Pulling Away

If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.

Dalai Lama

It feels like this sentiment has received a lot of backlash in recent years. People are offended when you suggest their lack of self-love somehow eliminates their potential to love other people. This quote is at the back of my mind a lot and I’ve thought about it in different ways at different points in my life. I believe both perspectives have validity to them. I don’t think it’s impossible to have love for other people if you don’t love yourself. I know the love I receive from the people in my life often makes it more possible for me to show myself love and compassion. But I don’t think that was ever the message trying to be conveyed. The message to me was that you can’t love others fully or as much as you would be able to if you loved yourself.

Relationships of any kind are very difficult for me. I do think it stems a lot from the way I love myself, or rather the way I don’t love myself. Throughout my life, all the relationships that have stuck were with people that are extremely open, loving, caring, and communicative. These people are the easiest for me to connect with, because I feel safe with them. And I guess to a certain extent, maybe they have the self-confidence and self-esteem to not take it personally when I am in one of my anti-social moods.

I’ve recently noticed how a lot of my other relationships break down over time. If the other person is not always openly expressing their good opinion of me or how much they value me and our friendship, I slowly start to convince myself that they don’t care about me. Because of this often mistaken perception, I pull away. They notice me pulling away, so they pull away. My suspicions are confirmed, and the friendship/relationship is dead. Without the presence of a palpable and verbalized unconditional love, I don’t ever feel secure enough to maintain a relationship with someone.

This stems directly from the way I feel about myself. I don’t believe I deserve friendship or love. It makes more sense to me that someone wouldn’t like me. I seek out cues to reinforce this belief whether they are there or not. It takes a LOT of weight and evidence in the opposite direction for someone to counterbalance my negative self-perception. Which can understandably be an exhausting dynamic for anyone without the predisposition to interact that way.

This is what I think it means when someone says you have to love yourself first. No, I’m not incapable of having meaningful, loving relationships. I’m fortunate enough to have several that I deeply value. BUT I would be available for forming close bonds with many different types of people if I had a higher amount of self-worth. My self-loathing makes it far too painful to be vulnerable with anyone that I’m not 100% certain will receive that vulnerability with positive regard and support. I’ve already rejected myself to such an extent that seeing that reflected by another person, whether real or imagined, is unbearable.

I don’t think you have to love yourself to love other people. But it does make it a hell of a lot easier.

Anxiety & Regrets

I used to just try to avoid anything that made me anxious. Let’s not kid ourselves, I still do most of the time. But recently, I’ve come to realize the utter futility of this effort. Quite literally everything seems to make me anxious in one way or another. It can be quite comical when I catch myself, sure that a day off with cease all my anxiety, and then I get anxious about taking a day off, or spend my entire time off worrying about going back the next day. I get anxious about the idea of leaving my current job, but anxious about staying there. I’m anxious to spend all my free time with friends and loved ones, but then anxious that I don’t spend enough time with them.

While it’s very disheartening and discouraging to realize that no matter what I do I’ll likely be anxious about it, it’s also somewhat liberating. Once again, I get to choose what I want to do without the influence of anxiety guiding my hand. I might as well choose things that I truly value and believe will result in a more fulfilling life. I don’t have to shy away from lofty, long-term goals just because working towards them gives me discomfort. Not working towards them would produce the same feeling.

After lockdown it became really obvious how important the relationships I have in my life are. Even as a fairly reclusive, introverted person already, it was agony to be isolated from my loved ones for such long spans of time. I realized that my time with them is limited and not guaranteed. They could be ripped from my life at any moment. Do I really want to waste the time I have with them? Will I really be happier looking back on my life knowing that I chose working out or drawing over the loving connections I’ve been blessed with?

