Find Neutral First

One of the things that I don’t see addressed enough when people talk about affirmations or positive self-talk is where to start. It always sounds so easy. Just say: I love myself, I am perfect just the way I am, good things are coming my way, etc. But what if you simply can’t make yourself believe those things no matter how many times you repeat the words? Not only will repeating these phrases half-heartedly not help, but it can actually be harmful. If saying “I deserve to be happy” is immediately followed by a flood of negative thoughts, you’re doing more harm than good.

This was something I really struggled with in the beginning of my spiritual journey. I am still working my way up, taking baby steps. Sometimes it feels like the self-help gurus out there don’t really understand or remember what it’s like to be lost and depressed. When you’re starting from so far behind, some of the affirmations people offer can seem laughable. The sad part is, I think most people are on the opposite side of this positivity and self-care movement. Feeling so far away from, and misunderstood by, the people in these better head spaces only serves to discourage those that are struggling the most. It feels like they are in a different world all together.

I used to be one of these people. My sister, whom I love dearly, still is. That’s what has inspired me to write this post and speak out about this troubling disconnect between self-love/self-care advocates and the people that need their help the most. We need to establish a middle ground in between these two extremes of perception in order to bridge the gap. Otherwise, even the people that work up the courage to try to step out of their negative mindsets will find the very practices designed to help, discouraging instead.

I’m here today to help the people like me find a foothold. If you are looking to improve you mental health, your self talk, your self image, or all of the above, it’s okay to start small. I mean, really small. Especially when it comes to affirmations, the important part is finding an affirmation that you can actually believe. Start where you are. Try out a couple different, fairly neutral affirmations at first. So take the example I gave earlier: I deserve to be happy. If that stirs up resistance or negative emotions inside of you, try tweaking it a bit. What about saying: everyone deserves to be happy. Sometimes more general phrases like this are more palatable. As you progress and become more comfortable with that phrase, you might try adding on: therefore, I also deserve happiness, or: so do I. Maybe one day you will feel confident saying: I deserve to be happy, but if not, that’s okay too.

Here are a couple other affirmations for you to try if you’re just beginning an affirmation practice:

  1. It’s okay to feel anxious (depressed, angry, sad, etc.)
  2. Whatever I manage to do today is enough, even if it is just existing.
  3. I know I am doing the best I can even if it may not appear that way to others.
  4. Everyone deserves to be loved.
  5. This feeling will pass. Nothing lasts forever.

Feel free to use these or come up with your own affirmations that feel true to you. The final tip I’ll offer is, do what you can. And let yourself be proud of how ever much that is. Sometimes we get so fixated on how much other people are doing that we don’t feel we have any right to be proud of the “small” things we do. But we all have our own struggles. Regardless of how different or “trivial” our struggles might look compared to someone else’s, we know how hard it is. Let yourself celebrate the small victories. Because those small victories add up. If you want to start yoga or meditation, that doesn’t mean you have to pay for a studio membership, buy a bunch of fancy props, or even dedicate an hour of your day to practicing. I started my yoga journey with just 7 minutes a day. Does even 7 minutes sound overwhelming? No big deal. Try 1 minute, 1 deep mindful breath, or even just 1 pose. This is your journey, your life, and you can take it as slow as you need to.

6,733 Girl Looking Out Window Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images  - iStock

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome by Lisa Morgan M.Ed. CAS - Spectrum Women

Imposter Syndrome is a phrase that I’ve been hearing about a lot lately. Essentially, it is a term that means feeling like you are a fraud, that you aren’t as good, talented, smart, etc. as others think you are, that you are undeserving of the success you’ve achieved in life. I think we can all relate to feeling this way from time to time. It’s hard to decipher whether or not I have this particular syndrome though. Especially when the google definition specifies it disproportionately affects high achieving people. Part of me wants to believe that this is a reason it may apply to me, but at the same time, do I consider myself a high-achieving person? That’s debatable. Would anyone really suffering from imposter syndrome consider themselves high-achieving?

The definitions I read don’t quite fit what I’m experiencing. It’s not that I feel I haven’t earned the position I have at work or awards I’ve won, etc. (There aren’t many.) I feel more afraid to pursue different interests or projects because I don’t feel like I’m “good enough.” Writing for this blog is actually a perfect example. I often feel guilty writing about yoga, mindfulness, gratitude, and self-improvement, which are the topics I primarily want to write about. As I write, however, I am filled with hesitation and self-doubt.

