Friday, March 8, 2019

It's Not For Pinterest, It's For My Mental Health

Not my real home, by any means.

My mother-in-law recently visited and stayed with us for about a month. I wanted her to feel welcome and at home but most of the time, I wondered if my home felt too 'sterile' for her, too 'stiff'. I made it a point to keep repeating to her that I didn't care what she touched, used or whatever, I just wanted her to feel comfortable. But then she always made a comment about how neat and organized everything was, and though I took it as a compliment, I also wondered if my home made her feel stifled. I hope not. 

She isn't the first one to make that observation. Every so often someone would visit and give the same compliment about how neat and put together everything looks. I appreciate such comments but if I'm being totally honest, I can't say it gives me pride. A lot of the times I shrug it off, say thank you with a bit of a nervous laugh, and then, depending on how comfortable I am with the person, I say, "It helps my sanity"...or some iteration of that. I think people assume that I say that jokingly, but really I don't. 

I was prompted to write all this today because of Wendy Wisner's essay on Scary Mommy, where she admits to having the need to keep a neat home because of her anxiety disorder.

I, too, get stressed out with messes. I can tolerate a certain level of it but definitely not for a prolonged period of time. This is why I try not to linger too much in my husband's work space. I know I'd end up throwing a bunch of stuff or putting things away where he might no longer locate them, both of which will end in a fight, hence more tension and stress for me. I've learned that the best thing is to keep my blinders on and offer him some help in organizing every now and then. 

Don't get me wrong, no space in my house is perfect, and my office in particular is not as clutter-free as I want it to be. However, I always feel the need to have 'stacks' or 'groupings' or 'containerized messes', basically any method that just allows me to see open, clear surfaces...breathing room, if you will. Otherwise, it becomes unbearable for me, and I feel suffocated. 

When messes build up in my space (I'm not one to judge other people's homes), I get cranky, my chest feels tighter than normal, I get tension headaches, and then I can't control the compulsion to tear through the messy space and ruthlessly declutter. There have been a few times when my husband has had to step in to snap me out of this trance and call me out on my unreasonable grouchiness. It's not a pretty sight, which is why I've learned that the secret is to not let any space I frequently see get to that point of chaos.

The relationship between clutter and stress isn't anything new. The science behind it was even further highlighted by a UCLA study of 32 families in Los Angeles confirming that the more 'stuff' one possessed, the more elevated the stress hormones were, particularly for the mothers. 

I've never been formally diagnosed, but I don't need a doctor to tell me that I'm an anxious person. Unfortunately, my anxiety bothers me enough to consider the possibility that I do have an anxiety disorder and led me to check the Mayo Clinic website to read the list of symptoms. I pretty much checked off 8 out of the 12 listed. 

When anxiety strikes, it's often a challenge for me to control. My brain races and I catch myself starting to hyperventilate. I can't even begin to tell you the amount of effort I put in to calm myself down, to rationalize, to observe my thoughts and practice mindfulness as Eckhart Tolle teaches. 

I pray, whether it be personal words or something repetitive like the rosary to silence my mind. 

I talk to my husband and ask him to help put things in perspective, knowing that my brain is on overdrive and can only see worst-case scenarios. 

It's like being in a speeding car that I neither have any control over, nor desire to be in. 

I feel stuck. It can be scary. It's exhausting. 

A lot of the times, all I can do is wait for it to pass. I think that's still a blessing, that I'm able to convince myself that this too shall pass

And 'this' could be anything: my son's health or a minor illness he's going through; a home repair that needs to be done; an upcoming vacation; some unfounded, out-of-the-blue worry about family overseas...really mostly things no one has much power over. 

These things I worry about I can't control, and there's no telling when or how they will pass. So in the meantime, I control what I can—my physical surroundings, my home's stuff. Sometimes, the more out of control my inner world is, the greater the compulsion to organize my physical surrounding. It's really about feeding my sanity a sense of order which bears the fruit of a sense of comfort, calm, and predictability for me. Where predictability exists, a sense of power resides. 

No one likes the feeling of powerlessness. And this compulsion for neatness is definitely one of the ways I'm able to feel that I'm not completely powerless after all; that not everything in my world is unpredictable and that I don't have to ride that speeding, reckless car at least for the moment. 

