a pep talk

I wrote this last night to myself when I had a visit from my good friend, Panic, about a new job I’m starting. I reworded where things got too specific but otherwise, here it is in its raw form. Hope if you needed it, you read-ed it.

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It will take time to get the hang of things. You’ll need to get in there, observe and experience, before you can smooth it all out and make it what you want.

IT WON’T BE PERFECT FROM THE START.

But as long as you put the work in to know what you need to know and are determined to grow, you will be fine.

Be confident this is where you’re supposed to be. Be confident in your work ethic, in your resilience, in your teachability. Be confident in your passion.

These are what you need and with them, the rest will eventually fall into place.

Fuck your inexperience. You’re not the first person in history to have it. And fuck your insecurity. You’ve always been more capable than you’ve given yourself room to be.

You’re going to be okay.

Even if it’s traumatizing at first, you’re going to be okay. You’re going to get better, hopefully good, maybe even great at it.

Don’t assume other people will see the worst in you. When you do that, you’re actually assuming the worst in them. And that’s an ugly thing to do.

Don’t rely on other people to validate you though. Don’t let your heart walk on eggshells, on the verge of collapse, just thinking about what bad opinions they might have about you.

Even if the negatives you’re bracing yourself for happen, you’ve survived worse things, darker days, more bitter heartbreak.

Give the people around you a chance to be supportive.

Learn to admit your weaknesses and fears without making youself small.

You’re not small.

You’re not!

You are fucking magnificent.

Remember the love over the years from the ones you cherish and it will give you strength.

You can do this you can do this you can do this.

It will be challenging, sure. But remember: things can be challenging without being consuming. Let yourself experience that.

Learn to let it be so by protecting your energy, your heart, and your mental space.

Lean into your support system and push yourself to let new people into it. Ask for help even if it makes your super uncomfortable. (Fuck being comfortable!)

Think of an obstacle as a puzzle. You love puzzles and you’re good at them, you nerd.

Yes, think of it all as a puzzle and you will be fine. You will maybe even excel, and you will most certainly survive.

Nothing is as worthy of being embarrassed by as you think.

Remember the ones who are with you and for you, and be with and for the new people you will meet.

Know yourself. Value yourself. Keep your expectations simple at first and let them grow at a natural pace.

It’s kind of scary, but you got this.

***

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luh u

packing, shame, and sweet husbands

My husband kicked me out of the house this evening because I had a wonky brain breakdown over all the packing we have left to do for our move tomorrow.

It wasn’t an angry kicking out. It was a loving one. He did it for me.

(Part of me wants to wait until the thoughts and emotions fall into manageable pieces for me to organize into pretty sentences. But I’m not going to because of something called impulse. Rather I’m sitting in a parking lot and writing this on my phone. So I hope you can excuse all the typos.

Wait a second, Alissa, don’t you always have a lot of typos anyway?

Oh, be quiet!)

I’ve worked before and after work every day this week at a good, steady, mindful pace. Not a sloppy mixture of procrastination and panic like other times I’ve moved.

My husband wanted to do all the packing today. He’s one of those people. So I did me this week and packed in increments and he took off Friday to finish up. We gave each other space to be ourselves even though we were stressing each other out.

(The approach could be tweaked, we know. Give us a break.)

Here’s the thing. My vision and what I had carried out as of last night was very organized and in control by my standards. I decluttered as I went and kept the boxes sorted and tidy. I self talked my way around several almost freak outs. I was in control. A real life, competent adult.

When I got home today, however, and saw how much was left to do still and realized the remaining boxes done by my husband would not be sensibly arranged or sensibly set up to allow for a smooth unpacking but instead would be a hodge podge of this and that and the other with no rhyme or reason for occupying the same box other than they happened to be out of place near each other in the same cluttery room… I don’t know, friends. I broke the fuck down.

I was straight up sobbing without understanding why.

The picture is coming into focus now though.

My past moves (all before marriage) land other big projects in life have started out good enough, not as great as this time but still with the best intentions, but as I lost steam and ran out of time have became hectic, chaotic, disorganized whirlwinds that made me feel horribly out of control and deeply ashamed.

Ashamed I couldn’t manage all the moving parts.

Ashamed I thought I could do so much in whatever insufficient amount of time i planned.

Ashamed I’m messy.

Ashamed it seems I’m lacking the mental systems and self discipline everyone else utilizes freely.

Ashamed of how disorganized my own brain is sometimes.

Ashamed of how easily I get overwhelmed.

Ashamed of me.

As good as this move was going, I had felt a hope and pride in the work I had done up til now and excited thinking about the move I would feel confident and not humiliated throughout. The project I would wear like a pretty badge proclaiming Alissa can finish things and finish them well.

When it hit me that I wouldn’t be awarded such badge, that everything wouldn’t be perfect or polished, that it would look a lot like other moves and similiar transitions in life, the sense of defeat was huge.

I felt like my fears were true: I’m hopelessly sloppy, disorganized, lazy, incompetent. A failure.

Yuck. ūüė¶

But I’m reminding myself progress is slow and life will sometimes be like the haphazard boxes my husband packs even if you are progressing.

And I’m trying to let go of that ideal I had. I’m trying to trust myself to have the mental stamina and focus to make sure I organize as we unpack. I’m trying to trust my sweet, patient husband’s packing will get done and be sufficient (He insisted should I just go to bed early instead of stress because I’ve already done more than my share). I’m trying to remember I can be bad at moving and still be worthy of love (isn’t self criticism make us feel the most warped things?).