Who am I to preach to anyone else about these things? Even though I fully believe in the mindset and habits that I offer for others to practice, I am still not able to fully embody those values myself. I worry that by even discussing these topics I am misrepresenting myself to the people that read my blog. It makes me feel dirty and dishonest.

Somehow I’ve managed to push through that self-doubt here. I continue to write despite feeling like I should make myself perfect before opening my mouth and giving advice to others. I know that no matter how much I work on myself, I am never going to feel good enough, so fuck it. I’m not claiming to be an expert or that anyone should pay attention to the things I write. I have to remind myself of that fact often.

This mindset of self-doubt has kept me from pursing a lot of different projects in the past though. Whenever I would contemplate making a YouTube channel, for example. Or when I’ve considered trying to write a book, make a website, or start a podcast. I shoot myself down before I even get a chance to begin. I feel unworthy of the attention and potential praise these goals might bring me before I’ve even gotten them. I also tend to minimize anything I am really good at. If something comes easily to me or if I excel at a particular task, I insist that is just because it IS easy. I don’t feel I should get credit for doing something so simple, even if it’s not simple for most people.

I wanted to go to yoga teacher training for at least a year before I actually worked up the courage to do it. Even then it was only because a friend from work was going to the training. I knew my practice was more advanced than hers, so for the first time I thought that maybe I was ready to become a teacher. When I got to the actual training, to my great surprise, I had a far more advanced practice than anyone else there! It really made me wonder, if these people thought they were good enough, why didn’t I? Even now, teaching a class every Saturday, I still feel out of place and uncomfortable leading when I have so much doubt about my own ability.

I guess what it comes down to is a fear of being thought of as arrogant or conceited by others. We have no control over the way others perceive us though. It’s a waste of energy to worry about things like that. What’s important is that we’re doing our best. I’m not claiming to be perfect, and it’s not my responsibility if someone else misinterprets my intentions. All I can do is be who I am and have fun doing it.

One Step at a Time

You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. -  Martin Luther King, Jr. #quote | Wholeness, Take the first step, Martin  luther king

“Just take it one step at a time.” “Live your life one day at a time.” We’ve all heard these familiar platitudes a million times. A perfect counter platitude would be “easier said than done.” It’s always an interesting moment when a phrase such as these really sinks in and starts to feel meaningful in a significant way. I don’t know what causes these moments to occur, but sometimes a lesson you use to roll your eyes at and ignore, becomes piercing and poignant. I had one of these moments with the idea of “taking one step at a time” a few days ago.

Often I don’t start moving towards a goal unless I have every step of the process planned out in detail. This rarely happens though. It’s a big challenge to map something out from start to finish. Therefore, I don’t take action steps to achieve most of my goals and aspirations. I spend most of my time waiting and hoping one day everything will become clear. The perfect moment will materialize and everything will magically start to fall into place. Unfortunately, that moment never comes.

On the flip side of this I am often paralyzed and overwhelmed when I do try to plan out all the details of something I want to accomplish. Even something as simple as doing the laundry or cleaning up around the house can become a daunting task when you are constantly ruminating over each little step in the process. When you look at all the components lined up in a row, a goal can become an impossible feat in your mind. “I’ll never be able to do all of that,” I end up telling myself, which leads me to give up before I’ve even started.

Intentionally reminding yourself along the way to only focus on the step you’re on is a great way to lessen both of these extremes. If you have a goal and you only know the first step towards that goal, go ahead and take that step. Trust that the universe will reveal the next step once you’ve taken the first one. If it feels too hokey to “trust the universe” then trust yourself instead. Once you’ve taken that first action, you’ll have a new vantage point or new information with which to decide what the next action should be.

Now, I’m not saying this works for every situation (although it might.) But I wouldn’t advise something like quitting your job because you know you want to be an entrepreneur instead, if you haven’t the foggiest clue what you want besides that. I’m speaking more about smaller goals, at least in the beginning when you’re working on building that trust. For instance, I’ve been wanting to start a podcast with my two best friends for years now. We’ve all talked about it dozens of times. It’s almost become an inside joke. “We’ll talk about this for our podcast” or “Wouldn’t this be a great episode? Why aren’t we recording??” The idea never went much farther than that though. Even though we all wanted this to happen, none of us were willing to take the first step. I can’t speak for my friends, but for me, this was because I couldn’t visualize where it would go from there. None of us know anything about podcasting or marketing ourselves.

