldn't want to limit it to locals, so I'm sure people could participate by phone or, even better, skype. What do you think? Would you give it a try? 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Vision Boardom

One of the questions that's toughest for me to answer is that of "where do you want to be in 5 (10, 15, etc) years from now?". My immediate inclination is to say "god, I have no idea!". However, I feel this would make me sound like I have zero foresight and am not very well put together, so I usually try to think of something a little more appropriate-sounding.

The truth is, life tends to toss me and my plans/expectations about like a blender. It's not that I have no idea what I want to do, no goals and dreams. It's that I don't want to pigeonhole myself, and get upset when things don't go as planned. If I looked at my life at the age of 24 - newly married, home owner, working for a corporate fitness company - I'd never have imagined that at almost 33, my life would look like it does now. That being said, I'd not change my life right now at all, nor the path that took me here. So it's tough for me to think that far ahead, because it seems like every time I get somewhat of a plan, it's shuffled around. Sometimes, I think that somehow life is doing this on purpose, to help me grow, adapt, and get to where I really want to be, even if I don't know where that is yet. Not in a "fate" way, but just as a way to make me continually grow. Who knows, perhaps I'm unintentionally doing it to myself, which makes a bit more sense to the rational brain. 

Because it's so tough for me to pinpoint on the spot what my 20-year plan is, I opt for a more imaginative an creative method - vision boarding. There is a lot of information out there on creating vision boards. It's definitely worth taking a look at the different sites and suggestions. Still, I thought I'd share my basic "rules" for creating a vision board, that help me to feel that I'm really getting something out of it, and learn about myself in the process. It also helps me from getting "bored" or stuck during the process. 
  • The number one rule for vision boarding, in my mind, is that there are no hard and fast rules about what to include, what not to include, what it should look like as a finished product, etc. 
  • Pull from a wide variety of materials. If all of my sources were travel magazines, I'd learn a lot about my travel future, but basically nothing about any other aspect of my life. Choose sources you might not to expect to find a lot in, just to see what you do find. 
  • Don't have a set out plan when you begin. It stifles your creativity. If I say, "ok, I want to own a german shepherd dog, so I'm looking for a picture of one"; "I want to live in this city so I'm trying to find an image of that", I'm just putting up pictures of what I already know. I'm not discovering anything. If you see something that speaks to you, cut it out and put it on the board - even if you have no idea why it seems important or even what it is. 
  • Don't feel like certain things should or shouldn't be on there. If you see a picture of a house in the Maldives and think, "boy I'd love to retire there", add it! The board is supposed to be visionary, to provide you with dreams and goals to shoot for, not factually and financially accurate. Again, if you go through with the mindset of "I'll never be able to afford that" then chances are, you won't - you're not setting it as a dream/goal to reach for. 
  • Hang it up somewhere where you'll see it frequently, and really have the chance to study it. If that's in front of the toilet, so be it - it'll make an interesting conversation piece! (For the record, mine is not in front of the toilet). 
  • A vision board is ever-evolving. As your dreams and goals change, so will your vision (board). If you see something later on that you want to add, do so. If one day you look at your board and think that something up there is no longer what you want, remove it. A tip though - save it for a short while. It could be you're just in a different mind frame at the moment.
Do you have a vision board? I'd love to hear about how you made it, or even some of the things on it, if you're willing to share! 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Things I Suck At

I know the title is a little harsh, but I thought it might intrigue people more than "things that I'm not very to mildly competent at."

I mentioned that I had an awesome conversation with my sister Melissa the other day about creativity. She mentioned a project that she'd read about, and I hope she doesn't mind my "stealing" the concept, of trying to do something creative every day, even if it's not something you're good at. I love this concept. First off, that means the world is my oyster, because there are plenty of creative things I'm not good at - like drawing anything more than stick figures (or even non-distorted stick figures, for that matter). Furthermore, it makes it "ok" - and why wouldn't it be unless you are trying to do it for a living - to take on activities and hobbies that you're not great at. If you love it, so what! And maybe you'll realize that you don't love it, but that's ok too. You can't enjoy and/or be good at everything.

I decided to start compiling a list of things I am not very good at, or haven't been in the past, that I want to try, for at least a day. Here is the start of that list. I plan to add things as I go along and discover my other non-talents.

  • Knitting. I'm not good at knitting. My best friend generously sent me a whole knitting kit complete with instructional video, and I got stuck 15 minutes into it. I don't have good hand-eye coordination and I feel knitting may require this. Still, so many people that I know enjoy this, I thought I might try.
  • Drawing. Now as I mentioned, I KNOW I am not artistic in this realm, at all. But I'm curious to try this in an "art therapy" sort of way - take pen (or more likely multi-colored sharpies because it's the only colorful drawing option I have) and see what comes out. I'm completely curious as to what I would draw. Or attempt to as the case will be. 
  • Cooking outside the box. I enjoy cooking easy recipes when I get used to them. I get nervous cooking new recipes or trying something different. When I see "egg" on the ingredient list, I run the other direction. I'm not sure why. I think that for me it transitions it from "easy pretend cooking" to "real cooking" and I'm not sure I'm ready for that. 
  • Flower arranging. Ok I realize this is an odd one. I never have flowers in my apartment, except the orchid I killed by turning off the A/C when I went on vacation for a week, but I'd love to have them. I'm interested in finding a place where I can buy various types of flowers an put them into a bouquet or two in my apartment. I love color and designing things and I think this would be fun. 
  • Poetry. When I was little I think I had a poem here or there "published" in children's magazine, though in fairness one of them was the one that my dad used to produce. As I've gotten older, I've written very little (read: no) poetry. I think I'm afraid that it will be cheesy, or predictable, or something. But I'd love to try again. 
  • Photography. I don't suck at photography, but I use it quite literally and I pretty much set it on auto, or use one of the pre-created "scene" settings. I need to take my camera out for a walk and learn the other settings, and how to really use it so that when I'm traveling I don't miss a great picture because I'm spending 15 minutes trying to set it correctly. 
  • Fashion creation. I would love to be a fashion designer in my spare time (along with my other 20 side careers that I'd like!). Which I know is probably comical to people that know me because my general wardrobe when I'm out consists of a sundress in the summer, jeans and a basic top in the winter, and clothes that I wouldn't want to be caught on candid camera in when home.  Pinterest, though, is great for fashion ideas, and I'd love to spend more time creating outfits (from my closet unless I find the cash for a shopping spree miraculously) that fit my personality and don't simpy fit into the "yeah this is clean and doesn't require ironing, it's a go" category. I'd even love to, with my bad drawing skills, sketch up some mock outfits of things I'd create if I had the resources. 
I'm not sure when I'm going to get to all of this, but I'm going to give it a try. I'm sure as I start to work these into my week, I'll discover other things I'd like to do as well. 

What are some things you might not be great at - or think you aren't, or haven't tried yet - but would love to do anyways? 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I Like Men in Pajama Pants

This is actually a true statement. While hear friends say "I like men in uniform" or "I like men in suits", I reply, "I like men in pajama pants". Then they all laugh at me. And yes, for the gentlemen reading this, we do talk about this stuff, so take note.