But it’s hard and there’s not a pretty bow on it yet.

No happy ending. Just me in the car with mascara on my face lamenting how flat Coke I received at the drive thru was.

4 times I did something excruciating but I survived and I’m better for it

“There’s no way I can assure you that it won’t be completely traumatizing.”

“There’s no way I can assure you that it won’t be completely traumatizing.”
These words were spoken to me by a professor I was working for my freshman year of college. I had been accepted into a program from freshman majoring in Plant Sciences which gave you the opportunity to work in a related laboratory on campus for hands on experience. I had ended up choosing a laboratory based on the professor in charge rather than the showiness of the lab (just another time I’m glad I went with my gut). He let me have my own project I got to help design (students in fancier labs were doing their professors’ or the grad students’ busy work). One day he decided I should present it to a group of Plant Sciences graduate students who were also presenting their projects.
As intimidated as I was (these were graduate students with projects on a whole different level; I was a shy freshman feigning understanding of half the technical terms thrown around the lab and then googling them later), I agreed to do it.
Again, the encouraging words I received were:
There’s no way I can assure you that it won’t be completely traumatizing.
It might sound funny, but my professor could not have handled it better for me and I have carried those words around to remind myself anytime I’m about to do something I’m nervous to do.
I hate when people try to assure me that something I’m worried about is going to be or go okay. It’s not realistic. When you take a risk or do something you’re afraid of, there is no guarantee things won’t go horribly wrong, that it won’t be “completing traumatizing,” that it add a tally to the number of times you fucked something up. That’s just the truth.
Here’s the thing, though. Unspoken but understood in my professor’s “pep” talk was this:¬†BUT you’ll survive.
(I did survive, by the way, and it wasn’t traumatizing.)
There have been plenty of times in my life when I’ve done something scary for me, but it was still relatively easy or short-lived. Other times, it has been an excruciating decision or process BUT I survived.
Here are four of them (in chronological order):
1. I changed my major.
You’ve gathered, I hope, from the beginning of this post that I began my freshman year of college as a Plant Sciences major. I’ve always been a huge plant nerd. My emphasis was in biotechnology because that was the most academically-geared emphasis and I thought I had to do it because I did well at science in high school.
My days in the lab mentioned above were pretty cool. I learned a lot and got to use cool equipment that made me feel like a real scientist. One of the things I learned, though, was I am not built for the day-to-day life of a scientist. I may find experiments fascinating, but being required to carry out meticulous and often repetitive steps for experiments and take tidy and organized notes to write paper is not for me.
I heard a little whisper inside me tell me Social Work. So, I changed majors.
Except, it wasn’t that easy. I overthought every possibility and overvalued everyone else’s opinions.What will so and so think? What if I’m not supposed to change majors? What if there’s a whole different major I should change to?What if I regret my decision but it’s too late? What if my heart is too soft? What if I don’t end up liking it? What if, what if, what if?¬†
It was a painful number of months knowing in my gut what I wanted to do, but my mind making it more difficult than it needed to be. Eventually, I got tired of the limbo and went for the plunge. It was excruciating to know not everyone thought I was making the best decision, and it was¬†excruciating¬†to have no assurance I wasn’t making a huge mess out of my life. But after my first semester of social work classes, it got better. I felt confident. I felt free.
Social Work was a much better match for me. I felt like I fit in a little better with the other students pursuing the same thing. If I hadn’t changed my major, I wouldn’t have ended up at my previous job working with refugees, a job which would forever change me, open eyes,¬† break my heart, strengthen my soul, and lead me to friendships with some of the most amazing people you could imagine.
2.  I told people about my wonky brain.
This includes, at various points: my parents, my counselor, a few close girlfriends, a close guy friend I would later marry, and some other people including anyone on the internet but those were the scariest because those relationships meant the most to me.
It was really, super duper hard to try to put into words feelings I had tried to bury for years, articulate thoughts I was ashamed of having, open up about a world inside me I couldn’t guarantee any of the listeners could related to.
I remember where I was each time and the uncomfortable, terrifying exposed feeling I got that made me want to run away.
I was on the phone when I told my mom, pacing around my apartment.
I was sitting on a hotel bed when I told my dad who was in town for a conference.
I was obsessively fidgeting with the hair tie on my wrist and wishing she would stop looking at me when I told my counselor.
I was in the  car when I told Linnea.
I was texting when I told Ariel and Evan.
I was driving around in a hot mess when I told Roger.
My counselor was a trained professional, but other than her, I couldn’t trust I would be met with any type of understanding.
I got one, “I kind of know what you mean. X heartbreak just happened to me.”
But mostly, I got things like…
I had no idea.
I’m sorry I didn’t notice.
I can relate to feeling down but I’ve never thought about killing myself even on my really bad days.
What can I do to help?
It’s okay to be mad at me for not doing anything.
I’m glad you’re getting help.
I think my brother had a good counselor he liked; let me ask him for the name.
I don’t really understand but I’m here for you.
