Friday, December 22, 2017

Nostalgia and Hope

Note:  I wrote this blog for my Spread Hope Project site, but it equally applies to this blog. So I'm sharing it. I wrote it yesterday, so the "yesterdays" mentioned in it are two days ago.  Also hence the mention of the shortest day of the year....

To preface this, I have to explain a bit about my background career wise for those who aren't familiar. For the first five years of my adult working life, I worked in corporate fitness (I have a B.S. in Kinesiology). After getting my Masters in International Marketing, I started my own travel planning company, Chimera Travel, that I ran full time for eight years (shameless plug, you can visit my newly brought back to life travel blog here). But life happens, and with changes in technology and the economy and numerous other factors, I needed some extra help financially. So I took a part time position at a front desk, which has grown into an almost full time position, while still running my travel business. In the midst of all this, I became a significantly more active mental health and chronic illness advocate which is currently out of the goodness of my heart - i.e. I make zero money and sometimes spend money doing this. And believe me, I don't do this for the (hypothetical) money but I can't do full time, or even significantly part time, and still have a roof over my head and eat. So, I have my numerous jobs/would be jobs.

Yesterday, between my job job and yoga, I sat and wrote/blogged and had coffee at my favorite cafe. When I previously lived in Old City Philadelphia, my apartment was literally around the corner from this cafe. I was there probably three times a week on average. I worked solely for myself at that time, and I'd meet friends there for coffee or breakfast, spend my days enjoying free refills and snacks while planning client trips, blogging, working on business marketing. I knew all of the staff, and many of the other frequent customers. I'd run into neighborhood friends there almost every time I went. It was like my Cheers, but with coffee (I also had my "Cheers" bar/restaurant, which was two doors down from my apartment, but that's a different story).

So yesterday, I sat down at the cafe, ordered a coffee, and took out my notebook and computer to start working. I had some blogging and journaling planned. And I found myself almost in tears with nostalgia. I can't really call them sad almost-tears, nor were they happy. They were nostalgic ones. I can't explain it any other way.  I sat there with my coffee, hoping my face didn't betray how I was feeling. And I began to understand that the way I remember feeling in those days was how I was meant to feel. I had felt a purpose. I felt motivated and inspired. I felt control over my life, at least pieces of it. No, I couldn't control when a client's flight was cancelled, or when someone had a last minute request on a day I'd planned to take as a wellness day. But there's always going to be something like that, in any job. Or volunteer opportunity. Or life. And if it's not your job or client or organization, it'll be your child waking up sick on a day that you planned to be out and about and getting things done. Or your car breaking down when you absolutely had to get to an important meeting. Or something else.

From my favorite cafe. Also: love their mugs

 My point is, there's always going to be something out of our control, as much as I dislike this (I need to work on my letting go). But those days in which I ran my own company fully, I had control over so many important factors: the company as a whole - the direction it went (or ideally went), the mission and vision, the goals, the values it all embodied. I had control of the marketing, both in print and online - not only the content, but what I chose to do/not. The target market. Not to mention that, client emergencies aside, I got to make the schedule. I chose when to start and end work. If I needed a personal or wellness or sick day, I took it. If I had to make it up later by working longer other days, I did. I made those decisions.  For someone with chronic illness, that's particularly important. And possibly, most importantly, I felt like I was working toward something and for something. I had goals for my company, and for my life involving it.  I felt like a made a difference - not necessarily in the world at large, but to my clients. I felt important to my little piece of life. Because without me, the business wouldn't run, and the clients wouldn't get their travel planned by my company.

So I sat there remembering this feeling. Being reminded of what it felt like to really feel connected to my purpose. I helped people experience the world. They explored new cultures and traditions. They had their first experience zip lining or swimming with dolphins or hiking a mountain they always hoped to hike.  They had exciting honeymoons and destination weddings. They had family reunion trips.  I had clients who came to me never having owned a passport and, after their first trip overseas, decided to take one every year.

And when I think about being able to help others, to Spread Hope to others, and to potentially be able to combine my love of helping people with my love of helping people travel (and naturally, traveling myself), I think about how amazing that would be.  To get back to that feeling of purpose, that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be. That ability to feel happiness at how I'm spending my days. To feel like I'm making a difference in my little corner of the world, both to others and to myself.  And thinking about it, while a bit sad at not being there, makes me hopeful. I begin gathering ideas, almost involuntarily (though certainly welcomed). I don't try to, they just fly into my head. I get inspired and motivated.

