Friday, October 25, 2019

The Weight on My Soul

My annual physical exam is coming up in a few weeks and sadly, the part I dread most about it is when the nurse weighs me. I know I won’t love the number that will show, but just so I can feel less shame— even if it’s just 3 ounces less—I would carefully plan for my outfit for that day so that I only wear clothing with the lightest materials while still looking decent and put together. At the same time, I plan on not taking my shoes off so as to give the nurse the impression that I just don’t care and that I’m not neurotic about my weight. See how neurotic this all is? 

Weighing scales terrify me. All they do is remind me of all the self-loathing and dissatisfaction I have with my body. I'm reminded of who I've never been and might never be and the whole futility of a dream. The numbers on it hardly change now, especially after turning 40, and stepping on it each time is like allowing myself to be mocked or shamed for what I'm doing or not doing enough of. It makes me want to smash it or throw it out the window but I know that every time I step on it, it's also a challenge to accept where I am, who I am and how I'm built. Its existence is a constant reminder of how far I still am from truly loving myself, JUST AS I AM. 

It's not a big secret that I've struggled with my weight and my body image for as long as I can remember. I've never had an eating disorder and have never really experienced severe weight cycling. I’m not one of those who grieve the loss of their skinnier young selves, because I’ve never even experienced being just average or of a normal weight. All my life, people have always categorized me as 'chubby', 'round', 'sturdy', ‘fat’, ‘big boned’ (my favorite!), or simply ‘overweight’. Whichever term it was, I was always made to feel bad about my size. 

From childhood to my 20s, I've always heard backhanded compliments such as "Oh, you have such a pretty face, if only you'd shed some weight." Or as a kid, I heard a lot of "Ah, this one was let loose in the kitchen" as other adults spoke to my parents about me. It hurt. I resented those adults. But the damage was done the moment I heard them and unfortunately, can't be undone just as easily. 

And so I grew up being unhappy with my body, dreaming of a magic number on the scale or some coveted clothing size tag that will finally make me feel great about myself and tell me that I do look great. 

But it never comes. I've never seen it. Once I see something less or smaller than the one I had before, it's still never really enough. Never small enough. Never light enough. I almost feel like I'm chasing the end of the rainbow, but in pursuit, I always just end up tired and hitting a pot of M&M’s or Cheetos instead. 

So you can understand my aggression towards the weighing scale. All I see when I look at it is judgment. All I experience from it is defeat, an unfathomable sense of lack. 

I want to be happy where I am now. I want to accept my body for what it is—plump but not in a curvy or sexy way; straight but always lumpy and way too rounded in the wrong places; breasts not totally flat but never bigger than my stomach; legs that still have some shape but will never fit in regular width tall boots either. It's where I have always been, where I am now, and maybe it'll never change. 

I just wish I were at peace with it and would never feel, or be made to feel that I need to do more, shed more, just to be 'better'. I wish I could reach that place where a better version of myself no longer includes how I look on the outside. It's a gift only I can give to myself but still don't know why I could never seem to afford it. I know there are real problems in the world, but this is a burden I carry, the weight on my soul I don't quite know how to shed.

*This post was originally published on CATHARSIS under the title My Real Weight (2015). It has been edited from the original. 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Simple Self-Care Habits for Your Mental Health

During these past weeks, I have really made the serious effort to focus on self-care. After coming to terms withand feeling less shame aboutmy depression, I've been more open to receiving support and also allowing people to see and know how I'm tending to my mental and spiritual health.

Certain habits have proven effective for me, which brings me to an important point about self-care when it comes to depression, anxiety, or overall mental health: it's highly personal. No one should dictate to you how self-care should look like for you. You can listen to what's worked for others, try it, keep it if it helps, but don't feel guilty or ashamed if it doesn't. Choose something else. 

The most important thing is to own the need to replenish your peace and sense of self-worth. 

So, what tools have been working for me? Here they are and they're worth giving a shot if you haven't yet.