I’ve finally decided to take that initial leap of faith though. I downloaded a free podcasting app, made sure my friends were still on board, told them to brainstorm ideas, and made a plan for us to meet next week to discuss. Sure enough, the next steps have already been appearing before my eyes. I’ve been having such fun coming up with ideas for taglines and topics. I’ve even been doodling ideas for a logo. It even finally gave me enough momentum to purchase an electronic drawing tablet which I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. (I may be going too hard on the logo part, but fuck it, I’m having a good time.)

Focusing on one step at a time not only helps us make our goals more achievable, it also reminds us that the end goal isn’t necessarily what’s most important. Life isn’t about reaching the goalposts, it’s about thoroughly enjoying the moments leading up to them. When you just focus on what’s right in front of you, it’s easier to reevaluate as you go. Is this still what I want? Is this still making me happy? Sometimes just by taking small steps towards one goal, we uncover new things about ourselves and/or new opportunities along the way that completely alter our trajectory. When we get fixated on the goal itself, we can end up trudging toward it for years only to realize once we get there, it isn’t what we want anymore. That kind of tunnel vision can also stop us from recognizing the other avenues that open up for us along the way.

So if there is something you’ve been wanting to do, but you’ve been waiting for the right moment, this is it! The stars have aligned in the form of this post. I’m here to tell you that you’ve got this! It’s okay if you don’t know exactly how you’re going to get to your goal. You probably know at least one step you’ll have to take. Just start and I promise the rest will begin to unfold naturally from there. The only questions you really have to ask yourself as you go are: Am I going to enjoy this step? Does the idea of this process excite me? Inspire me? When you’re working towards a goal your enthusiasm is the only compass you need. It won’t let you down.

The Power of Daydreaming

At times, life can be frustrating. My soul often gets weighed down by the constant repetition from week to week. Wake up, workout, go to the office, go home, make dinner, go to bed, repeat. It only makes it worse when I start to get aggravated at my own lack of motivation and ability to insert novel experiences into my day. It feels like I have all of these great ideas, but I’m just too mentally and/or physically exhausted to implement any of them into my life.

Most days I really struggle to think of anything worth writing about. It feels like a chore to decide on an idea and go with it. I spend most of my time second-guessing my choice as I’m writing anyway. I don’t know why I put so much pressure on myself. Hardly anyone reads my posts. I’m supposedly just doing this blog for fun. But am I having fun? I definitely am when I come across a topic I’m really passionate about. That happens less often than it used to. I feel like I’m starting to run out of steam after writing once a day for over a year. More and more frequently I find myself googling writing prompts in a desperate attempt to find inspiration. However, none of the prompt I find ever seem interesting in the slightest.

Today I started with a different approach. I was feeling unmotivated by any of the prompts I came across, so I asked myself: what type of things make me feel motivated? I tried to think back to a time I felt really excited about something, anything. It’s honestly rare for me to feel really inspired by anything anymore. The only thing that came to mind was being a teenager and daydreaming about random things in class. It was such an enjoyable thing to do. I don’t know why those reveries stopped.

Part of me thinks daydreaming disappears as a natural part of growing up. I also think the advancements we’ve had in technology play a part. Whether you’re a kid or an adult, no one really has the opportunity for daydreaming anymore. At any dull moment, we can grab our phones or a computer or whatever and mindlessly scroll through content until we’ve killed all of our down time. It’s sad to imagine the younger generation never getting to enjoy a good daydream.

There are actually a lot of benefits to daydreaming, despite how often we were told it’s a waste of time. Daydreams help us get clear on our hopes, dreams, goals, desires. They help us plan for the future. They give the mind a chance to rest and reorganize information. Daydreaming can even help you be a more creative person!

Somewhere along the line, I got bogged down by only placing value on “real” things. Daydreams seemed dangerous. I felt as though I was just getting my hopes up, deluding myself, wasting time and energy thinking about things that would never happen. I guess I was afraid that if I thought about something too much, like being with my partner, I’d only experience more pain if/when the relationship didn’t work out. If I daydreamed about living in a big house in the country and ended up renting a small apartment in the suburbs, I’d have set myself up for disappointment. By closing myself off to hopes and dreams, I felt I was protecting myself from pain.

I’ve since learned through many hard lessons that you can never protect yourself from pain. Pain, disappointment, and suffering are parts of life that cannot be avoided or planned for. So don’t worry about it! Don’t cut yourself off from the good parts of life in an attempt to avoid the bad. While it may seem like a good idea, it’s counterintuitive.