Now if I could only stop the doubt from creeping in. The doubt that says that, once again, this wouldn't work well enough. That something - the economy, life, etc - would throw me off and I wouldn't be able to push through it to ultimately be successful. The doubt that says it's too risky, that I'd be being rash and careless. The doubt that says others would be disappointed me, would doubt me themselves.

And if I could only get some help. Not financially, but in the form of support. If I had friends that would be willing to help me create and run projects for Spread Hope. Or who would help me by participating - whether it's hashtagging their Instagram photos for a photo campaign, or volunteering with a project I organize, or just sitting and helping me brainstorm ideas. And I know it's a big ask. I know everyone's time is so valuable. But we all need help sometimes, and I'm really terrible at asking for it. I'm strong and I want to be able to do it all on my own. And often I think it's too forward to say, "Hey I want to do xyz will you take time out of your already busy schedule to help?", despite the fact that if someone came to me and said something similar, I'd probably be super excited (assuming it wasn't some sort of selling). Or I always think, "nobody will say yes. Or they'll 'like' the status but not volunteer", so what's the point.

But I need to get over that fear. I need to reach out and ask for help. I may not get tons of help by doing so, but I certainly won't if I don't.  So I'm starting 2018 with some opportunities, and call outs, for help with Spread Hope Project... projects. So if you have the urge/want to be supportive, please give the Spread Hope Project page a follow at the link above so that you hear about these when I roll them out. You'll also find SHP social media links on there (hint). It would truly mean so much. And of course, if you're interested in helping, I'm all ears!

And on this shortest day of the year, I hope it helps to remember that it literally only gets brighter from here - and I'll do the same.

Happy Solstice, and Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Most Important Thing I've Done Is Survived; and Sometimes, I Even Live

When you battle depression, you know that often the best you can do is just get through the day. You may not be breaking any records, or busting through your to do list, or even showering. Some days, getting through the day is what matters most. If you lay your head down at night in order to be here tomorrow, you've accomplished the most important thing you can - you've survived.

For those who don't battle depression or chronic illness, I think this is a difficult concept to truly understand. For them, surviving is second nature. They don't have to think about it, wonder if it'll happen again tomorrow.  They don't go to bed at night with the sole accomplishment of still being here. Instead, they look at the things they haven't accomplished: the house needs to be cleaned, they need groceries, they have to do this or that chore or task. And don't get me wrong, my anxiety rails through all of that too. Repeatedly. But the thing is, if I weren't here, if I hadn't made it, it wouldn't matter one bit how clean or not the house was or how full the fridge was.

And so, I admit, that sometimes my priorities seem a little "messed up" to the observer. The house desperately needs to be cleaned and I'm planning a hike or a day trip or a drive to the beach or something of a similar fashion. Or I'm relaxing, listening to the rain or enjoying the sunshine on my face. Sometimes, I go for a drive simply to enjoy the warmth of the sun (streaming through my new panoramic sunroof!!), the open air, and the musc. And understandably, people probably feel, If you're going to be out on a drive, could you maybe stop and pick up xyz while you're at it, because you're running out?! And yes, I probably should. I probably need bread or beans or a replacement light bulb or something from CVS or whatever it is. And I may stop and pick it up (ok, usually just the CVS, big stores give me anxiety). But you know what I really need? I need to have these happy, sun and fresh air filled moments  to pull me through when I cycle back down. If not, I'm spending all of the times I actually feel ok filling obligations, only to slip back into depression without being able to remember what in life there is to truly enjoy.

And so I perhaps do not make a very good adult. I do not see the point of spending the majority of my time doing the mundane things that will never be my legacy. I'm not saying I'll live in a pigsty or starve, but I just simply don't get the need to have this all perfectly done, all the time. And maybe there's a compromise. Maybe I can run into Whole Foods once a week, spend 30 minutes tops  (I can honestly get all my shopping done in this time), and have had healthy meals all week. And when I am running out of TP, I can stop at CVS for 10 minutes max. No need fora full day dedicated to these things.

