Pondering Pride

Only now am I making the connection between my childhood and the way I celebrate myself. It’s interesting to think about. When I was a child, I was exceptional. I didn’t realize it at the time, having no perspective on the matter. But now that I work with children every day I understand why so many adults in my life (my teachers, colleagues of my parents, etc.) seemed so amazed and excited about me as a person. I was always able to outperform my peers in nearly every way. I was incredibly intelligent and curious. I was creative and quite talented in my artistic endeavors. I even got straight As all throughout school, even in college.

Despite the showers of praise I got from so many people, my parents and family members never seemed too impressed. Because of this, I assumed the other people were just being polite or kind, and didn’t take their compliments to heart. My parents always treated me like I was a normal, average child. While other kids in my class got money for a report card with Bs and Cs, I never got anything at all for returning home with perfect marks. I was barely even patted on the back. While this was frustrating, I still believed it must just be because that was expected of me and I wasn’t doing anything special or impressive.

I’ve come to find out that, despite my parent’s apathetic reactions to my childhood accomplishments, they were very proud of me and knew I was gifted. In their minds, they didn’t want to make me arrogant or conceited with constant positive reinforcement. While they meant well, this approach definitely had other unintended consequences. Namely, as an adult, I find myself unable to give myself credit for my accomplishments or feel proud of anything that I do.

I never learned how to celebrate and enjoy personal success. Instead when I succeed I merely think that’s what I’m supposed to do, so it’s nothing to be especially pleased about. I find myself looking at other people’s lives and thinking I would be so happy and confident if I were them, but in reality I don’t think I would be. After all, I have a lot of amazing qualities and achievements myself. I just don’t acknowledge them. In fact, I even feel rather guilty when I try to tap into a sense of pride for who I am and how far I’ve come in my personal journey. I guess my parent’s fear of me developing an inflated ego has seamlessly transferred into my own mind.

Today, no matter how uncomfortable it might make me at first, I want to take the time to consciously note all of the incredible things I’ve done and continue to do on a daily basis. With the perspective of an outsider looking in, I’d like to try to adopt an objective perspective of my personal growth over the years. Maybe then I won’t feel so guilty about “doing nothing” or being “lazy” all the time. So here is a list of some things I think I should feel proud of.

  1. Bachelors Degree in Psychology, Minor in Writing: I’ve learned a hell of a lot about the human mind and my own internal biases and blind spots through my education. Sometimes I forget that the general public is not privy to a lot of the information I now use to guide my everyday life and decisions. While society doesn’t seem to value my degree very much, I’m still glad that I chose the major I did. I’m also proud that I graduated at the very top of my class, Summa Cum Laude.
  2. Certified Yoga Instructor: It sounds weird, but I feel so unworthy of this title that I often forget to even think of myself as a yoga teacher. I still remember idolizing my teacher in college and having a pipe dream that maybe I could teach yoga one day. Well I did it! I’m that incredible, beautiful, spiritual person that I once looked up too. And damn it, I deserve to give myself all the credit in the world for accomplishing something I hardly thought would ever be possible.
  3. Healthy Habits: In my late teens/early twenties, I really aspired to form healthy lifestyle habits. I would watch YouTube videos and follow Instagram accounts of people that I saw living the life that I so wanted to emulate. I really put people that could wake up early, exercise, and eat healthy on a pedestal. Yet, now that I’ve been waking up at 5AM and working out before work everyday and doing yoga and meditating religiously for years, I feel like it’s no big deal. It’s helpful for me to imagine how elated my younger self would be with the life I’ve cultivated for myself.
  4. Veganism: Being vegan is another goal that I had for a very long time, but never thought I would be good enough to manage it. Now that I’ve been vegan for just under ten years, it is just second nature. Even though it’s ridiculously easy now, I have to remember that this is an impressive feat to a lot of people, my former self included.
  5. Creativity: Despite not feeling very creative or talented most of the time, it’s still impressive that I manage to find time to dedicate to my creativity and imagination every single day. Even people that loved to write or paint in this youth often have given up these endeavors entirely once they transition into adulthood. My own sister, who is a phenomenal artist, no longer paints because she can’t find the time. I might not be a great artist or ever make anything that will have an impact on the world, but I think it’s beautiful that I make an effort to foster that artistic nature that we all have within.

