Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How to Overdo Gratitude

If there is a way to overdo something - I will find it without even trying or noticing. And after three weeks of forcing myself to be grateful and count my blessings (all very good things), I've realized I've done myself and those around me a disservice.

Three weeks ago today, my mom was on her way up to New York to stay with me and take care of me. This was after I called her from an ambulance, first words out of my mouth being "I'm okay" to tell her through tears and with a shaky voice that I was just in a very serious car accident.

My car rolled more than once. Every air bag went off. Every window broke. Not an inch of the car wasn't damaged. I can still hear the noise of screeching metal and breaking glass - it's so incredibly vivid. I can still taste bits of the windshield in my mouth.

While I was rolling through the air on a back country road with no cell phone service and the nearest hospital a half hour away, I thought, "This is it. This is how it ends for me."

But then I got out of the car and walked away from it with a sightly bloody nose and a burn on my hand from the air bag. Other injuries would present themselves later, but not even one broken bone.

When I got out of the car my first reaction was shame and guilt - I'd just totaled my car! What a dope. (so from the beginning I'm not giving this situation proper respect). A close friend happened to be on the scene and in the most loving way reminded me that I just almost died. The car isn't important.

After being convinced to take an ambulance ride to the ER, I arrived and told the doctor I felt pretty stupid for being there. I was fine. Looking back, I think it's an important message to anyone who is ever in a car accident or responds to these types of emergencies that the person involved is not really the one to make the "I'm fine" assessment - given the level of shock I was in, I really wasn't capable of making any assessment.

My mother insisted on making the four-hour trip up to the mountains where I live, even though I told her there wasn't anything I needed her to do (besides maybe take me to the rental car place). Yes, that day I was driving again, albeit very slowly and cautiously.

The next two days would unfold as a series of agonizing moments of physical pain, debilitating muscle soreness, and many trips back to the doctor to say, "Oh yeah, now this hurts." Shock and adrenaline are amazing medicines, but when they wear off the human body slowly reveals how vulnerable it is.

I was told not to go back to work for a week and half. I decided to go in the day after the accident "just to pick up my laptop" and was promptly escorted out by my boss and sent home. I took 4 days off, out of the 7 I was prescribed. I figured that although I had a headache, I could take breaks if I needed to throughout the day, and besides I sometimes get headaches anyway so this isn't much different. And why be in pain doing nothing, when I can go into work and stay on top of things (and also be in pain)?

It seemed so logical, so reasonable. If I could just get my life to resemble the way it looked before the accident, then I could get back to feeling that way, too.

And after all, as every one who heard about the accident said to me, "I'm just so glad you're okay." I had this sinking feeling the whole time, though. For some reason I wasn't feeling the jubilation of:  "Yes, yes, I'm okay! I'm alive! Thank my lucky stars! Now let me get back to updating my bucket list and calling up old friends and telling them how much I love them! Isn't it great to just be alive!?"

So with that philosophy as my expectation for how I should be feeling, I figured if not consciously, subconsciously, how can I complain about this 24-hour headache, the dizziness, the bouts of insomnia, the neck and back pain? And lets not forget the nightmares and the fear of driving. For some reason, I believed that if I simply kept up with my doctors' appointments and tried everything in my power to regain normalcy, I would actually achieve normalcy.

When someone would ask how I was, I'd usually say, "Surprisingly, I'm okay," or "By some miracle, I wasn't hurt." I want to be clear - I wasn't trying to appear tough or brave when I said this. This is not some rant about how we should feel sorry for people who hide their feelings and are really hurting on the inside - I truly wasn't acknowledging my pain or not willing to. After all, I was grateful to be alive!

As the first two weeks went by and the pain didn't get better, I'd start to be a little more vocal about the headaches and the other problems, probably because I was starting to realize, what I've now accepted, that this was a more serious event than I'd realized. Yet I was very aware that I didn't want to be the friend who's always complaining or drawing attention to herself. I didn't want the be the employee who's always making an excuse. Those are all good things to be conscious of. No one wants to be that person, but I was inadvertently doing myself and those around me a disservice.

