2019-a-reflection

2019: A Reflection

For the past two years, I’ve written a reflection for the last post of the year. Read 2017 here and 2018 here.


2019 was the year of the crucible. I underwent a lot of “lessons” in life; some brought on via self-reflection and others brought on by the natural flow of life. I learned a lot about myself, my capabilities, and where I see myself going in the future. In the three years, I’ve done these posts, it was the most challenging year emotionally, but the easiest year relating to my MS.

The Down Points

  • From October to December, I encountered some of the most challenging months in my adult life. These months rivaled my diagnosis with all the emotional upheaval. I lost Lytton in November, one of my forms of emotional support, while dealing with other challenges at the time. It felt piled on.
  • I continued to do a lot of heavy self-reflection, particularly with my role in my relationships and anger. The self-reflection often left me drained, but I am getting better at managing both. 
  • While I am getting better with my time management, I still struggle to get ahead on my work and stay ahead. With the past few months of upheaval, I’ve fallen drastically behind on several projects. I am struggling to get back into the swing of things. Additionally, I am grappling with being kind to myself because of this lag. I am seeing missed time as time wasted.
  • I am fighting against a victim mentality that crops up when experiencing a downcycle. My cat passed, I am falling behind, I am struggling to achieve goals, etc. – all played into previous internal tapes of “woe was me.” I have moments where I curl up in bed with a book or my phone to escape, but I try to set myself a timer to break out of it and be productive again, even if it’s with one task.
  • This last one needs to be at the end because it straddles a down point and positive point: getting back on my medicationThe down aspects of getting back on Tecfidera: it definitively means Ash and I are stopping with Jai for children, it’s a physical acknowledgment of my MS, and the pain I am about to undergo with the first month of side effects. 

The Positive Points

  • I decided to re-start my medication because I knew it was the right thing to do for my health. By re-starting Tecfidera, I am creating a more significant buffer between my well-being and my MS. It is an insurance policy to help me manage my MS when I have another downcycle of stress/emotional change. It’s also a physical acknowledgment, to myself, that my health is worth it.
  • I rediscovered my love of reading this year. It’s been over ten years since I sat down and read a book for pleasure. While in graduate school, I was afraid of wasting time on pleasure books when I could be doing research. I also found that graduate school temporarily blocked my love of reading because of all the heavy lifting I did. But I vowed to read more for the blog, so I started with audiobooks and graduated back into the physical medium. As I started getting into depths of the emotional upheaval that was this fall, I read more to escape. I found reading to be a soothing distraction, educational at times, and it also sets an excellent example for Jai. I plan to continue to read more in the coming year.
  • While my time-management was less than ideal, I learned that the more organized I am, the more satisfied I feel. I also found that I am less stressed if I have a flexible plan in place. I am less likely to put things off, though I still have my moments of procrastination. If anything, I learned that I am one of those people who benefit from structure, minimalism, and organization.
  • Last year I contemplated the role toxic friendships played in my life while feeling frustrated that a lot of my relationships had harmful elements. I recognized I stacked my friendship cards against me by rejecting or minimally pursuing positive relationships in my life. This year, I opened myself up to new relationships while maintaining my sense of self, something I hadn’t done before. Because of it, current friendships grew more profound, and I made a bunch of new friends along the way. 
  • My running took off this year. I ran in three different states (Florida, Nevada, and Wisconsin), and even PR’d on a half marathon, almost making it below two hours. I officially decided that I would begin the process of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. While I have a long way to go (like running a marathon in the first place), it’s a goal I’ve created for myself to see what I can achieve. I think my running has helped me manage my MS and my emotional well-being, along with getting me in a healthier space.
  • While it hasn’t been my most traveled year, I did get around the country quite a bit for 2019. I traveled to Florida for a Walt Disney World running weekend in January; I went to Las Vegas for my best friend’s birthday in March; and to Wisconsin twice (July & November) to visit with my in-laws. It was a year filled with a lot of new experiences, which I enjoyed very much.
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Embracing Big Changes in Life

At the end of October, I wrote about the prospect of losing Lytton to a mysterious illness. I had hoped to get more time with him as we thought we had a few options to manage his health. But towards the end of November, we had to do the compassionate thing and end his suffering. I learned a lot about embracing big changes in life during that time.

While I consider myself fortunate to have a few weeks to prepare for it, I am still in shock over the quickness he went from healthy to terminally ill. From the first sign of his illness to when we said goodbye was a month and a half. I prepared, but it’s hard to move that fast for such a substantial change.

