be a better human, depression, empathy, family, giving, reading, social media, stuff, talking

Lightbulb Moment

I don’t know about you, but the holidays do weird things to me. Maybe it’s the expectations, the build-up to the plans and alllllll the social media posts about gifts received, proposals accepted, pregnancies announced. I’m not alone in that I compare my life to others’ online depictions of theirs. Maybe it’s the fact that when an acquaintances asks how the holidays were, the mutually assumed answer is somewhere along the lines of “great! Relaxing! Quiet! Perfect!” And it is definitely the pressure of the societal narrative for New Year’s Eve. Overall, the holidays can leave me feeling single af, jealous and lame.

This one didn’t.

This season, there was plenty of weird. Plans that fell through, my underemployed status yet going to work for a few hours when family was in town… And then the sympathy cards.

Three people in my circle lost parents this holiday season. I knew none of these people, but I know the loved ones they left behind. I know that no sympathy card ever feels just right. Each one got closer and closer to me and my daily life. And as an empath, I hurt for these people. I hope that I can help share their sadness and pain, and that they come to find peace.

But despite being a little sad, I did not stay in my room during all of my downtime. I did not get angry at myself each time I slept past my alarm (often). I did not beat myself up about not having plans. I did not fixate on my closet (at least, not more than usual) or try to find comfort in retail therapy (JK JK I did both those last two, but in the interest of getting rid of things I don’t wear). So, some of my old habits sneaked in, in the form of spending money I don’t have and some social anxiety stuff, but overall I was more present.

Nothing drastically different than what I usually do, but this time I was nicer to myself about it. Just let myself do what I was going to do, without wishing I were somewhere else doing something fancier with more people, more fun, more photos or more gifts. In the interest of doing/getting more of what I need, I called people. I wrote and mailed letters, gave myself permission to watch Netflix, snuggled with my cats, and read some books. I enjoyed spending time with my mom and brother during their visit (and picked fewer fights than usual). I made my New Year’s Eve plan on New Year’s Eve and though I only knew one person there, it turned out to be great because that one person is a great friend. When I’m feeling like I don’t want to/need not to be alone, I only need to reach out to my people and be honest with them (hard for people who want to be self-reliant/independent).

My holidays may have been at times great or quiet, but they certainly were not perfect.  They were indicative of real life and the pleasures and pains that arise from it. While the rest of the world is feeling like “back to work, aka real life,” I:

  • a) don’t have to go back to work yet–don’t be jealous, as I would LOVE TO. Seriously, if you have something you will pay me to do, I am ALL EARS. Especially if it is cleaning out your closet, because that is one of my passions in life. I would also do this for free lol
  • b) never left real life.

The holidays were the affirmation and reboot I needed, proof that I am making baby steps towards being a better family member and less anxious, more fulfilled human (though still obviously have plenty of work to do).

As I mentioned, I frequently judge myself for not having plans/staying in. During these times, my room felt more like a cave. Yesterday, I happened to look up, and I saw that one of the bulbs in the light fixture had burned out. It undoubtedly has been out for months but I was too depressed/didn’t pay enough attention to investigate/find a solution.

There may not be a better symbol for 2018. The room (and year) is already looking a little brighter.

anxiety, career, community, coworkers, depression, kindness, meditation, writing

Goodbye, library

Subtitle: holy radio silence, Batman!

It has been three months of stress and movement and decision-making, which is my least favorite kind of making. My blog has been silent this whole time because I haven’t wanted to write. Or, I didn’t want to write without knowing the conclusion, but the spark for this post existed a month ago; consider the rest a “here goes!” rather than a definitive resolution/conclusion/tying up of loose ends. There are still so many loose ends. Anyway…

—-

I have heard of family traditions where when they drive away from their house upon moving out, they ceremonially say, “goodbye, house!”

This was not my family’s tradition. We were too busy covering or not covering our emotions, as I don’t think we ever moved out of a house with only positive, looking-forward excitement. There were always reasons to move, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like change.

I still don’t. But as I provided the last SEVEN YEARS’ worth of addresses for a background check for a new position, I couldn’t even remember one of the eight addresses/apartment number from that time period. For funsies, I took an average of how long I lived in each place (min= 3 months, max= 2 years) for a less-than-ideal 10.25 months.

All this to say: of course, I’m moving again. And this time, I’m moving away from the most consistent “home” and family I have had in my adult life. I have to say “goodbye, library.” More reliable and consistent than any living quarters has been my part-time public library. Though not always perfect (what workplace is?), I have found community and learned so much from this place. I love it there, and no matter how bad a series of days I was having, coming to work there or just stopping in and seeing my colleagues was a source of light and pride. Not only do I love knowing and working with coworkers and customers, I, no joke, am such a nerd that my first thought at the start of the ‘should-I-leave?’ thought process was, “I can’t possibly move; I have so many books on my for-later shelf!” But as we all know, libraries are much more than books. Especially my library.

