Lilies and Elephants
Lilies and Elephants is a collection of my thoughts, musings, ideas, personal impressions, and stories. I think out loud and encourage others to express themselves. I write about life and my personal journey living with a mood cycling disorder. I'm on a mission to motivate openness about and acceptance of mental health and chronic illness, to chip away at the stigma, offer support, raise awareness, and perhaps provide some inspiration along the way.
Friday, May 12, 2023
Finding A Way To Be Both
Thursday, December 29, 2022
2022 Year in Review
This year was extremely difficult for me, for numerous reasons. In a world that’s gone back to “normal” while I haven’t, I feel left behind and out of touch. I realize that this is my choice, but when you truly feel like you’re doing the right thing for your situation and it leads to feeling forgotten and alone, it hurts. In a world full of friends and loved ones having babies and announcing pregnancies and me having had my fifth failed round of IVF in August, I feel both genuinely happy for them and also even more isolated - physically, mentally, emotionally - myself. I debated not writing this at all, because I felt like a lot of it was going to be me talking about my struggles that people have doubtless already heard about. But that’s part of life. Infertility is part of my life just like chronic illness, like my mental health conditions. It’s as much a part of my life as my hobbies and (pre-covid) travels and house and yoga classes and everything else… maybe even more so because it’s connected to my actual body, and it’s not something I can alter my part in, the way I altered travel plans or shifted my yoga classes online when the pandemic hit. I also know that, despite what an extremely discouraging year it was in some aspects, there was some good, and I do want to celebrate that. Not in a “look on the bright side” toxic positivity sort of way, but because I believe in the both/and. Life and humans are complex, and it’s completely legit to have simultaneously conflicting emotions and experiences. These posts also help me to look back over the years, and see the change and growth, to remember enjoyable experiences I maybe forgot about, and to see how I’ve grown through the challenges.
Note: there’s some decent detail about our fertility journey here. If you’d rather not read that, or if it may be triggering, please feel free to skip this section.
Might as well address the 10 ton elephant in the room first. I went into January 2022 not 100 percent optimistic, but feeling decently. In late summer/fall of 2021, I’d done two rounds of IVF, with two different protocols. The second protocol wasn’t successful, but seemed to work better in that we did get more eggs and one embryo, even though ultimately that embryo wasn’t viable, so it seemed like we had our protocol moving forward. I was starting some additional supplements (on doctor’s orders) that were supposed to help egg quantity and quality, and I thought round three might be better. We did get more eggs, but only one embryo, and that wasn’t viable. Round four was abysmal in every way. I bruised badly, I barely stimmed, the retrieval triggered a migraine flare so that instead of getting a nice 20-minute anesthesia nap followed by a day relaxing watching cheesy hallmark movies, I went under anesthesia feeling like my throat was closing up, and the rest of the day was spent horizontal because I vomited if I was in any other position. After round four, we took a little break, and did a nice staycation (see later points). We rejuvenated ourselves and decided to go in for round five. Despite all of the above, I had hope for round five. They adjusted my protocol slightly. I saw the results. It wasn’t the most eggs I’ve gotten but definitely the best follicles. All of the eggs fertilized and two - TWO!, which was unheard of for me - made it to the blastocyst stage. I was absolutely ecstatic. Until we got the results. Neither was viable. That was August. This fall, it’s been a roller coaster. It seems every time we think things look to be going better, we hit another roadblock. It’s been extremely emotional. Some days I hold it together well, I laugh, I enjoy activities. Other days, I break down in tears on the phone with the fertility center….or sipping my coffee, journaling, or driving, or just existing. I wish I had a nice little bow to wrap up this section, but I don’t. We’re still hopeful. We still have a plan. We aren’t giving up by any means. But we don’t have answers either, so right now, this is a “to be continued…”
I’m going to say something that I never thought I’d say about working for a company that I didn’t own: the absolutely bright spot of my year has been work. It started out a little uncertain. The department that my team was under was moved to a new division of the company, but my specific team stayed in the division we were in. This meant that my teammate and I got moved under a new director who was staying under our current division, while everyone else on our team, including our manager, got moved to the new division. I didn’t know the new team well, and I admittedly was a bit nervous, since I had only been at the company just over a year and was just feeling like I was settled into the current team. Shortly after our team transitioned, my new manager, who is actually the director of the larger team, told me that they were creating a new Supervisor position for my team, and encouraged me to apply. Long story short, I did apply, went through several rounds of interviews, and I got the supervisor role! I don’t honestly know if anyone else applied to it or not, but I don’t feel it was given to me simply for lack of options. I feel like I was a good fit for the role, and it provided me with an opportunity to take the next step in my career path as a company. I’m now about 10 months into that role - I started 2/28 - and I have learned and grown so much because of it. I’ve gotten to grow the team I oversee, to have more interaction with other areas of our larger team, to be part of the leadership team (comprised of my boss/our director, myself, a senior manager, and a manager within our department), to help guide and grow Inbound Logistics as a whole. I’m absolutely loving it, and I am genuinely looking forward to continuing to grow in my role, team, and company.
In addition to my new team and role, my company introduced several Associate Resource Groups (ARGs) this year as part of our DEI development, and I joined the Advocates & Allies ARG. Anyone that knows me even a tiny bit knows how important advocacy work is to me, and being able to partake in this group is truly exciting. I’m also grateful to be part of a company that genuinely prioritizes DEI work, advocacy, and allyship. The ARG I’ve joined is still in the beginning stages, and I’m looking forward to delving into it more in the coming year.