Prayer and getting more attuned to the Divine
Whether this means starting my day with Bible quotes or verses, or pausing any time of the day just to say 'Help me, guide me, show me the way out of the darkness', I've found that this habit helps me find my center. It's not that I always hear Wisdom literally talk back to me but more often than not, there is a tug, a hunch, a relentless helpful thought, that echoes inside. You can label this how ever you want but my faith calls it the Spirit, and all that matters is that it comforts me. 

Mindfulness Practice
This is about me taking pauses to be more aware of my thoughts, especially when negative self-talk happens. It's to force myself to focus on my breaths which helps, not to reduce the mind to a complete blank slate, but to create distance between my thoughts and who I am; to know that whatever thoughts I may be having, they will pass; and most of all, to know that my thoughts and feelings, though I accept them fully, are not all that I am. The voice in my head saying 'You are worthless' is just thata voice, an idea. I hear it, it's there, but with every mindful breath I take, I am able to create distance between the voice and Myself, until the rising and falling of my stomach with every breath taken, becomes the stronger focus and not the self-deprecation anymore. 

Exercise, and in particular, Yoga
I walk on the treadmill 5 days a week. But I suppose because it's fairly easy and mindless, it sometimes ends up just fueling my rumination. Yoga, on the other hand, has been the more effective friend and remedy for me as of late. The stretches and positions, no matter how basic, challenge me to focus my mind on my limbs instead of thinking of something else. The breathing, on top of my desire to make sure I'm executing the movements correctly, give me a welcome distraction. And most of all, I'm convinced that the yoga stretches and positions allow for a better flow of Qi (Chi) in my body, hence promoting a more positive feeling. 

Practicing Gratitude
I always thought writing gratitude lists was all BS. But you know what? I gave it a chance and realized that the items on my list don't have to be anything grand, they just need to be specific. Maybe I'm grateful for a friend giving me a heartfelt hug. Or maybe I serendipitously came across an inspirational quote. Perhaps it was a delicious cup of coffee from the cafe, or a calming tune I heard on the radio. When I start really making the effort to find things I can be grateful for, it makes me feel more present, less forgotten, more connected to the world.

The last one I want to share is probably one we easily take for granted but is extremely consequential in my view. Though it should be practiced by anyone, I feel it's paramount that those of us suffering from depression/anxiety heed this advice...

Be very selective with the people you surround yourself with

Yes, choosing who you spend your time with is a crucial part of self-care. We are all energy. And each of us brings energy to situations. I have always been quite intuitive, and when I meet and spend time with people, I can pretty much tell if I like how they 'feel' to me, the energy they emit or bring forth. Some feel too heavy for me, some too strong that they drain me, while there are those who I can feel just don't care, are insincere, or would rather be some place else. In other words, I end up feeling worse about my life.

The truth is, it matters how people make you feel about yourself. Why surround yourself with those who further minimize you or have no desire to understand the journey you're in? Self-care should always include being careful with the energy you interact with in your state of utter vulnerability. 

Depression and anxiety deplete one's mental stamina, and as ideal as it is to say we each choose how to feel about ourselves and that others should not have control over that, this view is also very naive and uncompassionate. Depression depletes your energy, your self-esteem, your patience, your interest, and many other things that unaffected people take for granted. It affects your sense of agency. In that state of depletion, what we need are people who are compassionate and will not be callous with their words and attitudes towards us; people who bring positivity even in just their quiet yet assuring way; people who can be equally vulnerable with us, which in effect makes us grateful because then we realize, unequivocally, that we are understood and accepted, and that we are not alone.

This is a journey I would never wish on anyone. But if you are in it, as I am, I hope you know that there are ways out of the darkness, and that a lot of us know how challenging it is. The world is more compassionate than we think. We just need to keep moving, one foot in front of the other, until we find the strength to reach out. I'm certain there will be a hand from the other side, to hold yours firmly, and assure you that you are absolutely worth holding on to. Hang in there. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Miracles of My Depression

It's true that labeling something is often the first step to a healing journey. 