My belief that I had to be grateful and live life with a new awareness that every moment is precious, along with my determination to get things back to normal, blinded me from taking the time to experience pain, express pain, and heal from pain. I'm not saying I shouldn't have gone back to work when I did (okay, I didn't need to hobble into the office to get my laptop the day after the accident) or that I should have physically done much else different - I've been very good about taking breaks, following up with my doctor, making appointments with specialists, etc because I am someone who likes order and direction. When it comes to the emotional and the relational part, I haven't been as realistic.

The expectation I set for myself is "back to business as usual" so of course that is going to be the impression I make on others and the expectation they are going to set for me as well. I was recently faced with the very irritating realization that I won't cut myself a break but I will expect others to. That isn't fair to them - how could they know what I need when I won't even give it to myself!? One exception is the people closest to me, who've been incredibly supportive and nurturing despite any mixed messages I might send. For one, I'm more comfortable expressing discomfort and talking about mundane things like doctors appointments than I would be with the average person who asks "how are you feeling?" But secondly, the people closest to you know when you're being an irrational knucklehead (hence, my boss escorting me to my car the day after the accident).

My long-winded point is that this time of year we are inundated with Facebook posts, Hallmark cards, and other messages about how grateful, thankful, fortunate, blessed we are. I AM grateful. I want to make that very clear, but I'm sure that I'm not the only one that guilts herself into believing that because we're so damn lucky to be alive, we should overlook our pain. In comparison to the alternative and how close I came to it, being alive today truly is a blessing. But I don't think it's serving me to live my life based on comparisons. I'm grateful to be alive. I'm grateful I wasn't injured more seriously. I feel most grateful I didn't injure anyone else (somehow that outcome seems most devastating of all). But I need to recognize that feeling grateful and acknowledging pain are not mutually exclusive.

I don't know if I got the sense knocked out of me or into me during the accident, but this Thanksgiving I'm not going to focus solely on how grateful I am. I'm also going to look at the areas of my life that, although they could be worse and I'm thankful they're not, deserve attention and healing.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Why I Didn't Write About Costa Rica & Some Words to This Body

The plan was to chronicle every moment of my 10-day, solo adventure in Costa Rica, but then it was too much. It's not that it was this indescribable experience - it was - but that wasn't the problem of putting it into words because I'm a writer, I'm pretty good at describing the indescribable. I simply didn't want to. I didn't feel like it. It was too much work...too much like work. I just wanted to read outside my casita with mangoes falling on the tin roof, cicadas humming a deafening din, and passing rains making their refreshing mark. I just wanted to explore the rainforest - even if it meant getting peed on by a white faced monkey, and do things that terrify me - like ziplining a 150 feet above the jungle floor, and experience magic I wouldn't have exposure to back home - like meeting my "soulmate horse" (yes, me, actually choosing to spend time with horses), and meet friends that I hope to continue to explore the world with. Faced with those other options, I just didn't want to write. 

I promised myself I'd get it all down - maybe even self-publish a novella about the adventure and my thoughts on women and solo travel - once I got back. I knew that was so much B.S. I knew that I'd be right where I am now, 2 weeks later with a to-do list taller than I am and new adventures to undertake and plan. This is just how writing works with me. I'm not disciplined enough to be a prolific writer. If I publish a couple decent things in my life, I'll be satisfied. It's just not how I operate. Que sera sera...

I'm more compelled to write when there is some sort of compulsion. Writing for me truly is something I have to be "compelled" to do... or I just won't (okay, the other motivating factor is sometimes the risk of job termination). Usually, that compulsion arrives when I'm either in a great deal of emotional pain or freedom, or both, as is so often the case with pain.

And so the latest compulsion to write...

I received a diagnosis - well there are more tests to run, but it's pretty clear what I have is what they think I have. The nature of the diagnosis isn't important. I'm fine. I'll live. I'm not trying to be intentionally mysterious, but with nothing confirmed it would be silly to go into that right now.

