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. 


Nurture

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. 


Nourish

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. 


Release

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. 

There were certainly more than these four themes, but these were among the most notable and interesting aspects I discovered as I went though the jar. My jar is now empty again, 2021's "blessings" stored away safely, and ready to start again in 2022. It will be interesting, as I go through the year, to see where the themes overlap from the previous year, and what new ones arise. 





Monday, December 27, 2021

2021 Year In Review

 The past few of yeas, I've tried to do a year in review post - a look back on the past year. In 2020, this felt especially tricky, seeing as nobody (including myself) actually did anything. To be honest, 2021 felt a lot of the same. If anything 2021 feels a bit more isolating for me, because the "we're all in this together" has vanished, and I'm feeling the disconnect more keenly. But still, 2021 has personally been a pretty eventful year, especially for a year in which I'm still not really doing much. 


Work

I started the year in a new job - technically I started Dec 7, 2020, but I  was basically still in training until 2021. In the past year, I've grown in the roll and responsibilities, now training vendors on the same system I was still learning a year ago. I've taken on special projects and feel like I've learned so much in such a short time. We were supposed to go back to the office in May, which turned into hybrid office/work from home in September, which turned into February, which we now just found out will be April 2022 at the earliest. I won't lie, I've been desperately missing the days of running my own business, of having my storefront, but if I'm going to work for a company that's not mine,  I'm so grateful to work for a company that truly is putting its employees first. 


My home office/yoga room, featuring Grace.


Home

On April 30th, we closed on a house in Merchantville, NJ. It's a single family house built in 1918, with all the charm of a century plus old home but the upgrades of a modern home (though we've had our share of upgrades in terms of things like electric and plumbing).  It has a yard, an in ground pool, and tons of natural light, and  is a mile and a half from where I grew up. I have my office/yoga room in the sunroom, which I absolutely love. We sold our condo in Philly and while it was bittersweet to leave the city, knowing it will likely be the last time I live there, I absolutely love our new home and community. I wouldn't change it - this is where I want to be at this point in my life. 


My husband and I in front of our new house just after closing. 


Chronic Illness

In February I got what I  initially thought was a cyst in my wist. Within a couple of days I realized that it was exponentially swelling and getting hot and red and was most likely not a cyst, but an infection. I got into a hand specialist quickly, and he thought it was likely a one-off infection as well. As a precaution, to rule out a fracture or growth, he did an x-ray.  The xr-ay revealed that the tissue in my hand was calcifying, and I got diagnosed with a condition called Calcium Pyrophosphate Deposition Disease (CPPD). CPPD was formerly known as pseudogout, because the symptoms mimic gout, but without the uric acid issue. There's not a ton known about CPPD. I asked my specialist if it was autoimmune like Rheumatoid Arthritis or more of a "wear and tear" type of arthritis like Osteoarthritis (which I also have) and he said they don't really know. I don't know if the infection activated  CPPD somehow, or if it just caused the existing condition to flare and it was because of the infection that I sought treatment and discovered the CPPD. Either way, I now have two forms of arthritis , but I'm lucky that it hasn't really flared since. 


IVF

Perhaps the biggest event this year (yes, bigger than buying and selling a house and moving back to New Jersey) is that we started IVF treatment. For those who don't know, we've been trying to conceive for over three years. My being 42 (41 when we started), we were put straight into IVF, after initial tests showing no obvious issues of why we haven't been able to conceive. We've gone through two rounds of egg retrieval, but haven't yet made it to point at which we can do a transfer. We had a break after our last round, due to the lab closing for two weeks in mid-December (so they couldn't start any new IVF rounds), but I go for my next bloodwork on 12/28, and if all looks good, we'll start another round in early January. IVF is... a lot. It's a lot on the body (injections in the belly and thigh multiple times a day, blood work and pelvic ultrasound every couple of days, all the hormones), and it's a lot on the mind and heart. It's physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting and exciting at the same time. Each round is another chance that it could work, that this could be the round where you make it to the transfer, where that transfer sticks, where you finally are pregnant, where your dreams of becoming parents are finally realized. At the same time, you know the statistics, the history, the disappointment that each previous round has brought. It's intense in every way possible, and at times, feels all consuming - especially in a pandemic when you don't have the usual activities and visits and such to serve as a distraction while you await the next test results, the next steps, or when you get the news you hoped you wouldn't. Plus, or course there's all the hormones, having to inject yourself in the belly and thigh multiple times a day, your schedule having to work around those because they're time sensitive. There's the fact that for the 10 days leading up to retrieval and two weeks afterwords, I can't work out or do yoga, two activities that usually help my anxiety and depression when I'm struggling, which means I've had to be creative with my healthy coping strategies.  But even with all of this, I also realize I'm privileged to even have the chance to go through this - so many do not. Also, a big shout out here to my husband, who has gone to every single appointment with me, even the ones where I had to be in Philly at 6:45 AM for something basic like bloodwork. Nearly always, he's the only partner there. But he knows how I will panic if I can't find parking and am running late or if, completely hypothetical of course, the elevator shuts down while I'm on it and I burst into terrified tears on the way to my appointment in front of strangers. Also, he's excellent at assisting me with the trigger shots, and let me tell you, when you have a several inch long needle going into your butt cheek, it's a godsend to have someone who knows what they're doing and doesn't balk at doing it. 

