Wasting paper and killing trees

I spent some time Tuesday morning listening to podcasts with writers. In the meantime, I dusted off the boxes in my office and decided to put some order to my journals. As some of you know, writing for me is somewhat a compulsion. It is a non-optional part of my daily practice.

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1992-1999

I hand write my journal. I am old-fashioned that way. The ideas that pour forth with a nice smooth pen on paper seem qualitatively different than what I write when I sit down to the keyboard. More raw. Less pre-meditated. Just me.

My intended audience for these journals is just me. I made my college roommate  promise me that if anything happened to me she would have the journals burned without reading them.

I was a little embarrassed when I started sorting the piles of journals into decades. The sheer volume of the once-blank books that span the last 26 years astonished me. Think of all the wasted paper! All those poor trees have been sacrificed for my greedy writing habit…Then I was kind of amazed. I started to wonder about the periods when I had been faithful to journal at least weekly, or other periods when journals were either lost or not kept.

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2000-2011

What happened to 2008-2009? No journals from that time. Mysterious.

Did I start journal-writing prior to 1992, the year I left home to go to Swarthmore College? I have a cute little lock & key style diary from when I was about 7 years old, a  that I probably got from my Mom.

I decided to document via photos the journals I have kept. This is as much to illustrate my insanity as to be able to let go of these books at some point, as per my desire to live a more minimalist life.

My collection from 2018 includes 15 blank books (so far, since I just started #16 today). That is really embarrassing. But I suppose in a way, it is something I can embrace. I write. My days flow better when I write each day. I also seem to have less insomnia when I let it all out rather than letting it simmer.

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2018 alone – seriously?!?

When then if I want to work on a big project, a book idea? Do I keep writing? Do I perhaps use my journal as the “reward system” for after I’ve gotten my daily pages and work done?

Clearly it’s a habit that’s not going away. It feels like a lifeline to me, and I am sure I would need to spend a LOT more on therapy if I were NOT writing each day. Come to think of it, the gaps in my “years” of journals actually correspond to episodes of major transitions and/or clinical depression in my life: 1995, 2002, 2009.

Wow. Sh*t. Ages 21, 28 and 35. It seems I was due for an episode in 2016 at age 42, but it never arrived. I am giving credit to my consistent pile of journals and some proactive therapy. When you have tasted that flavor of darkness more than once you sometimes recognize the signs before it arrives again. Self-care is now a religion for me.

I told and AirBnB host back in September: I write because I must. Indeed. Apologies to the trees that sacrificed their lives for my mental health. And everlasting gratitude to you.

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The complete pile. Those top two huge piles in the left corner are 2017-2018.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

 

Saturday Share – Lonely Blue Boy

This Saturday my blog share post features Lonely Blue Boy blog by Juansen Dizon.

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Consisting of tender poetry and creative original graphics, Juansen has also published two poetry collections. For a relatively young writer, he possesses wisdom beyond his years.

His writing is poignant and it rings true for me as someone who has also visited the dark side of depression in my life, but emerged a more resilient and brave soul. I appreciate his willingness to share his journey and his focus on self-care and self- compassion.

I encourage you to check out his work if your spirit needs healing or you want some inspiration for your journey.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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

Rumbling with our stories

I just love Brené Brown’s work on how to use what she calls “Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice.” She is a Texas born and bred professor, researcher and storyteller who studies shame, wholeheartedness and how we use story and narrative to shape our lives. Her Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability has been viewed over 33 million times. It is one reason I decided to start this blog.

Her definition of spirituality as a belief that humans as inherently interconnected, and in a loving force greater than ourselves is something I truly align with personally. Brown’s work is starting to make its way to families, government and leadership in large organizations. Her approach has wisdom that has been profound for me.

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She uses a term coined by Anne Lamott which is a personal favorite, the “shitty first draft.” Her process of identifying the stories we get “caught” in, and realizing they are stories we make up in our own heads to explain things, but that they are not reality, has helped me enormously. I wrote on this theme last week, but I want to explore it from a different angle here, since I finished re-listening to her audio program again recently.

The idea is that we need to recognize when we are in a difficult emotion (the reckoning). Instead of eating it or damping it down with alcohol or buffering it by numbing out on facebook, we get curious. We examine those feelings, own our story, and “rumble” with it. This step means we get honest about the stories we are making up, challenge them to determine what is true, what’s self-protection and what needs to change.

The final step is the revolution, in which we write a new ending to our story based on the key learning from our rumble. We then use this new, braver story to change how we engage with the world and to ultimately transform the way we live love, parent and lead. (summary from page 37 of Rising Strong).