I’ve come to look at a lot of my decisions this way instead. Which decision will I one day regret? Regardless of what I believe would make me happy in the moment, what will make me happy long-term? What do I value in life? For example, I’ve been trying to spend more of my free time with friends and family even though my OCD tries to tell me I’ll die if I don’t do the exact same pointless routine every single day. Yesterday, I thought I might go visit my grandma for a few hours. I agonized over the idea of diverting from my normal schedule all morning. I just kept reminding myself: These silly little tasks that you feel you have to do can be done tomorrow, next week, five years from now. You really have no idea how much time you have left to spend with your grandmother.

I ended up going to see her and was surprised to find my aunt there as well. I spent far longer at her house than I had intended and had an amazing time with them. If I had chosen to stay home, I know I would have regretted it the next day. I slept so soundly last night, knowing there was no better use of my time, and I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and filled with love. Now when my best friend asks me to hangout or an unexpected opportunity arises, I try to consider what I would regret. It’s ridiculous to imagine I would regret not staying at home by myself repeating the same cookie-cutter day over going out and connecting with people and making precious memories.

I have only been trying this method out for a few weeks, so it’s still difficult. But already I’ve managed to have some wonderful, meaningful, fulfilling days that I would have surely let pass me by in the past. I’m hoping continuing to practice this will reinforce in my mind how beneficial these experiences are. It might make me anxious to imagine going out with other people all day, but when I’m there, I know there is no where else I’d rather be.

I’ve also learned that being with people you love is a powerful balm for mental illness in itself. When I’m alone, my mind runs rampant. It is never silent. It focuses only on me and my problems/fears. This spiral gets bigger and stronger until it is all consuming. When I’m with my family and friends, my mind is finally quiet. I feel peaceful and at ease. My heart is open and over-flowing. My tendency has always been to hide away when I begin to feel overwhelmed, fearing that I can’t handle exerting any more of my social energy. Ironically, that is the very thing that will make me feel better. Being in the presence of people you cherish is a reminder of just how small and insignificant other concerns are. I feel supported and safe. Taking time to connect is refilling your cup.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what matters to me in this life. It’s easy to become distracted by productivity and material aspirations. We lose ourselves in the surface level tasks the world imposes upon us. None of that is truly important though. What’s valuable in this life is love, community, and connection above all else. Even when it’s scary. Even when it seems like you have a million other things you need to be doing. Life isn’t about having a clean house or starting a successful business. It’s about making sure the people you care about know how much you love them and savoring even the small, mundane moments you spend together. I refuse to let mental illness separate me from my true purpose in life: love. The only goal that truly matters, that I need to put in the forefront of my awareness, that I should etch the intention of onto my soul, is being with the ones I love. My time here is limited. If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I’d want to be with my friends and family every moment until then. So why should I ever want to be anywhere else?

Holiday Hearts

Soften you heart
and breathe deeply
now is the time to rest 
in the warm security of 
our bountiful harvest

To surrender to the stark contrast
of the snow beneath an inky black sky
to snuggle close together
with the ones we love
in warm stillness, in sweet silence

Winter is a time to slow down
to reflect on and rejoice in
all the year has given to us
to gather our blessings 
and give of ourselves 

Allow your heart to open
to fill and be filled
as we give thanks
and gather together 
to welcome another new year
Christmas heart Pictures, Christmas heart Stock Photos & Images |  Depositphotos®

Bittersweet Transitions

Today is the last day I will have the pleasure to work with someone I’ve come to consider a dear friend. She is a therapist and leaving to go into private practice. From the moment I began this job, I was excited and inspired by the fact that someone only a few years older than me was already such an impressive figure in the mental health field. She is one of the best therapists (and probably people in general) that I’ve ever known. It is a delight to watch her work with the kids we meet and to learn from her interactions with them and their parents. I am definitely a much better person for having known her.