Headed into an egg retrieval


Holidays

For the past 5 plus years, we've lived in a condo, so while we had lights up around our bedroom and deck (which stayed up all year to be honest) and an artificial Christmas tree (which, embarrassingly, also stayed up all year one year), we didn't get to do the live tree, outdoor lights (minus the deck) thing, nor did we get to hand out halloween candy or have people over for a BBQ for summer holidays, nothing like that. In May, we moved into our house. We were still cautious around others, but the outdoor space gave us room to more safely see people. For Father's Day, my younger brother and his family came into town, and we had them and my parents over to the pool. It was an absolute blast. It felt like being on one of our family vacations (because there's always been a pool) albeit in NJ, and at our own home. But still, so much fun. On labor day, weekend we had my parents over for a fire pit in the backyard and dinner. Nothing huge, but still, the ability to "host" a get together in our own home. 

Halloween in my town is HUGE. The town I live in is called Merchantville, but every October, they turn it into Monsterville - literally, they put something up over the "Welcome To" sign to change it to "Monsterville". The stores have a halloween decorating contest, homes are done up like haunted houses. And Halloween itself... it's unreal. We set up a table out front (and were masked the whole time) and had kids lined up down the block for a solid 3 hours before we finally ran out of candy. It's not an exaggeration to say we probably saw over 300 kids, and that was before we had to "close up shop" because we ran out two hours before trick or treating ended. If we'd had enough, I imagine we would have had probably 500 trick or treaters. Not only that, but everyone is dressed up. I mean everyone. The parents, the kids, dogs, some people handing out candy. One person just kept driving around the block for probably a solid hour, playing "scary" music for ambiance. I've never seen anything like it. We actually took notes on how we need to plan and up our Halloween game for next year. 

On Thanksgiving my brother's family came into town, and while we celebrated at my parents' house for most of the day, my husband and I hosted dessert. Well, we provided the venue anyway - my dad made all of the pies. But we had everyone over, and we hung out in our upstairs family room watching football, enjoying the fireplace, eating dessert. 

And most recently, Christmas. We got a real tree! In fact, we have two trees up - the real one and the artificial one that we had from the condo. We also have a 9-foot artificial tree that we bought from the people that sold us the house for a steal, because it wouldn't fit in their new house. We didn't put that up, since we felt three trees was ambitious for our first year in the house. We decorated the front porch with lights and got a light up wreath (artificial) for the front door. We got decorated various rooms in the house. It was so much fun. 

Suffice it to say, I absolutely love having a house for the holidays. 


Our home decorated for Christmas.


Family

In 2020, my family was supposed to take our biannual (every other year, not twice a year) family vacation. That means my parents, all five of us siblings, spouses, and all of my siblings kids'. There are 20 of us in total. We had luxury cabins booked outside of Sedona for a week - at least I think it was a week, honestly it seems like a lifetime ago - and then were going to head to Scottsdale area to one giant house (our usual family vacation style) for the last  two or three nights of the trip. With us being spread across the country, these trips are often the only time we all are able to get together. Needless to say, that 2020 trip didn't happen. In fact, from March 2020 on, the only family I saw were my parents and twice outside, I saw one of my brothers and his family. Finally, this summer I got to see all of my siblings and their families. It had been  a year and half since I'd seen my older brother, two years since I'd seen one sister, and three since I'd seen the other. We weren't all together at the same time, but I got to see each of them, and it was wonderful. We spent the majority of our time outside, and everyone 13 and over was fully vaccinated (kids 5-12 couldn't be vaccinated at the time, but they are now!). I have no idea when we'll be able to do another family vacation. As of now, we're hoping for Summer 2023, but it's obviously a bit of a moving target - it won't be sooner, but it could be later.  Still, I was so grateful to see everyone, even if it wasn't all together and we did have to stay mostly outside. It renewed me, especially as we went into the fall, and now winter, with new variants, and it's tougher to see people again.