I usually left those conversations with a mix of relief and WHY THE HELL DID I JUST DO THAT. THERE’S NOT GOING BACK.
It was excruciating, but each time I survived. I felt stronger. I felt more confident and in control. I felt free. I didn’t haven’t to pretend anymore. And I got the help I needed, even if I didn’t get a single, “I know exactly what you mean.”
3. I confronted a boyfriend.
I ended up marrying this boyfriend, Evan. But there was a point where I wasn’t sure I would because our relationship had parts that I finally admitted to myself I couldn’t keep up with my whole life.
[Disclaimer,I already asked him to read this section and give the green light though he assured me I didn’t need to ask]
To keep it brief but blunt, he could be harsh. If you know me, you know I’m rather soft. And while his harshness could be met with equal Type A harshness in his relationship with his best friend and they could be laughing and carrying on 10 minutes later, I was not fairing so well. I internalized everything, cried in bathrooms, and felt like I was walking on egg shells constantly. I kept thinking if I could just change this about me or avoid doing this one thing that set him off then I would be good to go. When I finally realized this was not how I wanted to live or be treated my whole life, I had to face the idea of ending the relationship if things didn’t change.
This broke my heart. I already loved Evan deeper than I thought possible. I already knew he had an amazing soul. I had already let him see so much of me I knew it would tear me apart to say goodbye. But I also believe I should be respected (it just usually takes me a while to understand when I’m not). So I told him how I felt. I told him I loved him but my heart wasn’t strong enough for his anger that appeared in a flash over some of the most basic things about me, like dropping my phone and keys all the time. I told him it wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t live like that.
It was¬†excruciating thinking about living without him. It was¬†excruciating¬†standing up for myself when I’m always second guessing my perspective. It was¬†excruciating¬†seeing him cry. It was¬†excruciating knowing it would break two hearts if I left as I was prepared to do what I had to do for myself. It was¬†excruciating wondering if there was anyone out there who would see me the way he did.
He did change (obviously–we’re married now). Like, mostly overnight. I’m not saying it was perfect smooth sailing from there. Things do take time, but the willingness to change was there and the progress was immediately large and self-correcting. (Also, we’re both two people trying to live one life. I’m not perfect either, at all. I’m just talking about one aspect at one point in our relationship.)
Which, side note. I think it’s important to emphasize: if someone is not willing to hear you out and change after you sincerely explain how something they’re doing is hurting you, you need to GET THE FUCK OUT.¬† I wish I could make the font of that last sentence enormous so nobody misses is. A partner’s unwillingness is a sign they don’t care about you enough as you wish they did or they say they do. Their unwillingness is a sign they need to get their own shit together before they’re allowed anywhere near yours. It’s a big, bold statement the relationship is not right and can’t be, at least for now. If you’ve communicated how you want to be treated and there is no or minimal action to indicate your partner is invested in change, sister/brother, you’re fooling yourself if you stick around. Even if they have a good heart. I’m serious!
But back to our regularly scheduled programming….
Like I was saying, it was excruciating. But I survived. I felt stronger. I felt more confident. I felt free. And our relationship got a bajillion times better. My mental space got a bajillion times better.
4.  I told my work family I was leaving the job.
I mentioned earlier, my previous job was at a refugee resettlement agency. The people I worked with are some of the most incredible, selfless, hilarious, and wise people I’ve ever met. Our relationships with forged through the fires of nonprofit work (if you’ve worked in one, I think you’ll know what I mean), deepened through candid life conversations over lunch and near death experiences canoeing, and strengthened through silly snap chat groups we definitely didn’t utilize during meetings.
When it came time to move on, it was painful. Not to be dramatic but telling people I was leaving felt like I was getting a divorce. I wanted to cry every time I broke the new to another person; I even cried in the bathroom a few times.
It was excruciating to feel¬†like I was letting people down. It was¬†excruciating knowing how much I would miss my comrades.¬†I knew it was the right move (my position was computer-heavy and my body couldn’t sit still any longer), but it was still excruciating because I wasn’t ready for that chapter of my life to be over.
I made the move that needed to be made. There was no guarantee I wouldn’t hate the new job or my friends wouldn’t be mad. It was excruciating. But I survived. Here’s the part where I repeat ”¬†I felt stronger. I felt more confident. I felt free.” But this wasn’t one of those times. I do think it made me a stronger person to do what I needed to do even though it was hard. But I miss that place, my co-workers, my clients (some of whom I’m still in touch with) quite a bit. I’m glad I did it, though. Things got better.¬†I¬†work a job with kids now which is much more my pace. So in that way I feel more free while still cherishing my time at the refugee office.
***
What excruciating thing are you scared to do? What is it your overthinking? What, just entertaining the idea of it, makes you a hot mess?
I think you should go for it. Do it. Say it. Ask it.
There’s no way I can assure you it won’t be completely traumatizing. But you’ll survive.
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My previous post, which is a childhood story (a style I hadn’t tried before so if it sucks I’m sorry) is here.
My Instagram is here.
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PS – Do the thing.