Daydreaming is just another lighthearted aspect of life that I’ve ruined for myself for being too serious. This strangle-hold of control I try to have over myself isn’t doing me any favors. Not everything has to have an ulterior purpose. It’s okay to do something just because it makes you happy. In fact, that’s the best reason for doing something in my opinion. I would never accuse someone else of wasting their time for finding enjoyment in something simple or silly. Yet I never allow myself that same freedom. It’s another question of what it means to “waste” time. It depends on what your goal is.

Even though my primary goal in life is to be happy and make others happy, it doesn’t seem to align with my actions. In fact I spend most of my time thinking and doing things that make me unhappy. The world already places so many restrictions on us. I’ve started to internalize that rigid structure. I forbid myself from having “unrealistic” thoughts. But imaginary objects, animals, landscapes, lifestyles, and scenarios are some of the most fun things to think about! The possibilities are limitless. What an absolute joy it is to let your mind off the leash sometimes and see what it is able to create and imagine.

Today I want to focus on giving myself that mental freedom. So I’m giving myself a little assignment. Feel free to give it a go yourself, and if you’d like share it with me! I’d love to hear what you come up with. Here’s some daydreaming homework if you so choose to accept the challenge:

Ask Yourself:

  1. What is something I’d enjoy daydreaming about?
  2. Do I want it to be realistic, total fantasy, or somewhere in between?
  3. What barriers do I notice myself setting up to limit the possibilities?
  4. Can I give myself permission to play in my own mind without any rules?
  5. Can I give myself permission to spend time on something for no other reason than to have fun and make myself happy?

Allow yourself as much or as little time as you need. Try to write it down as you go to help you stay focused. Let’s work together to learn how to motivate and inspire ourselves. We have the ability to create a rich inner landscape of thought to keep us energized and uplift us when we need it most. Not giving ourselves this gift is the real waste.

Daydreaming Is Actually a Sign of Intelligence, According to Neuroscientists

Your Worst Enemy

“The worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests.

Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”

Friedrich Nietzsche

We have such a unique and complex relationship with ourselves as human beings. We can simultaneously be our biggest advocate and our greatest enemy. The various sides of who we are are somehow able to exist within us at the same time. It is a power play between these contradictory parts of ourselves. Sometimes it may seem like that harsh, hateful bully is the only one left, demeaning us, discouraging us, telling us stories of failure and hardship. But even in our darkest hour, that advocate is still within us somewhere. All we’ve got to do is listen for her voice. We have to fight the narrative being sold to us by our inner enemy.

We have to realize that regardless of which voice is speaking to us, we are neither of these voices. We are the witness, the watcher, the observer of our thoughts. Imagine yourself as the viewer of a TV show, this drama called life. The character called us may only be able to see a limited version of the events taking place in the show. As the viewer, we have the advantage of a wider perspective. We can see that there is a bigger picture that can help us understand and accept whatever the character might be going through, even if it’s unpleasant. We can sometimes get caught up in what we wish would happen or what we hope for the character, but in the end we have to trust the writers and the producers of the show to make it all work out.

We have to step back from our hopes and desires and expectations for ourselves and our own lives in a similar way. We have as little control over what happens to us as we do to what happens to our favorite TV characters. All we can do is watch, and that’s enough. We have to surrender to the universe and trust that things are happening as they should be. It seems like a tough choice to make, but really it’s the only one available. Otherwise we will be grasping and clinging to a mere illusion of control and causing ourselves even more suffering trying to maintain that illusion.

I would perhaps go even farther than Nietzsche does, and say that we are our only real enemy. Think about it. Do you really think anyone else cares as much about our success or demise as we do? Does anyone else even have the ability to make us suffer or fail? Sure those we share this life with have an influence on us. They have an effect on our lives for sure. But at the end of the day, we get to make the final decision. Will these new challenges we find ourselves forever faced with be chisels that chip away at us until there is nothing left? Or will they be the building blocks, the brick and mortar we need to build ourselves up bigger and stronger than ever before? There really is no objective reality. There is only our subjective experience of it.

Nobody can hurt me without my permission.

Gandhi

I’m sure I would have always understood and accepted the first quote by Nietzsche. After all, I have plenty of experience being my own enemy. However, when I first heard this second quote by Gandhi, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It stayed in my head for a long time though, rolling around, challenging my concept of the world and what it means to be a part of it. It’s really difficult for me to express what exactly helped me to change the scope of my perception on these types of subjects. I vividly remember how I used to take such expressions: Nobody can hurt me without my permission? That’s bullshit! You’re saying not only have I been the victim of something awful and unfair, but also that it’s my fault for the suffering it’s caused me? It didn’t take much for me to feel attacked and misunderstood. I refused to take any of the responsibility for the ways I found myself feeling.