She lives quite nearby to another friend of mine, on the same street actually. Yet we’ve never really spent time together outside of work. I am desperately hoping that we manage to stay friends after we no longer work together. I’ve had that hope many times in the past. However, it has always been an unsuccessful aspiration. So while I still intend to try to stay close, I am not getting my hopes up. Rather I am just going to focus on enjoying this final day at work with her. I would like to snag a card while I’m out later to write all of these warm sentiments down for her. It’s always embarrassing and uncomfortable for me to be vulnerable and express how much someone means to me, but it’s definitely well worth the discomfort.

As I reflect on the time we’ve had together and how sad I was the day she told us she would be leaving, another thought occurred to me. That was the same day that Nate told me he had gotten the job six hours away from me. Up until that point, I had been having an exceptionally good day. Then I ended up crying all the way home. I felt like I was losing everything, my work family and my new boyfriend.

Reflecting on that day now makes my heart feel so full. I can’t believe how far Nate and I have come from that day I thought would mark the end for us. I am so grateful to have so many amazing people in my life. I am so grateful that Nate cared for me enough even that early on to commit to a long distance relationship with me. I am so grateful that our love has grown and flourished even despite the hundreds of miles between us.

Even though today is a bittersweet one, overall I am still happy. It is useless to despair over the fluctuations and changes that come in life. We can never predict what moments we will look back on and cherish, what small events may end up being pivotal moments in our lives. Today I am going to focus on being grateful for all I have, knowing that it was never owed to me, knowing that it may disappear at any time, and being all the more joyful because of that impermanency. Transitions can be painful, but they are also beautiful. They are opportunities to reflect and take stock of all that we have to be thankful for. And I have so, so much.

conflict-related stress: A hug a day will keep negative emotions and stress  away - The Economic Times

Vegans & Parties

This weekend I went to two different summer parties with the people I work with. One was with my coworkers from the Child Advocacy Center and one was with my yoga studio friends. It used to be a bigger deal to go out to restaurants and parties and other social events when I was first finding me vegan footing. Now I don’t really give it a second thought. I’m used to either ordering a garden salad or bringing my own party favors when I go out. What I did find interesting was the distinctly different experiences I had at these two parties this weekend.

Since I began working at my new job, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how accepting and considerate of my veganism my coworkers have been. Despite the popular trope that vegans “love to tell you they’re vegan” I actually usually keep it hidden from new people I meet for as long as I can. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it or anything. Talking about it just usually ends up turning into an invitation for all the age old vegan questions. “Where do you get your protein? What do you eat? Can you eat eggs? Do you eat fish?” Etc. etc. It’s quite exhausting. I quickly got tired of dispelling common myths and teaching everyone I met about my diet. But when my friends at work found out, they didn’t seem shocked and horrified like most people. They were great. They were respectful and a lot of them even told me how great it was that I was vegan.

At my work party, I came with a bag of food to eat and share, assuming I wouldn’t have much available there. It was a fondue party after all. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. There were two giants vegan dishes (pasta salad & a quinoa dish) as well as hummus. All were labeled very clearly too! It honestly nearly brought tears to my eyes. I had never felt so respected and well taken care of at a party before. (Plus I made chocolate chip cookies that everyone ate up immediately, not even noticing they were vegan.)

Now I must have gotten a little cocky after that party on Saturday. I didn’t really expect my veganism to even come up at the annual studio picnic I went to yesterday. I’ve known these people for years now and I thought we’d gotten past the question and answer stage. Unfortunately it was immediately brought up when I offered tabouli to everyone. To be fair I guess that’s not an ideal dish to offer since not many people even know what it is. I only know because I’m Greek and my grandmother used to make it, not because I’m vegan. Anyway, I digress, it seemed like quite a bit of my time there was just spend explaining veganism and nutrition to everyone. I got all the classics. “Where do you get your protein?” That one always kills me. I also had people acting upset that the impossible burger wasn’t “healthy.” Well yea, neither is a regular burger. It’s a junk food replacement, not a health food. Someone even told me, “It’s great being vegan works for your body. I don’t think it would work for my body.” What the hell does that even mean? Haven’t heard that excuse before.