on silence

I’m feeling more in touch with myself than I have for a while. I owe that to taking the last few days to “de-noise” my life.

I was feeling overstimulated by work (preschoolers are beautiful little universes but they aren’t exactly known for being tranquil or low maintenance) and by a host of thoughts needing to be processed.

Constantly surrounding myself with the noise of Instagram, YouTube, TV shows, Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, etc., wasn’t exactly helping. Not that those things are inherently bad. Instagram, for example, has been a way for me to connect with others who have similar interests. YouTube videos help make boring tasks like getting ready in the morning, cleaning, or cooking much more tolerable.¬†Facebook is my favorite way to troll my mom and stay connected with friends.

But when I’m absentmindedly or impulsively opening apps to check for notifications or to scroll (for always longer than I intended) and constantly have something playing in the front or background, I’m not allowing my brain any time at all to cool down and just be. Which can be bad news. In fact, I was starting to get wonky.

Luckily, I was able to identify the reason I was getting wonky: over-stimulation.

I guess I was drawing some connections to all the times my husband told me the reason my computer was freaking out was because I had too many programs open.

So, I closed some programs. For the last few days I have stayed off social media and TV. Even during meals I was eating alone or when I was doing boring stuff like straightening my hair.

It was kind of crazy how each time the initial dreaded fog of boredom would lift after a few minutes. My brain would take a deep breath, relax its muscles, then begin productively working through problems and gathering insights on mental hangups I’d been having. It was awesome.

I felt like I was actually recharging for the next day of work or event. I was proactively chipping away at digesting a number of topics which had been swirling around my mind recently instead of waiting until they built up and I melted down. It was much more enjoyable to do my feeling and thinking at a reasonable pace rather than all at once.

In the silence of my morning route, of my break at work, of my meals, I grew more in tune with myself because I gave her a real chance to show up. Without all the noise, I could hear her when she knocked.

She’s actually pretty cool. I don’t know why I drown her out so much.

Isn’t that what we do though? At least sometimes? Without realizing it, we can lose the opportunity to get to know and hear from one of our greatest allies in life–ourselves.

Whatever, I’m not trying to be some motivational speaker or something. I just think it’s true. We are wiser than we think and are far more capable of facing our obstacles than we give ourselves credit for. We just have to give ourselves the opportunity and not be scared (Because I think fear is part of it. Yes, sometimes noise is fun and innocent. But other times, I’m realizing I’m using noise to put off confronting a thought I’m afraid is going to be too much for me to handle.¬† No more of that.¬†Okay, less of that–we’re all works in progress.).

I want to make periods of silence a more regular part of my life, taking a few days every few weeks to get back to my roots. And I want to daily be more mindful and choosy about the noise I do let in and how often I let it in.

It may have a habit of getting wonky, but I want to see what else my brain has to offer when given a healthy space to do so.

If these last few days were any indication, I’m prepared to be pleased.

*

Have you ever done anything similar and what were your results?

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The Mental Immune System | Part Two

A few weeks ago we started talking about the mental immune system. In part one, we got the boring elements out of the way (eating health food, exercising regularly, and sleeping enough). Today, I want to focus on: connection.

I have found genuine connection to be vital for my mental health because it is grounding. For me, there are three areas of connection.

WITH YOURSELF

  1. What makes you happy? It took me a while to get this, but there is a difference between what you see making other people happy and what I actually enjoy doing. I can get really inspired whenever I see someone else love training for a race in cute running gear, killing it at water color painting, or traveling to multiple countries during the summer. That doesn’t mean I would enjoy that. I don’t like running even if I buy new leggings. I don’t have the patience or passion to become good at painting (the instructor and 10 middle-aged women in the water color class I took can attest to this). And I’m a homebody. A yearly to bi-yearly vacation to some place in nature, even the same place every year, does it for me. I hate packing and crowds and not being in my cozy bed.
  2. What makes you feel alive? I’ve been able to narrow this down to just a few things, which allows me to consciously make time for them. I love anything flower-related (growing, photographing, arranging), writing obviously, and learning new languages. I also love long walks in nature.
  3. What brings out of side of you that your current situation neglects? Whenever I worked at a computer all day, I did more floral stuff, because I was less in touch with that side of me. Now that I’m on my feet with kids all day, I make more of a point to get in touch with my writing side. I still do the other hobbies, but by making sure I’m getting in touch with all of me, I feel more whole.
  4. When are you most honest with yourself? I am most honest with myself when I’m journaling or contemplating life in the shower. For you, it could be in drawing, in recording yourself, in talking out loud to yourself in the car (except at the stoplights because you don’t want that stranger you’ll never see again to think you’re crazy). Try to take time at least once a week to be honest with yourself without judgment. Unless the shower is where you’re honest–you might want to do that a little more frequently.
  5. What part of yourself do you really appreciate? If it’s your creativity, do something creative! If it’s your problem-solving, do a logic problem or solve some other sort of problem! If it’s your green thumb, garden! If it’s your computer skills, do some hacking and expose the shadow government! Whatever it is you love about yourself, do that thing. Hang out with the side of yourself you think is cool.

