Opening Up About My Eating Disorder

Until now, I’ve only made vague references and comments about this on my blog. Part of me was hesitant even to do that. There are a lot of reasons that I still feel somewhat uncomfortable sharing this story. Not only am I ashamed of the behaviors themselves and the seemingly benign catalyst to this downward spiral, but I’m also ashamed to label myself as someone recovering from an eating disorder.

Even though I definitely suffered from extremely disordered eating for months if not an entire year, I never felt like it was “that bad.” I know a lot of people internally minimize their own mental health issues especially when eating disorders are involved, but even knowing that, I didn’t feel able to consider myself one of those people. I’ve watched so many documentaries and series about anorexia and other eating disorders. I know how bad it can get. I know it can be life-threatening at times, especially in the cases that persist for years and years. I was comparing myself to those extreme cases and disregarding the suffering and severity of where I was physically and mentally for those months. I felt, like a lot of people do, that I wasn’t “that sick.” I wasn’t extreme enough in my behaviors. I wasn’t thin enough to have an eating disorder. It hadn’t been going on long enough.

It is easy for me to recognize these excuses and minimizing attempts in others, but only recently have I been able to accept that things really had gotten bad for me. And that I’m still struggling to regain healthy eating habits and not fall back into toxic self-talk. I wanted to write about my experiences today for all of those who may be reading that are like me. There is no “sick enough” threshold that you have to meet before you can get help. If you feel there is a problem, there is. You don’t have to reach rock bottom or suffer for a certain length of time before you can decide to love yourself, before you decide you are worthy of recovery. You are worthy of recovery right now. You are always worthy of love. Your suffering matters, regardless of whether or not someone else may “have it worse.”

My eating disorder began at the end of 2019. One of the parts I’m embarrassed by is the “reason” it seemed to have been triggered. I’m sure there were a lot of other underlying issues going on, and the isolation of the pandemic really made it a lot worse, but the day I recall that switch happening in my mind was a day I was pulled over. I am no stranger to speeding tickets, but this one really got to me for some reason. I was so ashamed and humiliated for getting yet another ticket and having to spend over $100 on something so stupid right before the holidays. As I cried big ugly tears on the rest of my drive home, my thoughts were swirling with negativity.

I’m never pretty enough to get out of a ticket I thought. A thought I have basically every time I’ve been pulled over. But that day it stung particularly badly. “I don’t deserve to eat tonight.” That was the thought that played on repeat. And I didn’t eat that night. Or the next. To my surprise, fasting made me feel a lot better. I felt powerful and strong. I felt sleek and beautiful. My mind felt sharp. I felt in control. I woke up more easily. I felt lighter during my morning workout. “This is great,” I told myself.

After those first two days without eating, fasts became a normal part of my weekly routine. At first I was fasting for one or two days every week. Then three days a week. Then it started to become more than just fasting. On the four days a week I allowed myself to eat, I had a very strict diet. I didn’t eat until 6 or 7 in the evening, and then I would basically eat things that had virtually no calories so that I could eat for hours straight without feeling guilty. Each and every day I ate, I would eat the same exact things, in the same exact order. First I would eat four whole cans of green beans with copious amounts of salt and onion powder. Then I would eat roasted zucchini. Then I would eat cabbage soup. Then lima beans. Sometimes these super low-calorie spring rolls. Then I would finish it off by gorging myself on vegan halotop ice cream, or banana nice cream.

Not long after that, I also starting binging and purging two of the four days I did eat. So I basically wasn’t getting any calories besides the few I would keep down two days a week. I continued to workout for an hour every day like always during this period, mind you. If for some reason I ended up eating with family or friends, that would inevitably be thrown up later. I was worried about the purging, but not much else. And even that was about my looks. I didn’t want my teeth to fall out. I knew that wasn’t going to be something I could do forever, but at the time, I still didn’t want to stop.

In the beginning, I felt amazing. I was losing more weight, more quickly than I ever had my entire life. Every week I was meeting new personal goals. I was elated each and every time I took out the scale to see a smaller number. Even so, it didn’t seem to be perceivable in the reflection I saw in the mirror. Even though I reached my lifelong personal goal for the first time ever, I still hated who I saw staring back at me. I still felt the same, worse even. I felt disgusting, fat, like my belly was grotesque, like I’d never be thin enough.