While it's kind of become a joke, it really is one of my favorite outfits (if you can call it that) on men. Let me clarify that I mean at home, relaxing, watching tv, etc. Not out at the bar on a Friday night. While you may think this is an odd topic for a blog - and I would agree - there is a reason behind this. Besides the fact that I love pajama pants myself, the reason I like this look on men is that it's kind of a humbling look. It's pretty tough to be macho in pajamas. Seriously. If you try to act tough, brave, all-knowing, manly, and such, I'm just going say "yeah, but you're wearing pajamas with dogs (snowman, stripes, fish, whatever) on them. Now sit down, eat your ice cream, and finish watching house hunters with me. I find they usually do, and are actually relieved that they can totally just be themselves, lounging on the couch in comfy clothes, indulging in mint chocolate chip, and watching rather mindless  TV.

For the record, this blog isn't a bash on men, nor is it directed solely at men. I feel everyone is more comfy and more themselves in pajamas. I mean think about it, one of the first things we do when we get home is change out of our work clothes, right? I just used that as an example, because I enjoyed the story and it provided a good intro.

Humbleness (or humility) is one of my favorite qualities in a person, not just for relationship purposes, but everyone I interact with. Sadly, I find that it's not a very common one. Don't get me wrong, I'm a full proponent of realizing your strengths, not letting others tell you what you can and can't accomplish, and growing your self confidence. But humble and confident are not mutually exclusive. You can believe in yourself, without believing that you know it all and understanding your weaknesses as much as your strengths.

If you want to be humbled, drive away from the city at night to a place where there are few houses and trees, and look up at the sky. Or watch someone who has very little donate to a cause, or stop and help someone in need. If you're traveling, find something larger than life - ancient cities built by hand, animals wandering the African plain. Traveling is a magnificent way to be quickly humbled. It might just be a matter of getting out of your routine - try a skill that you've never tried, that you feel you probably aren't very good at. It's an easy way to bring yourself back down to earth.

Finally, look at your priorities. If you're not putting the people in your life, you might be moving away from humility. I realize everyone has priorities, but think about it - do you truly think that you're so important at your job that you can't take five minutes to send a text to someone that's important to you? Are you so incredible that your clients can't stay for you to be away for an hour or two so that you can show those that care about you that it's reciprocal? It might take a lot to admit this, but honestly, everyone is replaceable in their job. When you start to think that you're not, that you're so important that you can't take some time away, you may need to do one of those humbling activities I mentioned above. Or put on some pajama pants, pull out the Ben & Jerry's, and turn on HGTV. If you choose that option, you know you'll have at least one fan! 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sweating It Out

I don't tend to write a lot about my workouts, but in my former life I worked in corporate fitness for five years, and I'm still a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor (oooo, ahhh!).

Despite this experience in the fitness world I, like I'd venture to say anyone else, tend to get bored in the gym. I have this weird thing where I don't like to take classes I'm not teaching (which at the moment is none), with the exception being yoga. I can't run due to a terrible IT Band, and the elliptical/stationary bike/stepper/AMT circuit gets tedious.

I decided I wanted a workout I could do at home for those times I don't feel like physically going to the gym, because we all know that getting up, getting dressed, and getting ourselves there is half the battle. I still have to get up and get dressed (for which my neighbors with adjacent windows are very thankful) but it takes away the step of having to physically be at the gym, and it can be broken up over the course of the day if I so choose - though I usually get it out of the way with early.

I thought I'd share a sample circuit workout that I did today, for those who might be feeling the same apathy about gym workouts, or just want something different. It might seem easy, but let me tell you, the first couple of times I did a workout like this it kicked my ass. Embarrassingly so.

50 jumping jacks
:30 high knees
:30 kick butt
20 squats (no weight but I guess you could use it)
15 pushups (the "normal" way if possible, knees or wall if not)
:30 jump rope (I don't have a real jump rope so I fake it)
20 alternating lunges (so 20 each leg, alternating)
:30 cross punches (alternate punches across your body)
:30 uppercut punches (alternate)
60 jumping jacks
:30 jabs, each arm. Add the little kickboxing bounce. Best way I can describe it.
30 kneeling side leg raise, each side. (video if needed)
10 squat jumps
30 front kicks each leg (one leg at a time, you can put your foot down slightly in between kicks)
50 jumping jacks
20 squats
30 second "football run" (where your legs are wider than shoulder width and you run in place)

This took about 15 minutes. I then repeated it again, and replaced all of the "30 seconds" with "45 seconds", keeping everything else the same. Total, it took about 30 minutes. I didn't stop for breaks, though I did have a water bottle and take sips here and there in between exercises.

The great thing about circuit workouts is that you can rearrange the items, add knew ones in, take some out, and it gives you a great variety.

Note: I did another workout that included mountain climbers and burpees. However, with my bad knee and bad IT band, they really hurt me, and not in a "oh that's painful because it's a good workout way" but in a "oh I could be injuring myself" way. They are, though, great exercises to throw into the mix.

Second note: PLEASE be careful transitioning from standing up to on the ground and vice versa. I tried to put the exercises in an order that eased into these transitions - ie not going from jumping jacks to pushups, but putting squats in between to slow the heart rate slightly - but everyone's body is different.

Do you have any interval/circuit type workouts like this, or any exercises that could be included that you find effective? I'd love to hear them!

Happy sweating!!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How Do You Like Me Now?

Not sure if you're familiar with the Toby Keith song by the same name (I'm going with probably not), but I kind of love it. I am not a person to shove accomplishments in people's faces or brag, partly because it's just not my personality and partly because I believe that the moment I gloat, karma's going to say "oh yeah?"

But I know that a lot of people going through a mood or anxiety condition, and just lots of people in general, who have been put down by others along the way. While you'd love to adhere to the adium "no one can make you feel bad unless you let them", it can be difficult, especially when it's done by those that you trust, who's opinion you value.

So if you feel like people haven't believed in you, supported you, or just plain treated you like you deserved, do yourself a favor. List all of your accomplishments (in recent years - that flute solo in 4th grade doesn't need to be on the list unless it was some major highlight). That being said, be generous with yourself - don't say "well, I did this but really, I had help and it's not that big a deal." Write down everything you've done that you set out to do, and even those you haven't planned intentionally, but accomplished anyway. Involvement in organizations, volunteer projects, work, relationships, family - whatever it is that your proud of. Here are some examples from my life:

1. Run my own travel company. How cool is that?
2. Traveled to six continents - yes, that counts as an accomplishment!
3. VP in one industry organization chapter and President of another
4. Moved into the city, a goal of mine, and living totally independent (with my dog)
5. Started a blog and Facebook group to help others struggling with mood and anxiety conditions
6. Have been asked to speak at multiple conferences in the travel industry.
7. Have a strong group of friends and family that I wouldn't trade for anything

I'm sure there are more, but these are a few of the essentials. I'm sure you could make a list twice as long. So when old familiar demons start to creep back in, when someone (including yourself!) starts to put you down, or you remember hurtful words from someone who didn't believe in you as they should make a list, think of those people, and simply say to yourself "how do you like me now?!". 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Dog's Life

Ever looked at your pet and thought: man, they have it made! It's kind of true - minus the fact that every meal is a form of lamb an rice kibbel (and celery and carrots if you're on a diet like Cinn), and that someone else dictates when you're allowed to go to the bathroom without getting in trouble, a dog's life in a lovig home isn't too bad.