It's true that naming something is recognizing its reality, hence pulling it out of the shadows and allowing the light to weaken its hold on us.  

That's what happened to me when I wrote last month that I could be suffering from depression. At the time, I still could not fully own it, though I was candid about the dark thoughts that plagued me. Anyone who is familiar with depression, or who was even just slightly keen enough while reading my words would have undoubtedly concluded that I was suffering from the condition, albeit moderately.

Depression is not easy to admit and I'm very careful throwing my self-diagnosis around. But I have read enough of it, know my own self and predispositions (genetic or otherwise), that I can be certain of its presence in my life. 

It shows up differently to different people, leaving its unique brush strokes as it imposes itself while we write the story of our lives. I count myself among those who are fortunate enough to still be able to control this presence, to still be its master on most days and not the other way around. I know it has significantly strengthened in the past two years and I'm not sure if I could even pinpoint a specific trigger. 

What I do know is that I began to question my worth more and more as I heard of other moms finding work outside the home. Or maybe someone close to me said something that, though not pertaining to me, might have hurt because it had to do with not being able to earn money on my own. Suddenly, I started to question my sense of purpose as a mother and learned to belittle my devotion on a daily basis. The sense of uselessness and hopelessness, all the self-loathing, would become unbearable on some days and I knew I was drowning. I became an expert at putting up a facade of contentment and stability. It wasn't out of a desire to deceive but more of a fear of inconveniencing others. I didn't know how people close to me would take it. I didn't know if they were capable of accepting my truth. I didn't want any of them to worry about me, treat me differently, or change anything about themselves just to accommodate my issues. 

But it's true when they say that it's 'only at the precipice do we evolve' (The Day The Earth Stood Still, 2008). And it's also very true that it's only when we open ourselves upwhen we allow ourselves to be vulnerablethat we are able to receive love and recognize its abundance around us. 

My writing and coming out was no doubt a cry for help. And I am forever grateful to the special souls who stepped up to hold me either physically or virtually, whether through your words of support or thoughtful actions. I know it was the Universe's way of clearly telling me that I am not alone and that healing is possible. 

Writer and blogger friends offered their advice. People I've never met before gave me words of inspiration. Friends living abroad sent me messages just to let me know they are there for me. One old friend reminded me of a simple fact that truly jolted me into my senses: that a person's worth is NEVER measured by the money they make. I've always known this about other people, so why can't I apply the same to myself? When did I stop being kind to myself?

The afternoon after I published my 'coming out' piece last month, a sweet neighbor friend walked over to my house and gave me a beautiful bouquet of wild flowers and gave me a hug to make me feel better.  Words weren't necessary. I felt her love and support and I hope she will always know how she inspired me to choose to heal. 

I guess what I'm saying is this: Miracles are there. Kindness is around us. Help and guidance are available, whether physical or spiritual. 

After surrendering to the reality of my misery and praying for help, insights started coming to me. A particular one that truly made me want to find healing for myself came in the form of a question: 

If I knew I were dying tomorrow, how would I feel knowing that I wasted years of my life feeling useless, convincing myself that I'm useless?

The more I tried to think of the question and the answer, the more certain I was that the critical voice in my head is not necessarily right. Neither is this voice ME. 

My desire to recover, to stay afloat and breathe more steadily rather than just occasionally pop to the surface and gasp for air, led me to learn more about the practice of mindfulness. 

I know my troubles are around me. Mindfulness will not make them magically go away. But if I keep practicing it, I will learn more how it is to be present in the moment; to learn to distance myself from the voices in my head so they do not dominate my reality; to learn to find my centerbreath by breathknowing that this too shall pass.

I'm not fully healed. If there's one thing I'm realizing about depression, it's a chronic condition much like addiction, heart disease, or diabetes. One is never fully cured, you simply learn to manage the condition. It's a journey with both good and bad days, and you take it one step at a time.