While these things are not the only things that I’ve accomplished or think are deserving of my pride, they are a few of the most important to me. When I start feeling down on myself, like I’ve never done anything worthwhile with my life, I plan to look back on this list, add to it, and remember that I’m still an extraordinary individual.

A Moment to Celebrate Yourself

Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I was so nervous about the practical exam I was going to have to take in the morning that I was literally shaking. Not only was I terrified of the exam, but I was terrified that I was so terrified. I can’t even recall another time in my life were I was that afraid. To make matters worse, once I finally fell asleep, I woke up in the early hours of the morning with unbearably painful stomach cramps.

I’ve never had much of an issue with cramping throughout my life, so I was really surprised how badly I felt. My concern only grew as the pain persisted for much longer than I expected. It even seemed to intensify at times. I nearly passed out walking down the stairs to my bathroom. Then I laid on the cold tile floor for awhile, just trying not to throw up. I barely managed to pull myself up to go into the kitchen for water. I seriously considered going to the hospital. Near the end of this episode, I was actually convulsing with each fresh wave of pain. Thankfully, I eventually fell back asleep and still managed to feel moderately rested when I woke up a few hours later.

Strangely enough, I found myself feeling grateful for that painful interlude I experienced overnight. My anxiety about the exam was shrunken considerably. It’s hard to be afraid of a zoom call, when hours earlier you thought you might be dying. No matter what happened, I was just thankful that I was no longer in pain.

I was still a little jittery as I patiently waited for my turn while evaluating my fellow students. When my time finally arrived, I was given (rather unfairly I might add) a scenario much different and arguably more difficult than the others. Despite this, I managed to stay grounded and focused and do an excellent job. It went even better than I could have hoped. After that, the written portion of the exam was a piece of cake. I definitely was the first one to finish and there’s no way I scored less than 100 percent.

The most interesting thing about all of this is that after all those hours and days I agonized about this stuff, it seemed like my overflowing pride and relief lasted only a few brief moments. I noticed my mind already eager to start probing for more possible fears to latch onto and ruminate about. No matter how hard or scary I think something is beforehand, once I get through it, I immediately start downplaying my accomplishment. “It wasn’t that hard.” “It’s no big deal.” “I was just overreacting.” These are just a few of the ways my mind tries to rob me of any and every opportunity to celebrate myself.

Not today though, god damn it. This week has been hell. I’ve been on edge and anxious and afraid for what seems like an eternity. I never thought I would make it to where I am now. I deserve to celebrate. I deserve to feel good about myself. I deserve to be happy and proud. I’m not going to allow myself to minimize this amazing achievement. I’ve work hard. I’ve faced so many fears with courage and grace. I nearly called 911 from the bathroom floor last night! The rest of this day belongs to me. I am going to enjoy the hell out of it.

In fact, I am going to keep right on celebrating this entire weekend. I’ve earned a good rest and a reward after how much I’ve pushed myself past my comfort zone. I can’t wait to tell everyone about this incredible achievement. I’m gonna relax, get drunk, and go to a mother fucking psychic fair on Sunday with my best friend. Hell yes. I’m amazing. I am so worthy of celebration.

Paxil (5mg)

I cannot believe I have only been taking 5mg of Paxil instead of 30mg for nearly two weeks now. Back when I was around 22 or 23 I began taking this SSRI every day and only recently found the nerve to try to wean myself off of it at 27. There were many times throughout the years when I wanted to do this, but when you read the horror stories about Paxil withdrawal it’s quite intimidating. A big part of my hesitation to give up the medication was also psychological. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to manage without it.