We also started going back into the office occasionally. Starting this summer, it was voluntary to come into the office on Wednesdays each week, but not required to ever be in. Myself and my boss and one or two others regularly went in most Wednesdays. In October, the schedule changed so that we have to be in twice a month. We have set Wednesdays throughout the month , and our whole team comes in. It’s still not a ton of people and there’s a lot of empty space, which is nice for both the introvert in me as well as the covid anxiety in me. To be clear, I’m still a strong proponent of work from home, and absolutely believe in always having that option because it is really the only way to provide true equity for certain communities, such as the chronically ill community. It's my preference most of the time. But I have been pretty isolated and don’t leave the house a ton, so it’s been nice to break up the routine, to actually drive and listen to music, and it’s good to meet my colleagues in person, because it feels like we get to connect in a different way. I’m always masked in the office, I eat my lunches in my car, and I surreptitiously inch my mask up to sip coffee at my desk, which is in a cubicle surrounded on most sides by extra plexi glass for additional protection. If I ran the world, there would definitely be rules and guidelines I’d require for in-person office days while Covid is still a thing. But since I don’t run the world, I do my best to feel safe while also getting the experience of being in the office with my coworkers on occasion and breaking up my routine, which has become pretty sedentary and …well… routine.
It’s been four and a half years since I’ve traveled internationally (Spain family trip, summer 2018) and just over three years since I’ve done a domestic vacation (New England Road Trip late November 2019). Besides seeing friends and family as much, travel is the thing I miss the absolute most since the pandemic started. I’m ok without dining out. I miss live music, but honestly I don’t know if I could go to a packed concert anymore, especially indoors - not just because of covid but because my feelings about large, packed group events have changed in general. I’m definitely ok with primarily working from home. I miss teaching and taking yoga in person, but I do enjoy my online classes, and it’s allowed me to practice with people from all over, instead of just nearby. But not being able to travel feels like missing an intrinsic piece of myself. I feel the most authentically me, the most free, the most like everything is going to be ok, when I’m traveling (other than the actual flight part because I don’t love flying). It’s like the ability to explore and adventure, to wander the streets where nobody knows you and can hold you to some preconceived idea of yourself or judge you by your past, where you can be whoever you want to be, allows my best and truest self to emerge. In summer of 2022 I had the opportunity to go to my family’s timeshare, along with several family members, in Mexico. I didn’t take that option. Primarily because of covid, but also because we couldn’t get our dog into her ‘camp’ that she goes to while we’re away because it was booked. So instead, my husband and I took a staycation. I’ve never done a staycation, and for obvious reasons it wasn’t the same as, say, the two week trip we did to Greece, or a luxury safari in Kenya and Tanzania like we’ve done in the past. But it was wonderful. We planned out day trips and activities. We took one day to hang out by our pool. We did an excursion with our dog Grace. We dined outdoors. We made rudimentary plans, but allowed ourselves to go with the flow within those generic plans, which is something we don’t often do. I thought I was going to be tempted to check my work email or do chores or take care of things around the house because we were home each morning and night, unlike a destination vacation. But after the first day or two of “this feels weird, I’m shirking basically all responsibility other than taking care of the dog”, that impulse went away, and it felt great! I never understood staycations before, but I do now. I’m not saying I’d choose it over traveling if covid wasn’t a thing (and if I could get my dog into her camp), but it definitely felt like a vacation, despite our home base being, well, home.
Owning a 100+ year old home is like the gift that keeps on giving, if that gift included both anticipated and unexpected issues that cost tons of money. All kidding aside, we love our house - it truly feels like home. We have been continually having work and updates done, some of which were planned and some not so much, essentially since we moved in. This past year, we got the remainder of our rooms painted (by professionals, not ourselves), and the remainder of the new windows we’d ordered installed. We had a lot of new plumbing work (not planned), including our upstairs shower re-done by necessity, since they had to take the floor and part of the wall out due to said plumbing work. We got our fence variance, which allowed us to move the fence significantly closer to the edge of the property line, giving us much more usable space in our backyard. It’s been a game changer, especially for Grace, who now has about triple the space to run around. As part of that fence variance, we had to do landscaping along the fence within a year, so we had landscapers come out to dig up and mulch the area, plant arborvitae, drift roses, hydrangeas, and ornamental grasses. It’s a massive improvement. And finally, one of our front pillars fell down. Like something out of a dramatic movie scene. One minute it was there, the next minute it was a pile of rubble on the front porch (ahem… still is a pile of rubble on the front porch because we haven’t gotten it cleaned up yet). But we got composite pillars and had them both installed. They still need some paint work, but they’re in, and our entryway roof isn’t going to collapse, so that’s a good thing. The house is continuing to come together, and I honestly can’t imagine living anywhere else. Even on the days when things happen like our front pillar crashing onto our porch, I’m so grateful that we have this home.