I realize this is frustrating for people in my life. I wish I was content to do the everyday adult life things. I really do. It would be so much easier on those around me. Not to mention I'd have a full fridge on a regular basis, and a cleaner house. I know it seems irresponsible. And I'm trying to find a balance, I really am. I'm not sure where that lies.

Maybe it's just me. And maybe it's the fact that I feel my time to actually feel alive is limited, since illness hits me so often. But I just don't think I'm going to lie on my deathbed wishing I'd done more chores. I do think, though, that if I stick to those "have to"s, that one day I'll look back and think, What did I do with my life? And moments of life can be so precious, that I can't imagine why I'd want to live that way.

Me in Ronda, Spain, after a sunrise hike. The ultimate in enjoying a good day!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Grappling With Questions

I haven't blogged in a month-ish. For me, that's a long time. Part of it is trying to keep several blogs going (this and Spread Hope Project), along with my business, my part time job, and my organizational work. There's also Thanksgiving and then the week and a half I spent in Spain, the latter of which I just finished. Plus I've spent the past few months continually exhausted, and when my brain is so drained, it's tough to find writing inspiration. Or, you know, think of intelligent- sounding sentences.

But it's not just that. I've been battling a lot of confusion within myself. I feel like I'm at a turning point in my life, except I don't know exactly what that point is. I know that I have to do something. There's a lot about my life that feels like it doesn't quite fit me right, but I can't quite figure out why. It's like wearing clothes that technically are your size, but there's something about them that just feels off.

When I dig deep down, there is one glaring question that I am struggling to answer:  What am I doing? Sure, the answer sounds obvious. I manage to fill my days well enough. I have work and my business and my blogs and my organizations, and of course, my loved ones and friends - the most important part of it all. But what am I doing that will make a lasting, positive impact - externally, and internally.

Taking out loved ones and friends, because hopefully I have a lasting, positive impact on their lives, I ask myself continually, "What is my point?" And this is not to downgrade loved ones. But as I'm not a mother, or a caretaker, or anything like that, these relationships aren't the primary part of my days, despite being the most important overall pieces of my life. When my family and friends and husband go off to work for the day, there's a whole lot of time in between that I want to fill with purpose. So what am I doing with it? What am I working towards? What do I ultimately want my life (outside of loved ones) to be about?

That's where I'm struggling. I feel like I'm grasping pieces here and there, but having a difficult time pulling them together. Inherent lack of self-esteem and confidence in myself doesn't help, because I continually question my ability to successfully do anything that I may come up with. It's like I can't manage to see myself as succeeding, as being successful, as getting where I want to go. It feels like I'm playing dress up (I'm really into clothes analogies today, it seems).

Thinking back, I didn't used to be like this. In gymnastics all through my youth, I always went for the biggest and toughest routines. I often fell on my head and my ass (and on beam, other parts that shall remain nameless but every gymnast understands). But I went for them. I literally got points for effort, and those points added up to me getting to one of the highest levels I could in the sport. After college, I went out and interviewed confidently for jobs. I never thought I wouldn't get them, and I had several offers right away. There wasn't doubt and fear and anxiety. When I started my travel business, I was sure, confident, excited. I didn't question "what if it doesn't work?".  I worked on it day and night, believing that it would. (The economy tried to thwart me, but that's a whole different story).

In fairness, part of that might have been lack of medication (i.e. hypomania), but part of that was simply believing in myself. Part of that was life not having beaten me down as much, and me not letting those times it did shape my image of myself. So how do I get that back? How do I take those big steps, those leaps of faith, while feeling confident, and not let that confidence be shot down when I hit a hurdle, or even numerous hurdles? How do I step back and look at the big picture without allowing these fears and anxieties take over, so that I can see the overall path ahead of me? Because right now, it feels like I'm trudging through mud, in a complete haze, unsure of even the slightest step, let alone which path to take.

I know this post is kind of rambling, but I feel that's how my brain is at the moment, so it fits. My thoughts and ideas are being pulled in 50 directions, none of them seeming to be exactly right, yet each of them seeming to be a piece of the puzzle.

I'll take your suggestions and ideas. I'd rather not take your rah rahs or cliches or inspirational quotes that really don't help me at the moment. But I'm open to your honest thoughts. And I'm open to your messaging/emailing/texting me if you'd rather not put them in comments.

Until then, thanks for listening to my rambles!