Before I began taking Paxil, I was petrified of most (if not all) social interactions. It was a monumental task to even call my doctor to set up an appointment or to order food in a drive-thru. Meeting new people was always a nightmare, and I had a very difficult time making friends. After a month on an SSRI though, I was a completely different person. I didn’t think twice about making a phone call or talking to a stranger on the street. I felt like the shackles I had been wearing all my life were finally removed. That ever-present fog of fear had finally lifted.

But what if even after years of living in this newfound freedom, Paxil was still the only reason I was able to do these things? What if that old fear came back to overtake me as soon as I stopped? Not only that, I was afraid there would be no turning back for me once I began this journey away from Paxil. There are many accounts online of people attempting to cut back only to realize they desperately need this drug. However, upon increasing their dosage again, they found the medication didn’t work like it did the first time. I was afraid if I was making the wrong decision, I would be stuck with it.

Despite all these fears, with the support of my loved ones and primary doctor, I managed to start weaning myself off my Paxil. I tried not to think too much about it or look for any negative symptoms rearing their ugly heads. Much to my surprise, everything has remained pretty much the same, even now on practically no meds at all. I have only noticed positive changes such as rediscovering my formerly blunted range of emotions. And I could not be happier or more proud of myself.

The other day as I was driving home from an impromptu meeting with my boyfriend and his family, something incredible dawned on me. I can’t believe I just did that, I thought. I just spent the whole day with my boyfriend and his family. I just met his developmentally disabled aunt and elderly grandfather without having any idea I would be doing so beforehand. Wow. This might not sound like anything out of the ordinary to most people, but imagining how I would have handled that situation before Paxil vs. now is like night and day.

At 21 if my boyfriend had sprung meeting these people on me at the last minute I would have been petrified, angry, desperate to get out of the situation somehow. But that day, it never even occurred to me that it was of any significance. I simply shrugged and agreed when he said we’d be going to see them. I had no problem at all talking with them. I feel like I even managed to make a great impression. It actually brings tears to my eyes to say that. (Tears I now feel forming much more often and easily on my lowered dosage.) I am just so proud of myself.

Even though I’ve been through many similar experiences in the years since starting Paxil, this was the first time I can remember doing something like this pretty much on my own, with no significant chemical assistance. I genuinely never thought I would be capable of maneuvering social situations on my own. This incident has allowed me to more fully appreciate the things I’ve continued to do every day with no problem since lowering my dosage. I’ve still been meeting new clients every day at work, making follow-up phone calls, shooting the breeze with my coworkers, etc. All things I have become accustomed to, but had always given all the credit for to Paxil.

So to anyone out there who has been leaning on an SSRI for support, wanting to venture out on your own again, but are too fearful to try, don’t be afraid. You can do it. (With the help and support of a medical professional, of course.) I had hoped that the new pathways I have been building for years inside my brain would be strong enough to stand on their own after so many years of Paxil assistance, but I couldn’t be sure. Now I am. I know I can do this.

In summation, first I was throwing total support behind psych meds, then I was wavering more towards being against them all together. Now I have a better understanding of how to use these tools without becoming dependent on them. SSRI’s are not a miracle cure. They are also not something to avoid entirely. I finally see that they are like training wheels. Paxil gave me the courage and the confidence to gather new experiences, to learn that social situations don’t have to be scary. It gave me the time to practice better coping skills. My brain used to associate small talk, phone calls, meeting people, etc. with terror. Now I have years and years of conditioning under my belt to remind me that I can do these things and be perfectly okay. There is nothing to fear. Paxil has taught me that, and I am so grateful. Now with my new neural pathways in place and the old self-destructive ones faded and withered, I am ready to forge ahead on my own.

Chemical conversations: The story and science of how medication helped with  my depression | The Anchor

Giving Yourself Credit

As I was driving to work the other day, I couldn’t stop beating myself up for all the things I wanted to improve, but was still struggling with. Then I realized something, I’ve come so far in the last few months. Not very long ago, I would have been smoking two cigarettes on that half-hour drive to work. Now, I hardly even have any interest in smoking my vape. Some days I completely forget about it until late in the evening.