Today I feel strong. Today is a good day, thank you for asking. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Opening the Floodgates

I’ve been MIA for a while now and I know this story is getting old. Yes, I’ve been busy, I have my parents here with me visiting from the Philippines, we’ve been traveling and enjoying our summer vacation, been working on DIY projects around the house, yada yada yada….But the hard truth and the only one that truly matters in this space is that I have not felt any real motivation to write. 

I’m struggling. How much?...Well, enough, that I’m seated here outside the indoor tennis court where my son is taking his class and feel that I would rather apply lotion to my hands mid-sentence and take the time to stare at middle schoolers fumble with their strokes, than focus on finishing this paragraph and actually make sense. 

I never feel like anything is important enough to write about.

I never could find enough fire in me to share what's swirling in my mind.

I never feel like anyone would be interested to read, let alone find any value in what I have to say. 

I never feel like I have the energy to develop an idea so it can have some semblance of coherence worthy of being allowed to seep out of my inner world. 

I never feel like there is enough quiet space in my mind to accommodate sentences and creativity.

Could I be suffering from depression? I wonder. A lot. 

I’m functional, sure, but there is something in me that doesn’t feel right. It's a struggle to even talk about this now because I know a lot of people won't believe me and think I'm simply overanalyzing myself. I'm organized, do everything I need to accomplish for my family, feel grateful for the life I have, look happy and warm in social situations and overall, seem...fine.

But I am struggling with a lot of my demons. 

Could I just be feeling lost, trying to find more meaning, and drowning in my perpetual existential crisis? I don’t know.

I’ve been trying to 'fake it ‘til I make it' in this space, been doing my best to write what I feel might be of some value to someone out there, but it’s obviously not working. It hasn’t changed anything much in me as far as jumpstarting my writing, my motivation, my happiness. 

It’s a vicious cycle. I’ve always felt that writing and publishing on this space gave me bursts of happiness, a sense of accomplishment and affirmation. Being able to craft something with my words always gave me some sense of purpose. But I haven’t been able to do so because of my mental and emotional state, which makes me feel miserable because not only do I know I’m not able to create, I also feel like I’m failing in some way, which makes me feel even more of a disappointment, a useless waste of air. 

I’m full of self-doubt to the point that it can incapacitate me on some days. 

I feel like I have nothing valuable to give.

I feel like I have no real value in this world. And this thought is further compounded by the fact that what I enjoy doing and feel I'm capable of at the moment don't translate to any monetary contribution.

I have an overwhelming need to always feel safe, in my cocoon, in my comfort zone, where everything is predictable and there is no real risk to fear.

I have become more secluded through the years, save for the occasional time spent with a very select few who I am comfortable with. 

Please don’t tell me going out more will make me feel better. I’m an introvert and forcing me to go out and mingle will not solve anything for me and may only make things feel worse and draining. I can’t feel any more drained than I already do. 

Don’t tell me to apply for jobs and that earning money will make me feel better. Maybe it will. But if it were that simple, don't you think I'd have already done it?

Don’t tell me to go find myself a good therapist and medicate. It’s not something that’s within our family budget at the moment and something I’m not ready to commit to. I know my husband won't mind but the thought of making him spend that money on me will only make me feel even worse. 

Don't think I'm fragile and act like you might shatter me next time you see me and talk to me. Don't think I'm a  fake when you see me smiling and being like everyone else. Just know that people are more complex than what your eyes perceive and try to see with your heart instead. 

I know I'm annoying a lot of you right now, especially those who identify as proactive. I don't need to be analyzed, I don't need you to solve anything or figure things out for me. I don't expect to be understood by everyone, nor is this meant to be an excuse. 

I'm simply coming out. 

Everything has consequences, I know that. And my raw honesty now won't be exempted from that truth. But if I keep fearing what could happen next and shred every scenario to pieces before I speak my truth, then I might never have the strength to open the dam. 