I wish I could say that my online yoga business is taking off and I’m getting tons of new students and adding a bunch of classes, but authenticity is always my thing, so I can’t say that this is the case. As studios have reopened and dropped mask requirements, people are practicing more in person. My class numbers haven’t grown, in fact they’ve shrunk from the “early stages of the pandemic” numbers, but I still have a steady group that comes to my Tuesday benefit class, as well as my pop-ups, especially on Sundays. My groups may be small, but they’re dedicated and loyal, and that means the world to me, and I’m so grateful. They spread the word, inviting friends and family members who occasionally join. I couldn’t ask for a better group to share practice with. I’d love to grow my yoga offerings, to get further into more limbs of yoga in addition to asana - maybe online workshops or retreats, that at some point in the who-knows-when future I’ll eventually feel comfortable doing in person. Maybe I’ll explore that in 2023, we’ll see. I’m also taking an online Yin Yoga course (and have done a lot of reading/work on Yin Yoga in addition) to further my knowledge of this branch of yoga. I’ve signed up for an online Restorative Yoga course as well. I’d love to be able to take these in person, but I’m just not there yet, and at this stage of my life, as my time gets pulled between work and home and fertility treatment, the online courses give me the flexibility that works for me. They by no means make me an expert in these areas (nor does my 200 hour in person training make me an expert in yoga), but they give me the confidence to better approach these types of classes, and they deepen my own knowledge, even if just to have that knowledge for myself. In addition, it’s really helped me shift my perspective. As a former gymnast, I’ve always been that student that can’t wait to get into an inversion or arm balance - not because I think you need to do these to “do yoga”, but because I personally enjoy these. And I still enjoy these, though I have less chance to practice them these days. But focusing more on Yin, bringing those elements more into my practices and classes, has allowed me to slow down, to focus not so much on the physical aspects of the poses, but on the deeper aspects - the stillness, the quiet, the opportunity to get beyond just the physical asana into something deeper. It’s tough to be deep when you’re trying to balance yourself upside down in a handstand - or at least it is for me. Yin has brought a balance to my practice that I’m starting to see in my life as well, and I’m really intrigued and interested to explore that balance further, as I continue to grow my yin education and practice, and delve into Restorative as well.
For my birthday, my parents got me a subscription to Storyworth. Essentially, it helps you tell the story of you. Every week for a year, it sends a question about yourself, your life, etc.. You write a reply and add it to the Storyworth site. When the year is up, you receive a hardcover book with all of your stories. You have the option to skip/swap out a question, and while they send you a prompt every week, there’s no timeline per se, other than that you answer them all in the year. Meaning that you don’t have to answer one question to get the next. So if you wanted to sit down the last week of the year and answer all 52, I suppose you could. I try to get most answers written within the week, but some weeks I have to push it to the following (like I may this week with the holiday). This has really gotten me back into more weekly writing, and I love that. I journal daily, but I haven’t been blogging like I used to. I just haven’t really felt all that inspired, and combine that with all of the time I spend on the computer for work, I’ve been shying away from blogging in my free time. But with Storyworth, I don’t have to feel “inspired’ per se - I don’t have to come up with the content, they do. And it’s a whole range of questions that I may not have thought to write about. Some more serious, some more light-hearted. I’m loving it. It feels really good to write again regularly, and it’s a great creative outlet for me - something that I’ve felt lacking over the past couple of years.
I think that sums up the bigger aspects of 2022 for me. There have been lots of smaller things in between. I’ve gotten to visit with several friends (either outdoors or indoors masked) that I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic, which was great. I’ve also been more in contact this year with several friends who are also still limiting activity due to covid, and have been feeling similar isolation and loneliness as I’ve been. It’s been really nice growing these friendships and deepening those connections. My husband and I have done some day trips, in addition to our staycation. We’ve been slowly exploring record stores in the area and building our record collection. We spent a lot of time grilling (ok that’s mostly him, I just provided company) this summer, and enjoyed our pool. As the weather has turned colder, we’ve enjoyed our fireplaces. We’ve laughed a ton, even though this year has held some really disappointing and emotionally painful moments. It’s been a year with a few big events and a lot of waiting (and anxiety) in between, and trying to make the best of some really difficult situations.
Tuesday, April 12, 2022
Holidays are a time that always make me nostalgic. Easter particularly so. It was my Grandma Ventura's favorite holiday, and all through childhood and adolescence, really until I went to college, we'd spend Easter in Buffalo at my Grandma's. It wasn't just us and my parents at my grandma's - it was aunts, uncles, cousins, great aunts, great uncles, second cousins. Plus, three of my siblings lived in Buffalo as well, and while I don't have specific memories of seeing them on Easter, I do associate going to Buffalo with the opportunity to see them as well (for clarity's sake, three of my siblings are actually half siblings who did not grow up in the same household as me, but I never differentiate the "half" because I just think of us all as siblings). So Easter trips to Buffalo were a big, big family affair.
When I think back on these days, the overwhelming feelings that surfaces is connection. I think back to arriving at my grandma's sometime in the middle of the night (we drove up after my parents finished work, and it's about a 6.5-7 hour drive), and my grandma welcoming us in with Italian wedding soup and zucchini bread. It never occurred to me that this was an odd combination at any time, let alone at 2AM. It also never occurred to me how much effort it must have taken my grandma to be awake and appear alert at that hour. Now, I recognize these as love. As a kid, it was just what going to grandma's meant.