WITH OTHERS

  1. How many meaningful relationships do you realistically have room for right now? I don’t have room for a lot. One of my best friends keeps in touch with, like, everyone she’s ever been close to (it seems) or connected with. She loves it and it gives her energy. Not me. I don’t have the social energy to keep up that many relationships. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cutting people completely out left and right. But I’m not going out of my way to maintain them. I can’t. But I can prioritize my and my husband’s family and a handful of close friends.
  2. Do you prefer one-on-one, small groups, or big gatherings? I think you can guess where I fall. Big gatherings! I love the noise, small talk, and constant stimulation! The social anxiety is a high! ūüôā But yeah, for me one-on-one with someone I can genuinely connect with and small groups of people I truly click with are where I feel most connected.
  3. How frequently do you need to socialize? This varies so much from person to person and the type of socialization affects it as well. I can only really handle one, sometimes two in-person, hang outs in a week, with people other than my husband (or parents/brother when we lived in close proximity). My husband doesn’t count, because, not to be mushy, but being with him is usually better than being alone (Everyone who’s been married more than two years is going, “Yeah, sis, that’s gonna wear off.”). A phone date or two with family or close friends is perfect for me. Otherwise, keeping up with daily or weekly snap chatting or texts does the trick. You could be completely different. You could need to socialize every day or only bi-weekly. Do you.
  4. Where do you feel most like yourself? Besides the small group factor, I feel most like myself when I’m having a deep conversation, being nonsensical, serving others, or spending time with people who are kind of outcasts in society or lonely. What that looks like for me right now is refugee families and an elderly woman who takes the flower arrangements I make off my hands because if they stay at my house, they die, dry, and remain on various surfaces looking gross. Before said woman retired, she was a social worker and I hung out with her and her tag-along friend who was a homeless ex-felon (I might have left out a detail or two at the time, Dad. Oops sorry love you). Maybe for you that’s with your gamer friends or pals in your sorority or your church small group. It could be running with a partner or playing pranks with your church small group or… I don’t know! I think I’ve given you enough ideas to get the ball rolling. The point is, connect with others in a way where you will feel connected and not like you’re going through the motions.
  5. What is your love language? My top two are touch and quality time. This is why cuddling up on the couch with my husband makes me feel so connected to him. You can take the test here. It’s not just for romantic love, but how you show and receive all types of love. This could help you figure out how you’ll feel most connected to others. If your love language is acts of service, making something for someone and showing them how it works is a good way to start. Or, volunteering together. If your love language is words of affirmation, maybe writing a letter about or talking to someone in person about the things you love most about them will get the ball rolling. If you’re too lazy to read about the love languages (been there), take a moment to reflect on when you feel most in tune with others and do more of that.

WITH THE SPIRITUAL

If you’re nonreligious…

I don’t think you’re excluded from this, depending on how you personally think about spirituality. An atheist I know shared a photo on Facebook once that said something along the lines of just because she’s an atheist doesn’t mean she doesn’t get caught up in the mystery of life. That was some food for thought for me. I was raised with an idea of God and even in my low, skeptical points regarding God, the notion of there being God has never completely left me. So, what I’m saying is, I can’t completely relate to not being religiously spiritual. But I think if I wasn’t, ask myself these questions:

  1. What makes you feel in awe of life, of the universe? Maybe it’s being in nature reading about space, or getting lost in art.
  2. Where do you feel most still? Mindfulness and meditation are “in” right now so there’s so many meditation apps out there. One of my nonreligious friends recently recommended the Calm app.
  3. What helps you see the bigger picture? It could be meditation, yoga, or some other form of mindfulness that helps you put down thoughts that are “urgent” so you can see how much more there is to life or where you’re going.
  4. What do you find sacred? I like to take time to reflect on sacred moments I’m experiencing or have experienced lately. Places where I saw love, healing, justice, growth, etc.

If you aren’t spiritual, but get in touch with a more spiritual side of life, I’d really love to hear your thoughts on what you do!

If you’re religious…

First of all, I think it’s important to realize if God transcends culture, language, and age, than I’m sure God has endless and unique ways to connect with us. Saying that almost seems unnecessary but then I remember how many years it took me to unlearn (I still have to remind myself from time to time) there are more ways to connect with God than a disciplined Bible reading plan or thorough prayer list.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for spiritual disciplines. I haven’t quite mastered them yet, but I have seen how self-discipline can be what actually creates more freedom (my friend Linnea talks some about it in one of her blog posts). A small example is limiting my social media time to a certain amount and time of day. I’m finding by doing this, I seize more opportunities, even if they’re short, to talk with God or digest my thoughts instead of impulsively opening an app and scrolling for five minutes.

What I’m trying to get at is I think God wants to know you and teach you in the way that is holiest for you and most conducive to your learning style.

Maybe these questions will help:

  1. What kind of conclusion did you come to in the connection with yourself section? Invite God along. Even if it’s video games.
  2. When do you feel most still? I feel most still when I know when the stillness will be over. That might sound kind of funny, so let me explain. I used to try to go have “quiet time” with God, but would get super antsy because I didn’t know how long I was expected to sit there. So, I tried setting alarm, but then all I could think about was when the alarm was going to startle me. It kept me from relaxing. I have now found a happy medium. I have Tea Time with Jesus. I get a hot cup of tea and go sit in a dark closet (it’s the least stimulating–aka distracting–place in my home. Sometimes I talk and sometimes I listen. Sometimes I do both. (Okay, okay, sometimes I do neither because I’m getting mad about the dog barking outside, worrying about what minor symptom I’m experiencing is probably a sign of a major disease, considering what I’m going to have for dinner, or experiencing an existential crisis about religion. God still loves me.) The thing I like about the tea is it gives me something to do while still being relatively still and it gives the date a set end. When the cup is empty, the session is optionally over. The time it takes for the tea to cool down (after I’ve burned my tongue by trying to drink it too soon) and then for me to drink it is just about the right amount of time before I lose focus.
  3. When do you feel most caught up in spiritual joy? Be real with yourself. It doesn’t have to be the worship set at church. It could be gardening, hiking, knitting, cooking. It could be washing windows for all I care! But wherever you lose yourself with God, go there. For me that’s dance parties with Jesus. I have to be alone with no fear of others’ eyes. And a lot of the songs are “secular” (I said secular just so I could have an aside about how I don’t think there should be a distinction between Christian and secular music because music of all kinds explores sacredness and truth in life, like love and healing and heartbreak and justice–“Christian” music does not have a monopoly on the holy just because the artist holds a particular belief.) but I have a special memory or mysterious connection with God through them. A couple even have the f-bomb.
  4. What makes your heart the angriest or saddest? Counter intuitive questions perhaps. But recently my church focused on lament. Which apparently means you can be really honest with God about how you feel regarding the state of the world and how you feel it should be handled. And you can do it without secretly feeling like a negative Nancy Christian who needs “the joy of the Lord” because it turns out people in the Bible were doing it all the time. Even Jesus did it. It’s like God doesn’t want us to force ourselves to feel happy all the time when humans are capable of a whole range of emotions. In fact, if that was the expectation, the smartest thing we could do would be to shelter ourselves from everyone whose lives suck–for example, homeless people, survivors of domestic and sexual violence, refugees, the mentally ill, children of people suffering from addiction, people suffering from addiction, the terminally ill, prisoners, and literally anyone oppressed by racist, misogynistic, or class (etc.) systems. Unfortunately, that would require avoiding Jesus since he said he was the least of these and would be in direct defiance of the second most important commandment, which was to love our neighbor as ourselves. Alright, I didn’t intend to get fiery. Maybe I should delete all that… nah.

