Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Easter Nostalgia

 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

Fog

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. 


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.