Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cultivating a Resilient Spirit

I have always considered myself to have a resilient spirit, but I admit that I do have some weaknesses. This week's lesson was about examining our stress factors and the types of situations that make us feel bad. Then we looked at how we numb ourselves against these bad feelings. There were four steps to this process of letting go of our numbing techniques in order to "lean into" the pain.

Leaning into the pain? Why would you want to lean into the pain when you can just eat a macaroon and feel instantly better? Brene explained that by numbing the pain or bad feelings, we are also preventing ourselves from feeling joy and happiness. It's akin to taking pain medication. You may be numbing the pain, but you also may be numbing out good sensations. Same may be for depression or anxiety medication.

In order to explore this part of ourselves, she asked us to make four collages, using magazine pictures and words/phrases that spoke to us somehow. I flipped through about 5 magazines and cut out anything that jumped out at me...arranging them later into four categories.

What causes you to feel bad? What causes you to want to numb yourself?
Being judged by others, disorganization/messiness (especially when I can't find something I need), bad time management, unnecessary drama, frustration, fear, being angry at someone or about something. 

What do you use to numb your bad feelings?
I eat. I go for the Snickers or the macaroons. I make excuses for why I need ice cream or cake. I eat tons of chocolate. I drink wine or wine coolers. I spend money. I focus more on my iPhone than on the people around me.

In fact, I make all kinds of excuses why I need to eat, spend money, check my email 100x a day on my iPhone, horde chocolate and drink.

For the past few months, I have refrained from drinking my daily glass of wine on week nights though, so at least I am curbing that. And, even on weekends, I only have one glass of wine with dinner. However, it makes me tired and more irritable than usual. Then, I am unable to do my nightly chores in a timely manner, so it was always one reason the kids and I got to bed late.

My main issue, even more than food, shopping and alcohol, is my addiction to the computer. I really really need to make some boundaries for myself. I am not sure how to do this, but I do realize it's getting worse. If I am not checking my iPhone, then I have my iPad with me and I am looking at that. After dinner, I usually sit down at the computer for a little while. It's probably not necessary to do this most of the time. I just do it because I'd rather look at a computer screen than do the dishes, clean up our apartment, fold laundry, interact with the kids, etc. It's a bad habit, and I need to work really hard to break it.

#3 What actually makes you feel good?
Being outside in any season
Swimming and cycling
Organized spaces, especially colorful books
Colorful spaces
Drinking tea, especially with friends
Colorful, healthy food
My union/marriage with my husband (but only when we are getting along)

Notice that a computer screen did not make it on this collage. Notice that these are small things but significant for one's daily peace of mind. If I can find ways to fit cycling and swimming (and perhaps walking) into my life on a weekly basis, I would probably be feel less stressed out when I meet with adversity. If I could get my house more organized again and continue adding color to it, I could look at that every day and feel happy even when other things are going to shit. If I continue to make healthy, colorful dishes, at least half the time, I wouldn't feel bad when we have to get take-out once in a while. These are simple things.

#4 What did I learn from the first three collages? What are the things I can do to manage my stress and bad feelings without constantly turning to my numbing techniques?
Brene told us to make a list of things we can do rather than numb ourselves from pain.
My list includes the following:
Go outside
Cook & eat well

Finally, Brene explained that in her research, she found that whole-hearted people tend to have certain things in place that are a daily part of their lives. These things allow them to cultivate resilience without turning to numbing techniques every time something is not going right.

Whole-hearted people are
  1. Resourceful and have good problem-solving skills
  2. Likely to seek help
  3. Believe that you can do something to help manage your feelings and cope with problems
  4. Have social support available
  5. Connected to others, such as family and friends

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cultivating Self-Compassion

It's pretty easy to have compassion for others. I cry when I see commercials about kids in Africa, documentaries about young women in Cambodia. I tear up when I see a family being torn apart in a TV drama. My eyes well up when students come to me asking for advice about their futures or worrying about the next exam.

However, when it comes to yourself, do you put yourself down when you fail or when you don't respond "correctly" to any given situation?

How many times a day do I repeat, "I am the worst mother in the world" inside my head? How many times do I say, "I shouldn't eat that. I'm too fat."? How many times a week do I hear myself asking a friend, "What is wrong with me?"

In this week's lesson, we were assigned to look back at old photos and find ones that were taken during the most difficult times of our lives. We had to think about what we would tell that younger version of ourselves. What kind of advice would we give them? How would we cheer them up so they can keep going?

I chose four pictures. There were other bad times in my life, but as I looked through my old scrapbooks and digital files, these four especially struck me as being times that I really needed some cheering up.