Once it is confirmed, life might be and look a little different for me (although once treatment is figured out hopefully better than it's been lately) and it's surprising to me how much that has given my universe a little bit of a jostling. The word "syndrome" never had much meaning to me - and now it's this real thing that actually has a place in my life, in my this body. I guess it never occurred to me what it would be like to hear, "You've likely had this your whole life. You'll have to make some lifestyle changes and be on medication. And there is no cure." I naively thought if something wasn't life threatening, it wouldn't be that big of a deal. Just treat it and move on. This "syndrome" will (and does) affect my appearance, and it's no surprise to me or anyone that knows me that this news would upset me. Maybe I'm vain, but whatever, there it is - negative affects to my looks bother me. And of course, I wasn't so naive to think that the words "risk of infertility" wouldn't upset me. But I didn't expect that what's really getting to me is the lumpy-throat notion that this body feels a little bit like a traitor right now!

I mean I treat it pretty darn good! Okay, I probably eat a few too many chocolate covered coffee beans when I'm feeling sleepy at my desk (3 would do the trick...8 are probably lethal), and I definitely drink too much coffee in general (that will unfortunately have to come to a complete stop now). Maybe a little too much late-night snacking, but it's usually something somewhat healthy (almonds and homemade kale chips...that kind of stuff). Portion size is something I need to watch, though. I'm a vegetarian, and enough doctors have told me I should probably have lean meats, but they don't have to live with my guilt about adorable little cow faces and an earth so polluted people in China have to wear medical masks just to walk to work, so the answer to that, at least for now, is no. But really - my body's got it pretty good! I have a pretty great, sometimes even intense, daily yoga and meditation practice. I start each morning with a green smoothie (spinach, hemp protein, wheat grass, a banana, and some blueberries). I take a multi-vitamin, a b-complex sublinqual supplement, 950mg of gotu kola, and now I'm adding to my regimen "xiao yao san" the chinese herbal supplement also known as "free and easy wanderer." Everything in my fridge is organic and local. I don't drink alcohol - don't even use soaps or shampoos with alcohol in them! I don't smoke. I don't eat fast food. I have great posture! Reviewing all of this, I want to have an outburst...something along the lines of... I'M DOING THE BEST I CAN, GOD DAMMIT!

But then I hear those words for what they really are, and I realize those words are a) 100% true and b) probably the reason why I've never experienced some of the more severe effects of this diagnosis (if that is what this is). I just want to say a few things to this body, this vessel that is merely the space in which I will dwell for however long this lifetime lasts:

Dear body,

I'm sorry. I'm sorry I don't always listen to you, when, for example, you so clearly give me signals of being full and I continue to eat anyway. I'm sorry I sometimes feed you things that I know aren't doing you any good, like cheese and chocolate and those snap pea crisps that I've yet to limit to the recommended serving size. I'm sorry I sometimes look at the reflection of you in a mirror with disgust, tugging at the parts I have decided aren't worthy, like those droopy arms handed down from generations of well-fed Lithuanian stock or the distended belly that might actually be the result of something you've been trying to say my whole life but instead I blamed on lack of willpower or just an unfairly dealt hand. I'm so incredibly sorry that I have ever even looked up the cost of a nose job - on several occasions. I'm sorry I haven't gotten that root canal I need or the new contact lens prescription I need. I'm sorry I've spent countless dollars on products to make my naturally curly hair (which is now falling out in small, thin clumps) poker straight. I'm incredibly sorry I have for decades blamed you for being "not good enough" when so many of the things I scrutinized were actually your way of saying - LISTEN, something is wrong! I'm sorry I ever thanked you for rarely ever giving me a monthly cycle when I clearly should have, once again, been listening. I'm sorry I became so attached to you and labeled you as "me" when really you are not "me." You are not mine. You do not belong to me. You are just here, a magnificent and beautiful part of nature no different than a humming bird or sunset, and you're just doing exactly what you were designed to do - stay alive and let the inhabitant know in your own subtle and not so subtle but extremely wise ways when something is wrong. I'm sorry I ignored you - blamed you or blamed myself - when I should have listened.

I forgive you. I forgive you for not being this perfect ideal that is just some random and impossible fantasy that you can't even possibly know anything about so how can I expect you to live up to it? I suppose that's another thing, perhaps the most important thing, to be sorry for, too.