My only intention is authenticity. I'm just hoping that maybe my coming out as raw as I've never written before may help my energy flow better as I step out of hiding. I know there is much more to write, but for today, this is all I can offer. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Case Against Looking for Closure

Original Image: Pixabay

Closure is something we've all thought necessary—at one point or another—in the process of moving on from an experience that has ended. Perhaps it was a relationship break-up, a loved one’s death, or the unexpected demise of a cherished career. In most of these scenarios, the ending we’ve experienced has left us feeling blindsided and stuck in a rabbit hole filled with ‘whys’. Instinctively, we think answering these questions serve as stable footing for our climb up, only to realize too late that questions have a way of endlessly reproducing themselves. We wake up one day feeling more confused than ever, drowning in our questions and completely consumed by even more loose ends than what we initially started with.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against closure. However, I do know that you never look for closure. You birth it.

To have closure means finally being able to accept what happened, lifting any veil or illusion to clearly see what is, where you are now, and letting the reality sink in that the situation has happened and could not be any other way.

To have closure is to no longer have the desire to rewrite history. It is present-focused and future-ready.  

Most importantly to me, having closure is to be ‘self-empowered’, as opposed to looking outwards and relying on another person to give you what you need, whether it be answers to your questions, forgiveness, explanations, or direction for the future.

Trust me when I say that these lessons I’ve learned on closure are all grounded in personal experience. I’ve learned the hard way that involving another person in your personal search for closure never, ever works. Doing so is actually a ‘counter-closure’ move because the more you deal with the other person—the more power you surrender to that person as the one who can help you or give you the closure you seek—the further back you get pulled, and no significant healing is achieved. You keep thinking this other person holds the answers to your questions. You keep thinking you need this other person to give you clarity on what really happened, and that you need all these answers in order to move on. But all this does is delay your healing. All this does is pick at your already stinging wounds, and make you feel less in control of your own destiny.

The lessons on closure I share here now came to me through an ex-boyfriend/fiancĂ©. Other than my husband, I’ve only had one other serious romantic relationship. Ours was a saga. We fell deeply in love; broke up in a confused manner; semi-got back together; semi-broke up again; semi-hoped for each other; I got tired, fell in love again, and married someone else (my husband now); resentments surfaced; became friends; fought; he married and had a family too; became friends again; fought and swore off each other; until finally, he died. Last year he passed and lost his battle with cancer.

We sought closure from each other and it took more than a decade of our lives until death finally interfered. We threw our questions and accusations at each other, hoping it will bring us the finality we sought. I tried looking for closure through my questions but I failed. Now I know that sometimes the questions serve only as our excuse to keep us afloat. We find solace in our questions because they feel familiar and less daunting than the pain and work involved ahead in permanently shutting one door behind us and confronting our new normal.

Sometimes, questions don’t end by themselves no matter how many answers you get. You have to decide to end them. 

What I know for sure is that closure is a decision. It’s a gift you give yourself every day, if you have to. It's mustering the courage to open a new door, while knowing that you are allowed to grieve the past, and that doing so doesn't mean you are resisting your future. It's deciding to believe that getting answers won't change what is. It's making the decision that it no longer matters what the other person's reasons, state of mind, motivations, or sentiments are. What matters is what you feel, what you perceive, and how you intend to show up from this point onward to work on your healing. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Social Media Rule of 3s for Greater Happiness and Productivity

Original Image by rawpixel from Pixabay 

At some point, we've all found ourselves complaining about how social media has negatively affected both our productivity and our moods. Numerous scholarly articles have been published on these areas, but you don't have to be any sort of expert to acknowledge that you can easily get sucked in some social networking vortex and then easily experience 'missing time phenomenon'.  (Thanks for the abduction, Mark Zuckerberg!)

Not only do you end up wondering where time has gone, you also suddenly question why your fingers are tired, your eyes are dry, and you're inexplicably feeling a bit more angry, depressed, or anxious. At that point, it doesn't take long for any of us to realize that instead of getting on with our days and accomplishing real tasks, all we feel like doing is grab a brownie or a bag of chips, and let the chair or couch swallow us whole. 