We didn't get many pics of us in the pool, so here's Grace again.


Personal and Spiritual Reconnection 

I spent a lot of time feeling isolated, disconnected from others, lonely, and kind of forgotten about.invisible this year (outside of immediate family/loved ones and a couple of close friends). Which I won't sugar coat it, kind of sucked. As I watched the world move back towards a normal I was not and am still not comfortable with (because of covid, but also because I just don't believe our pre-covid "normal" was normal to begin with, or should have been), I felt quite out of site out of mind to many. Which I have to, rather sucked. But the fact that I have still mostly been staying home, and haven't been as connected with the outside world, allowed me to shift the focus to other forms of connection, namely with myself and with something greater than myself (which I realize some people will groan/roll their eyes at, and you are absolutely entitled to your thoughts on the matter, as I am mine). Both of these connections are ones I've struggled with in the past - the spiritual connection because my spiritual beliefs/faith doesn't quite fit in a box that people often like to use for these categories. For a long time, I thought that meant I didn't fit anywhere, that I was somehow not doing faith or spirituality right. But going through yoga teacher training, where we were encouraged to explore the concept of Isvara Pranidhanadva", the idea of "your own personal connection with something greater than yourself/the universe/God/whatever term you used  (in YTT we called it 'Your Own Personal Jesus' and I really hope people get this reference), helped me to feel more comfortable in exploring my faith and spirituality in a way that resonated with me. This, along with my own personal exploration of self and working with my therapist for many, many years, has helped me to also dive deeper into my connection with myself. There was a long time where I felt like I'd forgotten who I was (like, until this past summer/fall). I still feel a bit on shaky ground here. I explained in a previous post how I feel like I've spent so much time trying to form to what others want or suggest or need, that I've lost who I am without all of those influences. So I've begun working on rediscovering this. It's an ongoing journey. I've been doing a lot of processing of things that I should have processed more a while ago, both external and internal situations.


Writing

After publishing my novel in 2019, and then doing a lot of blogging on yoga and wellness on my other website in 2020, 2021 was a bit lacking in the writing department. But some of my family members and I started a virtual writing circle, where every couple of weeks a different person suggested a prompt, and we all wrote our pieces, shared with each other via google drive, and offered up thoughts on each others' pieces (honestly that it may have started in 2020, it's all kind of merging together). Despite having several blogs, having my works on multiple sites and publications, being published in an anthology, and having self-published my novel, I am still extremely leery to show my work to others - especially my non blog style type of work (blogging feels different, maybe because it's my life and nobody's more of an "expert" on what's going on in my life  or how I'm feeling about it than me, so I don't mind so much). So having the opportunity to write and share with people, along with prompts that took me well out of my wheelhouse of blog style writing about myself, provided an ideal opportunity to expand and explore my writing and my creativity. 

I also began blogging again, and it's felt really good to get back to this outlet. For a while, I felt a bit like I wasn't sure what to say, like I had blogged for years and it didn't really seem to go anywhere.  But I've missed it, and when I think back to why I started blogging in the first place - to share my story, both as a bit of a catharsis for myself, and in hopes that it might help others that also are struggling - it doesn't matter if it "goes anywhere", if I get tons of followers or comments or whatever. If it helps me and it helps one other person reading it, that's enough. 

Finally, I started writing another fiction piece. I'm not sure exactly where it's going to lead. Maybe a short story, maybe a novel (or a mini novel), maybe just another piece written in my notebook. Similar to when I started writing Johanna's Secret, the literally came to me overnight. With Johanna's Secret, I woke up with the opening sentence in my head. With this piece, I had a dream, and a particular character, and connection with that character stuck with me. Ironically, it's not the protagonist of the book, and yet I've built the story around that person. Whatever it turns out to be, I'm enjoying writing a story again, and curious to see where it leads. 