Well, on that note… I hope these questions gave you a thing or two on which to reflect (I feel so fancy when I go out of my way to not end on a preposition) and how to connect (rhyming). Like I said, making sure I connect with myself, others, and God keeps me grounded. Those connections are roots preventing me from getting washed away whenever life get rainy. Have you found a similar affect? I would love to hear about it and how you connect to any of the three (or additional aspects I didn’t consider).

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The Mental Immune System | Part One

My sophomore year of college, I was really depressed. Within that year, there was a period of time where I was even suicidal. (If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you already know that.) I remember, back then, searching the internet for how to not be that way. Whenever I read things like¬†get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and¬†exercise every day, I was totally pissed off. Those simple instruction felt like impossible charges to climb a mountain with flip-flops and a broken arm. I really had so little in me back then. Eventually and for me personally, what really made the difference was deciding to regularly see a counselor and to take an SSRI (which I ended up taking for about eight months). The SSRI got my brain back to balance and my counselor helped equip me with strategies and new mindsets to help me pick myself up.

As I surfaced from that¬†“terrible, horrible, no good, very bad”¬†year (as Alexander might put it), I became more capable of doing those very simple things every article about depression and anxiety on the internet suggested I should be doing. And I learned just how important it was to do them as much as you are capable of doing so.

They are part of your mental immune system.

Just like we have to sleep enough, eat well, and exercise regularly in order to help us avoid getting physically sick , we also have to sleep enough, eat well, and exercise regularly to help prevent our brains from getting wonky. Are physical illnesses bound to happen anyway? Yes. Occasionally a three-year-old with a cold sneezes right in your face or you catch the flu going around the office. Even then, having a strong physical immune system will make those illnesses shorter and less complicated than if you have a weak immune system. It’s the same way mentally. Wonky days or weeks are likely inevitable, especially if you struggle with chronic wonky brain. However, if we practice good preventative habits which keep our mental immune system strong, those wonky brain times can become fewer and father between and also shorter when they do occur.

From where I sit right now at 25, I believe there are six main elements of our mental immune system: sleep, diet food (the word diet makes me think of Diet Coke, which is GROSS), exercise, environment, thought patterns, and connection.

If you’re anything like me, knowing that something is good for you isn’t always enough. It can be hard to implement beneficial practices into our lives without taking the time to reflect on the most practical way to do so. Without being introspective and intentional in setting new habits, we can set ourselves up for failure and the shame that often accompanies failure. (Boo, shame!)

I’ve created some guided questions that have helped me create/continue to improve my own mental immune system practices. I hope you will find them useful as well.

Because my attention span is only so long, we’ll split the six into two parts.Today, we’ll get the boring ones out of the way: sleep, food, and exercise. There are approximately a bajillion articles on how important these three are to mental health, so I’ll let you do the research. (Not because I’m lazy, of course!)

SLEEP

  1. How much sleep do I personally need?¬†I need at least eight. My husband gets by with six or so; some people need more than eight. Figure out your sweet spot. Just because someone says you people your age need X amount doesn’t mean there are not exceptions.
  2. When do I have the most/least amount of energy?¬†I’m a morning person. I can’t believe I spent so much of my life staying up late and then sleeping in. When I started to go to bed earlier and get up earlier, it was a total game changer. I’m more creative, inspired, and motivated early in the day and more anxious and fearful at late at night. It’s most efficient to¬† create your sleep schedule, if possible, based on your natural energy cycle. Once I did so, I found my days felt more productive and meaningful, not to mention I was able to fall asleep much easier.
  3. How long does it take me to wind down and fall asleep?¬†I have to start getting ready for bed about an hour before I want to fall asleep, if not sooner. Why? First of all, I’m a dilly-daddler. I have to leave buffer room for me to get off and back on track. Second, it takes me a long time to mental settle down even when I am physically tired. You might need to leave time to read a chapter of a book. Or, you might be one of those weirdos who falls asleep the second they hit the bed and need very little time.
  4. What hinders me from falling asleep and what could help?¬†If I haven’t¬† processed my day before I try to fall asleep, my brain will keep me up chewing on all the events and emotions we haven’t digested yet. Like my phone wanting to update, my brain needing to decompress will only accept “not now” as an answer for so long before it forces the procedure itself. So, taking time to process the day right after I get home makes going to sleep later a lot easier. Checking my phone or outside noises going on can be problem areas as well. I try to make it a policy to put down my phone once I turn off the lights, and I listen to a rainstorm through headphones to drown out other noise. Sometimes my anxiety it just not letting me relax. Luckily, my mom made me a weighted blanket and that helps on those nights.
  5. When/where have I slept best in the past? Why do you think that was? Was it how quiet or dark the room was? Was it the mattress? How safe you felt? How physically active you had been throughout the day? That you meditated? How at peace your mind was? Now, how can you incorporate those elements into your every night sleep time?