At a certain point a month or more in, my family and friends started to express their concerns. They were not hesitant at all about asking me point blank if I had an eating disorder. Of course I lied and said I was just being very careful not to eat as much as I used to, but that I was completely fine and healthy. They didn’t seem to believe me, but they didn’t push the issue either. Their concern only made me hate myself more. I felt guilty and embarrassed that they knew I wasn’t okay. I felt like a failure that the comments I received were concerned instead of impressed. I also felt immense pressure at that point to keep the weight off. I was horrified at the idea I may gain it back and people would notice that too.

I had always dreamed of being thin. Ever since I was a little girl in elementary school. I still remember that when I found out about eating disorders, I genuinely wished that I could have one. I felt like that was the only way I’d ever be able to get skinny. Sadly, I made that wish come true through years and years of exposing myself to “thinspo” on Instagram and Tumbr. It always felt like the horrible mental side effects of these disorders just wouldn’t happen to me, or that they were an okay price to pay for beauty. After experiencing the mental and emotional agony I went through, I can say with absolute certainty that isn’t true.

I had sold myself the lie that being skinny would make me happy for my entire life. It was absolutely devastating to confront that lie. During these months, my mental health plummeted lower than ever before. I absolutely hated myself. I was utterly disgusted by every part of myself. I hated my reflection even more than I did before I lost the weight. Each and every moment of the day was consumed by thoughts of food and outrageous levels of anxiety. This was supposed to be how I found happiness, but I found only misery. It felt like happiness didn’t even exist anymore, or at least I’d never find it.

I honestly don’t know how I found the strength within me to finally work on more healthy eating habits again, but somehow I did. It was a slow process, and I still haven’t made it back to “normal” yet. But I am so proud of myself for deciding that I was worthy of my own love. Even though my eating is still a bit haywire, I feel like I have a healthier relationship with my body than I ever thought I would. Now when those toxic thoughts about my body come up, I remind myself that being skinny isn’t going to solve all my problems. It didn’t solve them. It just made life a living Hell. I remind myself that I get to choose whether to be happy or not, and it is in no way correlated to my appearance. In fact, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.

If you’re reading this right now and see yourself in any of what I’ve written today. Please get help. Even if that’s just deciding to try to help yourself. Don’t wait until things are unbearable to change course. Because the sooner you are able to turn around, the easier it will be to reclaim some sense of normalcy. And trust me, if I was able to do it, anyone can. You are beautiful for who you are, not what you look like. You are enough. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of happiness. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’re struggling. I would be honored to answer any questions anyone might have or offer my support to anyone who needs it. Thank you for letting me finally share my story.

Eating Disorder Awareness: Spread the Word - Bayridge Counselling Centres

Anxiety As a Friend

Avoiding our emotion is an American past time. We pass this down from one generation to another, adding on layers of fear and shame as we go until not only are we afraid to cry or be nervous, but also afraid of the way others will judge us for feeling these ways. I learned the other day that other countries don’t have the same desperation to escape even mild sadness the way Americans do. There is much more complexity and grey area to the range of emotion overseas. Many countries have words about feelings that cannot even be accurately translated into English. The nuance simply doesn’t exist here.

It’s also interesting to consider the wise advice from centuries ago in the east, such as the idea that trying to avoid our suffering only causes us to suffer longer, is just now being proven by science. Unsurprisingly studies show that people that view most of the emotions besides happiness negatively are more likely to end up being unhappy. In other countries there is room in the language, in the culture, for happiness to reside alongside things like grief, sadness, anger, anxiety. We have convinced ourselves in this country that all these emotions are mutually exclusive.

One of my blog notes was listed as “writing about anxiety as a friend” for months now. After initially writing the idea down, each time I read it I was perplexed. What on earth could I have possibly meant by that? I find it humorous now that I remember my intention. It’s hard for me to even hold this perspective in my mind for too long. I have spent my whole life viewing my anxiety as the enemy, my kryptonite.

I’ve just started to give myself permission to look at it another way. If I imagine my anxiety as a separate entity, I am able to look at it more objectively, to offer it compassion instead of impatience and disdain. When I start to feel that tension building in my chest, pulling at me. I imagine instead a small child, maybe even myself as a child, tugging at me instead. “I’m scared,” she says. And instead of shaking her off roughly and pressing on or running away from her, my response is now to crouch down, to take her hands, to tell her it’s okay, we’re safe. It feels so good to just offer your emotions acknowledgement. To say to them: I see you. I hear you. Thank you. We’ll be alright.