 

Morning writing and coffee session


As I look back over this year, it held a lot of conflicting feelings. Feeling like I wasn't doing anything at all (day to day because pandemic) but simultaneously doing really big life things like buying a house and moving and starting IVF.  This year I both realized how lost I've been feeling, and began to navigate back towards myself.  I've worked through so many emotions, often at the same time, often that are seem like they're odds with each other, but that must all exist and be felt as part of the healing process.  As always, life with a rapid mood cycling disorder is a lot of ups and downs. Add in a pandemic, IVF hormones, and drastically increased anxiety, and it's been an emotionally tumultuous year. But I've also found pieces of myself long forgotten, pieces of my spiritual connection, of my deepest self when the influences of the outside world are as stripped away as possible, and those have been extremely grounding and comforting. It's these pieces, along with the closeness of family and loved ones and closest friends - even when I can't see them in person,  that I will hold onto and continue to explore as we move into 2022. 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Little By Little

 In my last post, I shared how I've been struggling with my emotional and mental health, and have started digging deep into some healing work with the help of my therapist. One of the challenges that's been especially frustrating for me is that I haven't felt like myself lately. And by lately, I actually mean it's been quite a while, but it's something that's been slowly building, that I noticed glimpses of from time to time, but that I hadn't stopped to actually fully digest and think about.

 I acknowledge that many of us have likely felt this way over the past year and a half, when so much of what we thought of as an integral part of "who we are and what we do", vanished. Whether it was losing a job during the pandemic that had been an integral part of your life for years, or the inability to do the activities that you're so passionate about, or the changes you noticed within yourself when we were all quarantined and couldn't see one another, I suspect this year has had a bit of a "what's going on and who am I and what is this life" affect on a large number of people. For me though, it's more than that. Yes, I absolutely miss traveling, and running my travel business full time (which was something I stopped doing full time pre-pandemic, but pandemic made it obvious that it wasn't going to be an option any time soon). Obviously, I missed seeing loved ones when restrictions were at their tightest and still miss seeing so many friends. I miss teaching yoga in person, being able to participate in group activities. The loneliness and isolation is something I've shared about in both my previous post and on social media. But this is more than that. 

What I've noticed is that the vibrance has drained out of me. I've always been a person that's absolutely loved living life. Even when life was at its toughest (and those of you close to me know that there have been some extremely tough and dark times), I've always been a passionate person, a person with so many ideas and convictions and thoughts and opinions. I've always had a project or a plan I'm excited about, and if I don't, I find one or I create one. To be clear, I don't do this to "keep busy". I do this because I live life curiously and immersively (if that's a word).  When I was younger (teens, early adult-hood), I was never been a person that's afraid to take up space in the world. I was optimistic and hopeful, and granted, some of it could have been naivety, but most of it wasn't. Most of it was that I believed that I was capable and worthy and enough. I think about myself as a teenager, when I tried out for every single solo in chorus (and I got one every year), or all through gymnastics when I routinely did the hardest level routines I could. I never thought "I might try to do this and not make it". In fact, it was a bit the opposite - I'd be like "eh, you know what, I think I'm going to throw this trick in competition that I've literally never landed in practice". (I can't say I recommend this by the way - I did a lot of landing on my head and crotching the beam in my teen years). Or even as an adult, when I quit my full time job to start my travel business in a brick and mortar storefront. I literally never had the thought "what if I don't succeed". And again, this isn't the best business strategy, I realize 16 years later, to not think of what could go wrong. But the point is, I didn't doubt myself. I went after my dreams because I was sure I could make them happen. 

And yet over the years, I've watched this shift drastically. I've watched my belief in myself, my feeling of worthiness and being capable, my self-acceptance all but disintegrate. I've watched myself step into the background. I've watched myself become a people pleaser, a person so afraid to rock the boat.  I've watched myself fold in on myself, absorbing everyone around me until I'm not sure which ways of doing things, which preferences ,are my own, and which are other people's that I've taken on. It's like if for years, the only clothes you owned were ones other people bought for you. Then one day someone asked you what your style was, and you realize you have no idea, because for years you've only every dressed in clothes others gave you. It's not that others were ill-meaning in buying you clothes - in fact, probably quite the opposite, they wanted to do something nice for you. And it's not that you don't appreciate the clothes, you do. But you have no idea what style is actually yours without any other influence. What do you actually want to wear? What do you feel best in? What makes you feel most like you? 