While humans are the more "evolved" species (I'm using this as a general term, not as in getting into the big bang/evolution debate here!), dogs enjoy the simple pleasures in life while we're severely anxious over something that may or may not happen, which may or may not result in something that would upsets us. For dogs, a toy, a treat, a walk outside to the park, or a ride in the car with their ears flapping in the breeze can make their afternoon.  I mean, I do like sticking my head out the window an feeling the breeze, but I can't say that it's usually such a joy that, when someone mentions a car ride, I jump up and down like I've won the lottery.

Enjoying the car ride back from Cape Cod!

Pets are able to enjoy life as much as they do because they (presumably - I'm not an expert on animal thinking) lack much of the anticipatory impulse that we have. Cinn hates her bath, and yet she literally does not start getting worried until we've not only gotten to PetSmart, but we've gone inside and closed the door behind us in the grooming department. She's not worried for days beforehand, thinking "oh man I hate this bath, this is going to be awful. I hope I don't get so scared that I poop on the grooming table again, that was so embarrassing!" Nope, she's completely unaware until we get right into the offending room.  On the other, we sometimes worry for days about an unpleasant situation coming up. So much so that often the anticipation is worse than the actual event.

Cinn post bath with bows in her hair. 

What dogs really want, in the end, is to be loved and taken care of (and occasional snacks). Cinn's never happier than when she's laying by me, being petted or just close. When she's scared, she becomes my shadow. I comfort her even more than food, and that's saying something because, if you didn't know, my dog is apparently obese. I think many humans also have this ultimate goal of love over everything else, but we're so wrapped up in the day to day worries that we forget to enjoy the small moments - a hug, a walk outdoors, a nice meal or snack, quality time with those we love. So next time you're stressed out, having a tough day, or feeling bad about life, take a glimpse at your pet and maybe try to take a lesson from them. Unless they're scared and pooping on the table.

Cinn's report card after rolling in crap and going for an "emergency" bath.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Keep on Truckin'

Because of my passion for helping others with mood and anxiety disorders, I speak to people on a regular basis who are feeling so anxious or depressed or fearful that it almost freezes them. It can seem, some days, like the only safe thing is not to move a muscle. I completely understand the feeling - I've been there. I won't disagree that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is anything that can help you relax and not exacerbate how you're feeling. I also feel, though, that sometimes if you can just get past that hump, you'll discover your strength and that you can keep going, even on your most difficult days. It won't be easy, but you can do it. Sometimes, what you need, is a reason to do so. Here are five I've come up with. 

1. Often, just getting yourself going is enough of an accomplishment on a bad day to show you that you can get through it. Next time you feel badly, you can say 'I remember, I've done this before, and I made it through. It wasn't fun, or easy, but I did it." 

2. It helps prevent the snowball effect. The more you separate yourself from people and action for longer periods of time, the more difficult it is to get back in with people, work, and such. If you are already suffering from anxiety or depression, you don't want to add to it a social anxiety or loneliness from being separated from others. 

3. You may help someone else unknowingly. I know from personal experience, and from the Facebook group that I oversee, that so often when myself or someone else speaks out about how they're feeling, others comment to support them, and open up about their struggles as well. In this case, the "snowball" effect is positive. We draw from each other's support, we can empathize and offer suggestions, and I know for me personally, it helps me feel a bit stronger when I have helped others. Even if I feel like I can't do much else, I can do that, and that's super important to me. 

4. You may discover something that makes you feel better. You may go to work and get praised for a project you did. You may run into an old friend you haven't seen in ages. You may find a lost dog and return it to it's owner and make someone's day. Who knows? But if you stay in bed watching tv, the only thing you'll discover is 1970s reruns and some bad daytime Hallmark movies. You never know what might happen that helps you turn the corner and put you on the track to getting out of this current bout of anxiety, fear, or depression.

I'm not saying you should always push yourself. There are times when what you really need is some rest, some time away from the things making you anxious, and some support from those who care about you. I'm all about taking a mental health day when needed. However, I know there are days that staying in, while attractive, only makes me feel worse in hindsight. On those days, what I really need is something to inspire me to push past whatever's dragging me down, and I'm so proud of myself when I do. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Be Persistent

It takes a strong person to admit that something is wrong health-wise. It takes an even stronger person to seek help. I think this is even more difficult when it's not a condition physically visible to the outside world. If you've got the chicken pox, most people will probably suggest you seek help and stay away from you if you do. If it's something you can describe but outwardly it looks like nothing's wrong, it can be tougher. Seeking a professional opinion is a huge step in addressing the concern. Unfortunately, I know from personal experience, and from talking to others, that all to often we finally get up the courage to take this step, and are told "nothing's wrong" or "it's not a big deal".

When I was in 5th grade, my parents (who are by no means the type to bother a doctor when really not needed) brought me to the pediatrician numerous times over the course of a month explaining to him that their incredibly positive and energetic child was so exhausted she could barely move. The doctor kept saying there was nothing and sending us home. Finally, after about a month, he did a blood test and it was determined that I had, and still have, Epstein Bar -  a chronic virus that I'll have my entire life, and was in a serious flare up.

When I was 19, I began experiencing more strongly what I now know is my cyclothymia. I went to numerous therapists, and while some helped me get through the symptoms (anxiety, down moods, etc), no one thought to look further into what might be causing these symptoms. I was told I was stressed with school work, anxious about my wedding, down because I wasn't getting along with my then mother-in-law. Over the course of about 10 years, I tried numerous doctors, therapists, and several medications which made me worse instead of better. I kept saying to them, "listen, my mom-in-law isn't my best friend and my schedule is busy but SOMETHING IS WRONG. Those things are not the issue!" It didn't matter. It wasn't until I found my current therapist that I was diagnosed. She didn't brush off my concern, she didn't ignore the fact that I had been experiencing similar symptoms most of my life, and her careful questions and analysis got me diagnosed and on the right medication.

Contrary to what you'd imagine, I was actually somewhat relieved when I was diagnosed. All of the other reasons I'd been provided with for how I was feeling hadn't felt correct. This did. I think I'd somehow known it all along. It can be frustrating going to doctor after doctor, therapist after therapist, and trying med after med without success, and even without much concern on the part of the professional. Be persistent. Just like my parents didn't settle for the fact that I was "just tired" when I was 10 years old, I wouldn't settle for the fact that what I was going through wasn't an actual condition and was all due to me "stressing myself out over little things."