For most of my life, my anxiety was a cue that it was time to start thinking about all the ways things could go wrong or all the reasons I am a broken person. I took it as a signal that something is wrong out in the world as well, that I should hide myself away. I’ve realized though that there are many other ways to interpret these uncomfortable emotions. Here’s a recent example of what I mean:

Yesterday my office was putting on a Halloween fundraiser. I was to attend to help out with selling raffle tickets and to stay afterward to clean up. Although I was excited, I was also anxious about this all week. I was worried about having such a busy Saturday, about whether or not I’d even be able to stay awake all night after waking up at 6AM. Now, while these were valid concerns, they weren’t things I could run away from or avoid. They were things I had to face. My anxiety wasn’t telling me that I would fail or that things would go badly, it was just saying “I’m scared.”

And it’s okay to be scared. Being scared doesn’t always mean that we should run away. Sometimes it is just a signal from our bodies that we need some extra love and reassurance. Let yourself know that you’ll be there, that’s you’ll be okay, no matter what the outcome. When I try to avoid my anxiety that dense little ball of tightness in my chest seems to become bigger and bigger until I can hardly breathe. It demands my attention, but I am doing everything in my power to look away. What a miraculous difference I feel when instead I turn toward that feeling. Just holding our emotions in awareness seems to let them relax.

It’s time for us to do the work to change our response to unpleasant emotions. Some day I hope that we can all see our emotions as an opportunity to offer ourselves kindness, instead of reasons to run away from ourselves. You don’t have to do anything in particular to offer kindness either. It’s whatever kindness looks like to you. How would you comfort that small girl on your sleeve? Maybe she needs a hug or a hot drink and some time to sit and breathe. Maybe she needs rest or a reward. There are countless ways for us to give ourselves loving kindness. In my experience, just having the intention of kindness is enough to make a world of difference. Even if that just looks like saying to yourself, “I don’t know how to make you feel better, but I want to. I love you. I’m here for you.”

Anxiety is not our enemy. Anxiety is a small friend, asking for support. Let’s practice offering it that support instead of neglect or displeasure. Anxiety is just a feeling, just a message from our bodies. We are the ones who have the power to interpret that message. We’ve been mistranslating it for so long, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to see it for what it really is. Anxiety is not a cue that you are in danger or damaged. It’s a cue that you are in need of tenderness and love in order to keep going. Things that we all need. Things that we can all easily learn to give to ourselves. Things that can help us associate anxiety with self care instead of fear. Tend to that little child inside of you today. Don’t turn away. She’s a friend.

Child Adult Holding Hands - Public Policy Institute of California

Personal Responsibility Paradox

I’m sure by now everyone has heard about the information and research leaked to 60 Minutes by a former Facebook employee. This information came as no surprise to those of us that have watched documentaries about the issue such as The Social Dilemma. The bottom line always seems to be: social media is bad for our mental health and our society overall. But does it have to be that way? That’s the question a lot of people are now asking.

The perspective I’ve noticed a lot of people having is that AI and algorithms cannot be inherently bad or evil. They are simply a reflection of what humanity wants. If that ends up being violence and divisiveness, can we really blame the algorithm? Or should we be turning that microscope on ourselves instead? There is certainly a lot of nuance to this issue, but here is what I think.

The reason these algorithms are feeding us content that angers and polarizes us is because that is the type of content that gets the most consistent and reliable engagement from users. At first glance this appears to be the AI giving us what we want. But consider this: Facebook and other social media apps understand that even though we are more likely to engage with content that is inflammatory, that isn’t what we want. They don’t care what consumers want. They care what will make them the most money, regardless of the damage that it may result in.

Evolution has primed us to react more to negative stimuli than positive stimuli for survival. Our negativity bias is not a reflection of our relative good or evil as a species. If we ignore a positive experience there is much less harm than if we were to ignore a negative experience that has the potential to hurt or kill us. So we may have a more visceral reaction to seeing a child be hit by a car than seeing a fireman give a child a lollipop, but does that mean we prefer to watch gruesome tragedies? I don’t think so. We just pay more attention to them in an effort to ensure our own safety.