FOOD

  1. What do my current eating habits look like? 
  2. What typically prevents me from eating well? “I’m a lazy piece of shit,” isn’t good enough. Maybe you are (me too), but dig a little deeper.¬†Why are you a lazy piece of shit? Are you tired from work, hate trying to find recipes, deplore searching for ingredients at the store, etc.? Once you’re aware of what is preventing you, you can figure out how to work around it.
  3. Am I more likely to cook a little bit multiple times or a lot at once?¬†I’m more likely to do a bunch of cooking at the beginning of week that I can reach for or warm up as I get hungry the next six days. I can’t rely on myself to do it every morning and I’m too tired or have other commitments after work. If I don’t already have something prepared, I’ll find myself in the McDonald’s drive thru.
  4. What kind of nutritious¬†food do I like? What do I hate? Avoid the stuff you hate for now. One time my husband decided he wanted to try to start eating a little better and thought starting with the vegetable he hated the most would be the best plan of action. After forcing spinach lasagna down our throats (okay, I picked out the spinach out because it for real tasted like grass from our front yard), we were waaay less inspired to keep trying new healthy recipes. Get some successes under your belt before you try to tackle the nasty stuff. Or never tackle the nasty stuff. It’s your life!
  5. How can I simplify the experience? Awhile back I decided to keep recipes under five ingredients instead of complicated recipes with multiple dishes. (What was I even thinking?) Since doing that, I have a good stash of easy recipes I actually like which I can rotate through rather than constantly finding new ones. It also means I usually have most of the ingredients already or know where to find them in the store. No more wandering aimlessly and googling what very basic vegetables look like or trying to follow long new recipes (I always forget at least one step).

EXERCISE

  1. What usually prevents me from exercising or sticking to my goals?¬†When my goals are too complicated or require me to do something every day or for too long (or both), I simply will not stick to it. When my goals are flexible and simple (like, exercise at least three times a week for at least 20 minutes), I’m more likely to keep going and even exceed my goals. Another huge thing that prevents me from exercising is boredom. I don’t find weight lifting, training programs, or anything that requires “reps” of any kind fun in the slightest, even if I have Netflix on. I’m just counting down the time until it’s over. And the more negativity I associate with exercise, the less likely I am to do it. I find yoga, dancing, and walking more postive experiences.
  2. What days of the week and times of the day am I most likely to exercise?¬†I’m way more likely to exercise before work or on the weekends, because I have more motivation.
  3. Do I want fellow exercisers or to fly solo?¬†I don’t like the pressure of trying to keep up with someone or gauge whether they can keep up with me. Other people need that sort of “competition”. Not me.¬†I want people to leave me the hell alone!!!
  4. Do I want instruction or to do my own thing?¬†I’d rather do my own thing or watch a low stress instructional yoga video. Maybe you would be more motivated in a class, with a coach, or with an intense workout video.
  5. Do I want to go somewhere¬†to exercise or stay at home?¬†I bought a gym membership once and went twice the whole year–refer back to me being a lazy piece of shit. But in all seriousness, having to remember everything I need to bring (and I’ll inevitably forget something), pack it all up, drive to the gym, talk to the front desk person (they’re just doing their job but I want people to leave me the hell alone, remember?!), obsess about people watching me struggle to run for more 30 seconds or lift the smallest weights possible, and then drive home is a personal nightmare. So I’ll put it off until I realize I’ve wasted a ton of money and still haven’t exercised. You might like getting away to exercise or feel a healthy push with an audience. I don’t understand you, but you do you. I’d rather stay in the privacy of my own home or take a walk on a trail.
  6. How do I want to feel?¬†I want to feel like people have left me the hell alone!! Haha, just kidding. Well, not kidding, but to take this question more seriously: I want to feel connected to myself or others. Yoga and solo walks help me feel connected to myself. Walks with a friend (who better not even THINK about being a slow walker–I will leave you in the dust) help me connect with others. I also like to feel strong. Not p90x strong, but I-could-feel-my-muscles-shake-a-tiny-bit strong. Power yoga and longer walks do the trick for me. Sometimes I want that out of breath sensation (less I-ran-all-the-way-around-the-track-without-walking out of breath, more I-gave-zero-shits-because-no-one-was-watching-me-play-Just-Dance out of breath), like I’m shaking the stress out of my body. You might want to feel strong, graceful, or adventurous. You might want to push your limits or you might want to stay comfortably far from your limits while still increasing your heart rate. Determining how you want to¬†feel from exercise will help you make a better choice about which type of exercise will benefit you the most.