I think about how on Good Friday, we weren't allowed to watch TV or go out or do "anything" between 12 and 3PM, per Catholic tradition. We were allowed to visit together at my grandma's, though. And oddly, listen to Harry Belafonte records. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure the latter was a diversion from standard Catholic practices. As a10 year olds, sitting around in the living room visiting with adults and listening to Harry Belafonte wasn't exactly how we wanted to spend an afternoon on our Easter break, but looking back at it, it's one of the memories that sticks out the most. These days, I'd give a lot to be able to sit around with my grandma (who passed in 2008), my family, aunts, uncles, cousins visiting and listening to Harry Belafonte records. I can't honestly remember the last time we were all together, but if I had to guess, I'd say it was over a decade ago, and obviously longer for times that included my grandma.
I think about how all of us cousins used to play croquet in grandma's back yard, and the games of basketball we played using the hoop that she had hung on her garage door. How we'd make up skits and songs. I think of the family "talent shows" (I use the word loosely) that my grandma loved SO much - she always had everyone participate, and somewhere in someone's possession (hopefully someone related to me, at least) are VCR tapes of my cousins telling jokes with tennis racket bags on their heads and my grandma and I singing duets.
I think of waking up Easter morning and searching for our Easter baskets when we were younger, and when we got older, helping our younger cousins to find their baskets. Then going to Easter mass Sunday morning, all dressed up in our Easter best. (Gratefully, Grandma didn't usually take us to Easter Vigil, and if you've ever been a kid having to sit through Catholic Easter Vigil, you likely understand this sentiment).
When we got home it would be a big meal with aunts, uncles, cousins, my grandma's siblings and their families. We'd extend out the dining room table as far as it would go, and put up card tables for the kids. And by kids, I mean everyone under the age of about 30, because grandma's dining room table wasn't all that big. There would be some traditional food and some questionable food, which was generally my Aunt Clara's contribution, and everyone steered clear of it. There would be pupa cu l'ovas (cookies that have a hard boiled egg, in its shell, in the middle of them), of which we'd eat the cookie part and give our parents the egg, who dutifully ate probably a dozen eggs over the course of Easter weekend. My uncle would inevitably take the peppercorn eyes from the butter lamb and stick them on it's butt so that it looked like it was pooping, and we'd always try to hide that fact from my grandma, all while snickering and giving each other knowing looks. At least 50 percent of the time there was a good natured food fight. 100 percent of those time it was the adults.
As I write out all of these memories, I realize how silly so many of them are, and yet how they still bring a smile to my face. As ridiculous as we all were at times, we were connecting. We were spending time together - actually spending time together, not all being in the same room but watching TV or on phones and other devices. We interacted, we played games, we had conversations, we made memories. Together. These days, my siblings and cousins are spread across multiple states, some on the other side of the country. I haven't spent a full holiday with more than about 8 people in years, and even that's somewhat rare. I think it hits especially hard with my siblings and some of my cousins having their own families now, carrying on some of these traditions and creating their own, and us still struggling with our IVF journey, not having our own children yet to do the same. It gets to me at every holiday, but I think especially Easter, as I associate it so much with my grandma, and Buffalo, and our time all together. It's been especially difficult these past two years in the pandemic, since contact has been limited and traveling to see people has been nonexistent for us.
Still, writing through these memories has been soothing. At times, I wish for the innocence of being a kid whose biggest concern was having to sit through three hours on Good Friday without "doing anything" except listening to Harry Belafonte, or having to wait until after Easter mass to dig into our Easter baskets. At the same time, it reminds me that I don't have to always take life, or myself, so seriously, and that you don't have to be a kid to goof around and have fun. It also serves to remind me that we don't always realize we're making memories at the time, and that just because circumstances aren't what you imagined they would be right now, it doesn't mean that you won't some day look back on these moments with a new perspective and appreciation for all that they did offer.
Wednesday, February 9, 2022
I originally wrote this post about a week ago, on a morning when fog was blanketing the area and there was still about six inches of snow on the ground from a storm the previous weekend.
I sit in my sunroom that's also my home office and gaze out the windows at the morning fog. It settles in a haze above the snow, surrounding the trees in the park across the street, creating an ambiance that feels both slightly eery but also peaceful. There's an emptiness to it, but not in the hollow sort of way. Not in the way I've been feeling lately. The emptiness of the fog-laden world outside gives the impression of being expansive, the openness it creates feels peaceful, inviting, a space of possibility. A place where if you pause quietly and listen, instead of feeling lost, you feel connected.
Lately, I've been feeling isolated. Physically (pandemic plus winter), socially, emotionally. In this isolation, the quiet - from lack of activity, lack of connection with others, lack of feeling a purpose- has felt incredibly loud. It's had me feeling lost in the world, in my relationships with others, with myself. This morning, though, something feels as if it has shifted internally. As I peer outside at the white and gray tones of my snow and fog covered neighborhood, the stillness, the quiet, feels like an opportunity, purposeful somehow.
I'd recently noticed that I have been fighting against the quiet, the stillness. For the past few weeks (and really, probably much longer), I've been telling myself a lot of stories. I've been telling myself that if I post more on social media, if I try to interact more with people online, I'll feel less alone. I tell myself that if I can find more activities and actions to fill my time, I'll feel more fulfilled because I won't be bored, because I won't feel like "I have nothing to do" or "I have no purpose". I've been once again feeling this urgent need to figure out exactly what I'm going to do with my life right now, and telling myself that if I figure this out, I'll feel happier. To be clear, I wasn't doing all of this consciously, at least not fully. Yes, I knew I was posting or interacting with people - I wasn't sleep-scrolling. But it wasn't an intentional, thought out decision. I was grasping and clinging and trying to control a lot of things that I have no way of controlling, because they are outside of me. In short, I was doing the exact opposite of the theme word and supporting words I've chosen for this year - Nurture. Nourish. Release.