It isn’t that we wouldn’t engage with the platform at all if there were more positive content, it’s just that we’ll engage even more when our feeds are full of things that upset or enrage us. Facebook was doing fine before these detrimental algorithms were put into place. But capitalism says the more money the better, regardless of the cost to the consumer. Therefore this negative feedback loop has begun to spiral out of control to the detriment of everyone.

It seems like a lot of people are hesitant to give up the idea that they are completely autonomous and always make conscious, educated decisions for themselves in life. It is unpleasant to consider that a lot of our behavior is being directed and influenced by things that are largely out of our control or even our conscious awareness. Nevertheless, that is the truth.

I think part of the problem is that people really want to believe they can avoid the negative mental health effects of social media because they are addicted to it. As humans we’ll make excuses to continue indulging in whatever addiction we may have. We’ve all known an alcoholic living in denial, loudly proclaiming at any opportunity, “I could stop if I wanted to.”

It’s hard to acknowledge that something we do every day is bad for us. Especially when stopping the behavior results in negative social consequences. I know a lot of people that want to stop using Facebook, but feel that they can’t because it would upset their family and friends and lead to a certain degree of social isolation. I struggled with this myself before I ultimately decided to stop using social media apps. Luckily for me, I was able to overcome this easier than others. I’ve never been one to care much about social norms or how others may perceive my life decisions. While these are things I consider, they’ve never held much weight for me. I empathize with the fact that most people place a lot more emphasis on these factors.

At the end of the day, yes, the individual is not absolved of all responsibility when it comes to societal issues, but the lion’s share of the responsibility is still on the developers of these sites. No one has to use social media. We do have the potential to feed the algorithm different information now that we know how it works. By actively choosing to engage with more positive content than negative we could make a difference. However, this is not a very practical or realistic solution when it comes to society as a whole.

The United States may claim to value freedom above all else, but the amount of freedom we actually have is often deceptive, especially when new generations are being influenced by these things at earlier and earlier ages. Are we really free to use social media in a mentally healthy way when the AI running the show are directing us and influencing us from behind the scenes? To me, the freedoms we fight for are often illusions of freedom perpetuated by a corrupt capitalist system that is profiting off of that “freedom.”

My main point here is just to say, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re doing the best you can within the framework our society and government have built. Freedom is a tricky concept. While we may have the freedom to choose in many aspects of our lives, those choices are also limited by our environment. You are not a helpless victim, but you are also not the only one responsible as many in the media would have you believe.

How to Create a Social Media Calendar in 5 Easy Steps (with Template)

It Can Be Different Inside Your Head

Can't seem to focus these days? You could have pandemic brain

Although it may seem obvious to some, it can be a revelation to others when they find out that their inner, mental landscape does not have to be the way that it currently is. For me, that realization came in the form of anxiety medication. I was blown away at the change in thought I was noticing solely from introducing new chemicals into my body. If we haven’t ever experienced a huge mental shift like this, it may not occur to us that it’s even possible to think differently. We assume that this is just the way our minds work, and at least for me, I also assumed everyone else’s mind worked in a similar way.

The universe of experiences you can conceive of really cracks wide open after you realize that vast untapped potential within your own mind. I find it funny that even though change is the only real constant in this world, we all seem to get stuck in the mindset that things will always be the way they are right now. We don’t realize how much change is actually possible and inevitable. It’s not often that we stop and consider the ways in which our own perception of the world around us has the potential to change. Especially if we’ve been stuck in one particular pattern of thought for all of our lives.

I’m writing this post today to help free you from the constraints of your own inner world. Sometimes all it takes is understanding that things can be different. Now, I’m certainly not advocating that everyone reading this start taking an SSRI like I did. That is something for you and your doctor to decide. However, we don’t need medication to experience these brain changes. The same positive results can be achieved with practice and persistence with the help of a therapist or even on our own. These changes may not always be as fast or drastic as the ones noticed after starting a medication, but they are just as significant. We just may have to take the time to reflect on the difference between where we are now and where we were a few years ago.

This is where I believe the misconception of “choice” comes in. I used to become so frustrated when I’d hear people say, “You’ve just got to decide to be happy” or “We get to choose how we react to the things that happen in our lives.” Up until a few years ago, it didn’t feel like I had a choice at all. Not only that, I felt as if I was being blamed for the unpleasant emotional experiences I was having even though I didn’t want to be having them.

