Self-Generosity

This post was originally published in December 2017. I have updated this post.


At this time of year, life can get overwhelming. There are social, familial, and professional obligations that all demand our full attention. While these demands don’t go away, they do seem more urgent at the end of the calendar year.

It is easy to get caught up in these demands and struggle to prioritize them (and sometimes they don’t allow for reasonable prioritization). It leaves a person feeling frazzled, burnt out, and hating the holiday season.

That isn’t the case for everyone, but I am sure we’ve all had moments in life where we would like to skip straight to January 2nd and move on with our lives.

We’ve run into others who feel this way: try going into a mall around this time of year. I’ll just leave it at that.

Piling on top of the usual life demands are calls for generosity from various organizations at the end of the year. Commercials are filled with pathos-based appeals to get the viewer to donate to multiple causes. Religious leaders ask their people to open up their wallets and give money, toys, or time to those who are less fortunate. Stories of tragic events lead to calls for donations of food, items, and blood. Passive social pressures increase with social media pages flooded with posts from others announcing their generosity.

It gets incredibly overwhelming.

The issue is that when we think about the term “generosity,” we think about it as giving to others. But look at the definition of the word:

Generosity
nounplural generosities.

1. readiness or liberality in giving.
2. freedom from meanness or smallness of mind or character.

3. a generous act:
   We thanked him for his many generosities.

4. largeness or fullness; amplitude.

Dictionary.com

Nowhere in the definition does it specifically define generosity as an act we give to others. It is an act of giving and love, but with no designated recipient.

When we get caught up in the minutiae, we completely forget about the importance of taking care of ourselves. Societal pressures states we should be generous with our time and care for others. Still, it’s tough to care about another person if we don’t take care of ourselves.

If we care for our own needs first, we can be more useful for others. And when everything becomes too overwhelming, we might be able to see through it with less stress and frustration.

The Importance of Self-Care

I saw this quote posted on a friend’s Facebook wall, and it was the foundation for this post. I kept the original formatting:

self care isn’t always lush bath bombs and $20 face masks. sometimes, it’s going to bed at 8pm or letting go of a bad friend. it’s forgiving yourself for not meeting your impossible standards & understanding u are worth it. self care isn’t always luxury, but a mean for survival

Cheerful Nihilism

Self-care quotes, personal revelations about self-care, articles expounding self-care all make the rounds on a reasonably frequent basis. Some of them connect with us and others we either ignore or go, “yeah, if only it were that easy.”

All the wisdom in the world about self-care/self-generosity does not mean anything if it doesn’t connect with you. And let’s be blunt about the quotes/revelations/articles: they aren’t saying anything new. It’s all steeped in common sense.

We just need them to remind us every so often.

I am not an expert that can espouse pearls of wisdom of how to better take care of yourself, but I do recommend that you be more generous to yourself. Allow yourself to be more selfish.

But this isn’t the same when we think about being selfish. It’s is a loving form of selfishness.

Recognize that you need to take care of yourself before you can care for others. The Mayo Clinic recommends that caregivers take care of themselves first before they take care of others. They acknowledge that a person must be selfish if they are going to be an effective long-term caregiver.

Everyone is a caregiver. For some, it’s for another person; for everyone, it’s themselves. We all must care for ourselves.

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Checking In: MS Symptoms

This post was originally published in February 2018. I’ve updated it to include a follow up since the original publication.


What good is discussing diet and lifestyle changes if I don’t reveal the ongoing results?

Doing an honest self-assessment of any sort is hard, particularly when trying to find ways to manage an unmanageable disease. There’s a huge desire to make everything a “success” or engage in placebo effect-like thinking, but that isn’t always the case.

Overall, I feel like I am managing my MS better. Still, on a day-to-day basis, my mileage may vary because of various external factors.

Current Health Self-Check

Currently, I am not doing so well. Not necessarily because of the MS, but I have a weird seasonal head cold. Drippy nose, sore throat, and exhaustion. I can only assume that if a person without MS gets a virus like this, they may feel wiped out but can go about their daily lives with minimal interference.

With MS and any illness, I get so wiped out that getting out of bed is a hardship. Ash had to stay home until Jai went down for his morning nap on Tuesday because I was so worn out. I needed the extra couple of hours of sleep. This afforded me before I was able to start the day and take care of a toddler. Jai and I stayed in our PJs and read lots of books and minimized movement so I wouldn’t overdo it.

This is a crucial example of why getting sick with MS is “dangerous.” It won’t necessarily cause any physical harm. Still, infections are a significant cause of flare-ups, so there is a risk of needing to get steroids to treat the inflammation. I don’t get avoidant if I know someone is sick. Still, I do recognize that even a simple cold can knock me off my feet for a couple of days that might just inconvenience someone else.