My inner enemy had so thoroughly convinced me that I was nothing more than a victim in this life that no matter what the world offered me, that was going to be my role in the story. So of course when I heard Gandhi’s quote, I played the part of the victim once again. How can you blame me for the awful way I feel? I was looking for someone to blame and nothing more, instead of seeing these words of wisdom from the perspective I do now. Again, I’m not sure how I finally made the shift, but eventually I realized that this quote was extremely empowering. It’s not about blame, it’s about power. Who do you place your power with? Is it the people around you, the random events in your life? Or is that power yours to do with as you see fit?

The enemy within us tries to convince us that we have no power, we are helpless pieces of a fucked up puzzle. The advocate within us understands that we actually have all the power. It doesn’t sell us the delusion that we can control the world around us, but it does show us that we don’t need to. The only power we need is the power to choose for ourselves how we want to interact with and conceptualize the world. That is the greatest power of all, and we all have it. It’s not the toxic kind of power that can be bought and sold and used as a weapon against others. It is a power far more personal and pure, a silent power that no one else can see, but has limitless potential.

Don’t allow that enemy inside your head to convince you to play the victim in your own story. You can be the hero. You can play any part you want to play. This is your story and no one else’s. Even being our own greatest enemy can be positive or negative. How do you want to view it? Woe is me mentality says: I’ll never be able to have success or happiness because I’ll never escape myself, and I’m the one holding me back. That’s the enemy talking. Our advocate, forever full of loving kindness, says: If I’m the only thing standing in my way, then I am completely capable of overcoming that. I am the master of my own destiny.

Martha Beck: Ways You're Sabotaging Yourself

Calm Amidst the Chaos

Even when I don’t have a lot of free time in my day, I always make time for my yoga and meditation. Some days that’s a half an hour, others it’s only 5 minutes. I try not to let myself get caught up in an all or nothing mentality. Just because I can’t find the time to do my normal routine, doesn’t mean that those five minutes I do have won’t make a difference.

Today I noticed myself getting caught up in a totally different problem, though. I was exceptionally pressed for time. I had to squeeze my meditation into the 15 minute span before a new client was coming in for an appointment. As I tried to drop into my breath and let the world around me fall away, I couldn’t help but become preoccupied with what was going on in the rest of my office. I was fixating on every little noise, anxiously anticipating the client to show up early and force me to jump up and greet them. I was worried my coworkers were irritated at me for still being closed away in my office so close to our appointment. I considered giving up on my meditation all together. I wondered if it was just a waste of time, if I was too on edge to meditate.

I’ve found myself in this situation many times before. Sometimes I can’t find a quite place or I keep being interrupted or whatever other kind of inconveniences the world likes to throw at us from time to time. Occasionally, I will actually decide to forget about meditating all together. I tell myself that it’s not the right environment or I’m just too distracted or uneasy.

For some reason, the ridiculousness of that reasoning really struck me today. How silly it sounds to say: I’m too anxious to meditate. I can’t meditate because I feel rushed or it’s too loud. These are all perfect times to meditate! Meditation and yoga aren’t things that we need ideal conditions to practice. One of the most beneficial and important parts of these practices is to learn how to use them to cope with hectic times in our lives. Through these practices we can learn how to sit with these moments of discomfort. We can use them to step back from our own drama and distress and simply observe ourselves from a calm neutral perspective.

If you are just beginning to incorporate mindfulness into your routine, it may seem impossible to meditate unless you are in the right atmosphere or headspace. Developing a designated area where you can feel calm and relaxed is an excellent way to help you stick with it in the beginning. However, if you have been practicing for a long time like I have, it may be time to challenge yourself a bit more. You’ve laid the foundation, now it’s time to test it. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Give yourself a chance to notice what it feels like to be rushed, or irritated, or interrupted. Get curious about this experience. Ask yourself questions. What is happening in your body? In your mind? What is your internal dialogue telling you in these difficult moments? How is that self-talk exacerbating the already tense situation? What might be a kinder or more gentle form of self-talk you can implement instead? This is the perfect time to start changing patterns of thought that are not serving you.

Meditation isn’t always supposed to be easy and effortless. No matter how long you have been practicing, you are going to find yourself struggling from time to time. Going through phases of discomfort internally, externally, or both is all part of the human experience. The incredible experience that we are all here to witness. Meditation is about learning to be present through it all, not just the calm, clear moments, but the rough and tumultuous ones as well.