Yet, significant life changes happen all the time. Our diagnosis. Buying a house. Losing a loved one. Finding someone new to love. The changes discussed in this post are the ones completely out of our control.

Change happens. Sometimes we can prepare ourselves for it, but often we cannot. What we can do is take the time to embrace the change. Regardless of whether you consider the change positive or negative, it’s going to happen regardless of your wishes. Rather than fight it, we find a way to work through it.

How Can Change Help You?

Change can help us, even if it’s unwelcome. I don’t know when I will reach the point where I can sincerely say losing Lytton helped me. Each day, I go through all the stages of grief as I try to move through my new normal.

Yet, I admit that losing him tested the effectiveness of the wellness journey I’ve made over the past few years. I did not need the confirmation that it works. But, the fact that I still haven’t experienced an exacerbation is proof that I am managing healthily. 

Lytton’s death reminded me of the impermanence of life. I pushed death to the back of my mind as something that happens to other people but hasn’t touched me. With that attitude, I did not appreciate everyone around me in the way I do now. I recognize that anyone can leave me permanently, with no explanation. 

Finally, it reminded me that change happens, and I can get through it. The last time I experienced a “negative” life shift was after my diagnosis, almost seven years ago. I regrouped and was eventually able to move forward. 

Change, whether it’s good or bad, can help you discover essential things:

  1. The importance of taking time for yourself. If you experience a life change, negative or positive, take some time to sit with it. 
  2. Self-care, again. The further I get into life, the more confirmation I get surrounding the importance of self-care. Self-care can be in celebration or to help calm oneself after the change.
  3. How resilient we are and why finding ways to adapt is essential. While we must accept an uncontrollable change, we don’t have to roll over. We can find ways to adapt and adjust to change. 
  4. Appreciate life before, during, and after the change. We can recognize what we had before, find ways to enjoy life as it is, and understand what life might be in the future.
  5. Finding the positive in the negative. It might take some time, but there’s always a silver lining even in the negative changes. You might find comfort knowing what’s going on with you, be at peace because a person no longer suffers, or allowed to try a new career opportunity.

Embracing Big Life Changes

The key, I’ve found, is to lean into the uncontrollable changes for better or for worse. There are some changes we can fight for, opportunities we can pursue even if the door keeps shutting. But often, significant changes are out of our hands. We cannot prevent the new direction our life goes in, so we can accept the outcome and find ways to adapt.

The first step is acceptance and embracing the big changes. Finding ways to adapt follow closely behind.

For me, while I would love to run out and find a Bombay kitten similar to Lytton, I am learning to reconnect with our other two cats as a form of acceptance. Lytton was such a significant presence in our household that often, the other two cats functioned like roommates we cared and fed. I am spending more time with them, whether they appreciate it or not, and loving on them.

After my diagnosis, I fought the information, choosing to be ignorant of my MS because it was too painful to acknowledge. Behaving this way did not improve my quality of life. But once I took steps to accept and adapt my reality, I found greater satisfaction with everything.

If there are negative feelings associated with significant life changes, it’s hard to accept and adapt, especially in what we feel is a timely manner. Remember to honor your timetable, but be open to acceptance as your goal once you’ve finished mourning (death or health change). 

Big changes are going to happen in life. We have two options when encountering change: embrace it or reject it. When we embrace the change, it allows us to heal and move forward. When we reject it, it can prolong our dissatisfaction and cause stress.

In the end, the decision is ours how we deal with change.


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Engaging in Positive Self-Talk

Back in May, I wrote about the negative internal talk I experience. For a long time, it was the loudest voice in my head. We all engage in self-talk daily. All day; every day. The self-talk can be positive, or in my case, it can be detrimental. When it takes a negative turn, it brings our mood and motivation down. When we engage with positive self-talk, we embrace a loving relationship with ourselves.

It’s hard to shift our negative self-talk into a more positive one: when we are used to the talk being a particular way, especially when it’s become background noise, it’s hard to know how to change the internal narrative. What this requires is a mindful practice, self-compassion, and gratitude for the moments we’re able to shift to a positive dialogue.

It’s going to take time and practice. But we can do it because we have the desire to have a healthier inner life.

Shifting Negative Self-Talk to Positive

As John Gary Bishop wrote in Unf*ck Yourself, engaging in positive self-talk isn’t going to be last stop on your self-improvement train. Rather, it’s positive actions that get you to improve, not thoughts. But, I would argue that shifting away from self-defeating talk helps motivate us into those positive actions.