I don't want anyone's pity. I'm not sure if all this revelation on the darker side of my mind is a total surprise to anyone who personally knows me, or if it's something that's always been apparent. But whether or not this changes how people see me, all I ask is for you to have more compassion for anyone who you suspect suffers from anxiety. 

It's definitely not something we desire, something not all of us choose to simply medicate, and we absolutely hate the thought of inconveniencing others with this burden. 

But it is what it is, and I'm doing my best to keep it together, to cope how ever I can, even if it means hours and hours of sorting and clearing away the cobwebs, at least the tangible ones for now. 










Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom: In the Meantime...

Since it's Valentine's Day tomorrow, I figured I'd share something my 20-something self knew but didn't take too seriously. Or to be fair, she actually did, but it was easier said than done for her. I know she did her best and I forgive her for not being able to try harder. All the suffering and wisdom learned are worth it, after all. Now 'we' both hope we can at least be heard by someone who needs to hear it...



Friday, February 1, 2019

Tidying Up: Friendship Edition



Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you.



Households all over the world, especially here in the United States, have been busy pulling clothes out of their closets and dressers, piling them up on their beds and floors, going through their shelves and pantries to pare down their 'stuff'. This is largely due to best-selling author, and now Netflix star, Marie Kondo. On her show and in her books, Kondo talks about appreciating what we have to the fullest and surrounding ourselves with things that spark joy. If you've not been living under a rock, you're most likely familiar with the tidying up ritual of holding each possession in your hands and feeling if it sparks joy within you, and if not, then thank it and let it go.

Beyond just asking yourself if something sparks joy for you, Kondo further adds another criterion for deciding if you should keep or let go of something. She suggests honestly assessing if it's something you'd want to take with you (or if it's worth taking with you) to the future. 

It's clear to me that Kondo is not about imposing how much you should keep, or that you absolutely need to go through this process. If something isn't bothering you, you have enough space for it, and its presence does not steal your joy, then by all means keep them and don't feel like you need to tidy up in this manner. 

To me, that's an important point. And that is the same reason why I believe I need to apply the KonMari method to my relationships, friendships in particular. 

Recently, I realized how I call too many people my friends when in reality, it's an abuse of the term. I've gotten tired of doing air quotes when I talk to my husband about certain people as my "friends" when in reality, they're just acquaintances, potential friends, work colleagues, social media contact, virtual avatar. 

I also feel that I need to go through this tidying up because it will force me to be clear within myself about my expectations of my relationships. I can't keep feeling consumed by disappointment when people don't live up to my expectations. It's taken a toll on my peace of mind, and frankly, my joy. I'm not in control of others' choices and behaviors, but I'm absolutely the one in control of my expectations and how I relate to others. 

If I define my standards for friendships, I can more accurately assess if someone is able to deliver or is failing. And if they're failing, it doesn't mean I have to cut them off so brutally. (Humans are far more complex and fluid than inanimate possessions that you can discard, unless of course it's a toxic relationship, in which case, thank you and goodbye). 

I would recommend a 3-step process in tidying up your friendships. The first is to ask if the person sparks joy in you. If they don't, the next step is to ask if they're someone you feel is worth taking with you to your future, if you still feel they serve some purpose especially in your growth and evolution. If the answer is no, then let the relationship go. If it's yes and it's someone you decide to keep in your life, then comes the step of organizing. 

Now that you've painstakingly decluttered, here comes the fun part of getting your containers and labeling them. You need brutal honesty as you try to label and categorize the friends you decide to keep. For this process, you will find that you'll end up promoting some friends, and sadly, demoting others. A 'virtual friend' might be a 'good friend' now, and another 'good friend' may now be better suited to be in just plain 'colleague' category. The beauty of this is that nothing is static. Someone who's been demoted today, may be promoted by the end of the year depending on how you both change. Things are fluid, people and circumstances evolve. Allow yourself this process and be at peace with it.

This process of relabeling or demoting requires forgiveness. It's not your 'friend's' fault that circumstances have changed that have made it impossible for them to tend to the friendship to the level you require. Nor should you be faulted for the expectations you uphold. You will still be in each other's lives, just not in the same way. Somehow, the hope is that relaxing your expectations of each other and relabeling each other will allow both of you a guilt-free co-existence and afford you the space to figure out where you want to go from here and what you're realistically capable of giving each other. Perhaps demoting is what can save your friendship, instead of focusing on how you've constantly disappointed and hurt each other. 