Getting Older

Late 20’s/early 30’s is a strange stage of life to be in. You no longer fit in with the “young” people which you still have the tendency to consider yourself a part of. You still feel young, but I remember thinking 30 year olds were super old most of my life. You also aren’t embraced by the older generations who tend to view you as an immature child and make light of your concerns about being older. I’m so used to eye rolls and scoffs from boomers if I dare to mention feeling old. It’s an awkward middle ground between youth and middle age. It feels like no one quite understands you. At times it feels like you don’t even understand yourself.

I know I should focus on being grateful that I even made it this far. I’ve had an extremely easy, wonderful life for nearly 28 years now. I’ve never had a serious illness, surgery, or even a broken bone! Throughout most of human history, it would have been a miracle that I even made it this far. Rather than feeling like a blessing, aging has just started to feel surreal to me. I’m sure as children, we all imagined growing up and living independent, adult lives one day. However, when you’re 10, “adult” means 18-20. That’s all the further out I really pictured. It was hard to even conceptualize being older than that. It started to get weirder each consecutive year after my 21st birthday.

You find yourself waiting and waiting. Wondering when you’ll finally start to feel like a real adult. It used to seem inevitable that one day you would wake up and just get it. You’d understand what you’re supposed to do, who you are, where you’re going in life. After a while, that expectation changes to questioning if you’ll ever actually experience that confidence and self mastery you had always anticipated. At a certain point you start to ask yourself where you ever got that impression of adulthood in the first place.

It’s also strange to consider if this is a natural part of getting older, or if this experience is unique to your generation. After all, things have changed quite a lot since my parents were 30. The baby boomers were all having children and buying houses around this age. Whereas my generation isn’t exactly able to enjoy the same privileges. Instead, we are burdened by crippling debt, useless degrees, being stuck living with our parents, unable to shed those aspects of our childhood that are still so prevalent in our lives. I’ve been playing Pokémon every evening for months now. I doubt I’ll ever outgrow that particular interest.

Apart from all the psychological aspects of aging, it’s also quite scary to realize that my body is getting older too. As a woman that is particularly frightening. Despite knowing that my worth is not tied to my age or my appearance, I am aware that society does not reflect that fact. Is my life going to become more difficult once I’m no longer a young, attractive woman? I’ve already got a few wrinkles between my eyebrows and a handful of grey hairs. Will I still think I’m pretty ten years from now? Will I still be able to do impressive yoga poses or intense cardio workouts? When will I begin to notice aches and pains that never quite go away? How much longer will this strong, healthy body last?

The concept of aging is certainly a bizarre one no matter how you want to look at it. I only hope that as time continues to pass that I will grow older with dignity and grace, with gratitude in my heart. Even though it’s scary, I am still hopeful. I am curious to find out what the rest of this miraculous life has in store for me.

What Is (and Isn't) Normal Aging

Bonding & Social Anxiety

Maybe no one really seems to be the person that they mean to be.

Conor Oberst

Probably my favorite man in the world (besides my boyfriend) is the man I work with at my small little three-person office. I’m not quite sure I’ve ever held someone in such high regard. I genuinely view him as a member of my family and I look forward to talking to him every day. If we were closer in age, I’d definitely have a crush on him. Since he’s my parents’ age, I think of him like a father instead. Strangely enough, he and my real father go by the same name.

Earlier when I walked into his office, he was telling another coworker/friend of ours that he had been talking about me with his wife last night. He was telling her about how close we’ve gotten over the last few years and how much he’s grown to love me. I nearly teared up as he listed off my best qualities proudly. I was so close to telling him that I view him as a father, but decided to bite my tongue. Maybe I’ll tell him one day, but not today.

Never having been close to my biological father, seeing him in this way means a lot to me. I honestly have never had a closer, non-sexual relationship with a man before in my life. He has taught me so much. I am filled with admiration and love for him. He’s one of those people that I just mesh with extremely well. He has such an open, accepting, light-hearted aura.

However, despite all of this, I struggle with the warm emotions I feel for him. It is a constant balancing act whenever I start to feel attached to someone. There are only a small handful of people I’ve ever felt strongly enough about to be vulnerable with. Even so, that vulnerability terrifies me. My anxiety tells me I’m not safe, that I’ll only end up getting hurt and rejected if I show the world who I really am. No matter how safe the person may make me feel, that pinching fear in my chest never fully leaves. Even when I so desperately want to be closer, I can’t help but keep myself at arm’s length.

