Category Archives: mental health

Wellness Wednesday – on attitude

On Monday night, hubby and I opted out of a wet, windy camping experience and booked a B&B in De Smet, South Dakota. Sunday night we’d spent the night in an AirBnB basement that was basically a retirement community (9 units) on the main floor. It was better than a wet camp site, for sure. The hosts treated us so kindly, they even washed and dried our clothing while we were at dinner. I had asked if we could borrow a clothes dryer, but their hospitality went beyond that.

The actual B&B was a different experience. One of the owners arrived an hour after our scheduled check in time and began telling us how difficult her life is, and how hard it is to have a B&B and another rental property. Her sad story implied we were a burden rather than welcome guests.

In the morning, the kitchen area was locked, so I went across the street to buy coffee. Two other sets of guests were present at breakfast, but she barely interacted with any of us. It was odd, and I believe she must be going through a difficult time in her life. My husband suggested she probably needs anti-depressants.

That might be true. I kept trying to maintain my attitude of kindness and compassion, but I have to admit, it was hard. When people receive money for you to stay with them, while I don’t expect excessive gratitude, I do expect not to be treated as a burden. We had found 3-4 AirBnB options the night before that were cheaper and would probably have worked fine for us.

I had opted to “splurge” on a real B&B because I figured we would at least get a decent breakfast. Well, it was a passable breakfast. At least the room was cozy and clean. The bathroom was also clean. I will say that.

The moral of the story: whatever attitude you project out into the world is likely to be reflected back at you. It’s not to say that every interaction is a reflection of your own behavior. But when your interactions imply that others are a burden, they will not want to return. It’s certainly no way to run a hospitality business. A bit of gratitude goes a LONG way.

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Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

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Embrace your oddities

I just treated myself to a few YouTube videos from The School of Life. The title that caught my eye this morning was “Why So Many People Want To Be Writers.” Of course I wanted to watch that one.

The premise of this 5-minute video is that we are all profoundly lonely. We are not heard. We are not known. But we long to be heard and known. Our true vocation may be talking with our fellow human beings about what matters to us. Writing is a symptom of social isolation, and it is a substitute for what we truly want, real human interaction.

I agree and also disagree with this premise. I like Liz Gilbert’s and Brene Brown’s notions that humans are by nature, creative. We enjoy making things, just because we can. But I like the provocative ideas that the School of Life puts out there, and I always think there is a grain of truth.

embrace your oddities

snipped from the School of Life Video: Why We Feel Lonely and Odd

I had to continue to watch the video on “Why We Feel Lonely and Odd” because most of the time I do not actually feel lonely. I enjoy my time alone, and I am able to entertain myself quite happily most of the time. Of course if I am alone for too much time, I do long for a companion, a good friend my husband or with whom I can share my thoughts.

The concept of psychological asymmetry is fascinating, though. The fact is that we know ourselves more than we know other people simply because we only know what they show us. People often hide those things that they do not think are “acceptable” to other people. But we all have a dark side, or thoughts that are petty, grandiose or perverse sometimes.

I love the “solutions” the video proposes to this idea about loneliness: art and love. This idea of art actually contradicts the idea of the first video. The conclusion is that through art, we understand that none of us is quite as odd or as “special” as we might assume or fear. The School of Life promotes emotional intelligence, and provides a number of training resources and products to support that goal. Founded by Alain de Botton, a brilliant writer, it is worth checking out the videos of you are a psychology geek like me.

What I take away from this is that by embracing those things that make us “odd” or different, and perhaps sharing those, we see that we are truly not alone. Others share similar struggles, and though we do not always put ourselves in that vulnerable place to open up, we are inextricably linked by some larger force. Writing can help us forge those links, and I know it has for me.

It is a somewhat profound miracle that the internet has enabled a different kind of sharing than our ancestors could have dreamed. And yet, it can isolate us when we do not value real human contact, for which there is no substitute. No matter how odd or different you may think you are, reach out when you are lonely. Even if you face rejection from some people, the ultimate benefit is real human connection, which we all crave.

Happy weekend, all.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Meaning in everyday life

meaning in everyday lifeHello Readers!

This month I was invited to participate as a guest writer in the “Making More Meaning” blog by Stephanie. I love her idea to invite several reflections from fellow bloggers on how we find meaning and I am honored to write on this topic.