It can be difficult to be persistent because, to be honest, it can be scary. Finding out what is truly causing the issues of concern may force you to be very honest with yourself. In both instances, I was diagnosed with a lifetime illness. The former doesn't flare up to often, but I am on medication for cyclothymia every day and have to have blood work every couple of months. But being persistant also opened the doors for treatment, for working through my condition, and for understanding the symptoms. It makes it easier to deal with the symptoms when you can say, "ah, I recognize this, and I know the best action to take in this situation." If nothing else, you can monitor any patterns, start to realize how long the symptoms last, and learn more about what you're going through.

So if you've not had luck with going to professionals and you feel frustrated, don't give up. Trust me that when you find the person who does support you and is willing to go the extra mile to work with you, it'll be worth it. Even more so if they can find the right treatment or medication. I know it's not easy. But you know your body and mind better than anyone, and you know when something isn't right. Don't accept "nothing's wrong" or "I don't know" or "there's nothing we can do" for an answer. You deserve way better than that. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lessons on Living

If you know me, you know I don't believe in regrets.  Ok maybe regrets like 'I shouldn't have eaten all those greasy french fries, my heartburn will hate me." But not major regrets. I don't regret my marriage (or my divorce for that matter), my engagement following that, the relationships that haven't worked out. I don't regret majoring in a degree I no longer really use. I don't regret friendships or careers that no longer work for me. The only time, in fact, that I really regret something is when I feel I haven't treated someone well, or I've upset or hurt someone for selfish or foolish reasons. It's not often that it happens, but I think everyone, at least once in their life, thinks of themselves and in the process makes a decision that hurts someone else. Minus that, though, I truly can't think of anything big in my life that I regret.

The reason I don't regret is that I believe everything can be a learning experience. I've said it before and I'll say it again, because I'm adamant about this and because you that know me know that sometimes I beat a dead horse when I'm passionate about something (figuratively, of course). I'm not a fatalist and I don't believe "everything happens for a reason." I don't believe in blue prints or pre-destiny or anything like that. In fact, I believe that "everything happens for a reason" can be a pretty nice excuse for some people - as in "sorry I hurt you, but if it's meant to work out some day it will." No, it works when you make an effort to make it work. But, I could go on a tangent all day about that, and I won't. At least not in this blog. The point is, I believe that it doesn't happen for a reason, but that you can look at the situation and find a reason to use it as a learning experience.

I do this often, and though my life (and certainly myself) is by no means perfect, I've learned a few things along the way. Perhaps they'll apply to you, or perhaps they'll give you a perspective to use when looking at your own life. Or perhaps you don't really care, but I suspect those people aren't reading my blog.

  • You are truly stronger than you ever imagined. Regardless of what you're going through, you're still here, right? You didn't wither away, you didn't spontaneously combust. You're here, and you're pulling through, if even just barely. Some day, you'll be able to look back and say "if I got through that, I can surely handle this!". 
  • Never, ever judge someone who's shoes you haven't walked in. I have been in situations I never thought I'd be in. I've forgiven things I never thought I would. I've been diagnosed with a condition I never thought I'd have to deal with. And I'm not weak, or crazy, or anything like this. You just never know how you'll react when you're in a situation. So don't judge. If you want to know what it's really like to be there, ask. Maybe they won't tell you, but it's better than stigmatizing. At least you tried. 
  • Life is an ever-changing, ever-evolving process. That's the way it should be. Do you really want to reach all that life has to offer at 25 or 35 or even 55? What would be the point, then, to living to 80 or 90? Lather, rinse, repeat your "perfect" life ever day? No way! 
  • There's a country song (I know, I know) that contains the line - or might even be called some variation of - "you find out who your friends are". It's so true. Sometimes, they're not who you expected, for better or worse. It's easy to be there through someone's best times. See who's still standing by your side during your worst. They're the ones you can count on. And don't shut them out. They may not be who you expected to come to your aid, but you may find a new bond. Everyone's got a story - learn what theirs is, and if they want to, allow them to learn yours, when you're ready to share it. 
  • Actions speak so much louder than words, and more than anything, the two should match. I've learned the hard way that, while I believe promises are sacred and try not to break on them at any cost, many people go back on their word and break their promises rather easily. I can't tell you the number of times I've been hurt by trusting someone's word and promises. Watch how they act. Watch the nuances. See if the words and actions match. That is what you can count on (hopefully). I'm not trying to be bitter, but I am trying to take from my experiences, learn, and share. 
  • Don't worry about people who aren't worrying about you. I'm not equating it just to romantic relationships. It's true of friends, business partners, acquaintances, and basically everyone in life. This was a hard one to learn, but I now truly feel that if you aren't going to make the effort, if you're not concerned with me, if you're not thinking about me, then you don't deserve me - in whatever capacity it pertains to. 
  • Don't ever let anyone tell you, or make you feel, like you're not good enough. Because you are. You know how I know? Because people who truly aren't good people aren't the ones who think this way. They don't care enough about anyone else to let what someone thinks matter to them. So you are good enough and once again, anyone that makes you feel that you're not doesn't deserve you. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Handling the Day to Day

One of the toughest things about dealing with recurrent mood cycles, anxiety, depression, or panic is that it isn't like a flu that comes on strong for a week and knocks you out but then goes away. Instead, it sneakily creeps into your day to day life, sometimes without much warning. There isn't often of a rhyme or reason for it. Unlike a contagious virus, there's no "anxiety season" (though you may personally notice that you're worse at certain times of the year). It just happens.

The trouble therein lies with handling the day to day issues that arise from living with these conditions. Everyone's different, and of course I can only offer suggestions that have worked for me. I've dealt with all of the above, as well as insomnia and several other issues, so while I'm not professionally trained, I can speak from experience. Here are a few things that I've learned over the years to help me deal with the day to day, and also help me from being so hard on myself when I am struggling a bit.

1. Think past the immediate episode. While your anxiety/panic/depression might seem like you can't conquer it as a whole, think honestly about how long your anxiety or panic or depressed mood generally lasts without a break of feeling more like yourself. Do you usually panic for an hour or two, does your anxiety usually last for more than a day without at least a few minutes of feeling better? When I think past this immediate episode, I can usually talk myself through it. I can say "in a few more hours/by tomorrow I'll feel better. I know I can hang in." It might seem impossible, but you know you can do it, because you've done it before. Note: if you have prolonged depression/mania that can occur with full blow bipolar I, this actually might be best to avoid.

2. I think often, having anxiety causes more anxiety than what actually ignited it in the first place.  My therapist once pointed out to me that there are 24 hours in a day. If you have a bad hour or two, there are stil 22 or 23 hours left to make it a good day. This seemingly simple statement gives me hope  - I could still have a tough hour or two and still have a good day overall. Anxiety or panic doesn't have to feed more anxiety or panic. As a black and white person who tends to think of things as "all good" or "all bad", this has helped me tremendously.

3. Despite the above statement, some days just are going to be tough days. When I've stopped trying to fight this idea, and said "you know what, 'ok' is as good as today's going to get", I felt better. Everyone, condition or not, has rough days. These days, I try to do things that relax and comfort me as much as possible, meditate, and try to get some decent sleep that night. The morning might look completely different.