Toward the end of last week, I decided to take a social media break (I did check LinkedIn, but I don't really count that). It wasn't sparked by a specific incident. I simply felt that I was putting way too much stake in the curated lives of others, in who and how many people reacted or replied to a post - many (most, in fact) of whom I would likely never hear from again if somehow social media ceased to exist. In trying to "connect" more, I was feeling increasingly lonely. I was allowing it to affect my self-worth and my connection with myself. My brain also felt overloaded with stimulus, most of it not even information I particularly cared about, but it was right there in front of me, and I'd get sucked in. It was taking up valuable brain space, which is especially tricky for someone like me, whose cyclothymic and anxious brain easily jumps all over the place without the added stimulus of alerts and notifications and constant media. Likewise, I noticed that the more I railed against having unused time/less to do, the harder I tried to wrack my brain for "what am I doing with my life", the more intensely disconnected I felt from myself, from any sense of purpose.
This morning, it occurred to me that maybe this stillness, this quiet is exactly what I need right now. I have noticed that since being off social media, I'm feeling more creative. Over the past few days, I've had several ideas pop into my head and have grabbed pen and paper to jot them down (I'm still old school when it comes to any writing that's not blogging). It feels like being online less, and having fewer pop up alerts and notifications and stimulus, have I've found myself drawn back to some of the yogic concepts (not physical poses, but other aspects of the practice) that we studied in Yoga Teacher Training, but that I haven't explored as much since. I'm finding that as I'm pushing myself less to "figure it all out right now", I'm feeling less antsy, more open to letting ideas come in and percolate a bit, enjoying the fact that I get these thoughts swirling in, instead of trying to force them to create something more concrete right this moment.
Of course, realizing what I am feeling doesn't mean that I stop feeling it. Being able to say "ah, what I'm feeling is loneliness" doesn't mean I feel less lonely, just like how I frequently recognize when I'm feeling anxious, depressed, or hypomanic, yet knowing this doesn't make these feelings go away. I can't simply change my thinking to "I will not feel lonely/depressed/anxious/etc", that's not how the brain, and particularly the brain with mental illness, works. But recognizing what I'm feeling, and having an idea of why I'm feeling it, can help me to process it and, in some cases, take actions to help. Seeing where I'm pushing and grasping and clinging, where I'm fighting against what I'm feeling and it's doing more harm than good, can help me to make shifts, even if subtle and even if temporary (i.e. I'll likely go back on social media at some point, even if it's just to do things like share these blog posts).
So this morning, I'm welcoming the stillness, the space. In gazing out my windows at the fog-filled, snowy park across the street, I'm able to see how quiet emptiness can be a place for opportunity, openness, exploration. How it can be expansive instead of hollow and encapsulating. And while I know that an empty park filled with snow isn't going to erase my need for connection to other humans, or make certain aspects of my life, like going through IVF treatment during a pandemic, feel less lonely or isolating. But it reminds my of why the vision board I created at the start of 2022 contains clippings of the phrases "Nature's Sanctuary", "Practice in Solitude", "More Presence", and "Truly Live Yoga". There is beauty to be found in the stillness, in the quiet, in the foggy space between where you are now and knowing exactly where you want to be.
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Nurture, Nourish, Release
In my last post, I mentioned that have chosen a theme word and two supporting words for the 2022, and that I would be sharing more about them in an upcoming post. I want to mention that I used this workbook from Susannah Conway as part of the theme word process, this being my first time choosing a theme word for the year, and if, like me, you're having difficulty narrowing down a word, I'd suggest taking a look at it. To be clear, this is not a paid promo or anything. I like to give credit where credit is due, and this worksheet helped me come up with a theme word, and subsequently the two supporting words, which I would not have thought to choose on my own. In fact, I went into the worksheet thinking that I likely had a specific word chosen, but that I'd use it to kind of "double check" myself. Throughout the four day worksheet process, I realized that the word I was leaning towards, while extremely important to me and possibly will be a future theme word down the road, didn't quite capture what I was looking for (in case you're wondering, that word was "connection").
Part of the trouble I was running into when choosing a word, and this probably isn't a surprise to anyone who's routinely heard me say "I'm going to call an audible" when trying to decide what menu item to order, is that I was having difficulty narrowing it down to one final choice. I felt like there wasn't just one specific word that encapsulated the feeling that I was going for. Doing the worksheet, I was reminded that people often choose supporting words, and this helped greatly. I was able to find a combination of words that, together, formed what I was looking for in a theme.
The theme word I chose for the year was Nurture. The supporting words and Nourish and Release. I had a specific thought process behind choosing each one, and I thought I'd share that here.
Those of you familiar with my IVF journey might think I chose this for the association it often has with parenting/nurturing a child, and obviously, if I get to apply it in that way, I will be over the moon. But that's not why I selected it. When I decided on nurture, I was thinking of nurturing myself. In particular, nurturing my connection with myself, connection with divine/God/nature/universe/something greater than myself, with those closest to me (instead of focusing on more connections, focusing on nurturing the ones I have). I want to nurture my creativity, the ideas that float into my head that I so often tell myself "no, that wouldn't work, I'll never be successful at that" - maybe it won't, but I want to try to nurture, to cultivate those instead of just automatically dismissing. I want to nurture my spirit, my sense of free-ness (different from freedom) which 'I've struggled to find lately. I may not be able to connect with it in the ways I traditionally do, like traveling and exploring, but I can find other ways. Throughout the year, I may find additional areas that of myself and my life that I want to nurture. I'm open that, as long as it feels genuinely me, and is not born out of needing external validation or people pleasing. For now, this is my starting point for nurture, with the knowledge that it may adjust and shift a bit along the way.