There you have it. I hope these questions helped get you thinking about how you can improve your mental immune system in a practical way. If you feel like I’ve left any insights out, let me know. I’d also love to hear what your sleep, food, and exercise structures look like and why they work for you! Seriously, I’m nosy like that.

Finally, please remember: there is absolutely no shame in tailoring your routines to YOU. In fact, that is the wisest thing you can do, because the best routine is not the one some guru has perfected. The best routine is the one you’ll actually do. And you are the expert on what that looks like, not that well-meaning guru who uses essential oils and shamelessly takes pictures at the gym and has a perfectly clean bedside table with a healthy plant on it.

(Okay, but the bedside table part is #goals amirite)

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Next time, we’ll cover: environment, thought patterns, and connection. So stay tuned!

 

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Comparison

I think we have all, at one point or another, been trapped in the icky, sticky comparison game. Maybe it was a coworker who excels at the job, a social media friend who has it all together, a couple whose relationship is dreamy, or a person with a shared passion whose craft or business is better than ours.

Sometimes it can be hard to identify when you’re comparing yourself to someone in the first place because comparison often comes out as extreme annoyance or hatred of someone. You might have heard from yourself or from a friend something along the lines of: They’ve had everything handed to them-or–She cares too much about appearances–or–Usually people who post so much about their relationship are actually miserable–or—Why is her business doing so well? It’s not even that good.¬†Friend, you jealous.

Other times, it’s pretty obvious and it doesn’t take much detective work to conclude we aren’t feeling great about where we are because of where someone else is. Wherever you are, thanks for joining me.

When it comes to comparison I’ve heard, “Don’t compare someone else’s highlight reel to your behind the scenes.” There’s truth here, but it’s not complete. Maybe the object of your comparison is really good at their job but has a horrible relationship with their family. Maybe the social media queen has perfected the “candid” laughing photo but is actually depressed. Maybe the couple who has such a supposedly great relationship fights all the time. Maybe the woman doing so well following your shared passion is super lonely. You can’t see their whole life to confirm (unless you’re hardcore stalking them, which I hope you’re not) so there’s really no way to know.

Thinking about their tragic behind the scenes can be helpful but I think staying there is lazy. Also, sometimes someone else’s highlight reel is better than ours. Some people have perfected an Instagram theme. Some not so much. Some people have a great family and a wonderful relationship and amazing friends and a well behaved child and/or dog. Sometimes people are more well-rounded than you; some people are good at more things than you. That’s just reality.

And it’s why we have to develop better coping skills when it comes to comparison. Otherwise, we’ll keep shrinking into ourselves or lashing out at others. We’ll be insecure, angry, and miserable.

I believe it’s all about adjusting your focus.

Here are three ways I’m learning to do that:

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1) Shift your attention to what you admire¬†about the person you keep comparing yourself to (you can manage to do this even if they are overall a bad person). Is it your co-worker’s drive, confidence, or how going they are? Is it your social media friend’s flawless photos or how he travels all the time or all the friends she has? Is it the type of dates the dream couple goes on or the way neither partner seems to throw a fit about all the selfies they’re force to take? Is it how refined the person with your shared passion’s craft is, their social media following, or the way they aren’t afraid to put themselves out there? Sit down and name the quality of the other person or the aspect of their life you wish you had. Admire them for being that way or chasing that lifestyle. Good for them–they’ve shown you it can be done. Then brainstorm how you can get a step closer. How can you gain more confidence? How can you travel more? How can you and your partner communicate better? How can you get better at your craft? Google it! There are so many resources online at how to do things. Finally, set some reasonable goals and begin your journey.

Which, brings me to…

2) Concentrate on the sensation of building skills¬†rather than on where you currently are compared to where you feel you need to be. If all you do is compare yourself to where someone else is or where you want to be, you’ll keep coming up short. Even if you do surpass the original person you were comparing yourself to, you’ll likely find someone else even further ahead of you. And if you’re anything like me, the standards you have for yourself are constantly changing to remain out of reach. Concentrating on the sensation of building a skill while you’re doing it reflecting on the moments you did so at the end of the day can do wonders. Think about how empowering it feels to to become better at something, how riveting it is to put yourself out there, what a relief it is to be making progress rather than standing still, afraid to move. It’s awesome!¬†Let yourself enjoy your job or your passion even if you’re not the best. Appreciate your partner even if they have quirks. Have fun laughing in photos even if you look like a raptor when you do (self, I’m looking at you).

(Even not playing the comparison game is a muscle that needs to be built so give yourself a break if it’s not easy.)

3) Zoom out¬†to see the bigger picture. Your life is so much more than the quality or skill you’re hyper-focusing on. There is more to you and¬†more to your time on earth than how driven or photogenic you are, than how successful your work life or passion project is, than whether or not you’re in a relationship, than how many people follow you on Twitter. You can really suck at something or have parts of your life that aren’t super glamorous and still decide to have a good time. You’re not obligated to be perfect or the best at something in order to enjoy it. Other areas of yourself and your life are worth being proud of even if there are other areas you don’t like. Zoom out and remind yourself of that as often as necessary.

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I know I used a numbered list to present these tactics to adjust your focus when it comes to comparison, but that doesn’t mean I’m great just yet at implementing them. I simply know when I do, I see results. And I hope you do too.

What as worked for you in overcoming the tendency to compare yourself to others? I’d love to hear about it!

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