4. Reach out. Talk to someone. Tell them that you just need to vent, that you're having a difficult day. Those who support you will understand. If you've had several bad days, maybe talk to different people. Not only will they give you a different perspective, but you won't feel like you're bombarding one particular friend. Sometimes, getting it out can stop your brain from racing.

5. Focus literally on the present moment. Think about what you're doing:  right now I'm going to brush my teeth; now I'm taking the dog out; now I'm answering only this email (and not thinking ahead to the others in your inbox). Not only does it give your brain something to think about that's constructive, it pushes back worry that comes from snowballing - i.e. I have this task, and this appointment, and that conference call, and then I have to run this errand, and now I'm so overwhelmed thinking about all of this that I'm frozen and don't know what to do.

6. Have a therapy session with yourself (this works better if you have a therapist or have been to one someone routinely in the past, but even if not, it might help). Here's where you might all think I'm a little, um, unique, but bear with me and give it a go. I will, when in the safety of my house alone but for my dog, talk out loud like I'm talking to my therapist. First off, it helps get what I'm thinking out of my brain, and can help to start organize it if my brain feels a bit like a jumbled mess. Then, it allows me to think of what my therapist would say to me. For some reason, saying it out loud helps me better gain this perspective. When I take myself out of the situation a bit, and look at it like my therapist would, it's easier to remember her advice for whatever it is that I'm experiencing. If I've not talked to my therapist about it, I make a note to tell her next time.

These are simply some suggestions that have helped me. They don't work every time, and I honestly don't remember to apply them every time the going gets rough. Still they help me take it one step at a time, eventually one hour at a time, and then one day at a time. And to be honest, I don't really want to handle things more than one day at a time - I've got enough going on already, and in trying to rush through the bad stuff, I might miss a lot of the good stuff. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Putting It Out There

Throughout the course of writing this blog and overseeing the Facebook group, I've had a lot of people reach out to me privately, or in the safety of the group, and discuss things that they've gone through. Sometimes they're seeking advice, sometimes they just need to talk, and sometimes they're offering to support me if I need anything in this journey of transformation that I've understaken. Obviously, those conversations are kept private, but speaking to them generally, I think these individuals are amazing.

I contemplated this blog (in general, not this specific post) and the Facebook group for quite a while before forming them. I wasn't sure that I wanted to "put it all out there". There's a stigma attached to having a "mental health disorder" and I wasn't sure I was ready to face head on those who possessed it.

What I've realized through this process is threefold (is that a word?):

1. People are actually much more accepting than I thought. Maybe they're just fascinated by my unique brain and therefore ask a lot of questions, but I find people genuinely interested in learning about my condition and how my brain works.

2. Way more people have gone through similar situations than I ever anticipated. In fact, through the blog and group, and just my general openness, I've connected with people I probably not have without it. It makes me not feel less alone, and I learn that it does the same for them. As people open up more in the Facebook group, I notice others follow suit. It's nice to feel accepted and not alone.

3. If you can't handle me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best! Truly. If you're going to stigmatize because my brain, which is an organ like any other, doesn't always work perfectly. I wouldn't shy away from you if you had kidney stones, yet you have an issue with my condition. Farewell!

So I encourage you, if you're going through anything from anxiety to panic attacks to depression to mood cycling or any other "mental health" condition to reach out, when you're ready. It obviously doesn't have to be to me, though you're always welcome to. But find someone you're comfortable talking to. You can start slow, and go from there. You might even find that they have been going through something similar and didn't know who to talk to.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Down Time

Today I did something that I rarely do. I took the morning off of work for absolutely no reason. Well, that's not true there was a very good reason - I spent time with a friend of mine that I haven't seen in a little while. By no reason, I mean it wasn't a sick day, an emergency, a holiday, a family need, etc. I just simply gave myself a break to spend time with a friend.

This summer I've spent just about every other weekend working all weekend. Not as in answering client emails and planning trips (though some of that) but because I've been attending conferences every couple of weeks. While these conferences are great opportunities and I do enjoy them, they're nonstop busy. If you think networking over a cocktail isn't work, try it for a week straight and see how exhausted you are at the end of it. Add this to a full day of workshops, seminars, and/or site inspections each day, and it makes for one heck of a week. Due to this schedule of work all week and conference on the weekend, much of my summer has involved seven-day work weeks. I love to be active, but one can only do that so much until you need a break.

Let me clarify that I don't have any clients waiting on last minute trip details and I wasn't neglecting urgent emails or phone calls. I did do a few hours of work before meeting up with my friend, and I'm back on the computer now going through emails, looking at flights for some business clients, and, obviously, writing this blog - which though not work per se, is a commitment due to my "blog every day in August" challenge.

Many of us don't feel that down time, especially when we could be working, is a good use of our time. I would argue quite the opposite. While some people are indeed easy prey for the procrastination bug, those of us who push ourselves constantly, who never feel we can take a break because we'll miss something important, do ourselves a disservice. Coming back from multiple conferences in which I received so much information, it's probably going to take me at least a a week to go through and organize/attach action items to it, and I find myself getting overwhelmed. It's easy to have so much to do that you don't know where to start and do nothing productive at all. It's also easy to jump right back in where you left off before the conference, and realize that all that good knowledge that you gained is going by the wayside because you never took the time to really process and apply it.

I took time off to spend with my friend today because, quite simply, I felt I needed and deserved it. I could feel that strangling feeling that I get when I have so much going on, that makes my brain and me in general react in one of two ways - shut down or become manic, neither of which is desirable, for myself or anyone that interacts with me. Taking some down time allows me to step away from everything and relax my brain, and I find when I come back to it I'm actually more efficient. Ever notice that your best ideas come at the gym, in the shower, over coffee with a friend, or even in your sleep? There's a reason for that - your brain isn't so over-worked that it actually has time to do what it was designed to do - think!

I now feel a bit refreshed. I needed to slow down, to laugh, to visit with my friend, and to unwind a bit. I can now more effectively gather everything I've learned at the last few conferences, use them to create my action item list, and even better, actually follow through without feeling overwhelmed. So next time you're feeling similar to the way I was, I highly suggest what we in my family call a "mental health day" (or at least few hours).  Whether it's getting a massage, taking the day to relax and read your new book, or a visit with a friend, do your brain and yourself a favor, and take some down time. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sometimes Others Say It Best - Quotables

I love and collect quotes that inspire and motivate me, make me think, and make me laugh. Today, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favorites with you. While I immensely enjoy writing this blog and hope I can provide some helpful and useful information in doing so, sometimes others just say it better. Here are some of my favorite words to live by.