Personally, these feelings apply to me in relation to Facebook and Twitter, where people are allowed to elaborate on whatever they wish to share, or put out links to their news headlines of choice. 

Because of this, I've come up with a system that has proven quite effective although it definitely requires self-discipline and integrity since you'd have to strictly monitor yourself if you truly want this to work for you. 

It's my Rule of 3s: Three minutes, or three 'upsetting' information on my news feed, which ever comes first, is my limit.

This means, when I go on Facebook or Twitter, and start scrolling on my news feed, I keep in mind that I only have three minutes to spend there. However, if even before my three minutes are up and I've already scrolled through or read three headlines, news bits, or updates from contacts that upset me, made me angry, depressed, or negative in some way, I would have to shut it down and get on with my day.

I allow myself to go through this process about three times per day, on average. So far, it has worked wonders for me, especially in terms of my mood. 

I know that three minutes are not enough to allow you to go through your contacts' updates, but that further forces you to focus on what's truly important to you. Let's be honest, not everyone on your friends' list carry the same weight of importance in your life. If there is someone you truly care about or want to be updated on, then go on their page and spend time there. Message them personally, or give them a call. Hang out if you can. Let the Rule of 3s help you filter through the rubbish so that you don't carry that with you and allow it to affect your mental and emotional health. With my Rule of 3s, I've found that I'm able to easily shake things off by taking a deep breath at the end of it, and then walking away, either physically, or just detaching mentally so I can focus on other goals for the day. 

I hope you can give this a try if you still find yourself drowned by the social media abyss. You can do this, and hopefully have more energy for the things that truly matter in your life. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

5 Simple Things That Surprisingly Bring Me Joy as a Homemaker

The terms 'homemaker' and 'mundane' easily pair together. I mean, how much excitement can there really be if your work is home-based and for the most part you're alone all day? Don't get me wrong, every aspect of that previous sentence is nourishment for my introverted soul. However, I still can't deny that looking for motivation, no matter how silly or trivial, is essential for me in my line of work if I want to look past the drudgery of it all. The fact is, there is no paycheck for me to look forward to, and the intrinsic rewards are vastly different from those gained by employed people. 

So let me share with you a few things that I realized put the 'happy' in my otherwise boring and predictable days:

The melodic song of my washing machine 
letting me know its job is done

I love the sound of my washing machine when it finishes a cycle and it belts out this ice cream truck-sounding melody. If you think about it, it's really just saying, "Hey, get your butt here and clear me out. Get on to your next chore", only it's doing it in such a polite and cheerful way. What more can I ask for?

When I have to pee so bad and find that the toilet is ready for use, no quick cleaning required

What I mean is, (and I say this as the only female in my household) there are no pee drops on and around the toilet, the toilet seat is down ready for the queen, and there's toilet paper for me to use...installed on the holder.

Discovering that I can adapt a traditional Filipino dish for my newly acquired Instant Pot and be done in half the time

A lot of people have raved about this pressure cooker and it intimidated me for the longest time. However, a couple of months ago, my mother-in-law gifted it to us and since then I've made the effort to search for recipes online to see how creative I can get with it. There are a ton of Instant Pot communities but mostly sharing Western or American recipes. So when I experiment with Filipino staples and find that it works just as well, I am thrilled to the core.

When I discover a new cleaning product peddled by some social media influencer, find it in my grocery store, and then end up loving its scent and cleaning performance

Cleaning is a big chunk of my daily routines, and if I see something that might (a) ease my job at a reasonable price, or (b) make the job a bit more pleasurable, then I'm all for it. I'm also very olfactory and so finding products that perform well but don't smell like they're trying to simultaneously dissolve my internal organs is a win-win!

And this last one is certainly not the least...

When I hear the door open in the afternoon and my middle school son walks in

To be home when my child arrives from school and greet him with the best smile I can offer regardless of how my day went, if only to let him know how he lights me up, is a gift I never ever take for granted. Truly, this highlight just never gets old and I thank God every day for this simple joy.

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.”