It's important that we surround ourselves with friends who bring out the best, not the worst, in us. For me, that's an important standard in deciding who you want to keep in your life and how much value you give to them. I also appreciate friends who are present in the moment, people who put in the effort to make me feel valued and heard, instead of making me feel like a distraction or just an obligation. These are what I value and I try to keep giving the same when I feel mutuality. However, I'm not a perfect friend, not by a long shot. I'm sure I've been promoted and demoted through the years. But how I tidy up is my business, just as how my friends tidy up and label me in their life is their business. 

Acknowledging our expectations and boundaries is nothing to apologize for. We all need to do what's necessary in order to focus on what sparks joy in our lives, instead of holding on to emotional clutter and things that have obviously run their course and just weigh us down. As Marie Kondo advises, The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”















Monday, January 28, 2019

Motivation Monday: M-O-N-D-A-Y

Mondays are hardly ever easy for most of us. But procrastinating does more harm because we simply  end up delaying the momentum we need to get things done and feel good about ourselves. Just tackle your to-do list head-on, one task at at time, and find the joy of crossing out those items off your list as the day or week progresses.


May your week be kind, 
while you spare kindness for yourself as well.



Friday, January 18, 2019

Having Regrets and Our Humanity



Regrets.

Why are people so afraid to admit they have regrets in their lives? The word has always had a very bad rap, with people saying it's wasted time and effort. 'I don't have time for regrets; they're counterproductive', is what is commonly declared.

But really, if we're all being honest with ourselves, is there anyone on this planet without a single regret? More importantly, is regretting really all that bad? Some of you are probably thinking that this is odd timing on my part, given that this is a new year and it's all about a clean slate, a fresh start, and leaving the past behind. But this is also precisely why I thought about 'regrets'. I think you can't really go forward without intelligently looking back. And I say intelligently because looking back without much consciousness is worthless. 

To regret is to feel negatively about something from the past; to feel sorry that something happened, to wish it never did. It requires the capacity to perceive time and possess memory, the capacity for self-reflection, remorse, and the desire for self-actualization.

To have regrets is to acknowledge mistakes made and to allow yourself to feel bad about them. It is our recognition of dreams or hopes unfulfilled, ideals unrealized. 

In other words, having regrets makes us wholly human.

Regrets are useful because they highlight for me certain tendencies I have, behavioral and psychological inclinations I possess, that I can still CHOOSE to change. Looking back at painful things and wishing they turned out differently is normal and acceptable, as long as you don't go through self-flagellation and turn your experience of pain into suffering. You can have regrets and still believe that even painful things happen for a reason and that there are blessings to be found behind failures.

I regret making certain decisions. I recognize that there were times I decided in haste even if everything in my being told me to step back and take my time.

I regret NOT making certain decisions. These were times when I simply surrendered my power to someone else, letting them make choices that would bring a tsunami of consequences on my life. Or worse, letting 'fate' decide for me, stripping myself willingly of all agency, as I simultaneously lied to myself by saying that what I did or wanted did not matter because 'Life' has its own plans for me. Trust me when I say that this is the kind of regret that cuts most deeply.

The decisions themselves cannot be undone, but how I live the consequences of those decisions is still completely up to me, and so are future countless decisions I am yet to make. 

Everyone is allowed to look back, as you should! Feel good about it, feel bad about, it does not matter. What matters is you know that the present is the only space where you have power, and that NOW is when you can try to make sure that tomorrow will not be filled with too many regrets. And if you realize that you do have many regrets, you need to know that the only way to move forward is to be kind to yourself. Only with kindness can you forgive, and a regretful self is one that is always begging for your forgiveness. 

Recognizing my mistakes and paying attention to the echoes of my regrets help me choose more wisely and more consciously. As such, instead of my regrets becoming prison walls meant to torture, they actually become gifts for transformation. When we begin to see our regrets as teachers—rather than a final verdict—then they become spaces for reflection, redirection, forgiveness, and gratitude. 








*This post was originally published in 2012, and was updated for today's publication.