I want to be clear, I'm not talking about accepting everyone else's ideas without thought. For instance take my vegetarianism and not buying animal products- I'm not going to start eating meat and buying leather if others tell me I should (note: they don't, this was just an easy example). My morals and ethics and values are not up for debate, and in these thing, I know exactly who I am. But it's the smaller pieces of life, the "what do you want to do" or "how should we do this" type of  the decisions we make every day, that don't seem like they'll alter you all that much, but when they're constantly filtered through everyone else's preferences and wants and needs, end up adding up. Eventually you realize you're not even sure what the answer to these types of questions are without all of the external influences. I've also noticed that this is leading to inertia, which I adamantly dislike feeling. I can't really explain why, except that when you feel like you're not really yourself, it's tough to be motivated. You stop making suggestions or voicing your opinion or taking initiative, not only with others, but with yourself. In turn, that makes me feel even less like myself, and it becomes a vicious cycle. 

This is where I have been lately, and although I know it's a pattern for me, it's really hitting home this time. I know, if I can get past the low self-esteem and lack of confidence and low self-worth, that my opinions are valuable, that I have something to offer others, the world, by being myself. So, along with the work that I'm doing with my therapist, I've started a new daily ritual. Each day, I list two things that I want to do - they're often seemingly insignificant things, small things that I need or want to get done, or occasionally, small ways of treating myself, to remind myself that I matter. It might be something fun or silly, it might be something that needs to get done and I've been putting it off. And each day, I've been working to make sure that I do these two things. Not only does it give me a feeling of autonomy, because I'm the person choosing these things and doing them, but it helps me push through the inertia, which then makes me feel better about myself, more like the self that has was such a self-starter, so determined and passionate and felt like she could make things happen. 

It's not a momentous change. In fact, if I'd not written about it, I doubt anyone else would even know it. But it's taking the daunting and often impossible-feeling task of "rediscover myself" and breaking it down to manageable pieces and daily action steps, that I'm hopeful can get me there little by little. 



Friday, November 19, 2021

A Long Overdue Update

Hello Friends! It's been a while since I've written. A ton has happened in the past year-ish, and I've been navigating through all of the changes. I've missed writing here though, so I thought I'd give it a go. I can't promise how frequent it will be, but you've got to start (again) somewhere, right? 

For those who haven't been up to date on my life in the past year, here's a quick breakdown of what's happened. 

  • In mid-Oct 2020 I got laid off from my job. Our contract ended, and due to covid, there weren't other contract spots for those of us that had been at the site where I'd been working. 
  • In early December 2021, I got a new job, working in Transportation Management Systems/Global Logistics for a retail company in the off-price market sector (I realize I sound like I'm doing a generic intro on Wheel of Fortune here, but I try to keep my job and my advocacy/blogging separated, since this is in no way affiliated with my job). I work for a great company. It's extremely different than working for myself, which I miss terribly, but as far as 9-5s go, I can't complain. And we're still working from home until at least early 2022, so I'm liking that. In fact, if I could choose to permanently work from home, I would in a heartbeat.  But that's a soapbox for another day. 
  • This past spring, we sold our Condo in Philly and bought a home in Merchantville, NJ (which means we also changed states and are now NJ residents again). Our house is basically my dream house. It's a Tudor style front, but more victorian-y inside, with the perfect combination modern updates ad older character. It has a fenced in backyard for our dog Grace (and us) and an in-ground pool, multiple fireplaces, gorgeous hardwood floors, and an abundance of unique features. As much as I've loved living in the city in the past, I'm loving living in Merchantville now, close to where I grew up (literally 1.5 miles away from my childhood home where my parents still live), having all the space, both indoors and out, and being part of this smaller community. 
  • We started IVF treatment. Of all of the changes we've gone through in the past year, this has been the most intense, the most emotional. Being 42 and trying to get pregnant for the first time, I'm on a pretty intensive regimen (did I mention it's intense?). I feel lucky that so far, I've reacted to the meds better than I expected. Considering that IVF meds can have major effects on mood, and I live with a mood disorder, I was expecting it to be extremely rough, and my side effects have been pretty low. That said, I haven't yet done an embryo transfer, so there are some medications I believe are in store for me when we get to that stage that are some of the heavy hitters. But until then, I'll enjoy doing pretty well with the meds. The stress of IVF, on the other hand, is tough. It's physically demanding on the body - shots in the belly and thigh multiple times a day, multiple doctor appointments weekly for bloodwork and pelvic ultrasound is intense. Moreso, there's the emotional aspect. Each step of the way, you have to prepare yourself for exciting or difficult news, none of which you actually have control over, other than to follow doctors orders with meds and such: Do you have follicles big enough for egg retrieval? How many eggs did they get from the retrieval (if any)? How many of those eggs fertilized (if any)? How many of those fertilized eggs made it to the blastocyte stage (the stage where they could do an embryo transfer)? Do those blastocyte embryos pass the chromosomal test  (at 42, chromosomal testing is highly advised)? It's a lot, and each time you get through one stage, you have to prep yourself for the next. And each time it doesn't make it to the next stage, there's a massive sense of loss, of grief. 