Even though I can now see the truth in these statements, I still think the language we use to present these ideas needs some tweaking. In the beginning, we may not have a choice in how we feel. After running on autopilot for most of our lives, it isn’t going to be easy to switch off those largely unconscious reactions. It takes a lot of work to train the mental muscles we need to redirect ourselves and start dismantling those automatic responses. Not only that, but it takes a lot of time before that work actually starts to make a noticeable difference. Think of it like a ship crossing the ocean. Even though you’re moving forward and making progress, it is going to look the same for a good long while. One day the shore will finally appear though. You may not even know what to expect in this foreign land, but just keep going. Trust that you will see dry ground eventually.

Without understanding this, a lot of people give up on themselves before even starting or before they’ve taken the time to set the groundwork for visible results. It’s important that we remind people that even though it is a long, difficult journey, it’s worth it, and with consistency and dedication, change is inevitable. The only thing you need to do is believe in yourself and the science enough to take the first step.

Finally, realizing how much the inner workings of our own minds can change has also allowed me to offer others more grace. When you imagine that for the most part we all think in a similar way, it can be downright infuriating when people behave in ways or think things that we cannot understand. It is humbling to acknowledge that we have no idea what is going on in the minds of those around us. Not only does it help me accept the differences I see in others, it also fills me with excitement and curiosity. What might it be like inside someone else’s head?

Wherever you are in life, I hope that you come to understand just how different things could be inside yourself. Whether that inspires you to work for change, helps you be more grateful for the way your mind is already working, or simply helps you offer loving kindness to others, we can all benefit from the reminder that things can be different inside your head.

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

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

Trauma

Emotional and Psychological Trauma - HelpGuide.org

Working at a child advocacy center, I have learned a lot about trauma. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) isn’t just something that war veterans have, it’s something that can result from many different situations. A lot of the children I work with end up having PTSD as a result of the abuse they have experienced. You might have PTSD from childhood trauma, a car crash, an abusive relationship, the sudden loss of a loved one, or any number of different scenarios. I’ve also learned that what defines “trauma” is different for everyone. Two people may experience the same thing and react completely differently. There are tons of things that factor into trauma.

It seems like trauma and PTSD are popular topics in the media today. I hear it mentioned all the time in the various videos and podcasts I listen to. The reason I want to talk about it today is because I caught myself feeling guilty about not having experienced any serious trauma in my life. Let me explain. I’ve always kind of considered myself a mess. I feel incapacitated by anxiety and neuroticism most of the time. However, I have heard so many stories of people that have gone through so much more than I could even imagine that seem to be coping with life better than I am. It makes me feel ashamed of myself, quite frankly.

It almost feels like I don’t deserve any compassion or sympathy for the issues I am struggling with from myself or anyone else. I often joke with my coworkers that the kids we meet are still higher functioning than I am, even though I’ve had such an easy life so far. I genuinely can’t understand it. Combing through my memories trying to find some kind of event to explain my poor mental health only makes me feel worse as I realize that I’ve not even had many minor forms of trauma in my life.

When I caught myself feeling guilty the other day, I tried to imagine what I would say to myself if I were a good friend. (We should all be our own good friends anyway, right?) I would have told that friend that they don’t need to justify or explain why they feel the ways they feel. It’s their experience and that’s enough to make it valid. This isn’t the trauma Olympics. Not all people who have anxiety or depression or any other mental illness have to have had a traumatic life experience. That’s why the DSM distinguishes between PTSD and other anxiety disorders, for instance. Not every mental illness has to be trigged by a particular life event. Not all traumatic life events have to lead to mental illness.

I often fall into that familiar trap of black and white thinking. Just because other people have it worse, doesn’t mean that my suffering doesn’t matter or that I’m not allowed to experience it. We each have our own shit to deal with. There is no need to compare ourselves to others in any way, let alone when it comes to mental illness. It’s not as if I choose to feel this way. Just like others didn’t choose to experience traumatic events or the aftermath that comes with them. You should never feel ashamed of something that is out of your control.

I would never want anyone to feel ashamed for not being able to “justify” their mental illness. That’s like being ashamed of having cancer because you never smoked and lived a healthy lifestyle. It makes no sense at all. In fact, even someone that does smoke cigarettes, resulting in lung cancer, still deserves compassion and sympathy. Despite all of my psychology education and social work experience, I can’t seem to let go of these nonsensical perspectives when it comes to myself. Even though I know mental illness is just as real and valid as physical illness, I can’t seem to shake the idea that it’s somehow my fault that I manage it so poorly. Even when I really am trying my best.