"Be yourself. No one can tell you you're doing it wrong." ~James Leo Herlihy

"To the soul, there is hardly anything more healing than friendship." ~Thomas Moore

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: It goes on." ~Robert Frost

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." ~Maya Angelou

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are." ~e.e. cummings

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You're the one that gets burned." ~Buddha


And finally, a fun one for my female readers:

"Well behaved women seldom make history."  ~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich


What are some of your favorite quotes - inspirational, motivating, or just plain fun?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Second Impressions

A lot of people tell me that they don't like to travel alone, or dine alone, or do much alone other than activities in their house (or maybe exercise). It makes them feel lonely or weird to sit down to a meal for one, to go out an explore on their own, to try to meet new people while traveling. I find, interestingly, that often times my confidence and self esteem feels higher on solo trips than it does in daily life back home. One would think that having to eat by myself surrounded by groups and couples, or trying to network in a room full of people who know each other when I don't would make me feel lonely. I admit that there are times that it does - I wouldn't want to sit down to a romantic dinner in Paris by myself - but there are probably more times that I don't feel this way at all.  For someone who's virtually always suffered from self esteem issues, and who has a rather major fear of rejection, this solo confidence intrigues me.

I've paid extra attention to it on this trip and I've realized that when I'm somewhere that nobody knows me, I'm not bogged down by the past or by people's pre-conceived notions of me. I've done a lot of soul searching and adjusting this past year, and I can honestly say that I've changed quite a bit. I've learned a lot about myself, and about life, and I've made adjustments within myself that I feel I need to be happy. Unfortunately, people tend to form an idea in their head about you - and to be fair, it's often accurate based on who you were and how you acted at the time - and it seems nearly impossible to get people to change that perception.

This is incredibly frustrating to me, because I'm a person that believes in giving people a lot of chances. If they tell me they're working on something, I earnestly look to see if I can notice the differences. I am a huge promoter of the power of self awareness as a catalyst (obviously), and I am also a big believer in good people. I want to give everyone the chance to change - I don't want to pigeon hole them into my view of who they were 5 years ago, or one year ago, or even 6 months ago. Sadly, too many people live by the old adage "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." They've decided who you are, and if you're going to change their mind it could take years, if they afford you that opportunity at all.

When I travel (or do anything) alone, this isn't an issue. I don't know the history of anyone around me, and they don't know mine. My interactions with them start from that moment forward. They experience the new me, the me right now, the person that I'm becoming more and more happy with every day, the person that's come a very long way.

Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to go to another city/state/country by ourselves and meet strangers to have this? Wouldn't it be great if when we worked so hard on ourselves, made the changes we needed to make, that the people in our life would allow us to truly start with a clean slate? Wouldn't it be marvelous if they'd say "hey, I'm excited to experience this new you!"? To me, this would be incredible, and it's exactly the reason I'm so understanding of people, allow them to try to change, and give numerous chances - whether it be family, friendship, relationship, or even business.

I believe in karma, and I believe that you get what you give. For those people who close their minds, and in some cases their doors: some day you might be the one to make changes and establish a "new you". Wouldn't you want others to open their minds and allow you the opportunity to do so? 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Walk On

One of the things I have the toughest time with is letting things go. I don't necessarily mean major things, like a huge fight, a break up, or a big work issue. I mean things like, "did I make the right decision here, should I have done this or that, etc." They nag at me in my head and cause me undue stress. I'm a perfectionist - I always want to make the right decisions and do the best things.

I also tend to get very nostalgic. I think about how I miss this time of my life or that friend that I've lost touch with. Now let me say, there's nothing wrong with nostalgia. I think sometimes it helps transport us back to simpler times, and that can be a nice catalyst for trying to slow down our current life and enjoy it a bit more.  If it's a situation you can do something about - say connect with a friend you've lost contact with - then maybe that's the right way to break that nostalgia. If it's not - if you're missing your childhood days when waiting anxiously for recess was your biggest worry - then it's nice to just remember and move on. The trick, either way, is being able to come back to the present, and not get bogged down in the past.

I've been trying to figure out a way to get rid of this bad habit of not letting thoughts go. The other day I tried something that actually seemed to work, at least temporarily, so I thought I'd share it. When I noticed a thought like this creeping in my head, I took a deep breath and then slowly started counting to twenty (in my head if I was in a public place). While I did this, I tried to picture something completely unrelated to whatever it was I was thinking about - something that made me calm and happy, like a nature scene or an animal that I love. If you're alone, counting out loud helps even more. I tried this exercise counting to 10 and it wasn't enough to keep the thoughts at bay. Twenty, however, worked well. It's probably different for everyone, and you may have to do some trial and error until you get the right number. We've all heard of the "count to ten before you react" rule, and this is basically just an extension of that for dealing with reoccurring thoughts that won't let go.

This certainly won't keep any persisting thoughts away permanently right from the start. If you're in a situation that is making you nostalgic, those feelings are bound to come and go. However, the more you can stop the thoughts from coming forward, the further you distance yourself from them, until hopefully they'll slowly disappear. It doesn't mean they'll never creep in. Time is really the only healer of things we can't let go of, but quieting thoughts that stress and worry us can help bridge the gap.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Restless Creativity

Growing up, and honestly until about six months ago, I never thought I was creative. This is probably because I can't accurately draw a stick figure. I'm also not crafty - though I do make a mean vision board, I can't cook (well), sculpt, sew, knit, do origami, or produce any other  physical item. I also don't play an instrument well or write music or anything like this. I used to have a good singing voice, though I'm not sure that singing the solo in the 7th grade Christmas concert counts as creative.  It always frustrated me that I was so left-brained. Don't get me wrong, I love my ability to analyze and organize, my mathematical ability, and my interest in physical sciences. I just always felt that my brain was so completely lopsided that I was missing something.

Ever since I was a kid, I've had a crazy imagination. My particular imagination, though, never seemed to serve much purpose. I mean, it's fun to look at someone walking along the street and make up a whole back story about them that you share with your friends for a laugh (honestly, I do this - I could write a novel in my head about people I see while sitting at a cafe with my coffee). Really, though, where does that get you? It's fun, but it's not particularly fulfilling, unless of course it's a really attractive man that you decide is single, interesting, and interested. I'm kidding. Kind of. In all seriousness though, I always thought my imagination was a distraction more than anything.

A few months ago, something began to shift. I started to feel restless. I began experiencing this strong desire to release my creativity and imagination. The restlessness came from not knowing how. Blogging does help. It allows me to delve into my brain and bring forth what I'm thinking without concern for meeting others' image of me. Allowing myself to honestly view my own brain, I've realized I'm even more "off beat" and imaginative than I thought I was. I'll be honest - I've also learned that I don't mind this at all. It turns out that, while I'm still ridiculously organized and scientific, I'm not so lopsidedly left-brained after all. I've somehow squelched this imagination and creativity all the this time. Still, frustration comes from the inability to use any physically artistic or creative methods as an outlet. It's like a jumbled mess in there when it comes to this other side of my brain. I know something really creative, imaginative, and probably downright weird is lurking in there. I just have no idea what it is.

I'm on a mission to discover this. I sometimes wonder if I'm still a little afraid to express it for fear of being even more "different" than I already am, and this is what is subconsciously holding it back - my condition is already odd enough to explain. I think, however, that shell is starting to crumble, which feels like a very good thing. Maybe it's confidence-related. As my confidence grows, I am able to tap into this imagination more, and when I'm ready, I'll know how to express it outwardly. At least I hope so.