Mentally and emotionally, despite doing well with the IVF meds, I've been struggling a bit. Since going through IVF puts me at higher risk, in addition to underlying health conditions and having higher risk loved ones, I'm still being extremely limited in my activities, since covid is still a concern for me, even vaxxed and boosted. I've seen immediate family, and a couple of friends, always one on one (or one couple, if they're couple friends). With the exception of immediate family, I see people almost exclusively outside, which means that as winter approaches, unless my friends are up for bundled up walks or snow-related activities, I'm likely to have even fewer interactions. I don't yet feel safe, nor is it doctor advised, for me to do so many of the things I love: travel,  in person yoga, events/festivals/concerts, (group) special events for loved ones. So the feeling of isolation, of loneliness ,as the rest of the world (or most of it) seems to be moving back to "before times, is high. On top of that, I'm not getting to participate in many activities and pieces of life that bring me joy and enjoyment. While I realize that the pandemic has had a much greater effect on many lives than feeling isolated and not feeling joy, this is beginning to take its toll on me. I'm really missing connecting, even virtually. I'm as tired of zoom gatherings as everyone else, but it seems like the connection that everyone ramped up during 2020 - the virtual get togethers, the group texts of friends and family, the checking in on each other regularly, finding creative ways to connect, has gone by the wayside, and I miss it. I'm an introvert, so I don't need (or want) the huge group events and such, but I do value deep and meaningful connection with those close to me. 

In addition, I've lately begun working more deeply through some personal struggles. As much as I focus on my mental health, my strategy when going through some extremely difficult situations in the past has always been to kind of plow forward and just "deal" with it. I often didn't stop to see how life and situations that arise are taking their toll on my self worth, self-esteem, ability to love and accept myself. I've always focused so hard on just getting through that I often haven't paused to see the lasting effects. Added to the stress of IVF and the isolation mentioned above, it's catching up with me lately. The good thing is, I realize now that this is a struggle that needs to be addressed. That addressing it is, in fact, long overdue. I know I can't continue to just keep trying to get through it, that I need to dig deep into this, do the work and give myself the time and space to heal. As difficult as it is, in a strange way, I'm looking forward to it. I want to reach that place that's on the other side of "just getting through", that place that maybe I don't struggle quite as much with things like self-love and acceptance. I know that these will likely never be easy for me. Depression and anxiety and mood cycling make that elusive, and I can't just work harder and make it go away. I have an illness, one that's lifelong, and I understand this will always be a challenge. But I can take steps to help. It will likely get more difficult before it gets better. Wading through healing, and the pain that requires it.  Letting go of things long held, even false negative beliefs about oneself, can be a convoluted and emotional process. I liken it to a physical injury - when I broke my leg and tore ligaments as a teenager, I had to go through surgery and PT.  Before surgery, my broken leg had mostly healed, and my joint had semi-adjusted to not having a PCL I actually felt *almost* back to normal. Except that it wasn't sustainable. Eventually, my leg with it's un-healing fracture and my knee without it strongest ligament would give out, and I'd be in an even worse position. So I had surgery and PT.  And the recovery was arduous and painful and I cried a ton and I battled it out with my PT, but I knew I was healing. In the end, my leg, even with it's scars and scar tissue and the three screws and a wire that I still have in it, is so much more healthy, so much stronger, than it would have been if I'd not gone through all of that, if I'd left it alone and not tried to heal fully. And it's the same with my mental and emotional health. 