It’s amazing to me how much easier it is to offer love and understanding to others, while it feels impossible to extend the same kindness to myself. So this post is for all the other people like me out there, beating themselves up over things they can’t control. If you are unable to say it to yourself, I’m here to say it for you. No matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’ve gone through, no matter who you are, or what you’ve done, YOU deserve love. YOU deserve compassion. YOU deserve happiness. YOU are enough. YOU are worthy. Don’t forget it.

Sierra Boggess Quote: “You are enough. You are so enough, it is  unbelievable how enough you

Limiting Beliefs to Let Go of in Therapy

Today I want to write about some of the limiting beliefs that prevent me from being happy in my life. I think these beliefs will be what I’d like to tackle first once I find a therapist. I’m hoping that by writing it all down, I’ll be able to get a clearer picture of why therapy is important to me and my personal growth. Even though I majored in psychology and have a great respect for therapy and the field in general, part of me still feels hesitant about whether or not talking to a therapist would benefit me personally. I’m not sure why I have this reluctance. I think part of me believes that, while therapy works, not many practitioners in my area are very good at it. What I mean by this is they don’t seem to employ any evidence based therapies whatsoever. I’ve met quite a few therapists through my work and sadly only two have ever seemed legitimate to me. Even more sadly, one is a child therapist and both are off the table for me because we work together.

That brings me to my first limiting belief though. When I decide something is going to be difficult and take a lot of time and effort, I am quick to give up. I’ve always been someone that would rather not try at all than try and fail. This is no way to live your life though. Failure isn’t something to fear and avoid. It is a healthy part of the process of growth. I even try to avoid putting time and effort into personal relationships. Rather than have a painful conversation, I prefer to simply disappear. I almost ghosted my boyfriend the first time he asked to hangout because I was so afraid of setting time aside from my busy schedule to meet him. Part of me still wants to run away from him rather than make the five hour drive to his new apartment and stay there for three days at the end of the month. I have to keep reminding myself how grateful I am that I didn’t run away from that first meeting. I faced my fears and met an amazing boy that I’m growing to love. These are the types of experiences that I stand to lose if I continue to run from the hard things in life.

Ironically, while I am afraid that I won’t be able to find a good therapist, I’m also afraid that I will find one. What I mean by that is I’m afraid that eventually my therapist will make me face my self-destructive habits, particularly when it comes to food and exercise. I’m petrified that my therapist will challenge me to stop my insane daily cardio sessions. I know that she won’t be able to make me do anything. What scares me is I already know how much these obsessive compulsive habits hold me back. I’m afraid I won’t be able to make personal progress without facing them. I’ve always been afraid of giving up my exercise routine. I’ve been working out for at least an hour every single day for nearly a decade at this point. You might wonder what I’m afraid of. Most people would love an excuse not to exercise. That’s where my next limiting belief comes into play. A big part of me believes that my appearance directly reflects my worth as a human being, as a woman. Strangely enough this doesn’t apply to anyone else in my life, just me. I would never look down on someone because of their physical appearance. But when it comes to myself, it already feels like I hardly deserve to take up space in this world. I feel like I have to make myself into something pretty to look at in order to earn the right to exist at all. I have directly linked personal happiness and the right to be loved with how I look. Not only is this highly detrimental to my mental health, it is also completely unsustainable. Even though I’m not even 30 years old yet, I’ve already begun to fear aging. What will I do when my skin begins to crease and sag? When my hair turns grey and brittle? If it falls out completely? When my body can no longer keep up with the strenuous routines I impose upon it? No matter how afraid I am to face this, I know I’ll have to eventually.

Another limiting belief that I’d like to address in therapy is my dependence on the approval of others. This is somewhat part of my issue with looks, but this applies more to my personality. I have always been afraid of confrontation. I’d rather say yes to something and burden myself than say no and risk upsetting the other person. In order to avoid criticism or tough conversations, I’m quick to put other’s needs ahead of my own. I’d like to learn how to say no with confidence. I want to learn how to navigate more complex social interactions. More importantly I’d like to have a stronger connection with myself and learn to trust my intuition and see my own personal needs more clearly. I want to stand firm in the belief that I don’t need the approval and acceptance of others to be happy.