I usually wouldn’t write about getting sick factoring into how I am currently feeling because I tend not to get sick all that often. Still, since having Jai, it has become a more common occurrence. 

Beyond the cold, I am feeling okay overall. There’s been some emotional disappointment in not being able to maintain my diet as strictly as I wanted. I am doing what is best for my overall health, and that is more important. My brain fog and memory issues haven’t lessened, but that may be because I am not doing enough mental exercises to help stimulate neuron repair.

Fatigue is still an issue, but not so much on the days that I am more active. I find high-cardio days mean that I have more energy throughout the day. On the days I only do yoga, there might be a more significant dip in energy by the afternoon.

Being completely honest: I haven’t noticed many changes since my last check-in after my diet reset. I feel more active, happier, less sluggish, but no apparent changes to my MS symptoms.

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Positive Thinking Leads to Positive Actions

Since the 1952 publication of Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking, there’s been a market for promoting positive thinking in the self-help circuit. It does make sense, and science backs it up: when we focus on engaging with our positive thoughts, we are less stressed and improve our health. The more we engage with positive thinking, the more it leads to positive actions in our lives.

We are marketed positive thinking as a way to increase our overall happiness in life. The issue is that happiness gets conflated with satisfaction. What we are truly seeking is total satisfaction with our lives, whereas happiness becomes a byproduct from that satisfaction. We can achieve joy, and therefore, happiness when we begin to shift our mindset from mostly negative to mostly positive.

To begin this process, we must self-reflect and be open to rewiring our brain to be receptive to positive experiences and thoughts.

Positive Thinking = Healthy Mindset

So positive thinking, what is that anyway?

The theory is this: if we start to incorporate more positive thoughts in our daily lives, we engage in a healthier mindset. Once we have a healthier mindset, we engage in more positive behaviors.

Anecdotally: when I started viewing myself with a positive perspective, I found I was open to doing positive things for myself. I have a hard time accepting myself as a decent person, but once I stopped thinking of myself as a bad person, I was more willing to eat healthier. I started to make healthier decisions regarding exercise. I decreased my desire for self-destructive behaviors. The idea of making healthy decisions became palatable because I finally felt like I was worthy of the effort.

It all stemmed from the moment I chose to engage with positive thinking.

Healthy Mindset Leads to Healthy Actions

The science is there: when a person develops a positive mindset, they are more inclined to engage in healthy behavior. You are more prone to go to the doctor to treat an exacerbation of an ailment you might have ignored. You re-prioritize your thoughts, choosing not to get distracted by things out of your control. You may even decide to reconfigure who you spend your time with, opting to be with people who leave you feeling good about yourself, rather than those who are toxic.

To be clear, this isn’t saying we take on a Pollyanna perspective and only view the good out there. We still acknowledge the negative and yet get caught in the negative thought cycle, but we spend less time in the negativity.

For those of us who spent a lot of time in the negativity, incorporating more positive thoughts is not a 180-degree turn, but a chance to be more centered in our thoughts. Be realistic, but also choose to be more positive in our realism.

Engaging with Positivity More

Find ways to think of yourself in a positive light. Celebrate your life as much as possible. Did you let someone in front of you in line today? How did that make you feel when you brightened their day, even for a moment? Engage in those good feelings you get when you do something positive.

Often we look to others to be our cheerleaders, our parents, friends, coworkers, and sometimes strangers. But the biggest cheerleader in our lives has to be ourselves. External validation is nice to have, but its the internal validation that’s more important. If you let that person in front of you in line and they didn’t acknowledge it, that’s okay. You didn’t do it for their validation or gratitude. You did it for yourself. If you feel good about doing it, who cares how others react?

Praise yourself for the moments you did something that makes you feel good. Don’t look around for others to do it. Engage with your positive thinking and positive actions as often as possible.

It will be gradual, but you’ll find that after some time, your actions will begin to reflect your positive thinking. Your feeling of self-satisfaction and its byproduct of happiness will increase as well.


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Featured photo credit: Canva


self-compassion

My Self-Compassion Journey

This post contains potentially disturbing material surrounding the topics of self-harm, self-hatred, and other self-destructive topics that might be troublesome to readers. If you or someone you know engages in this behavior, please know that you are not alone and there is help out there. Here’s a wonderful resource to get started.


I sometimes come across as a know-it-all. Ash has experienced it first-hand and it’s only a matter of time before Jai tells me that I don’t know what I am talking about. Dunning Kruger is real with me. It’s one of the reasons why I loved teaching and I love blogging. 