So that's where I am. I remember a family member once saying, of raising kids, that the days are long and the years are short. Although obviously a way different scenario, life right now feels a bit like that. There's simultaneously so much going on, and also sometimes so little (i.e. no travel, no yoga classes, no gatherings or events, less connecting with people, etc). But I know I'm making progress. I know that I'm mentally and emotionally healthier than I've been in a long time - the fact that I feel ready(ish - as I'll ever be) to dig through so much and work so deeply on healing attests to that. In the short term, I'm excited for the holiday season - especially the first holiday season in our new house. I'm trying to also focus on these smaller joys. They are also part of the healing process, of stepping back into myself, of finding small hopes in the every day. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

New Beginnings

 I know I promised to get back to writing on here, and in truth, I have drafted a few blogs but not yet gotten them published. The past few weeks have been a bit mentally and emotionally hectic. I've been wading through a few things that I haven't been able to share publicly, some of which I'm now able to. 

Yesterday was my last day at the company where I've worked for the past 2.5 years. I'm super grateful for the opportunities I've had there - I have the chance to work in administrative capacities in both Borough management and L&I/Code departments, which is certainly something I hadn't done before, and I learned so much. I also feel incredibly fortunate that I've made it to Oct 2020 with a job - I know there are so many that have been dealing with job loss since the early spring. 

Today is my first day of being unemployed and it feels ... weird. Not bad weird, but weird. Partly, it's a schedule thing. I'd been back in the office since June, so it's not even like I'm transitioning from WFH to ..... not WFH. And even during quarantine when I was working from home, I had set hours (because that's when the Borough was open) so I logged on and off at set times. Now, I have no schedule. And I'm sure I'll get into a rhythm, but for this first day, it feels strange. It's not a holiday or a long weekend. I'm not off for a Dr appointment or anything. I'm just not working. 

It's funny, for years I ran my own company full time and for much of that time, worked from home or coworking facilities.  Even when I had my storefront, I created my own schedule, so the feeling of not having to get up get ready and keep a set schedule shouldn't be all that unfamiliar to me. But for the past seven years or so, not only have I worked in an office, but I've worked in jobs with set shifts. When I worked at a conference center, my was driven by the events being held, and most recently at the Boroughs, it was based on Boroughs operating hours. So it feels unusual to not have to be at a set place at a specific time. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE having autonomy over my schedule, which is one of the things I enjoyed so much about working for myself (and one of the many reasons I'm a huge advocate for companies offering flexible working arrangements where feasible). I'm just not used to it these days. 

In addition, being at home (technically I'm actually writing this from my parents' house) on my personal computer, which hasn't gotten much use since I went back to the 9-5 type job, brings me back to the days of running my travel business, of working for myself. And there's an ache, both a nostalgia but also a longing, to make this a reality again. At the same time, the timing probably is not quite right, considering that we've been looking to buy a house (we're in a one bedroom condo right now), along with other factors. Plus, there's the fact that my primary industries in terms of doing my own thing are Travel and Wellness/Yoga/Health, and both of those industries are suffering big time right now. I'm not going to book anyone on international trips during a global pandemic (I wouldn't for ethical reasons, even if countries were letting us in). I'm not in a place where I personally feel comfortable (i.e. safe) teaching yoga and wellness class live, especially without masks, and I certainly won't be planning any in person programs or retreats any time soon. My zoom classes are going well, but I'm not at the point where I feel they'd be enough full time, in and of themselves (financially speaking). I'm feeling this pull of freedom, of autonomy, of entrepreneurship which I love so much, or my path, but I don't know that I'm in a place to follow it just yet, and not quite knowing where my next step will be. In addition, since my major industries are not thriving right now, knowing where to look for a job that might fit, or what type of job I would want to find, is tricky. 

Still, I'm looking at this as a new beginning. It's a little tough because it wasn't a planned new beginning, and it's not a certain new beginning - i.e. it's not like when I left my job in Fitness to start my own travel company, where everything was a bit uncertain (and in hindsight I had little idea of what I was doing other than the actual planning of travel), but it was exhilarating, hopeful, and I had a firm direction that I was moving towards. With this, that's not the case. Still, I'm trying to stay open. I'm trying to approach this new place I'm in with curiosity and excitement at possibility. I think that it will work out. I simply don't know how it will work out, or if the next step is going to feel like it's the right path or the necessary one for the current situation, that I can later look back and realize had to be part of the journey all along.  I'm sitting with a lot of feelings. I'm allowing them all. I'm laughing. I'm tearing up. I'm anxious. I'm smiling. I'm reveling in the ability to control my day and my time, and dealing with anxiety over uncertainty. I'm feeling them all, while trying not to hold too tightly to any of them. It's a practice of yoga in everyday life.