And I promise. I promise to take better care of you, albeit imperfect care as the both of us seem to be rather imperfect anyway. I promise not to take you and all that you do for me for granted. I promise not to look at another body in jealousy or longing, as if to say you are not just as miraculous. And I promise, above all else, to listen when you speak.

Love and gratitude,


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Maybe It's Not About Oatmeal

It's so strange. I come to my hometown and it's always the same: "I'm so jealous of your life. Your pictures are so beautiful. What's it like?" And I'm not going to sugar coat it, that stuff can really fuel an ego. Like, yeah, I'm totally living this wild life of adventure.


But I have to be real. It's not like these people are thinking about how I drive  an hour to the grocery store (let alone the frustration when I get home and realize I forgot something). Or that I actually work in an office and go to meetings and have to make deadlines and answer the phone and pay bills. Or the times I'm sitting in my apartment thinking it would be nice to just GO somewhere and see people.

Because sure, it's totally amazing to watch the sunrise over the mountains each morning and be dazzled by the stars each night.

But what I'm learning is... that's not where it's at.

Because people forget that I also see photos of friends at the beach or hanging out at some of my favorite places or going to events that I have to miss and it's matter where you go there you are.

It used to totally freak me out - I'd come home and have nothing to talk about with people past "how's the job/wife/kids?" They'd start talking about so and so and I'd have no idea...and I'd slowly start to notice that I just didn't care either, but I don't like feeling judgmental or superior because I've always felt that is just as bad as anything and it's rooted in insecurity anyways, and most of all I'd hate feeling like an outsider (no pun intended) and judgment and superiority cause separate-ness and that's the opposite of what I'm going for here. And I'd start to tell people about something from my "new life" and sure it might be a great story, but there's nowhere to go with that conversation. There's no common ground... (you can see that this is a stream of conscious nobody -including myself- should really follow)

I'm home (meaning in my hometown where I grew up) this weekend, and this morning my mom seemed so concerned she didn't have anything for me to eat. "All I have is packaged oatmeal - it's not organic or anything."


For some reason that shook me a little bit. I can still eat packaged oatmeal. Because like I said...that's not where it's at.

Where it's at is Saturday morning in the kitchen with my mom preparing me a warm meal as we catch up on....whatever... I don't even know. And maybe she's recommending me a doctor and I'm saying I'm considering acupuncture instead...but I mean, I can still eat packaged oatmeal.

No matter what, we all worry about the same stuff. We're all looking for the exact same thing, just using different means to get there. I come home and worry that all my girlfriends have false eyelashes on and I don't but I go back to the mountains and worry that I'm the only one wearing mascara. And I buy a bag of snap pea chips and realize it's made with canola oil but they're so good and I want to keep eating them but then I come back to New Jersey and my mom is worried about oatmeal.

If I go down the wrong thinking pattern, I'll come to the conclusion that I'm not outdoorsy enough for the mountains and I'm not city enough for my hometown. But really, I like my mascara and I like sleeping in the woods and I can still eat packaged oatmeal. I mean, it's not like I have some kind of oat farm in my backyard.

Because in the end... the scenery inside doesn't change.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 Taught me 12 Important Lessons

For many years now, I've been openly against New Year's Resolutions. I've always said that if you want to change something, it shouldn't matter what the calendar says - just go ahead and change it then and there. And that's how I've lived my life for the most part.

This philosophy has served me extremely well.

But this year, it just so happens that the end of the calendar year lines up precisely with my stark and frightening realization that I need to make some changes. Not willing to contradict myself - we're not calling these "resolutions." These are lessons that would be of great benefit if I could just fully digest and firmly believe them, and of course put them into action.

12 Lessons I learned in 2013:

1. Opportunities present themselves all the time. Do not pass things up because you perceive them as imperfect, too difficult, out of reach, or scary. In fact, all of those are reasons TO take an opportunity. 2013 was definitely my "Year of Opportunity."