I started thinking about how rarely I give myself credit for the things I do accomplish. Once I reach a goal, there is never a moment of celebration. I go straight on to the next goal. I switch automatically from criticizing myself over one thing to criticizing myself over something else. In the back of my mind, I always think I’ll be happy, I’ll be able to congratulate myself once everything is perfect, once I’m perfect. It’s hard to acknowledge that that “perfect” moment, that “perfect” me, will never exist. There will always be things I want to work on and aspects of myself that I want to improve. That doesn’t mean that I can’t be proud of where I am right now.

This time last year, I was a heavy smoker, I was deep in the grips of an eating disorder, I was more depressed and anxious than perhaps any other time in my life. I have made so much progress since then. More than I ever thought I would be able to. I had nearly lost all hope of redemption. Now it’s been months since I’ve bought a pack of cigarettes. Not only have I been recovering from my eating disorder, I’ve been practicing mindful eating. My mental health overall has improved so much that I’ve even started taking a lower dose of my anxiety medication. Soon I am going to be dropping it down again, and hopefully will be able to wean myself off of it completely in the next few months. I’ve also taken my art to the next level by buying myself an electronic drawing tablet so I can more easily edit my drawings. Despite my initial fear of failure, I’ve gotten surprisingly good at using it.

All of these things are incredible achievements that I deserve to acknowledge and take pride in. I may not always meet my goals as quickly as I plan to, but I keep trying anyway. I am always working to improve myself and my life. My commitment to the effort alone is worth being proud of.

I don’t think I’m alone in this hesitancy and difficulty regarding giving myself credit for the good things I do. From a young age, many of us are taught to be humble. And while that may be a virtue, it’s also important to be able to acknowledge your talents and accomplishments. Not only will that make a significant difference for your mental health, but it will also make it easier for you to keep pursing your goals. If you never allow yourself a moment of rest to appreciate all you’ve done, how can you expect yourself to maintain motivation to continue moving forward?

Today, give yourself the gift of self-reflection. Particularly, try to reflect on all of the positive changes you have been able to make in your life. Just for today, try to focus on the things you’ve done or are currently doing well. Remember that it’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. The things you still want to work toward will be there waiting for you tomorrow. Today you deserve to rest and enjoy how far you’ve come.

5 Things I Love About Myself

In an effort to incorporate more loving kindness into my life, today I am going to write about five things that I love or admire about myself. I am always thinking about the flaws I have or areas in which I need improvement. I’m sure I could easily make up a list of at least a dozen things I dislike about myself. But when it comes to what I do like, it takes me much longer to consider. It feels very awkward even. I have always shied away from any type of praise, especially from myself. I am embarrassed and terrified that people will think I am conceited. But I’m learning that it’s okay to love yourself, and it’s okay to be proud of your accomplishments and your positive characteristics. I hope that by writing about a few things I love about myself today, it will make it easier for me to remember them and be kinder to myself.

Intelligence

Even since I was a toddler, I remember people telling me how smart I am. This has always been my most cherished attribute, the thing I am most proud of. I’m certainly not the smartest person out there, but no matter where I go in life, I seem to be recognized for my intelligence. Learning and knowledge are quite valuable to me. I have a consistent ravenous hunger for information that never seems to be sated. I am always looking for new interesting topics to read about. I’m definitely a firm believer that knowledge is power, and I must say, I feel quite powerful in that regard.

Curiosity

For most of my life, I didn’t think that my curiosity was anything special. I assumed that it was just natural to want to explore, learn, and understand as much as possible. As Ive gotten to know more and more people in my life, I’ve come to realize that this is actually a somewhat special characteristic of mine. I am very grateful for this aspect of my personality. I definitely wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without it. Curiosity is one of my greatest motivators. It has guided me forward my entire life.

Compassion

Even though I’m not necessarily a very emotional person, I do consider myself to have extremely high levels of empathy and compassion. I just don’t always portray this side of myself outwardly to the world. I actually think I come off as cold and unfeeling to a lot of people. Quite to the contrary, I care deeply about all living things. (Occasionally even inanimate objects.) This is one of the main reasons that I have been vegan for nearly a decade now. I want to do all that I can to avoid causing suffering during my time here on this earth. I am constantly striving to do better for those I share this planet with.