"Sometimes we do stupid things. It's okay!"
It was my last year of summer camp. I was 14, and I knew that it was the last time to attend summer camp with friends I had been seeing every summer for four or five years. We were the "cyclists", and during one of our cycling/camping trips, I was being my typical boy-crazy self, and Shelly and I found some boys to hang out on our day off. We were biking around the very hilly campgrounds in search of their campsite so we could ask them to come hang out with us, and I slid on a gravelly portion of the curvy road. In order to prevent myself from hitting the ground, I instinctively put my leg out and twisted my knee on the way down. It wasn't the first time I had injured my knee, so I knew I should have been more careful. As it was, my camp counselors had to call the camp and have someone come and pick me up the next day. I had to say good-bye to my friends, including one of my BFFs who was sad that our LAST SUMMER TOGETHER was ruined. I felt guilty about what I was doing at the time when I got injured. We weren't even on the road cycling. We were just fooling around, looking for those boys. Back at the camp, my mother met me to pick me up. I cried all the way home. For me, this last cycling trip marked the end of my childhood...and I had messed it up royally.

However, yeah, it's okay! Not a big deal in the big picture of life. I had banked up plenty of cycling camp memories over the years, and my BFF Amy and I are still awesome friends.

"This is just a phase and things will get better from here. Be strong!"
I had a six-month old baby, and I constantly daydreamed about leaving my husband. We were going through a really rough time. There were two issues going on, one that I was not fully aware of, and one that I didn't really understand. I didn't understand why my husband, who was adjusting to having a baby in the house, wanted to wield so much control. He had opinions about everything, and he threw out the D-word every time I disagreed or tried to stand up to him. I was miserable. It seemed like we disagreed on everything and were fighting constantly. Taking care of the baby and house were hard enough but these responsibilities were enjoyable. However, the fighting about every little thing with my husband made life a living hell. What I was not fully aware of were the problems he was having at work. The company he worked for was about to merge with another company, and he knew that some employees would lose their jobs. At the time, it was all up in the air. He worried and stressed about this for many months. Rather than admit that he was worried or felt he couldn't control what would happen, he attempted to gain more control at home. It got so bad we ended up seeing a marriage counselor because I was about to take the baby, the dog, and all my worldly possessions and leave the country for good. In the sessions with the counselor, it became clear that my husband's work worries were the main problem and all we could do was wait and see what would happen. The results would be in by the end of the year. When he found out he would be able to keep his job with the newly merged companies, he relaxed quite a bit. I still find him to be slightly controlling, but that year was definitely the lowest of the low periods in our marriage.

"Friends enter and exit our lives for reasons that are sometimes beyond our control."
In 2007, just before my daughter was born, I made a new friend. We were both expecting our first babies, and we became close very quickly. With all of our free time expecting and then later caring for our new babies, we had tons of stuff to talk about. We saw each other nearly every day. I was so happy to have found her. But, one day, when our kids were about 6 months old, she suddenly began to give me the cold shoulder. When confronted about it, she admitted that I made her uncomfortable due to the issues I was having with my husband. The photo shows the baby playgroup we formed together at one of the only/last family events we planned, a BBQ at the park. We thought we had created a great thing together! But, when she decided to unfriend me, she soon left the group, and later when my maternity leave ended, I took the opportunity to move on as well because the baby group remind me too much of my failed friendship. It took a long time to get over our "break-up", and for many many months, I doubted myself. When my son was born a couple years later, I avoided making new friends with pregnant women. I kind of regret that now. My daughter has plenty of friends who were born right around the same time as her, and we still socialize with them. However, my son has none because I never made the effort to meet anyone when I was pregnant with him and then on maternity leave. I basically kept to myself that whole year (except for the mom friends I had made with my daughter).

I realize now that the "break-up" was beyond my control, and that I shouldn't fear the possibility of a friendship ending, even if it seems sudden or for no good reason. Friends are really important even if some friendships don't last long.

"Things may seem sad and hopeless right now, but this is just the beginning of a journey for you."
I wanted to include this photo because it represents a spark that started a journey that I couldn't even have imagined at the time. It was a good-bye party for Karl, my BFF colleague, who was going back to the USA to attend grad school in a completely different field. I knew things would be different at work from now on, and it kind of scared me. We had also had a falling-out a few weeks before his departure and still hadn't patched things up. I was crying before this picture was taken.