Finally I’d like to learn how to be more gentle and forgiving with myself. No matter how much I do or how far I’ve come, it’s never enough. I am quite good at criticizing myself for my mistakes, but utterly inept at congratulating myself when I succeed. After years of only focusing on my flaws, it’s often hard to even identify the things I’m doing well. I want to build a healthier relationship with myself through therapy. I’d like to be given some tools to help me practice loving kindness with myself. Even why I try to be kind to myself, it often feels hollow or uncomfortable. I have a hard time really believing anything positive I direct at myself. That cruel little voice in the back of my head is quick to counter anything nice I have to say. And after years and years of feeding that awful voice, it has become much stronger than my attempts to love myself.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had strong ideas about what I need to do to find happiness and fulfillment in my life. However even after years of effort, I can’t seem to overcome these limiting beliefs I have. The real reason I want to start therapy is so that I can have someone on my team. I want there to be someone else to help me and hold me accountable. It would also be nice to have an outside voice of advice and reassurance, someone to help me get perspective. Maybe then that mean little voice inside will finally be overpowered by positivity. Even though I’m afraid, even though it may be hard and take a long time, all I’ve got to do is focus on the step right in front of me. I don’t need to worry and wonder how many different therapists I’ll have to meet before I find the right one. Right now all I need to do is make one phone call and schedule that first appointment. Future me is capable of handling the rest as it comes.

Thrive Therapy Phx – Live Well. Live Free. Live Today.

FOMO

In case you don’t already know. FOMO is an acronym that means Fear of Missing Out. Until today, I never really thought of myself as someone who had this fear. I had only heard it in reference to more social situations. For example, being afraid of missing out on important milestones, dances, parties, etc. Today I realized that I do have my own slightly different FOMO. For me it’s more like I’m afraid of missing out on all of the different things I could do with my life. There are just so many options and choices to make in each moment. It’s usually impossible for me to decide. The anxiety I experience from contemplating all of the different options I have leaves me paralyzed, and I end up doing nothing.

What should I do with the very limited time I have each day? Should I clean out my fridge? Tend my garden? Decorate my yard? Paint my porch? Hangout with friends? Find new recipes and make a meal plan? Go shopping? Call my mom? Each and every one of these things is something that I want to do. It’s hard for me to prioritize one over another. I have a difficult time focusing my attention and ambition on just one thing at a time. But I worry that one day I’ll look back on my life and be full of regrets that I didn’t spend my time more wisely. I’d rather avoid thinking about it all together. It’s easier for me to just continue mindlessly going through the same motions that I went through the day before.

I keep trying to remind myself that ultimately it doesn’t matter what I choose to do with my free time. I could do all of these things and still be unhappy. I could do none of them and be perfectly happy. You’d think I would have learned this lesson last year when I cleaned and organized every inch of my house like I had been longing to do for ages. I felt quite accomplished and content at first. Since then that feeling of satisfaction has dwindled and disappeared. Despite my house being cleaner, I still feel like there are a million more things for me to do. But these external tasks have nothing to do with the quality of my life or my ability to be grateful for each day. I already do all the things I really need to do everyday. I don’t have to cause myself stress over deciding what more to do on top of that. Everything else is just extra. None of these things are necessary. I have to remember that all of these little things are insignificant in my life overall. Maybe one day I’ll get around to doing some of them, maybe not. Everything will be okay either way.

What matters isn’t that my backyard isn’t stylish enough, it’s that I am giving myself grief about it and overthinking it every day. It’s so tempting to externalize our discomfort and displeasure in life. It always feels like if we could just get every little detail in perfect order that THEN we could finally relax, THEN we could finally be comfortable and happy. The good news and the bad news is that this simply isn’t true. A much better way to achieve personal happiness and peace is to just be kinder to ourselves. Sometimes I think it’s not even the end result of these tasks that I truly desire, rather the peace and quite inside my head without that little voice constantly nagging me about it.

I’m the only one that can get that little voice to go away though. That is something that I have to resolve from within myself. Maybe the real thing I should be afraid of is living a life where I’m always so cruel and hard on myself. Wouldn’t I rather spend my time on this Earth showing myself unconditional love and support? Wouldn’t doing that be better than anything else I could possibly do? I would really like to find out.

Get Growing: If you're 'too busy,' start doing this - Bizwomen