I think when you don’t have personal experience with social anxiety, you imagine it’s only being afraid of negative social interactions such as being humiliated or not knowing what to do or say in a given situation. But actually, positive social situations can be just a stressful. Even after a great moment of intimacy with someone I genuinely care for, I find myself feeling anxious afterwards. Thoughts start to pop up: Did I share too much? Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Do they like me as much as I like them? I feel awkward and embarrassed by getting closer to someone, even when it’s what I want. It’s quite frustrating and isolating as you can imagine.

I think most people in my life notice a striking difference between who I initially present myself to be: cold, distant, quiet, serious, soft-spoken, reserved and who I reveal myself to be later on: warm, loving, sensitive, affectionate, funny, loud, outspoken, passionate. Although most people seem to change once you get to know them better, I don’t think it’s usually as drastic of a difference. I doubt most of the people I am close to even realize how deeply loving and affectionate I can be. I’m just too afraid to be that vulnerable with practically anyone.

It really makes me wonder how different those around me might be from the way they present themselves to the world. I tend to take situations and individuals at face value. I can be pretty gullible and have to make a great effort to integrate the various layers of a person into a cohesive image. That’s one of the many great things about my friend at work. He is not without his flaws, but somehow his flaws make him all the more endearing. Loving someone despite their flaws is such a beautiful and profound thing to experience. Not only that, I am able to see the way he loves others who are deeply flawed themselves. He is open and accepting of just about everyone no matter how different they are from him. Witnessing this in another has helped me so much to come to terms with my own issues.

So for those of you out there also struggling with creating close, meaningful relationships despite your earnest desire to do so, know that you aren’t alone. And for everyone else reading this that may not have much knowledge of social anxiety or mental illness in general, I hope this has given you a new perspective and a better understanding of some of the issues others are going through.

A Father's Guide to Teen Dating - FamilyEducation

Making the “Right” Choice

No matter the scenario before me, I find myself stressing over making the “right” decision. Even seemingly simple choices are blown way out of proportion. Should I take a walk or not take a walk? Should I order take out tonight or cook? Should I clean today or tomorrow? When you break life down into these small decisions, it can become overwhelming quite quickly.

It appears as though everyone around me is moving through life intuitively, with confidence in their decisions. Even big life-changing decisions like leaving a job, getting married, having a baby, going back to school. I guess it’s not fair to say these are easy situations for others to navigate. Maybe they are just as tangled up inside as I am. I just only end up seeing the final result. Still these decisions are made firmly, as if they truly know it will be the right one. When it comes to big decisions in my own life, I can’t say I’ve ever even made one. Looking back most major life-changing decisions were made for me like getting a scholarship to college. Or I just find myself gently pushed into one like when I decided to do yoga teacher training with a friend from work.

It feels like all this time I have just been allowing life to happen to me, rather than playing an active role in directing my own experience. I guess I’ve always felt safer not being in control of these things. I’d rather feel like a victim than feel at fault. Perhaps one of the reasons it’s so hard for me to make decisions is because I know how hard I am going to be on myself if I make the “wrong” one.

I go through each day in a precise set of activities. Even though it might be nice to break away from my normal routine once in a while, I’m always too afraid. It’s not even so much about the tasks themselves, like I once thought. It’s more about not having to contemplate what to do next. When I have a schedule to follow, that takes away a lot of the decisions I’d have to make in a day. Take away the routine and I feel like I’m at sea, drowning in an ocean of possibilities.

The real issue here is thinking that there is a “right” decision to be made at all. Especially about such insignificant choices like whether to go for a walk or not. Rather than just thinking, “Oh, a walk would be nice” and going, or, “Eh, I don’t feel like going for a walk today,” and letting it go, I agonize over whether or not I should. I use up so much mental energy arguing and debating with myself about the smallest things.

I take life, and all the decisions that comprise it, far too seriously. I blow each little moment way out of proportion. Most of the thoughts I suffer over for hours or even days, won’t make a difference in the long run. It’s like I have this delusion if I can choose what to do with each second of my life perfectly, all my problems will go away. I know that isn’t true though. There is no perfect answer. There are no “right” or “wrong” choices. There is just me and what I want. And maybe the problem is I don’t know what that is. Or maybe the problem is I’m always looking for problems, so that’s what I find.

What’s the problem with being indecisive anyway? I can choose how I frame even this dilemma. I could take pride in this “flaw.” I’m quite careful and conscientious. These are excellent qualities. I want to make the most of this precious time I’ve been given. I don’t want to be wasteful with a single second. I am insightful and capable of self-reflection. Already, this mental shift has put me in a better mood. Now instead of feeling afraid and broken, I feel happy and proud to be the way that I am.