A family member was talking about how they like the word lush, and in the context of my theme word nurture, this led me think of the word nourish. To clarify, I'm not saying that having nourishing food should be some sort of luxury. I'm thinking nourishing beyond just "nutritional food". I'm thinking nourishing my body, my mind, my heart, my soul. In terms of the body, this does of course involve making sure my body feels like it's getting the what it needs food wise, but based on listening to my body, not based on calorie count or any type of diet, because it's not about weight or shape, it's about my body feeling nourished in every sense of the word. It's making sure I give my body the rest it needs, both in terms of sleep and in terms of intentional rest and relaxation. It's silly things, like instead of letting my skin go dry and cracked because I'm trying to save on lotion (my internalized issues with abundance are a whole other blog post), I actually use the appropriate amount of lotion so that my skin feels better. It's nourishing my heart with activities that bring me happiness and joy, nourishing my soul with anything that speaks to it - nature, music, dance, yoga (all eight limbs, not just asana), meditation, prayer. To use my family member's word, there's a lushness to the idea of nourishing myself that isn't there with the idea of simply sustaining. I can eat food and get enough sleep to function, but that's just sustaining, surviving. Similarly, I can exercise because I've exercised my entire adult life and feel like I "should", or I can move my body in ways that feel fulfilling, joyful. And to be clear, I realize every meal or movement or night's sleep won't be nourishing. Sometimes my blood sugar gets low reason, and I grab basically anything to eat and hit it off at the pass before it drops suddenly. Sometimes the it's a cold/dreary day outside and what I wanted to do is go for a walk or hike (which would feel more nourishing), but I end up exercising indoors because the movement helps my mental and physical health, and it's better than nothing. I get that all this. But the idea is that I'm consciously working to build more nourishment into all areas of my life. And by doing so, I feel I'm setting myself up to nurture better. If I'm nourishing my body, mind, heart, soul, I'm going to better be able to nurture my creativity, my ideas, my relationships with myself, others, something greater, which is why I chose this as a supporting word.
This one sounds counterintuitive to the above - they both feel like they're "adding", while releasing feels like taking something away. I chose the word release in thinking of yoga concept of Aparigraha, or non-grasping. While in yoga Aparigraha may often be used in relationship with material things, for me, it brings to mind the idea of letting go in a broader sense. I think about how tightly I hold on to a lot from the past - my storefront, being a full time business owner, just to name a couple. I hold onto past versions of myself that no longer serve but I can't quite let go of. I hold onto other people's expectations and versions of me. I hold onto the "if only's" that I can't change. I hold onto perfect images of how certain things "should" be, which of course inevitably leave me disappointed because nothing and nobody is perfect, least of all myself. I hold onto so much self shame, blame, and guilt, nearly always for things that don't warrant it, or at least don't warrant the amount I'm putting on myself. And I don't feel that I can properly nurture and nourish myself if I'm so tightly grasping onto all of this. There's no room for appreciating the present, for newness, for growth, for moving forward when I'm already holding onto so much. In that sense, the idea of releasing feels supportive of the concepts of nurture and nourish, and it's why I've chosen this as my second supporting word.
One of the aspects that I love about all three words is the softness of them. They exude, to me, a quiet confidence, an inner strength and commitment to self that feels extremely authentic to me. For years, I've struggled with low self-esteem, lack of confidence, low self worth. I've also struggled with the fact that my anxiety and cyclothymia, particularly the hypomania, give people in inaccurate impression of me. I often talk a lot and loudly, despite being an introvert who values quiet, reflective time. Some of that might be just "who I am", but some of it is anxiety and/or hypomania. Anxiety also makes me feel and look to others as high strung, jumpy, someone who has a tough time letting go and relaxing. Often times, people- including myself - have a tough time getting past all of this to see the me that's underneath. This past year, I've connected more with the self that feels genuinely me, and there's a gentleness to it, a softness to it, that I'm truly enjoying. I'd like to continue to develop this, and I'd like to be able to bring it into my interactions with others and the world around me.
This is the first time I've done a theme word (and supporting words), and so far, I'm finding it helpful. I write these three words in my journal as part of my entry each morning. I have these words, and the concepts behind them, as part of my toolbox of reminders for working with my all-over-the-place brain, my cyclothymia, my anxiety. When I need to redirect or guide my thoughts, center myself and be more present, or remind me of my commitment to myself, I can draw on these words.