The minimalists have led the way in our understanding that collecting more possessions is not what gives our lives meaning. I got a reference a few weeks ago to the book “Stuffocation: Living More with Less” from Lisa at the Simple Life Experiment podcast. James Wallman makes a compelling case for an experiential approach over materialism in the way we live our lives, and traces the history of this change in perspective.

Wallman helped me see how collecting things to show one’s status may have arisen from and evolutionary fitness marker display, which helps me have more empathy with this human impulse. At the same time, we have an ecological imperative to evolve away from this way of living, given worldwide population growth. Left unchecked, the manufacture, packaging and waste generated in making more “stuff” could lead to massive problems in the earth’s ecosystems.

Cocoa helping with work

My dear Cocoa loved to help me when I worked at home. She tried find meaning in my work as well, but she often found it lacking and preferred cuddles.

I consider how I personally find meaning daily life. During my 20’s and early 30’s, my career was sometimes more about earning income to pay my bills, while I found true meaning in my volunteer activities. I am fortunate today to work for a company that has a meaningful mission to me: “alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.” When focus on the patients we serve, and stay committed to the mission, I find a great deal of meaning in the clinical research that my team does every day in Latin America.

On the other hand, when a focus on short-term profit clouds leadership judgment on what is best for the long-term health of our department, it is much more difficult to be propelled by the mission. I believe people can profit from their work and add value to the world simultaneously. There is nothing wrong with making a fair profit. We can re-invest profit into further innovations. Profit and start-up capital are often required to develop new solutions for patients in a sustainable way.

Finding meaning and purpose is about making a contribution that aligns with our values and allows us to use our strengths and talents often. I like Brene Brown’s definition of spirituality (from her work in Rising Strong) to explain how meaning, purpose and spirituality intersect for me. She sees spirituality as something not reliant on religion, theology or dogma, but rather a belief in our interconnected-ness and in a loving force that is greater than ourselves. It is in this way we complete our connection to spirit, living as interconnected beings. We fully acknowledge everything we do has effects on other people, on animals, and on other life on our planet.

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Newlyweds meximinnesotana and dear hubby, Sept 2017 near Isla Holbox, Mexico

We must do some inner work on ourselves, to be sure that our intentions are not coming from a place of needing to “prove our worthiness” to anyone. We are inherently worthy of love and belonging, just by being born. But the gratitude that flows from this realization gives us generosity of spirit that feeds our energy and our commitment.

We are also wired to be in relationships with people, animals and other living organisms. Research shows that we benefit from being in nature, though there is some controversy on whether it is nature itself, or being in community with others that really boosts our well-being. Healthy relationships have been shown to decrease your chances of dying prematurely by 50%. Support offered by caring friends can buffer the effects of stress. In older adults, loneliness is a significant predictor of poor health.

Note that it is about quality and not quantity of your relationships. Even if you have 500+ facebook friends, this does not substitute for 2-3 close friends (or family) in your life that you know you can truly count on when you need support. As an introvert, I know that it takes a lot of energy to maintain many relationships, and so I cultivate them selectively, and in a deeper way.

Is it possible that the “meaning” of friendship gets diluted if you have too many friends? 

I will leave you to ponder that one, while I get back to some work I must complete this week. I would love your thoughts or comments.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

willy and calvin

Though my husband and I chose not to have human children, our fur babies add meaning and happiness to our lives. Willy and Calvin, our “boneheads” as hubby likes to call them, fight but also express mutual admiration. Who can tell me that love is not the ultimate in finding and creating meaning in our lives? 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of hiding

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Yup, it’s me.

I took the plunge yesterday and went much shorter on the hair. My stylist told me it takes a strong woman to pull off short hair effectively. I like that. I am going to rock the short hair. It is a symbolic way for me to “signal” the changes to my work colleagues, since I will be seeing several on my team next week in Belgium.

I have decided to come out of “hiding” here on the blog as well, since I aim to integrate the work and personal worlds I inhabit, gradually, at a pace that works for me.

About 8 years ago, I was going through another big life transition and was not as attentive or focused at work as I strive to be. I felt burned out and my boss was blithely dumping more work onto an already full plate. I had no sense of boundaries or how to say no. I had not yet learned how to communicate my distress effectively, to ask for help or to push back.

In addition to that, I had moved out of the home where I had been living for a few years with my partner and his children (part-time, as they also spent time with their mother). I had not yet grieved the loss of that life, even though my soul was relieved that I had left.