Physical Fitness

Even though this one may sound silly and shallow compared to the other things I’ve listed, the health and power of my physical body is something that I really love. I have worked very hard for years to develop my current state of physical capability. I have an insane amount of stamina and cardiovascular strength. Most days I am able to breeze through my hour long HIIT workouts with ease. Often I’ll even be dancing around and singing along to my music instead of resting between moves. I am also quite proud of how far I’ve come in my yoga practice. My body can now do things that I never dreamed I’d be doing when I started. My body may not look the way I want it to, but overall it is still simply incredible. And I am so grateful for all that it does for me every day.

Humor

Last but certainly not least, I love that I am funny. You probably can’t tell that from my writing. I guess most people probably find themselves funny, but the people around me seem to agree. There is nothing more satisfying to me than having a witty back and forth with someone. Banter is probably one of my favorite forms of play. Laughter is the best medicine and I’m happy to be able to provide that to the people in my life. My quick wit and often dark sense of humor have gotten me through a lot of tough times.

And there you have it, five things that I love about myself. Writing that actually took me a lot longer than I’d like to admit. But it has put me in a slightly better mood and given me some things to consider the next time I am feeling unworthy. Along side my many flaws are an equal amount of amazing traits. It is only because of the combination of all these things that I have become the person I am. A person who is worthy of kindness, compassion, love, and understanding. I hope that this exercise will make it a bit easier for me to remember that and treat myself with the gentleness and respect I deserve. Try it yourself and leave me a comment with five things you love about yourself! I would love to find out.

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The Perception of Progress

It is wild to think that 2020 is almost over already. Normally I don’t really notice how quickly the time goes. Because of the pandemic this year, I have a better sense of just how short one year seems. As I drove to work this morning, I couldn’t help but think about how I have spent this year. It feels like I’ve made no progress at all. If anything I’ve regressed. 2020 has been a year spent just trying to scrape my way out of the black hole I’ve fallen into. I still haven’t gotten back to the surface yet, but at least I’m no longer falling.

Years like this feel wasted. I think about all the productive things I could have done with 365 days. I think about where I could be right now if I had done those things instead of just struggling to stay alive. In our culture where productivity and progress equals value, it can be really hard not to beat yourself up when you aren’t able to meet society’s standards, or even your own. Most other people my age are married or already starting a family. I don’t even want those things. Yet I still feel like I’ve failed because I am not where my peers are in life. Even though I’m personally pretty okay with my life, I feel as though others view me as a failure or feel pity towards me. And no matter how many times I tell myself that those other opinions don’t matter, it is still hard to fully believe.

Today I really want to remind myself and anyone reading this, that it’s okay to not be making progress. It’s okay to spend a year or however long you need just surviving, just trying to cope with life. It may feel like you’ve spent so much time and energy just trying to get back to the starting line, but even so, that is not a wasted effort. Even though you have a mountain you want to climb, don’t discredit your hard work just making it back to sea level. That is still something to be proud of. You’ve still grown a lot. You’ve still learned a lot in the process.

I was nearly an alcoholic a year ago, but I was able to stop. That may feel like a worthless accomplishment sometimes, but I’m proud of myself. I’m grateful I was able to get off of that destructive path when so many others never do. I spent the majority of this year under the influence of an eating disorder, and I’ve finally found the courage to try to stop those behaviors as well. I may just be clawing my way back to normal, but I know how hard it’s been and I’m proud of myself regardless.

These are the reasons the opinions of others truly don’t matter. No one knows how I’ve struggled with these things. It may appear on the surface that I haven’t done much. Only I really know how hard I’ve been working just to be okay again. So even though it doesn’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything in a long time, I’m going to keep reminding myself that I have accomplished a lot. And even though there is still just as much mountain to climb, this time has not been wasted. I have gained so much knowledge and experience. I have learned invaluable lessons that I will take with me as I continue my journey.

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