I was so disappointed that my fellow yogis were the ones that made me spend my time at this party lecturing and justifying my lifestyle. They all seemed to be much more defensive than my work friends. It’s interesting to observe the way different people react to my veganism. It says a lot about a person. What I’ve seemed to notice is that the more in line with vegan principles someone already is, the more threatened they seem to be by me. Not always, but a lot. Ahimsa or non-harming is one of the main principles of a yogic lifestyle. Of course that can be interpreted different ways by different people, but obviously veganism is the way I interpret it. I think veganism is quite threatening to some people. They hear you saying you’re better than them even when you’re not. They feel attacked and become hostile towards you. It’s a visceral reaction brought on by the cognitive dissonance within their own minds. They see the value in veganism and know that it aligns with their beliefs, yet they aren’t ready to give up their current habits. The discomfort that creates is then a problem that the vegan catalyst is blamed for subconsciously.

Whatever you opinions of veganism are, I just want to point out that it’s not polite to put a vegan on the spot with endless questions, especially at a party. I went there to have fun, not to answer questions that are quite frankly boring and irritating to me at this point. I used to think that it was a great opportunity to educate people and even though I didn’t really enjoy doing so, I tried my best to answer everything adequately. After being vegan for nearly a decade now and hearing the same questions from the same people again and again, I see it a bit differently. I don’t think most people really care what your answers are. They are just asking questions to make conversation. If they truly had any interest in the answers to those questions, they could have just googled it and gotten a much more comprehensive and helpful explanation.

One of the questions I always get is: “what do you miss most?” They are expecting it to be a “food.” But honestly I miss fitting in better, being able to blend into the crowd. The social ostracizing it the hardest part. It’s practically the only difficulty that still has stayed with me after all these years as a vegan.

24 garden party ideas to transform your backyard for celebrations | Real  Homes

Energy Flows Where Attention Goes

I keep focusing on the wrong things. Then the wrong things become everything.

The Front Bottoms

Last night I had a little, friend Christmas with my sister, our best friend, and their partners. It was a wonderful time. We had some drinks. We got super high. We exchanged gifts. We played games. And we shared delicious food along with each others’ company. Truly a night to be grateful for.

However, as I was driving home, I was angry. You see, I had a fancy mini bottle of Grey Goose Vodka that I was gifted at work. I had a few shots of it myself, and did bring it with the intention to share. However, my sister’s boyfriend was the only one who drank any of it besides the little I had. I have only met him once before this. He never asked before helping himself time and time again. And at the end of the night I made my way home with a practically empty bottle.

My head was swimming with accusations and indignation. The nerve! I don’t very much like this character any more! How rude can you be! I was fuming. But then I stopped in my tracks. Why on earth was I choosing to focus on that one small aspect of my night? It dawned on me that I always seem to do this. If even one little thing goes wrong, I fixate on just that. I ignore all the delightful parts of any situation in favor of a tiny imperfect detail. I am being ungrateful. I am taking the good stuff for granted.

I was so relieved when I remembered that I can choose where I want to place my focus. Yes, the vodka thing did happen, and it kinda sucked. But that was by no means the most important or significant thing that happened yesterday! I got to spend a Christmas-y evening with some of my favorite people in the world. I was given thoughtful, wonderful gifts. I was given good food, drinks, and drugs. I had a great time. I laughed and smiled more than I have in a long time. I got to watch the joy on my loved ones faces as they unwrapped their gifts that I put so much thought, effort, and love into.

What a difference attention can make. It can turn a wonderful night into something to be angry about. It can turn a banal day into an extremely stressful one. But it can also turn a tragedy into something to be grateful for. We can’t control what happens to us, but we always have the power to choose where we place our attention. And that is such an incredibly powerful thing.

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

To Understand & To Be Understood

Navigating interpersonal relationships has always been something I really struggle with. But last night I had an interaction that made me really proud of myself. Let me explain. A lot of the time I feel almost threatened by other people. It’s as if their presentation of who they and the things they say and believe are saying something about who I am. And I need to defend myself, my identity. I hope that makes sense.