But when it comes to this month’s topic of taking care of yourself as you undergo a personal growth journey, know that it is actually coming from a place of experience.

I have experienced a lot of pain in my life, many of it directed towards myself as a coping mechanism for emotions that got to be too much. It wasn’t until I embraced self-acceptance and self-compassion that I was finally able to push through my journey and fully embrace who I wanted to become.

For today, I wanted to touch base on my own experience engaging in self-compassion and provide some light as to why I am constantly pushing it as a way of thinking, especially with a chronic illness.

The Trouble with Emotions

Emotions are so sticky and frustrating at times.

Growing up I never received the necessary training on how to effectively and healthfully manage my emotions. In New England, any sort of expression of emotion was frowned down upon so I learned to suppress my emotions as much as possible. Because I did not have a good outlet to manage my emotions, I turned them inward and started taking all the frustration out on myself.

Self-Harm as a Coping Mechanism

Rather than finding a healthy way to manage my emotions, I found that hurting myself was the only way to let all the negative emotions out. It was partially as a form of relief, but also a form of personal punishment.

I felt like I deserved the pain I caused because of something minor I did. I had a tendency to burn myself with matches and candle wax. I would spend hours picking at my face for perceived imperfections, not even stopping after I drew blood. I graduated at the end of high school to cutting my upper arms and hips, with some scars still there today.

I’ve seen other examples of self-harm online and mine were never extreme. While I still have scars, I felt like I was an imposter, a wannabe looking for attention when I hurt myself. Yet I hid my scars and scabs so no one knew what was happening. It was my secret and I did not want to have to answer questions.

I was doing this because I did not love myself and I needed to find a way to help me overcome this unhealthy behavior.

Therapy but then What?

When one self-harms, the first piece of advice everyone tells them is to go to therapy. Therapy is wonderful if you have a good guide in your therapist, but finding a “good” therapist is a lot of work. Especially when you are emotionally drained and the mere thought of looking for a therapist is overwhelming.

I am not deriding therapy, in fact, I absolutely encourage it as a means to effectively and healthfully work through any difficult and frustrating emotions you are feeling.

Here’s the “but”: therapy is a partnership.

You enter a relationship with your therapist and if it’s not a beneficial, productive, and has an unhealthy dynamic, then it is important to look for a new therapist. Therapy should be supportive and productive and the dynamic between you and the therapist must be a healthy one.

It took me several therapists and therapy styles before I settled on one that works for me. While I won’t say what style it is, I can say that without my therapist telling me directly, the focus in each session is self-compassion. We work together on finding ways to love myself, imperfections and all.

I think my experience with various therapists and styles helped me be receptive to the idea that my imperfections are part of what make me, me. Perfection, though we may desire it, is rather boring. The asymmetry in my life, my flaws, mistakes, bad behaviors: that’s what makes me an interesting person.

A therapy style that focuses on self-compassion may not be for you. You may want to do that outside of therapy, or not at all, and that is okay. It’s really about finding what works for you and getting yourself into space where you are able to love yourself.

You’re Never Prepared

Whether you are in therapy or not, when you are starting a personal journey to wellness, a lot of junk comes up and that can distract you from continuing with your personal goals. I say junk because it really can be clutter that serves to distract you from making positive changes.

I am not demeaning whatever that “junk” may be because it might be something you need to deal with, but the important thing is to take a moment (or month or year) to really work through the stuff weighing you down and finding a way to let it go or work with it.

This isn’t saying “just move on” or “just get over it.” Absolutely not. Some things you can’t get over. Some things are so ingrained within us and define us or are a part of us that there is no way to “get over it.” Rather, it’s about recognizing what you can change and what you have to work with and learning to love yourself through self-compassion to help manage it.

Dealing with crippling depression? The last thing you want or are able to do is to say “I am worthwhile and I deserve to love myself.” But if you are able to take a single moment in the darkness to say it, it may bring a small comfort to help you get up for a few minutes to work on something before retreating. It’s about taking those small steps, no matter how small they may be, that can get you moving in a healing direction.

You are never prepared for what comes up when working through things, or trying to make self-improvement changes. I have found that I can be going along thinking everything is okay and then something pops up that distracts me and demands my attention. That’s why I’ve had to reframe how I look at my whole journey.

Self-compassion helps with that re-framing.

How I Deal with Emotions Now

Since working with self-compassion on a more conscience level I have found that my desire and action for self-harm has lessened greatly. I still instinctively hit my head or leg if I have a particularly distressing thought, but it is no longer on a daily basis, multiple times a day.