It’s so easy for me to look outside of myself for answers. I feel like in order to be happy or to love myself, I’ve got to change something outside of me, like the situation or my behavior. That’s always just another distraction though. I don’t need to change anything external to be happy. All I’ve got to do is give myself the space to find different perspectives of the same “problem.”

When I find myself sweating the small stuff today, I’m going to return to one of my favorite mantras: Can I love myself even though…? Can I love myself regardless of whether or not I go for a walk today? Certainly. Can I love myself even though I have a tendency to choose the path of least resistance and default to routine? Absolutely. Can I love myself even though I often take life too seriously? Of course. Can I love myself even though I spend so much time worrying about making the “right” decision. Yes I can. And that’s all that really matters.

Not Knowing

When I was a younger, even friends wouldn’t hesitate to let me know that I was a “know-it-all.” At the time, although I understood this was an insult, I couldn’t really comprehend why. I interpreted it as jealousy or an envious lashing out against my superior intelligence and knowledge base. (Exactly what a know-it-all would think.) What’s wrong with being smart, I often wondered. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that “know-it-all” wasn’t a comment on how intelligent I was. It was a comment about my attitude.

Being a know-it-all doesn’t mean you know everything or even that you know more than the average person. It simply means that you think you do. Intelligence is curious, open, and observant. A know-it-all is self-assured, closed, and domineering. An intelligent person knows that there is always more to learn and there are always people that know more about something than we do. A know-it-all, well, thinks they already know it all. They have nothing left to learn. There is no one that knows more than they do.

Even though I still fall back into my know-it-all tendencies quite often, I’m learning more and more about just how much I don’t know every day. One of the more important lessons that my experience with LSD has taught me is that I don’t know everything. Not only that, but there are aspects of life, reality, and the universe that I can’t even hope to conceptualize. There is so much knowledge out there that I couldn’t even absorb it all if I lived a thousand lifetimes. Not only is there mountain upon mountain of empirical data, there is also the unlimited ways we can interpret that data. Despite all I pride myself on knowing, somehow I still learn more all the time. I couldn’t be more humbled by or grateful for that fact.

I absolutely love to learn. It is one of my greatest joys to find and spread new information. After learning about the mycelial networks helping trees to communicate and send nutrients to one another, I’ve been telling anyone that will listen. I firmly believe that anxiety is a byproduct of an intelligent, but under stimulated brain. My brain is constantly devoting all it’s unused energy to make predictions about the future based on what I know. It is a great comfort to me when I realize that these predictions are not very likely to be accurate given the amount of unknown factors at play. Reflecting on this leaves me feeling a lot less urgency around tending to my anxious thoughts.

Growing up a Christian, I remember being so pleased that after I died I would finally be able to talk to God. I couldn’t wait to ask him all the endless questions I had. I couldn’t wait to one day learn everything about the universe, how it began, and why. Now an atheist, I’m pretty upset that isn’t going to happen. Then again, I don’t really know what is going to happen. Perhaps my consciousness will meld back into all of existence and in a way I will have access to all the answers I’ve been seeking. Maybe the not knowing, maybe the mystery is part of the fun.

It’s quite a depressing thought actually, to imagine really knowing all there is to know. What a dull life that would be. Curiosity, mystery, discovery, wonder, these are all parts of life that make it worth living. It is such a joy to know these experiences will always be available to me. There will always be surprises awaiting me, new mysteries to puzzle over, new discoveries to be made, breathtaking moments of wonder and awe.

We are especially fortunate to live in the time that we do now. With the internet, we can easily find out more about anything we’d like to know. At any moment there is the potential to learn something that completely changes the way we see, interact with, or understand the world. Isn’t that an incredible notion? We tend to get weighed down by the monotony of day to day life and lose sight of that fact. It’s helpful to remind ourselves every now and then. I find that the concept of not knowing is enough to spark curiosity, creativity, excitement for what’s to come, as well as gratitude for what is.

As you move through your day today, try to take notice of moments that surprise you. Savor any new knowledge you’re able to gain. Contemplate how “not knowing” plays an important role in your life. Reflect on the times in the past when you learned something that completely changed the way you perceive yourself, others, or the world. Let the mantra for today be, “anything could happen.” Then allow yourself to be curious, excited, and open to whatever does.

Discover a Bestselling Mystery & Suspense Series | Novel Suspects