Friday, January 14, 2022
Personal Growth - Finding the Balance in 2022
On 2018 and 2019, and even through much of 2020, I was highly focused on, for lack of a better phrase, personal development and growth. To be clear, as someone who's been in therapy regularly for the past nearly fifteen years, I'm always focused on my personal development and growth, particularly as it relates to my cyclothymia, anxiety, and the effects of these on my being (low self-esteem, self worth, self confidence, to name just a few). But for those few years, I was focusing on it even more - or at least I felt like I was. I listened to podcasts, read books, joined groups, participated in online workshops. And I think it did help me understand certain tendencies and aspects of my personality better, as well as those of others, which I think can be incredibly helpful when it comes to improving your relationships and connections with others. Then, in 2021, I was fresh into a new job, I bought a house and moved states, and I started IVF treatment, and my focus shifted. Life became much more functional - learning my new job and getting settled into my new company, all the things related to buying the house and selling the condo, all things related to fixing up the house (electrical overhaul, roof repairs, plumbing repairs, new pool filter, etc), and then IVF treatment, in which my schedule is planned around injections and bloodwork and pelvic ultrasounds. So my focus on personal development turned more solitary. I spent more time in meditation and prayer, journaling, mindful movement, in trying to connect with myself and something greater than myself (God/divine/universe/nature). I dug in deeper with my therapist. I felt the shift in my life keenly, and it was both encouraging and lonely.
When I look back at a lot of the growth and development work I was doing in 2018-2020, I realize it wasn't fully internal work. It was done with more external goals in mind - much of the work I was doing was geared towards entrepreneurs and business building, since I still was running Chimera Travel along with my day job. Then, once I started teaching yoga and barre classes, in the back of my mind it was always "ok maybe *this* is the thing that will bring me back more fully entrepreneurship. Or maybe it's this and travel planning." I was doing personal development work, but without realizing it, I was doing it to achieve something outside of myself. And don't get me wrong, I think that doing the internal work so that you're a better partner, parent, friend, coworker, employee, business owner, member of society is important. But you can't skip the step where you first make the inward shift. It began to feel inauthentic, not really "me", unfulfilling. In 2021, when that focus moved internally, I felt way more authentic. But I also felt like something was missing. I felt like I went from thinking about the future to only focusing on what was right in front of my face, and I felt a serious lack of passion, excitement, and hope. To be clear, I understand, particularly as a yoga teacher and practitioner, that the only moment we actually have is the present, and that a lot of anxiety can come about from thinking about the future. But I also know myself. The intuitive part of my INFJ personality thrives on having plans, goals, dreams. I literally was a full time professional planner for over a decade. Having something in the future to look forward to, think about, focus on helps to energize me. Whether it's my business or my travel or someone else's travel or my plans for the weekend or the next hike I want to go on, having that thing to look forward to is important to me. And especially in the second year of a pandemic where it so much can't be planned, I felt the loss of looking to the future even more keenly.
As we enter 2022, my focus has been on merging these two approaches. I want to continue my commitment to my inward focus- particularly my connection to myself and to something greater than myself. But I also want to mindfully, intentionally bring back in some external resources as well. By mindfully and intentionally, I mean that instead of grasping at anything labeled "personal development", I plan to selectively choose books, talks, other resources that focus on the internal connection for the purpose of truly understanding and loving myself better, not as a means to an end to something external. That's not to say that I don't care how my actions, behaviors, etc affect other people, or that I don't care about my connection with others - I do, almost to a fault at times. But I know that I have to do the work from the inside out, that if my focus in doing anything is solely "how does this lead to/affect (insert external situation)", that it won't feel authentic, and it could even lead to feelings of resentment (i.e. I'm doing all of this and I still didn't get this external result I wanted!).
This past weekend, several family members and I did a virtual vision board creation get together. I also, for the first time ever, chose a theme word - and two supporting words - for the year. In choosing my words, I purposely chose ones that remind me to recommit to myself, words that are softer, gentler, loving and supportive, to counteract how I so often speak to myself when depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and self-worth do their thing. As I move through 2022, I'm looking forward to using this vision board, theme words, my carefully selected resources, and some favorite internal tools and habits to find the balance of inward focus and authenticity that I've come to love, and the passion I felt missing in 2021.
Monday, January 3, 2022
The Blessings Jar
Before I really begin, I want to make something clear: I realize that the word "blessing" can give people pause. Its so often thrown around without much meaning, or used in a spiritual bypassing/toxic positivity type of way - i.e. "You should just count your blessings instead of being depressed! Look at all you have!". If you know me, you probably know how much I dislike this type of message. I don't think everything can be solved by having an "attitude of gratitude". I'm in no way going to try to convince people that the heat-breaking thing that happened to them this year is a "blessing in disguise". That kind of comment ignores people's incredibly real struggles, and I can tell you from first hand experience, it not only doesn't help, but it can actually do a lot of harm. So in case you were thinking that this was going to be some sort of "silver linings" post, please know, that's not the case. I think nearly every one of us can agree that 2021 was extremely rough on a global/societal level, especially when you add it on top of the absolute *$%&ing mess that was 2020. And that's coming from someone who, all things relative, had a personally pretty decent year in 2021. This post is actually my first year of utilizing my blessings jar, my own my mental and emotional process as I read through the contents, and the interesting patterns I noticed throughout the process.
In case you're wondering what a Blessings Jar" even is, it's a jar in which, at some determined frequency or randomly, you put in small reminders about your "blessings". Presumably, the idea is that at some point you take out those reminders and look at them, though I suppose there could be some other way of using it. Also, in case the word blessing is still throwing you off, I used it pretty loosely in writing down my own "entries". For me, it was often more like small things I felt grateful or thankful for. I simply use the word Blessings because the jar was given to me and literally has the phrase "Blessings Jar" on the front.