Several people have suggested a couple of books that I plan to purchase when my "to read" stack has diminished slightly. Others have suggested mind-mapping, an idea which I love and need to do. Do you have any other suggestions or experiences? I'd be thrilled to hear them!


Friday, August 10, 2012

Thank You

Yesterday's blog about friendship, and in some cases the lack thereof, was a bit intense. It was supposed to be. It's a subject I'm very passionate about, if you can't tell. Today, though, I thought I'd turn things around a bit.  I'm equally as passionate about appreciating those who have been there for me. Those who truly understand love and true friendship. 

In a short and sweet post, I'd like to tell you how much I appreciate those of you who are so supportive, who reach out to me on a regular, who go the extra mile. My family and my closest friends are my life blood. I truly wouldn't have gotten through the last six years or so without them. Many of them don't live in the area, I miss them greatly, and appreciate so much for who they are as people. I talk to my best friends virtually every day, and their ability to stand by me through everything continues to amaze me. 

I have friends that I've reconnected with after years, who have made the effort to reach out, to get back in touch, to talk, to meet up, to offer support. It's incredible to me that after years - in some cases about 20 years - that we can pick up where we left off and become even better friends. 

There are those that I've met through social media, through a common interest or group, who I truly count as friends. Some of them are in different parts of the world and we've never met face to face, yet they have been a motivation and inspiration to me. Others are more local and we now meet up on a regular basis. I feel so fortunate that technology has brought these people into my life. 

To all of you, those true friends who I know are there when I need you, who reach out without me having to ask for support, who are never too busy for friendship, who have taken the time to get to know the real me: thank you. From the bottom of my heart. 


Courage

When I began writing about my feelings, I can't tell you the number of people who told me how courageous it was. It was truly quite inspirational. It made me feel I'd done the right thing in opening up, and kept me writing. I wrote a blog not that long ago about fear - how I realized I have more fears than I thought, how fears of failure and rejection hold me back even, with silly things. It's true, and it's something I've really been working on this past month or so. You'll probably see fear as a common theme on my blog.

I have a long way to go in the fear-conquering department. On good days, it's much easier to be brave. On bad days, rejection and failure seem so tangible that I could touch them.  As I start to wade through the waters of courage, though, I have begin realizing it's a pretty great place to be. When you start to take control of your fears, a few rather remarkable things happen.

  • I've started to care less what others think, and more what you think of myself I don't mean this in a selfish, only worried about myself way. I mean this in the sense that I'm not so afraid of rejection. Deep down, I am who I am and people in my life are going to have to be ok with that. 
  • I feel more "me". Like the weight has been lifted off my shoulders. 
  • Most of the time, the result that I most feared doesn't happen. I spent so much time anxious and analyzing, and in the end, it was for nothing. 
  • What seems like a big deal to me is often not nearly as big of a deal to others. I'm a perfectionist, and often the things I fret about others don't even notice or care about. 
  • I will never get over my fears if I don't try to step out of my comfort zone. Period. The first step is the toughest. It gets ever so slightly easier with every step. 
  • Living with the fear is often worse than the actual thing you fear itself.  
  • Fears take a long time to get over - especially ones as deep as rejection and failure. I won't conquer it in every situation, at least not yet. I have to start small, work my way up, and not get discouraged. 
  • The more I learn to accept rejection and failure, the less I fear it. This is the toughest for me. As my confidence builds, it's getting a bit more manageable. It's one of those things that I understand in concept way sooner than I can practice in reality. I'm getting there. 
Fear can be paralyzing. Sometimes we don't even realize it's what's holding us back. It has taken me really analyzing my actions to understand it - why am I not doing this, why don't I want to do this, why is this not working, why am I feeling this way. It also takes being very honest with oneself. It's not easy to say "I'm afraid of rejection and failure." (or whatever it is that you fear).  Admitting this, though, is one of the most courageous things you can do. Once you allow yourself to realize this, you can start taking steps to move past your fears. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Communication With Friends

Just about every day I play the game Words With Friends. In between moves, the app asks me if I want to play Scramble with Friends, or Hanging with Friends (this sounds a bit morose to me!), or some other "with friends" game that just came out and that's name I can't recall. Sadly, it seems one thing people don't have time for these days is communication with friends. I feel the meaning of communication - true communication - has diminished. In the days of letting writing, or even email as the main form of communication, it's very unlikely that a friend would have written to me "I had an omelet for breakfast" and I would have written back "like", and that would count being close friends. So I figured, because of the importance of friendship in my life, I'd share a few thoughts of mine on what constitutes friendship.
  • Liking a Facebook status, or a pin, or any other status-like item does not count as communication. It might be supportive, and I do truly appreciate it. But let's be honest, I see that you also just liked the promotion on the side of the page for "eating french fries." 
  • Social media comments count if it's something personal. "Thanks" or "have a good one" could be said to (or possibly by) a monkey. It isn't at all personal to me. I'm not saying these aren't valid, but again, if this is how we "communicate", we aren't. 
  • Reach out. I can't stress this enough. If I always have to initiate the real communication, I'll get tired of it and one day you'll notice that I don't anymore. Making an effort shows me you care. Here's where social media can work to your advantage. The other day I had a friend post a beautiful picture of elephants on my Facebook page. She knew I was having a tough day and that I love elephants, and specifically shared it with me. She thought of me and made the extra effort. 
  • Social media DOES count as communication if used to actually do so. I have friends that I've made through social media that live around the world and I've never physically met. Still, we've gotten to know each other, and we check in on each other, chat, help each other out, etc. I've also reconnected, really re-connected, with a lot of people through Facebook. 
  • Possibly my biggest pet peeve in friendships: "I don't have the time," "I'm so busy at work - or my sport, or with this project, or picking my nose - so I haven't contacted you/replied/made an effort". This means one thing to me: I'm not a priority. If it's once in a while, it's ok. I understand that we all have a life. But here's the thing - I run my own business and am one-woman show.  If I don't work, I don't get paid. And guess what - I still have time for you. I took that 30 seconds out of my day to send you a text. Because no one lies on their death bed thinking they wish they'd spent more time at the office, and clients aren't at their bedside end of their life. Period. 
  • There are two big exceptions to the above bullet point: 1.) If we've been lifelong friends. Bottom line - we have history. That counts for so much. 2.) If you have small and/or multiple children. These said, reach out SOME time. But I get that it may not be as frequent or in depth. 
  • Openness is the key. My close friends and I talk about everything. I mean everything. "Hi, how are you. I'm fine, busy. Have a good day" is not a conversation with a friend. It's a conversation with that coworker that you see at the water cooler every day and can't for the life of you remember their name even though you've asked five times. 
  • Be there for me and support me. I shouldn't have to always ask you to. 
See a theme here? Communicate, often if possible, and make it personal. Reach out, make the effort, and actually talk about something real. This probably sounds like a rant. I don't mean it to. I just think people have lost sight of what friendship really means. I hope this makes people think. Actions speak louder than words, always, and I feel we've lost that. So I'm curious to see people's reactions. I might get rotten tomatos thrown at me, and I might see some changes in people for the better. Probably a combination. Only time will tell. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gratitude

Today started off pretty crappy. I woke up at 5:30 stressing out about something and I couldn't get back to sleep, so I got up and went to the gym. The gym part actually worked out well. I got in a decent 30 minute workout, which is all I was aiming for because I'm kind of nursing an ongoing injury right now.