What was this journey that I couldn't imagine at the time? It's a little complicated because I found myself pregnant with my second child a few months later. I wasn't planning it as I had just returned from maternity leave with my daughter. I was afraid to leave my job for another year, and I worried that I would lose control at work. (I didn't take it out on my family though...) Anyway, without Karl there to assist in running the ship, I had to depend on the people who were left, and it worried me a great deal. During my maternity leave with my son, I spent a lot of time contemplating my job and my future. I started to realize that I needed to begin detaching myself from my school, even if this would happen over a longer period of time. Back at work the following year, I found things had changed a lot and that I had, indeed, lost quite a bit of control. I was NOT okay with this, but I also realized there was not much I could do about it. I had new responsibilities (my children) and new ideas for my future. That year, I applied to graduate school and I continued to work while taking classes. It was rough, but I managed it. Back in 2008, I could not have imagined that within 6 years, I would have an MA and I would be putting in my resignation. I also couldn't imagine that I would become good friends with Adie and that our friendship would be so transforming or that our synergy would help us create such inspiring lesson plans and projects for our students. Back in 2008, I barely knew her even though we worked in the same office.

Finally, Brene asked us to find ways to be self-compassionate now. First, a quick phrase we can say to ourselves when having a rough time or when we doubt our abilities.

I say, "I got this!" I also say, "I can do this." or even better, "I AM doing this."

Then, we had to find some quotes or lyrics that are especially meaningful to us and give us courage to keep going.

Brave by Sara Bareilles
"Say what you wanna say"
"I wanna see you be brave"

Firework by Katy Perry
"So you could open one [door] that leads you to the perfect road"
"when it's time, you'll know"
"Ignite the light, and let it shine"

Unconditionally by Katy Perry
"Know you are worthy"

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Gifts of Imperfection: Lesson 2

Authenticity is a hard word to apply to one's life, especially when we live in a world that relies on being fake. Telling people you are fine when you are not. Posting happy, positive messages on Facebook, when inside you feel shitty about a friendship that just ended. Commenting on friends' successes even though you feel insanely jealous.

Cultivating authenticity, for this assignment, meant that we had to go back in time and look at old pictures of ourselves. Of all the pictures we could find, we had to choose one in which we were ourselves, truly and utterly ourselves. No posed shots necessary here. Then, we had to answer some questions.
Me at 21; Me at 3

I chose two shots.

In the first photo, I was around 2 or 3 years old. My mother had been searching for me in the house and finally found me hiding in the cupboard, amongst the pots and pans, with a bag of Doritos. I was happily munching away. This is me. I am 37 years old now, and I still love a good bag of Doritos.

In the second photo, I was about 21. It was summer, between my junior and senior year in college. I was still living in the Roundhouse apartments with my best friend, Shannon. We were celebrating my birthday. It was a three-day celebration with many friends and my then-boyfriend. On this particular day, we had been spending the day at Devil's Lake - picnicking, hiking, swimming. It was the perfect day, with perfect friends - a moment that I wish I could freeze in time. In this photo, I am wearing my swimsuit, messy hair, holding a s'more, licking marshmallow from my lips. Not a care in the world. I was smiling with sheer happiness. I thought I was beautiful because life was beautiful and relatively carefree. At the time, I had no idea what the real world would be like.
Answers to some questions about the girl in the photos

Here are the questions and my answers:
What do you see when you look at her?
I see a girl who enjoys food and likes to have fun. She has a mischievous side.

What do you love and appreciate about her?
I like that she doesn't care what others think of her. The messy hair, the big smile, the laughter - it's all part of the package.

What makes her light shine?
She likes being with people and leading an active life, but she also enjoys being alone. She needs a little of both to shine.

What can you do to take care of her?
Let her enjoy food, make sure she leads an active, fun life, but also that she has time to herself.

I chose two pictures that involved me eating (and thoroughly enjoying) food. Knowing that I like being alone as well as being with people was NOTHING NEW TO ME. But, I discovered something new by looking at these two pictures side by side. I looked back on the past several years that I have been trying (and failing) to lose weight. I have tried so many different techniques but none have really stuck for me. I know it is important to be healthy and active, but I also realized that food and my enjoyment of food WILL NEVER EVER go away. And, that is okay. I shouldn't constantly feel the need to deprive myself or later feel guilty because I had a few Doritos.

Just a doodle of the view from my living room.

Digging Deeper with the authenticity lesson

Songs that inspire
I realized that I can still have a fun, active life full of friends and family, and I can still eat and enjoy food. You know why? Because that is who I am. That is the real me.

In the latter part of the week, we were to think about being deliberate, getting inspired and getting going on our progress. In general, I want to make an effort to be more real with people and not try to hide my feelings. I think that when I have been able to do this, the response has been positive, but I also realize there is a nice way to go about this, so I am trying to be more aware of this. Inspiration was not hard to find. I have a few songs that have inspired me over the years - songs that I come back to again and again, especially when I am feeling down. Finally, this is a transitional period in my life. I am leaving a job (that I loved) for a better opportunity, and I hope this will get me on the right path. I was afraid, for a long time, to admit that I needed to find a way out, but I realized that no matter what I do, people will always find a way to judge me or make me feel guilty about my choices. I have to do what is right for me and my family - not what is right for them.