—-

And, as the case goes when I force myself into plans I’m not ready for, I recognized what I had done super quickly. The move was something I thought I “should” do, not what I wanted to do at that exact moment in time. It had been The Plan, and who am I to amend The Plan? And not surprisingly, the job did not feel like a place I would want to call home. The living situation, absolutely. I am grateful to have such wonderful people who consistently open their homes to me and make me feel welcome and cozy. I love my family, and don’t like disappointing them.

But I don’t love movement for movement’s sake. I needed to move away from my toxic job. I needed to shake myself out of the funk that the job allowed/harbored/caused (depending on how much responsibility I want to claim). But what I’ve learned through meditating is that often when I want to run, it is a means of avoidance. Resistance. And resistance is futile. It is futile to resist negativity, because ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ Unless I address and correct the problems that made me unhappy in the first place, I will carry that negativity and unhappiness wherever I move. As a wise person told me, sometimes I need to stay still and work through “it” rather than trying to leave “it” behind.

So, I did end up saying goodbye to one library. I probably should (should-ing all over myself) have made that move much sooner, in order to support healthy boundaries and surround myself with people who inspire me and help me grow instead of the opposite. But I have spent almost every day this week at my happy place library, or in the company of the wonderful people who work there. They have invited me to book and writing events, and urged me to keep writing. They, as well as my tribe at home, have encouraged me about the job search and stated that above all, they want me to be happy and do what’s best for me. And that community, support and love from both places is more than I can ask for, especially when I lose trust in my decision-making and ability to know what is best for me.

My priority is to rebuild my career confidence (and confidence in general?), and to find a place where I will like what I do on a daily basis. This also means doing more things I like and that are good for me like meditating, writing, exercising, engaging with new people and experiences… all those things that bolster my strength to face and work through anxiety. Somewhere in the stress of decision-making and planning a move, many of those intentions fell by the wayside. Having anxiety requires constant vigilance! Being mindful means making a habit of noticing what my emotions are doing, and reconnecting to my body and the world outside myself. Like in one of my favorite Curious George quotations, for me, it is so easy to forget.

Unlike Curious George, this story doesn’t have a pleasing ending yet. But I do promise to be more present for all the people close to my heart, whether geographically or figuratively.

anxiety, be a better human, depression, kindness, meditation, strangers, talking

Stress/Anxiety/Depression & Relaxation/Meditation/Vacation

I really needed a vacation.

Everyone in the US probably does, because we generally work too much and relax too little. For months, arguably longer, I have been stuck in a negative feedback loop about work and where I live and generally doing life “wrong,” or at least not in the way I want to. Turning 30 helped this third-life crisis, but anxiety has a brutal way of sinking its hooks in deep.

Vacation, it was! For a friend’s wedding. And this time, I was doing this one differently, even before I left. Responsible for the planning, my friend/co-traveler/co-bridesmaid told me she was too busy to weigh in on everything. She trusted me. I can just send her links and tell her what to pay. It was great! I like trust! And planning! Whereas in the past, I may have been paralyzed with the responsibility, this time around I welcomed the project and chose lodging, still giving my friend the right to veto.

Now, I like planning because I like having things set, determined. Unambiguous. My anxieties are particularly triggered by transportation and the timing/cost thereof. I proposed a suggested itinerary in February, and when I got the go-ahead for the general dates, I almost immediately booked my tickets, out of fear the price would surge. Because it always does when I wait. Normally, I would have just worked myself into a resentful panic about co-travelers 1/2 and them reserving their flights. I did not want to pressure others or myself, so instead, I did not. I just did what I needed to do and let her do the same. Co-traveler 2 didn’t schedule her flights until within a month of the wedding, but she was also busy and the plans were set up, and eventually it all worked out. It was fine!

This may make an underwhelming story, but it represents a TON of growth and improvement. Many vacations, I bring all my mental crap along with me and am unable to escape and enjoy myself. I can be cranky and wish I had just stayed home and saved the money. My goal for this trip, though, was to be truly present, enjoying the people and places around me. And then I made a plan to travel by myself on the first day, because the rest of co-travelers didn’t arrive until the next day and I had never traveled by myself ever, much less in a foreign land.

This would be good for me, I reasoned. I would see the beautiful sights I wanted to see, and I would be jolted out of my comfort zone (but not sooo far–I opted for a bus so that I would not have to book/catch multiple trains). I would arm myself with offline maps, and I would take responsibility for feeding and entertaining myself for a whole day! (Yes, technically, I do this at home, but that gets boring and tedious, and here I was Seizing The Day and such.) The jet lag would only serve to help me, I reasoned. Meeting a tour group at 7am would be fine, because I would fall asleep early!