If you walk around believing you can’t do something, chances are you won’t take the risk to try it, or set yourself for failure from the beginning. You fall into the trap of confirmation bias: I believe I can’t do this, I don’t succeed as I thought; therefore, I am right. I can’t do this.

So how do we shift away from the negative self-talk? One way is to be aware that it is happening. My negative self-talk was such background noise that I don’t think I was fully aware of it happening at the moment. I had gotten so used to it buzzing in the back of my mind that when something confirmed the negative noise, I would say, “of course, this happens. Of course, I messed up.”

When we take a more mindful approach to our internal dialogue, the thoughts that operated in the background come to the front of our mind, loud and clear. I sat for thirty seconds, engaging in mindful practice when no fewer than five separate negative thoughts popped into my consciousness that I wasn’t even aware of. I was able to address each of them with loving kindness so they would quiet down before the next set popped up.

Now that I knew these negative thoughts existed, I could hear them more clearly when they popped up again during non-mindful moments. I could address them directly again until they eventually quieted down altogether.

By having a heightened awareness of the thoughts and what they are trying to say, we can find the best ways to counter them. The quieter the negative thoughts become, the louder the loving thoughts get. Those, we want to encourage as much as possible.

The Advantage to Openness

When you grow more open to yourself, you become more open to your deepest thoughts and feelings about yourself. You create a more realistic image of yourself, and hopefully can see yourself as others see you.

Which can be a terrifying thought in of itself, but if we want to change, we want to have the self-awareness to know what needs to change. By being open to your inner life, you can see how it affects your external life on an unconscious level.

You may surprise yourself with what you learn. That leads me to an important question.

What do you Want to Learn about Yourself?

It’s an easy enough question, but we don’t often ask it because we might not be willing or ready for the answer. But the answer is important if you want to change your internal narrative from negative to positive.

I asked this question of myself back in January, and I did not like the answer: I am an echoist. This means I struggle to express my own opinions, I don’t want to be a burden to others, and I have an intense fear of coming across as selfish. I had a weak sense of identity, which leads me to engage in toxic relationships because that’s what I thought I deserved.

It was a blow to my ego, but it was so enlightening. It placed my internal dialogue, life decisions, and behavior in relationships into proper perspective. I was finally able to see myself as others saw me.

Because I answered this question and worked with all the associated implications of that answer, I finally addressed the negative dialogue in my head. I could start nurturing my own identity, which is confident and independent and does not accept the negative internal talk.

I unraveled one of the final pieces of my personal puzzle. Healing could begin.

So, what is it that you want to learn about yourself?

You may not arrive at an answer right away, it will take time as you peel back the layers, but you might be able to find a temporary solution until another one pops up. The answer will be different for each of us, and what you do with that answer will be different too.

Engaging in Positive Self-Talk

For the rest of this week, take time to address your negative dialogue and flip it into positive self-talk. See what it feels like when you engage in the positivity. Do you feel better? Do you feel calmer?

Hopefully, you’ll arrive at a positive place which can help you make healthier decisions for yourself and push you forward in your wellness journey.


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Featured photo credit: Noah Buscher on Unsplash


learning-to-trust-yourself

Learning to Trust Yourself

We’re always told that trust is earned. People must earn our trust if they are going to become friends or lovers, and trust must be regained if broken. Sometimes we lose trust in ourselves, and in our abilities. Or maybe we never learned to trust ourselves at all. I realized that the moment I stopped trusting myself was the moment I allowed self-doubt, insecurity, and anger take over my life. I had to learn how to trust myself again.

Lack of self-trust hinders our abilities to do essential tasks. Second-guessing, negative internal self-talk, and desire to avoid all interfere with our lives. When we don’t trust ourselves, it can stall our plans.

Self-Doubt Prohibits Trust

As children, we were taught to trust in our abilities by our guardians. I am doing this daily for Jai: when he encounters a particular obstacle that he does not believe he can overcome, I reassure and coach him through the steps to overcome it. Because I can see the bigger picture, I know what he can do without me and when I should step in. By granting him the opportunity to learn to trust himself in these moments, he’ll have a better awareness of his abilities.

Life slowly ebbs away the self-trust you built in childhood.

You take one too many blows to your ego; you deal with bullies at home, school, or work; you feel like you fail more often than you succeed. If you have a chronic illness, it might temporarily take physical or mental abilities, which is demoralizing. You reach a self-trust breaking point.

When this happens, we inhabit spaces of the doubt more often than areas of self-trust. It prevents us from taking the necessary steps to get better.