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Some of us who have been to therapy recognize this is something that counselors do while we are figuring out what is causing pain for us in our lives. When suffering from depression or anxiety, it is critical skill to understand that it is our thoughts that cause us emotional pain, not our circumstances. Sure, if we are experiencing grief or loss or a traumatic event, then there will be pain. This is human, and though we are terrible about allowing grief as a culture, it is absolutely necessary for healing.

The tricky part is that we often add to our pain by layering shame and self-hatred on top of those life experiences. “I should be happy” we tell ourselves. “I should feel grateful” all of the self-help books tell us. But “shoulds” are not helpful. Feelings are what they are. They are not good or bad, they are part of being human.

Feelings often provide some helpful clues to us on what and who we want to move towards or move away from in our lives. Brené Brown makes the point that we often believe we are people that THINK and sometimes feel. But the actuality is that people always FEEL and sometimes think. Perhaps this is a remnant from the Descartes’ idea that “I think therefore I am,”  but it is inaccurate.

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Neuro-biologically we are wired for emotion. We are wired for story. Our brain actually gives us a dopamine hit when we create a story that explains whatever disparate facts are in front of us. It makes no difference whether the story is true, it just takes comfort from making sense of the world. The stories we tell shape our lives. And when we tell them enough times, they evolve into theories about how the world works. Any theory we belief for long enough becomes a belief.

The awesome thing about humans is that we can choose to believe new things. When we encounter a belief that is causing us pain, we can unpack it, question it, and possibly change it. We often find we believe things we may have been taught when young, or observed in our family systems.

What if we write our stories as though we are the heroes and not the victims? What if we are able to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made, and the mistakes others made? When we can free ourselves in this way, we free our energy to stop living in our past and to take brave steps into the future.

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If you want a free link to this roughly 3-hour audible presentation on this topic, where Brown explains her work, and also answers questions from the audience please email me at cristy@meximinnesotana.com. I am happy to share this with anyone who may want to do similar personal work.

Holiday hell

Holidays can be stressful for people, and for some, they can be a sad time if they have had a loss or any painful memories. Family dynamics can be challenging, and many of us love our families but struggle with the amount of expectations for this season.

Facebook and the Hallmark channel give us the idea that people are living finely-polished perfect little lives. But the reality is that those experiences are carefully curated (on FB) and designed to market things to you.

I enjoy certain parts of the holiday, the food, some time to visit with family and having extra time off from work to sleep in (if that is possible, which is hard for a morning person like me). But since cutting way back on sugar and flour, realizing these tend to mess up my sleep and make me feel like crap, it can be hard to turn down treats that are offered.

To be honest, I do not really enjoy the gift-giving that comes with Christmas (in my tradition) anymore. I find it stressful and prefer the Thanksgiving holiday because it is more about gratitude than getting more stuff than you need. I’m old enough now that I typically buy things for myself that I want, so when people ask for “gift lists” I guess I am spoiled enough that I just don’t NEED things.

holiday hell

Here in Minnesota, a combination of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) due to dark winters, and a lack of time outside during the cold, can be especially challenging. I have coped with this difficulty in different ways and I will list 5 of my personal favorite tips here:

  1. Get as much rest as possible.
  2. Use a morning light-box to get some full spectrum light for 10-20 minutes each morning.
  3. Take a vitamin D supplement daily to replace a nutrient nearly all of us in these northern locations need in order to have a healthy immune system and happier mood. (I take 2000 mg per day from October to May, 1000 mg June to September, per my nurse practitioner’s recommendation. Please check with a doctor if you have any conditions in which Vitamin D would not be favorable).
  4. Manage your expectations – holidays are not all joy and happiness. For a lot of people they are hard work, expensive and involve a lot more gatherings than we introverts really enjoy. We love our families, sure. But it gets to be a little much, so please have some patience with us.
  5. Be kind to yourself. And be kind to others. Everyone is fighting their own personal battles and we do not know what others are facing, since they are not always willing to share and broadcast their pain on social networks.

Here is a link to an article on Medicinet has some more facts and information about Holiday Depression, Anxiety and Stress. Psychology today also has an interesting article with more resources that I found helpful.

Realize that if someone you love is a little down that it does not really help to tell them to “cheer up” or “look on the bright side.” They are probably trying, and letting them know that the holidays can be hard for anyone, that you still want to spend time with them even if they are not full of holiday cheer.

Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. That would be my best advice for dealing with any “holiday hell” you may experience. Have compassion for yourself and others. Realize you and they are doing their best. Have gratitude for clean water, good food and maybe a cozy time to reflect on the year ahead.

Feliz Navidad