Perceiving my lack of commitment and energy for a few weeks during my move, my boss asked me what was wrong and suspected there was something outside of work bothering me. In fact there was, and I explained to her (in a vague way) what was going on. Instead of having empathy and giving me some understanding about my need to heal, she put me on a performance improvement plan.

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This is WAY shorter than I have worn my hair in about 2 decades.

For those who do not know, this is code for “you’d better shape up and get into gear or you will get fired.” The letter she gave to me outlined the ways in which I needed to improve my work within 90 days or I may be terminated. It was a shock to me. I was also bitter about the fact that she seemed to use the personal information I shared with her against me.

Looking back there are many other ways to interpret her actions. But it was the time I began walling off parts of my professional life from my personal life, as much as I could. I had been “hiding” my a.d.d. from her as well, even though I had seen it as an asset to the position, my flexibility in catching whatever was tossed my way, up to a point.

I gathered my energy, went to see an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor at my workplace, and tried to figure out how I was going to make this work. He helped me see that I was suffering from a minor depression and that I needed to take more proactive steps to communicate with my boss on the work overload. He explained that managers at this workplace like it when employees come to them with potential solutions, not just problems.

He helped me figure out more effective ways to communicate, rather than the passive-aggressive (i.e. Minnesotan) tactic I had been using to push back. He also referred me to the book The Chemistry of Joy, by Dr. Henry Emmons, which helped me proactively manage my depression through both Western and Eastern wisdom. Wow, am I ever grateful for his support and help.

I worked my ass off to get out of the PIP. Even though my boss was not yet thrilled with my work, she said I had improved substantially. It was not until the year after that, when we hired a second person to help with the growing workload, that she really appreciated my skills. It was really hard to find someone who knew clinical research and who was also bilingual! We were not just a dime a dozen. She began treating me differently and better, appreciating my unique constellation of skills.

For the past three years I have held (and rocked) the manager position that she left when she opted to go to a different department. I am a better boss because of that experience, even though it was hellish at the time. I want to come “out of hiding” with my struggles because I want others to know you can get through tough times and come out on the other side. It is important to find support, and to realize you are not alone.

You will get through it, and you will develop amazing resilience in the process. Peace and love, readers.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

 

 

Reading, writing and rhythm

I am a voracious reader. My nightstand is typically piled with books, and I have about 3-4 going at any one time.

There’s at least one fiction book, which is my treat reading before bedtime, and the way I wind down before sleep. I am not so into e-books. I have a Nook, but forget to charge it. I have a love for real pages that I can turn, a visceral and physical experience of a book that I am too old-fashioned to replace.

When I write, I integrate the things I read, the practices I attempt, and the swirling thoughts I notice while meditating or navigating my days. It helps me slow things down enough to consider how it all fits together.

My philosophy teacher used to recommend that we write to remember. When studying, write out concepts and ideas we want to understand or explore.

In biology or chemistry labs, we wrote to capture our protocols, and our results. Writing is a part of science, part of study, part art-form and part formal work.

Reading and writing do not come easily to everyone, and I am grateful that I have always enjoyed both since a young age. Fifteen years ago, toward the end of graduate school I was diagnosed with adult a.d.d. Now it makes sense to me that I can either hyper-focus or be challenged to finish a page without distraction.

I do not have the “h” part of the usual diagnosis (and women often do not manifest that part, or they train themselves out of it to be quiet, compliant little girls from a young age). But clearly the difference in my ability to focus was palpable after treatment and medication.

Before the diagnosis I had suffered from 2-3 periods of depression in my life, precipitated by burnout and anxiety. I had always struggled to pay attention during my “boring” classes, and often escaped into my imagination. Teachers knew I was smart, but they often said I was not working up to my potential. I finished salutatorian of my high school class, so clearly a lot of students may not have been working up to their potential…

What I find these days is that life is more about establishing the right rhythm for my days and weeks, rather than pursuing the elusive “balance” many strive for.

Filling days with to-do lists and activities may help us feel productive and in control of our lives. But resting, pausing and re-evaluating need to be a part of our lives too. An a.d.d.-oid brain is typically in motion constantly. I describe my thought processes as cascades, and they are very fluid and dynamic.

Normal people can typically compartmentalize their thoughts, like putting them in boxes, categorizing and organizing them. The a.d.d. brain tends not to work that way, instead flowing from thought to thought, in associative “play”. We create new categories, with different boundaries. Our brains  leap outside boxes like playful puppies or kittens.