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When Others Influence our Self-Doubt

I forgot about the pull of peer-influence as an adult. It’s still there, in my life like it’s always been, but I’ve learned to tune it out better or deceive myself into thinking that others aren’t influencing my actions. It wasn’t until Jai started mimicking other children that I remembered how significant the influence of others can be in our lives. Self-doubt comes within, but others can influence it as well.

Sometimes friends or family members repeat a concern out of love, but it isn’t delivered appropriately. Other times, people will behave with the intent to bring us down emotionally so they might lift themselves up.

If you experience internalized self-doubt and couple it with externalized behavior of others, it can become extremely discouraging.

When Self-Doubt is Influenced by Others

My external sources of self-doubt aren’t distinct. To be honest, I don’t even believe these sources know they are doing it. As it is for us: we don’t sometimes recognize when we’re bringing someone else down, possibly feeding into their negative internal narrative.

I’ve had people want to help in certain areas of my life only to lose interest when I take them up on it. It’s somewhat discouraging and leaves me feeling bad because I asked for help and inconvenienced them. This plays into my self-doubt because I hate being a burden on others.

I often stop myself from trying something new or different if it requires me asking others for help.

I know someone who has to be the smartest person in the room. It’s infuriating because it’s clear they are insecure about their own abilities. I am often left in awe by the scope of their knowledge on a particular subject that I have little interest in. But when they talk about it with such expertise and enthusiasm, I find myself invested.

When there is knowledge/interest overlap, and I am more knowledgeable on a subject, this individual nitpicks at the minor mistakes I make (often revolves around correcting my spelling in a hastily composed text). They will slide in with “corrections” if they think I got a factoid wrong, though often they are wrong in their corrections. I learned from previous encounters not to say anything because they won’t let it drop, regularly sending me a message many hours later pointing out how they are technically correct.

Coupled with my MS, I find this behavior extremely discouraging. My memory already is spotty, and so I’ve been humbled to no longer trust myself when it comes to information. To have someone pick away at my knowledge base so they might feel better about themselves makes me feel awful.

Choosing not to Listen

We have two choices when it comes to these external influences to our self-doubt: listen to them or not listen to them. I am going to advocate to not listen to them if they make you feel bad.

Sometimes others provide us with excellent objective insight that is worth considering, but we’re discussing the moments their input negatively exacerbates self-doubt.

When I feel bad about asking for help, I found alternative solutions to my situation. Many of these solutions propelled me forward in ways I hadn’t expected. Allowing myself to be tethered to asking for help was holding me back. When I removed the external source of self-doubt, I removed that instance of doubt in my life.

For the person who needs to be smarter than me: I still find it irritating to get caught in a conversation with them, but I no longer allow them to tear me down. Rather than revealing my knowledge on a subject (fortunately they don’t remember what I am knowledgeable about, so this is easy), I just play along with that they are presenting me with new information. I reflect the conversation back and work on being compassionate to their insecurity.

I won’t say it’s easy. I still have my moments where I complain to Ash about them and how irritated I feel about my treatment, but it’s getting more tolerable with each interaction.

If I don’t engage with their behavior, I have no reason to start doubting my memory or intelligence. I consciously make the decision not to give them the opportunity to make me feel bad about myself.

Letting Go of the Negativity

When others exert their influence on us, even unconsciously, it’s because they have their own negativity they have to work through. They may reach a point where they can do so, or they may never get there.

Unfortunately, it’s up to us to forgive them for their behavior towards us. Just like we must forgive ourselves for our mistakes, we must forgive them even when they don’t apologize. When we don’t forgive them, we allow the hurt and pain they cause to continue.

To be clear: forgiveness is not saying their behavior is “okay.” It’s no longer giving power to their action to continue to hurt us emotionally/mentally. When we allow others to feed into our self-doubt, we give them precious head and heart-space. Our time is better spent elsewhere, like taking care of ourselves in our chronic illness.

These people will continue to hurt us, and we will need to continue to forgive them. Hopefully, you will be able to get to a point to either excise them from your life or, it no longer bothers you.

Make the decision no longer let others influence your self-doubt. You don’t need to tell them that you are forgiving them, in fact, unless they ask, there’s no point in saying anything to them. Hopefully, you’ll find the interactions easier once you stop giving into the negativity.

With forgiveness, embrace compassion towards them if you can. These external influences are hurting in their own ways. Understand that their inability to help you or insecurity in their personal life impacts how they behave. It isn’t your fault they are like that, they have ineffective coping mechanisms.

It’s not your job to fix them, but your responsibility to protect yourself. Stay focused on keeping your mind healthy and out of the negative influence of others.


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