Then I learned from my awesome Airbnb hostess that I had to catch a 6:09am bus. Even if arrival times are flexible, I tend to run late and stress myself about possibly being tardy. In this case, I also would have missed my whole day’s plan and flushed a bunch of money as well as my independent-lady-traveler-bragging-rights down the toilet.

I did the thing I was not supposed to do… I let myself fall asleep at 6:00pm–only to wake up at midnight, wide awake and counting down until my 5:00am alarm. Meditating didn’t work, because the anxiety of catching the bus was not letting me go. I was out of bed at sunrise after several hours of tossing and turning, and waiting at the (not-so-quickly-determined incorrect) bus stop at 5:45am. My fear had come true, and I walked past the correct bus stop, walking first to the one farther down and across the street. I did not learn this from the nun, the lone pedestrian who passed me and, kindly, attempted to speak to me though we didn’t share a language. Her, probably the person most inclined to help in the town, I was meek to ask for help. To admit I didn’t know what I was doing. Thankfully, anxiety-earliness meant I had budgeted enough time to miss one bus, and miss it, I did. Not for lack of trying–I sprinted, but to no avail. It was now 6:00. Fifteen minutes is a long time to stand in the cool morning air, hoping I wore the right thing for the day’s temperature, but shivering in the meantime. The sprinting woke me up, and I was not letting another bus leave without me. Not without a fight. I had no more time to spare. The next one didn’t display the same destination and it wasn’t slowing down, but I flagged it just in time. I had to actually speak to the driver, confirming my stop. He said yes! I was triumphant.

The morning was gorgeous, sunny and crisp. The past six hours of sleeplessness had been worth it, just to make this slow and uneventful bus at the nearest to sunrise I had seen in a long time. I looked out the windows at Rome as the locals lived it, away from the city center and the tourist lures. Another man got on, a local, and asked the driver for the same stop as I had–I cheered silently for his good fortune too. I wasn’t the only one who had to ask, plus, I now had a marker for whether I would miss my stop! I had made my plan, and now it was in motion. I would make it! It was destined to be a good experience, because I had already done the hardest part.

Before I started meditating, and actively working to be my best self, I would have been a monster that day. I would have whined and complained about how tired I was. I would maybe have succumbed to the anxieties and just emailed the tour company and asked for my money back because I didn’t want to even deal with leaving. In a nutshell, I would have let my thoughts derail me.

That day was not perfect, and I caught myself being unkind to my fellow tour-goers and to myself, but all in all, I didn’t complain because there was no one to complain to. I shushed myself and reminded myself that I had navigated the public transportation in a city where I barely spoke 10 phrases of the language. I thought with gratitude of my Airbnb hostess and how thorough and kind her directions were, despite my spastic communication. I grumbled a bit when lunch (a piece of fish and an espresso) cost $37, but, the views!! Nothing was bringing me down. This was my day.

So, I saw some marvelous sights: Pompeii in all its historical glory, and Positano, one of the most beautiful tourist traps of all time. It was a roller coaster of emotions, but I recommend traveling solo based on how independent it made me feel. And, I did it with the training wheels of a group tour where I just showed up! More adventurous folk plan trains and hike with backpacks and sleep outdoors! There are plenty of options. Either way, it was a great start to my vacation, made me open my eyes and explore.

The whole vacation did knock me out of my routine and funk…once I got over the post-vacation mini-depression of returning to real life. I wanted to leave being present on vacation, because coming back, I saw the same errors and flaws. Other than my motivation. I was the person who traipsed around Italy by herself: I didn’t let the self-pity last long. I went to a yoga class, and I reached out to an awesome friend who made room in her weekend for me. I wrote some postcards and thought about how lucky I am to have the friends and family I do. I returned to daily meditation. I feel recentered.

And my real life is far from all-bad. Yesterday, a customer came into the library looking for audiobooks by Pema Chodron. As I started to read the titles off to her, I commented to her that I hadn’t heard of her, but now wanted to listen to them! She raved about one, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. We had a lovely chat, she told me to read at least that book. When we introduced ourselves, I put out my hand to shake hers, but she said “I’m going to hug you, if that’s okay!” And she did. And it was. Vacation and meditation have mellowed me enough that strangers* hugging me is okay. In a nutshell, I’m feelin the love from the universe this week. The trick will be to manage my stress and keep the contentment/gratitude going as life sneaks back to normal.

Walking to bus station at sunrise, to Positano… Worth all the pennies.

 

*strangers who have two-way conversations with me about meditation and books first.