Now, I have a split second between that thought and my arm raising to stop myself. I can use a mantra I’ve created for myself to stop the behavior before I do anything. I self-soothe myself into a more calm state by putting my words and situation in proper perspective. There are still times where I will react to my thoughts too fast, but once I realize what is happening, I can stop it from continuing.

I am also finding my negative thoughts/actions in previously emotionally charged situations lowered. Before I might dwell on something for hours on end, get territorial over something extremely petty, or imagine hypothetical scenarios with confrontational outcomes; but now I just let it go quickly. I still may have a minute our two where I think about it, but it no longer consumes me in the way it once did.

In short, I feel healthier and less stressed than even a year ago. The other day I came to a wonderful realization about how well I am managing my MS (more on that in an upcoming post) and this is without medication. I can’t even begin to imagine where I will be when I start up my MS medication again.

I may be unstoppable.

Self-Compassion is a Journey, not a Destination

Once you’ve come around to the way of thinking and embracing self-compassion know that that’s not the end of it. Self-compassion is something that I’ve had to practice with myself every day and mindfully practice. There are days where I don’t think about it or it is unnecessary, but there are other days where an old memory will pop up or I do something that I regret and want to take out on myself.

It’s in those moments that I have to remind myself that I am worthy of my love and I need to be kinder to myself.

There isn’t going to be a moment where I can say “I can stop being self-compassionate now, I’m healed!”

Life is, well, a life-long journey. In 20, 30, or possibly 50 years I will still need to engage in self-compassion. It will hopefully come more quickly to me, almost reflexive because of all the work I am doing now, and I may not even recognize that I am doing it.

Regardless, now that I’ve discovered this healthy method for dealing with my emotions and feelings, I have no plans of turning back.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Importance of Self-Improvement and Chronic Illness

Chronic Illness & the Importance of Self-Improvement

Why is it important to consider self-improvement if you have a chronic illness?

There’s no real easy answer because everyone’s situation is different. For some, every day is a chore to get out of bed and just manage the disease. The thought of making positive changes in life is a luxury.  Wrapping one’s head around life-changes can be overwhelming because life-changes implies big goals and grand changes.

But, what if I said it didn’t need to be? That perhaps we are all too focused on the implied definition of self-improvement rather than its actual definition? A definition that simply means making personal changes.

That’s what this year is about: acknowledging that taking the time to make minor changes in a positive direction is just as meaningful in the desire to self-improve as making the bigger ones.

Today, let’s reshape our definition of what is self-improvement into something more manageable. More meaningful and more personal.

Altering Our Impressions

In the Western world, self-improvement or self-help is heavily marketed to consumers. If you had a TV as a child, you’ve grown up knowing that around this time of year commercials promoting diets and weight-loss supplements increase.  Read magazines? Ads and articles abound about the various ways to improve your life.

Daily, there are subtle and not-so-subtle ways for the industry to pull you in and want to make changes so you can “live your best life.

Many of these offers come with the caveat: “you can only make these improvements if you buy x,y, z book.” Which leads to a near $10 billion industry.

Does that make self-help/self-improvement a scam? Not necessarily, but you have to be mindful of who you turn to for help. There are scammers that peddle modern-day snake oil and scientifically unsound therapies, but there are plenty of legitimate options to guide a user through the process.

That said, self-help is an industry. Therefore it’s in the industry’s best interest to keep consumers coming back month-after-month; year-after-year. If it feels like self-improvement goals always seem so big, i.e. “I want to lose 50 pounds in six months!” or “I am going to do something new and exciting every day this year!” that’s because there’s this nebulous goal-making process that does very little to encourage participants into smaller and more manageable goals.

There are some programs that encourage breaking goals down into more manageable chunks, but unfortunately, they aren’t as loud as a reality star on TV telling you to buy their product for massive weight-loss. Or the social media influencer who shows off how perfectly they are meeting their self-improvement goals.

If you have a chronic illness, seeing these examples can be extremely discouraging. If getting any form of exercise is a struggle due to mobility issues, watching someone on social media demonstrate “8 easy exercises to tighten that butt” is not appealing nor realistic. Sure, I might want a nice butt, but none of those exercises are doable.

Where might there be motivation to make any changes if your body is already working against you?

This is why looking for the more realistic programs is important. But, the realistic programs get lost in the social media cacophony which leads to the impression that only big changes can be made when we want to commit to self-improvement.

Goals do not need to be huge, they can be as small as taking one step-a-day, or eating 50 calories less, or even saying one positive affirmation to ourselves when we wake up. Goal creation is about starting the process towards self-improvement and allowing it to build on itself. Forward momentum will move you towards greater personal success as time goes by.

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