For years I spent time hiding my a.d.d., at the advice of well-meaning professionals that explained to me that employers would not necessarily understand, and may penalize me for it professionally. In every job I needed to “prove myself” with consistency for quite some time before advancing, very hard for the a.d.d.-oid mind that gets bored once it knows the routine. The first time I was able to hire administrative support to help with the details while I could focus on big picture work, I finally started realizing my potential.

My current position as an operational manager for an international team requires me to be quick thinking and to balance many factors in making decisions. I get to help my employees with career development (which I love) and coach them to develop their skills, especially when it comes to influence management in a large corporation with a matrix reporting structure.

I turned a weakness into a “superpower” of sorts, at least the way I am choosing to author my life and my story. I do not see it as a disability. I see it as a way of seeing around corners, flexibly solving problems, and bringing creativity to many teams.

As long as I find the right rhythm in my days, get time for rest, play and taking very good care of myself physically, I thrive. When I neglect myself, or slack off on good self-care routines, like getting enough sleep, healthy food, affection, love, and exercise, I suffer.

What I want to say to those suffering from depression, anxiety, a.d.d. or any other type of diagnosis: it does not have to define you or your life. You will need to learn to manage it, that is true. But it will give you unique insight, skills and resilience when you learn to manage it. You will benefit from more compassion for those who struggle. And if you learn to love yourself, and the unique way that your brain and body work, you can fully use your gifts.

 

Find your rhythm, find what makes sense for you. Find others that support your strengths and help you cultivate them. You deserve that. And it is possible.

Have a great week, friends.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

You are not made of sugar

And therefore you will NOT melt if you walk or run in the rain. 

This was what my husband just said to a friend of his, who asked for his help to to get in better shape by walking and possibly running, and taking care of himself. So he agreed to coach this young friend. He has taken a hiatus from running for a few years, and wants to get back to it, and possibly lose some weight as well.

Eight years ago when hubby and I met, we were both avid runners, but I was running 10-milers and half-marathons and he was training for a crazy number of marathons. For a couple years, we had a crazy streak of Half Fanatic and Marathon Maniac madness. I still run, and have done the Twin Cities 10-miler for about 8 out of the last 10 years (due to a connection to the sponsor).

Now that I know that yoga is a better path to body wisdom for me, I run a lot less, and I actually find it easier to maintain my weight. Cortisol and stress-generated hormones are probably the reason for that. Now that I understand how insulin resistance and stress-hormones work, I am able to follow an eating plan that makes it easier to keep weight off.

I used to joke to my husband that running kept me out of prison because it allowed me to deal with the frustrations of working with a boss (at the time) who was clueless and full of herself, without resorting to violence. This is a very tasteless and insensitive joke, I now realize. Workplace and school violence are no joke, and it breaks my heart that children must go through metal detectors to get to their classrooms these days.

Managing our emotions is a key part of emotional adulthood. Since our thoughts drive our emotions, and our emotions drive actions (or lack of action) and therefore our results, we must take the time to develop awareness of our thoughts. Since subconscious thoughts come from long-held beliefs, it can be hard to “tease out” those habitual patterns by ourselves.

I have found that coaching and therapy have been two incredible tools for dealing with anxiety and depression that are hallmarks of those struggling with a.d.d. or any kind of addiction issue. Also, family patterns and learned habits of dealing with stress can be hard to unravel. Knowing how all of those elements work together can help us move forward in our lives.

I realize it reflects a lot of privilege to be able to access therapy, and it is not available to everyone, which I believe is tragic. Yoga, meditation and running are wonderful tools to deal with stress. There is no shame in seeking help, whether through therapy, or a trusted friend or confidante that can compassionately witness our pain and sit with us through it.

No, you are not made of sugar. You will not melt. But there is no shame in getting shelter from the emotional storms that may batter us more than a gentle Spring rain.

Peace, y’all.

 

 

 

Love affairs

I once took a sick day from a temp job because I was reading a book I loved so much I literally could not put it down. That was in my 20’s and the job was in an office, for a bank, nothing I was passionate about, though it paid the bills.

Lately I have been toying with the idea of writing fiction, and there is a story that I have begun getting down on paper, a few paragraphs here & there in my journal. There are a few characters forming in my consciousness, and it is a “road not taken” kind of story perhaps relating to aspects of my own life. But the characters are distinct from me, and seem to have minds of their own.