2. If someone doesn't want to hear what you have to say - screw them. I don't usually use that kind of language (okay just not in this blog), but this is something I seriously need to get right in 2014. It's okay for people to disagree with you. Actually, people disagreeing with your viewpoint can either sway you in a more informed direction or strengthen your own beliefs. However, no one can silence you or make you feel like what you have to say is invalid, unimportant, irrelevant, or unnecessary. I said no one "can" - meaning quite literally no one has that ability. Only you can make yourself feel less than, and when someone tries to shut you up, you can either give them that right by validating their desire to turn off your voice or you can give them half the peace sign and take your pure genius elsewhere. 

I didn't get where I am by having bad ideas. In fact, one of my main selling points is that I'm creative and articulate, and that's exactly why I had such a successful year. So if someone doesn't want to hear my thoughts (even the crappy ones), then they're not worth my time.

3. However, timing is everything. Maybe you don't need to share your thoughts the moment they pop into your head. Let your thoughts brew a little bit. Ask people what they think first - then when they're done and it's quiet, share your opinion. Not every opinion needs to be shared either. Sometimes it's best to wait until someone asks, "What do you think?" Do not interrupt people. It invalidates what you have to say and it's rude. You're a lady.

4. You no longer associate with people who (consistently) make you feel yucky inside. This is important. I am not going to let people into my life that I have to jump through hoops to gain their approval (and even then I usually don't get it anyway). This happened with a few people this year and it left me feeling absolutely spent and also kind of dumb.

See what had happened was... I did all kinds of things - circus acts practically - to get a certain few people to like me (okay, in some instances - practically worship me) and then when I zoomed out from that goal and looked at the big picture I realized something pretty nuts (and this is why I felt kind of dumb), I didn't even like those people. I need to accept the simple fact that:

(or somebody who loves peaches but just sucks at being nice to them)

5. You do enough. You are enough. This is a tricky one because I'm ambitious and I like that about me. In fact, I've achieved a lot of success because I'm my biggest critic. I don't want that to change. But I need to keep in mind that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be, who I'm supposed to be, how I'm supposed to be. So, go ahead and continue to strive to be better, because you can never be too smart, successful, pretty, healthy, funny, friendly, loving, whatever... but understand that you're already doing a great job, and mistakes are opportunities - usually the best kind.

6. If somebody wants you - you'll know. Anything else is an augmentable detail of how convenient you are to them. I read that somewhere on the internet this past year, wrote it down, and forgot where it came from, but it's deeply resonated with me. This basically goes back to #4 so I won't spend much time on it, but essentially we all need to stop wasting our time with people who don't want to bask in our light. Stop being the one waiting in the wings.

7. Listen to people more. Be observant of their needs. You'll be surprised what people will let on about themselves even in passing conversation. Take note. People teach you how to treat them. Some people need a lot of support, a lot of positive feedback, affection, attention, and reassuring. Why not just give people what they need? Most of the time it's free.

8. Say "yes" more. The media is constantly telling us, women especially, that we need to learn to say "no." Like we're taking on too much. We need more time for ourselves. EFF THAT NOISE. Stop thinking about yourself so much. No one is thinking about you as much as you're thinking about you, so it would do you some good to get out of that dangerous neighborhood between your ears and do some things for other people. Say "yes" to the people you love and the things you're passionate about. No one ever won a Noble Prize or became a millionaire because of all the "me time" they took.

9. Your income does not know about all the things you think you need. Somewhere along the line I got it in my head that how much money I have in the bank and how much I need (or more accurately think I need) are related. I make enough to pay for the true necessities and a few luxuries, but I have this mindset sometimes where I see something - like a book - and I justify purchasing it because it's some kind of good cause or good for me or this book will have all the answers I'm searching for. Finish reading the books you have first, maybe?

10. No more selfies. Cultivate photo worthy moments with the people you love. I don't really take a lot of selfies (a few, yes), so the first part is easy. Stuff's happening. Frame it. Be grateful for all those "opportunities."

There are hundreds of other lessons I've learned this year, but unfortunately a lot of them I probably need to learn a few more times. I chose to narrow it down to the priorities, and even some of these will probably take some re-learning...

What did you learn this year?