The workout was definitely the best part of my day so far. Well, that and the hair cut and new darker color that I got last night. I realized when I returned from the gym that I must have cycled into depressive mode overnight. I'm one of those oddballs that doesn't sleep more when I'm depressed. I get so upset and anxious that I can't sleep. On top of that, stress, sadness about something, frustration at more than one thing have made for a rather challenging day.

I am, in general, a very positive person. So much so that people have called me the energizer bunny, told me that every time they see me I'm smiling, teased my about my level of enthusiasm (in a friendly, joking manner of course). Even when at my worst, I hate to be negative for too long. One of the best ways for me to take a step back and adjust is to think of the things I am grateful for. On the heals of my photo gallery about happiness, I thought sharing those things here would be a nice follow up. You'll notice some cross over from yesterday's images.

  • My understanding and supportive family and friends 
  • Cinn
  • Having a career that I love, and owning my own company
  • Having a community of other entrepreneurs who understand the lifestyle, and the struggles and rewards that go with it. 
  • A good cup of coffee that I can sip slowly which helps me to relax and breathe
  • The organizations that have helped me grow personally and professionally
  • My creativity and imagination, even if I don't understand it yet (blog coming on this topic)
  • My generally happy and energetic disposition
  • My resilience and determination
  • The ability to travel 
  • Overall good health, even with this condition
Those are just a few things. My brain is a bit tired from cycling so I'm not at my most creative. I want to be clear that I'm not one of those people who never lets someone have a bad day by constantly pointing out how it can always be worse. Of course it can - it could always be worse for just about everyone, given a deep enough comparison. I simply don't like to drag myself down for too long - my depressed cycles are good enough at bringing me down without me helping it along any further, and making these lists helps. 

What are you grateful for? What keeps you going when you're feeling at your worst? 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Things That Make Me Happy

Someone asked me today what my goal in life was. If I could accomplish one thing what would it be. I replied, very truthfully, that my goal is to be happy. It sounds a lot simpler than it is, I assure you. We never know what will or won't make us happy. We can't script it, and we're often surprised by the outcome. Still, there are some consistencies to my happiness through life thus far. As a tribute to happiness, I thought I'd dedicate my blog today to some of those things that make me happy, with pictures to illustrate. These aren't in a particular order (though family is at the top, as are friends and Cinn). In full disclosure, I had trouble ordering them after the first picture, so they're in the ordered they uploaded. 

Family (this is my niece & nephew's first birthday)
Cinn - my baby girl
Friends. Me & my best friend, Kris, who I've known since I was 8, being silly. 

Three things captured here: early morning explorations, sunshine, being on the water. 
Watching rain storms when I'm inside
Flowers, especially lilies
Animals of all kinds, especially elephants
Music, especially live, and dancing. Me at a Kenny Chesney concert.
Christmas. and the holiday season. I'm like a kid. This is NYC at the holidays. 
Discovering new places 
                                             

Monday, August 6, 2012

If You Don't Have Something Nice To Say....

I recently read the book "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway", and the author offered up an astonishingly simple yet embarrassingly difficult challenge - go one whole week without complaining. She suggested starting with just one hour. This is where the description "embarrassingly difficult" comes in. It's somewhat easy to not complain when by oneself. Well, maybe not in these days of social media, where it's probably faster to tweet out something negative than to say it to the person sitting next to you, but taking away social media for a minute (just for a minute, don't worry!), really, who are you going to complain to? I could complain to my dog, but then even she might truly start to question my sanity.

I try this and my hour of not complaining goes along quite nicely and I started to think, hey, I can do this! That is until a friend messages me saying something like (made up example here) they're really tired, and and asks how I'm doing. I'm really dragging myself, so I'm likely to say "oh I'm exhausted".  Now, I'm not sure that qualifies as a full on complaint, but I can see the slippery slope. Then someone else texts me about troubles with a relationship. So easy to say "Oh, I know, so and so used to do the same thing, it was awful!". Once again, I'm sure I could count this as empathetic and not complaining, but let's be honest here - it's not a very positive reply and will almost certainly result in more complaining on both sides. It's amazing how easy it is to be sucked into the cycle.

I wonder, is it possible for me to go a week without complaining? How about an hour? When I started looking at this, I realized how often I say something complain-y, and I'll be truthful - it's way more often then I'd like.  I'm trying to call myself out on it and take note of when and why I say these things. Here are some things I've learned in this effort:

  • When you're about to complain, stop and think if there's a way to put a positive spin on it. When someone asks how my day is and I've had a long, busy day, I try to phrase it something like "I had a lot of client work today. I'm lucky to have so many new clients booking this month!" It conveys the fact that I had a full day while looking at some of the positive aspects of it. (It's also not B.S. - I truly do feel lucky when I have a lot of new client work!). 
  • Use facts if you need to. Again, using the "how was your day" example, if it was really terrible, I just state a few things that I did: "well, I had two meetings, a conference call, worked on my blog for an hour, and did some client research in between times." All true. If the other person wants to say, "wow sounds like a crazy day" then it's up to them and it gives me time to come up with a reply that's not a complaint. 
  • Honest heart-to-heart talking does not count as complaining, at least to me. For example, if you're going through anxiety or depression or mood cycling, it's great to talk to someone. Telling them that you're having a tough time and the explaining the emotions you're experiencing isn't complaining  - in fact, it is therapeutic. In the Facebook group I oversee, I encourage people to talk about their moods, anxieties, fears, and overall feelings whenever they need to. I would never want them to feel that this is complaining. It's the opposite - it's getting it out where they really can talk about it and try to get advice. Rather than negative energy, it's actually providing the opportunity for positive input.  I'm willing to bet that when someone asks a question in the group, at least one other person can also benefit from that information. It let's us discuss things in a secure setting, and that's a very positive thing. I find that genuinely asking for advice rarely strikes the other person as negative, and doesn't bring you down in the process. 
  • Everyone needs to vent. No one, or barely anyone, can be genuinely positive all of the time. When you feel you really need to, vent away. Maybe give it a time limit, and ask permission of the person you're talking to. I'll message my best friend and say "can I vent for a moment?" (to be clear, not about them). If they say yes, I say what I need, and then I'll purposely turn the conversation to them, or at least to a happier topic. This way my vent session can't last too long and  they don't feel overwhelmed by it. It helps to stop the negativity from feeding on itself, and from bringing them into complain-mode too. 
So, what do you think - how long can you go without complaining? Anyone want to try? I'm up for a challenge and I promise I'll be honest about it!