I understand this is irrational, but I get caught up in the moment and get into arguments or get fed up with the person all together. But yesterday I somehow managed to avoid my normal pattern. And it felt so good.

Instead of feeling personally challenged or attacked by what my friend was saying, I just listened. Really listened, with genuine interest and curiosity. I didn’t get upset or get lost in my own interpretation of his words. I allowed myself to be curious. To really try to understand not only the words, but how he intended them, what he was really trying to convey.

I asked a lot of questions. Questions that led to answers that surprised me. Instead of angry or frustrated, I felt intrigued. For once I felt confident enough in myself to not feel threatened by the perceptions and actions of someone else.

Normally that conversation would have devolved into a bitter argument. Over nothing honestly. It would have left me feeling aggravated and ashamed and more alone than ever. But instead I was able to let it turn into an insightful, meaningful conversation that helped me understand my friend better. Maybe even allowed me to provide some support and comfort to him. For once I was able to take myself out of the equation. Finally I was able to focus on who I was talking with rather than myself. And it felt so incredibly good. It was one of the best conversations I’ve had in a long time.

I am so proud of my behavior. I was able to remain calm and inquisitive. I expressed myself honestly, openly, clearly, and confidently. My friend even said jokingly that it felt like he was talking to a therapist at one point, which I took as a compliment. Therapists listen. They ask questions. They remain selfless in the interaction. They help people. I hope I was helpful. Even if just for one brief encounter.

I also hope this interaction was not just a random fluke. I hope that it is a reflection of some type of inner growth that has occurred over the last year. I want to have conversations like I did last night again. I want to be able to stay calm and through that openness and willingness to be vulnerable have more moments of genuine connection with my friends and loved ones.

I have to remind myself that each person in this world has a fascinating, unique universe inside of them. And I want to learn about those inner worlds. What could be more interesting? I’ve often heard the phrase “to love and to be loved” expressed as the quasi goal of this life. But I would add to that “to understand and to be understood.”

I’ve spent so many encounters in a hostile state, focusing on myself, wanting to be understood, yet not at all expecting I ever would be. But I was missing half of the equation! I was not trying to understand the person I was talking to. I was too wrapped up in myself to understand them. It is equally nice to love as it is to be loved. I am just now finally learning that it is also just as nice to understand someone else as it is to be understood yourself.

Photo by Vasyl Potochnyi on Pexels.com

Branch Out

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Hello dears! Today was my first day back at college for the fall semester. So, as I usually seem to do, I set some new goals for myself this year in West Liberty. I want to make new friends. This may seem like something that wouldn’t need to be a goal, but as I have stated in one of my previous posts, until recently I suffered from a lot of social anxiety. Getting to know people was a terrifyingly and taxing affair.

However, I have been taking the anti-anxiety medication Paxil for almost a year now and am feeling very differently about things. I had been noticing myself getting bored with my life for the past few years, but only after quieting my anxieties have I been able to figure out why that is. I miss knowing people. All of this time I have been getting lost inside my own head. I forgot the joy of the moments like the one pictured above. This is a photo my closest friend for over twelve years took the other night of us talking. This photo really represents to me all of the wonderful and heartfelt conversations that we have had in those twelve years.

I feel the warmth and significance of those encounters and the way we have helped and watched each other grow. I realize now that these moments with other people are one of the most precious things in this life. To discuss abstract concepts and ideologies and really consider and discover the way another person sees the world is a magnificent thing.

Now that I am no longer so nervous around people, I would really like to work on forming more close relationships and seeing the world from some new perspectives. I am tired of living inside my own head and I am curios. I am curious to see if there are any other minds out there as beautiful as my dear friend Valarie’s. 

So let’s all try to be a little more open to new people and new encounters this year. Who knows who you will meet?

Stay peaceful, friends.