I've actually had the jar for a couple of years, but for some reason, I decided to utilize it in 2021. Maybe it was coming on the heels of 2020, feeling like there was so much I'd taken for granted before the pandemic (i.e. being able to hug loved ones and friends, which I still wasn't doing at the start of 2021), and I wanted a way to note these types of things so that I wasn't as inclined to take them for granted going forward. I don't honestly recall the "why", but I'm thinking it was something along these lines. I decided that every Friday, I'd write something, no matter how small, that I felt grateful for over the past week (i.e. a blessing). I folded the piece of paper and put it in the jar. Often I dated them, for purposes of looking back later, but sometimes I forgot. Some weeks, I added a "bonus" one if it was a particularly good week (or, more likely, I was having a tough time deciding which to write down, which I acknowledge is also a lucky indecision to have).
Today, the last day of 2021 as I write this, though I likely won't publish this until early 2022, I sat down and read through all of the "blessings" from the past year. I wrote them down, in no particular order, in a word doc, and them put them in a ziplock gallon bag that I labeled "2021 Blessings Jar", and put them in the container where I keep all of my old journals, so that I could free up the jar for 2022.
It was particularly interesting to look through all the "blessings" right after writing and posting my 2021 Year in Review blog, as I was able to compare and contrast my thoughts on the year as I looked back on it as a whole, and what I made note of week to week in my blessings jar. And while the blessings jar obviously focused more on the "good", for lack of a better word, often, it was the "good in the wake of the not so good". For instance, numerous of my "blessings' were about the love and support I received after difficult times during IVF, or during a particularly tough cycle of depression.
Looking through my weekly notes, there were a few themes that I found interesting.
- Vaccination. You could practically chronicle the timeline of vaccination release in the US Northeast based on my blessings notes over the weeks and months: "Parents fully vaccinated!"; "Got our first (vaccine) shot scheduled"; "First vaccination shot done". "Fully vaccinated!". "Got my booster!". This is one of those aspects of the year that it would be interesting to look back on five, ten, twenty years from now to see how it looks in retrospect. Will it become one of those "remember when we all got COVID vaccines?" Or will it become like the flu shot where it's just something I do annually and no longer feels like something worth noting? (Note: This is NOT a place to debate vaccination. Please don't try.) I also think the vaccine is a perfect example of something that I previously took for granted - which I realize is a privilege to be able to do so - but given the circumstances, changed into something that, I saw as a "blessing". I have had plenty of vaccines in my lifetime, both the regular ones, plus ones I've needed for traveling such as Hep A & B, typhoid, yellow fever. And I've always felt grateful that I'm able to do the type of travel that requires the vaccines, or that I don't have to worry about things like yellow fever and typhoid being threats in daily life. But I never felt so incredibly grateful for the actual vaccine itself, for the science behind it and the people who worked tirelessly on it and the access to it, which is a privilege many don't have. But now, I am, and I hope this is an area in which I continue to remember how lucky I am to have access to this.
- Support, love, and connection with family, loved ones, and friends was my by far the most frequently mentioned topic among my blessings. Some were more generic, saying things like "the support of my family after a difficult week". Some were more specific, in that they named a particular tough situation that my family supported me through. Some were more along the line of "lucky to have such thoughtful friends" when they made me feel special for my birthday, or "So great to finally see xyz friend (outside, fully vaxxed) for the first time since before the pandemic!". Others were simply about the fact that my family is so close (emotionally, though my parents live close), and that we've connected even more throughout the pandemic, even if virtually. This is no surprise to me, since I know how deeply I value deep connection overall, but I think it's especially notable in a time when so many of us, myself included, are feeling isolated and lonely.
- Some were bittersweet to re-read, knowing what I now know about the situation, especially as related to IVF. This is where it was particularly interesting to compare my week-to-week blessings with my overall thoughts from the year in review. For instance, one of the blessings said "We got one fertilized egg from our first retrieval!". I now know, as I re-read this, that the egg didn't make it to the blastocyst stage (the stage where it could be transferred). Or for the next retrieval, the one that said "Our embryo made it to blastocyst stage!". Looking back, I remember the heartbreak a week later when we found out that this embryo had complex genetic abnormalities that meant it wouldn't survive, and the additional absolute gut punch when I read the report from the testing and, not being prepared at all for it, saw that they included the sex of our embryo. And yet, despite how extremely difficult it was to lose two embryos back to back (yes, even with them still being in the lab, it felt like a horrible loss), looking back at these notes, I can almost feel again how excited and hopeful I was, even if reading them made me tear up with sadness at our losses. It's an interesting dichotomy, to be both sad at knowing the end result, but still appreciate how much joy it gave me in the moment, and hopefully will again as we go through subsequent IVF cycles.
- There were blessings in my jar related to things that I somehow totally forgot, with everything else that happened in 2021. For instance, one read "Us (Brian & I), family, loved ones all safe from hurricane/storm Ida". I know I'm extremely fortunate to be able to say this, because it means I wasn't greatly impacted by it, but I actually forgot that Storm Ida happened this year. It also reminds me how quickly we tend, as individuals and as a society, to move on from things that don't directly impact us in the day to day, and this gives me pause. I'm know there are so many other crises that happened this year that I've allowed to get swept away in the current of so much else, and it reminds me to be more cognizant of this - that just because something isn't making headline news anymore (or ever) doesn't mean it isn't still happening/the effects aren't still lingering, or that it doesn't matter.