I’ve been considering how to get more time for my writing. Even though I have not interviewed yet for a position that is kind of exciting to me, I worry that a new job means I would have to focus more on that work, and less on my own creative endeavors. Then I remember the advice that Liz Gilbert gave to a writer during her podcast “Magic Lessons.”  It was to “have an affair” with her art, which in her case was painting.

She explained that people who are having affairs, despite having busy lives, somehow find a way to fit those steamy encounters into their lives. The affair provides a nuclear energy boost, and even though it is not front and center in terms of one’s time and one’s external priorities. Sneaking away to do this thing is delicious and exciting. And our creativity has a desire to have an affair with us.

This feels like where my writing resides right now, in that “stolen” morning time before I get myself ready for work. It is sort of a sacred time for me, and while I keep up the appearance of a “normal” life on the surface, I like having this other aspect of me. I do not share it with everyone (or in the case of this fiction, anyone), and yet it excites me.

When I stopped doing a daily post for a while, thinking I would give myself more time, I actually struggled with getting the energy to get my “regular” things done. While I know I do not have to post publicly every day, but then I *DO* need to generate my work anyway. Because it sustains me and thrills me.

There is some part of me that knows that if it were the main event in my life, it would not feel this exciting and thrilling. Keeping a life that sustains me, and work that pays well, as long as it is not too all-consuming, allows me to find excitement and spark during these stolen moments with words, color and creativity. And perhaps that is why it is so appealing, because it is a treat I give to myself.

Are you having an affair with your art? Do you sneak in the time no matter what else is going on? I would love to hear if this concept resonates with you. 

 

Inviting yourself back

One of my favorite meditations from Insight Timer is by Anna Guest-Jelly called “May I Know What I Know.” It involves a body scan in which we are moved through body starting with the feet, and moving to each region. After the exercise, we consider if there are any places we could not feel, that may have been “offline” from our awareness, so to speak.

The more I practice this body awareness and deliberately tune into places in the body that may be mysterious, the more I tune into emotions. Sometimes I realize why there are “frozen” parts – those emotions may be difficult ones, like grief or anger. I am still learning to feel those emotions all the way through, and sit with them. It is an exercise in compassion and patience to realize I have habitually escaped those feelings, or pushed them under with distraction, food, or other buffers (like busy-ness) rather than to be still with them.

But now that I realize these feelings are an important emotional compass for me, I have begun to “invite myself back” more often. I tune into that channel – my gut, my shoulders, my back, sometimes my lower spine, when they are trying to tell me something. Rather than get lost in thought, and spinning mental energy, I aim to come back to the body, invite my whole self back.

This tendency to abandon the body and thus abandon ourselves is well-supported by our culture. Feeling our emotions and tuning into our intuition is seen as fluffy or woo-woo in many circles. But as I do it more, and acknowledge the times when I have buried my needs and wants in favor of pleasing other people, it gives me pause.

Women are well-conditioned to attending to others’ needs and taking care of partners, children, bosses, teammates, even parents sometimes. But we do not always attend to our own bodies, our own yearnings. I inadvertently learned in my family that we could (and perhaps should) ignore these needs in favor of taking care of others. This abandonment does not serve us long-term though.

Even the airlines tell us to put on our own mask before helping others. Inviting ourselves back can feel like a radical act of rebellion against patriarchy. It asks us to make everyone else comfortable, and to remain small and and of service, never demanding anything for ourselves. And yes, I think it is patriarchy that promotes this idea of the “good daughter” and it is one we must dismantle.

When we invite ourselves back, we ground ourselves in our truth. We allow ourselves to live in greater harmony with nature, and with our bodies, part of nature. We begin to understand the connected nature of all people, of all parts of the universe. We feel compassion for ourselves and for others in their struggles. We make different choices that are more sustainable for ourselves and thus can serve others with a spirit of generosity rather than resentment.

Inviting ourselves back means we have to set appropriate boundaries and say no to things that do not align with our purpose or intention. That can be very hard for those of us who were trained to say “yes” to everything we are asked to do. We can be perceived as “uppity” or trouble-makers, or not those nice girls we used to be.

It is a daily practice, inviting ourselves back. It does not simply happen one day, and then all things change. It is a daily choice, a habit that grows easier with regular practice. If we want to make sustainable change in the world, I believe it is non-negotiable. The world needs our whole and integrated selves. Our souls call for this as well.

Consider inviting yourself back today and centering on what your body is telling you. I would love to know how this changes or decisions and your results.