Self-Generosity

This post was originally published in December 2017.


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 various 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: social media pages are flooded with posts from others announcing their generosity.

It gets extremely 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 defined recipient.

When we get caught up in the minutiae we completely forget about the importance of taking care of ourselves. We are told that we should be generous with our time and care for others, but it’s extremely hard 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 effective 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 fairly frequent basis. Some of them connect with us and others we either ignore or go, “yeah, if only it was 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. This is a loving 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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Personal Growth (after having a child)

Today is Jai’s 2nd birthday.

I wanted to spend the post reflecting on how much my life changed for the better since his arrival two years ago.  It’s going to be a post about me, but hopefully not too sappy when I talk about Jai and his impact on my life.

Life before a Toddler

To be cliche, life before a child is relatively uncomplicated. Any complications I had to deal with were of my own making. I was in graduate school, dealing with interpersonal drama, and trying to manage my MS. Granted, at the time, I didn’t see how I affected everything around me and how I could untangle myself from my complications, but I wasn’t ready to receive the wisdom that life experience gives to tell me that.

To be fair, life with a child isn’t any more complicated than without – it’s just what becomes complicated shifts and you are now responsible for another human being. Life is complicated in a different way.

Before Jai, my life was completely unfocused. I had to figure out how to handle my diagnosis, I needed to re-prioritize my life, and I needed to figure out what direction I wanted to go in for the long-term. Many moments were spent just allowing myself to be distracted from figuring out what I wanted to do and allowing myself to remain in a rut.

This would include binge-watching TV, comfort eating, playing games, teaching without forward momentum, and finding other means to avoid dealing with what kept me from finding focus.

I thought when I re-prioritized my life after accepting my MS that I was done, but I still engaged in avoidant behavior when it came to making major life decisions. I needed to drop toxic people from my life (and be okay when they left), make serious professional decisions, and do a better job managing my health.

I think in some part having a child was another means of distracting me from making those decisions. I had a biological desire to have a child, but I also wanted to push decision-making down the road for a couple more years. Not a good reason to have a child, by the way. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to the parents.

Changing for the Better

It wasn’t an instantaneous change when Jai was born. I had to recover, readjust, and reprioritize my life with a new family member. A newborn provides a great distraction for those looking to be distracted. But after my MRI in July 2017, coupled with Jai’s increasing solid food diet, I realized that I needed to make some serious life changes.

On the days I drove to work I saw a sign that said: “be the person your dog believes you to be.” I always thought it was a silly sign mainly because I am a cat person and I never gave it much thought to the philosophy behind it. Once I had Jai I reflected on what the sign truly meant (but switched out “a dog” for “a child”): a child views a parent as a protector, educator, and comfort. I realized that I needed to become the person Jai thought I was to the best of my ability.

That’s when I decided to begin my journey towards healthier living, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. Jai didn’t make me change, that wasn’t and never will be his responsibility. I was changing for Jai and mostly for myself. I realized that I was extremely unhappy with where I was in life and that unhappiness was going to impact Jai.

But it would be dishonest to say that I would have made these changes with or without a child. I would like to think that I had enough self-awareness to make the changes eventually, that I would get tired of my status quo, but I don’t think I would have gone in a positive direction. I suspect I would have given up on a lot of things and just existed, waiting for my MS to progress to the point of no return.

I think that having something outside of me and dependant upon me, beyond a cat, was my “rock bottom.” Having Jai was both the highlight of my life up to that point, but the wake-up call I needed to have to make necessary changes. Again, not his responsibility, but for me was the kick in the pants I needed to make improvements.

There are plenty of days where I wish I made these changes before having Jai, but I don’t believe in indulging too much in regret, so here I am.

Moving Forward

I am hoping that I will continue to grow and change in positive ways for Jai. I want to be the person he believes I am: confident, caring, kind, strong, and comfort. It’s important that I model positive behaviors for him so he can become the person I know he can be.

I just find it so hard to believe that another person can make someone want to change for the better. I wanted to be a better person for Ash when we first met, but I moved at a glacier’s pace for him. With Jai, when I made the decision to change it was much faster and more persistent.

I think the best birthday present I could give Jai is my commitment to him and continuing to be the best, yet acceptable imperfect, parent he needs in his life.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Evicting Toxic Tenants, Part 2

This is part two of a two-part post about coping with toxic friendships. I previously discussed the formative relationship that led me to seek out toxic friendships, the anger connection that was the center of these friendships, how I chose to ignore the red flags, and my own toxic role in these friendships. What follows is a continuation of my self-reflection and how I’ve worked towards being healthier in my quest to remove toxic friendships out of my life. 

Read part one here


Preventing Healthy Relationships

By engaging in toxic relationships, I prevented myself from being receptive to healthy friendships. I do have healthy relationships, but the ratio of toxic relationships outweighed the healthy ones since childhood.

I am lucky to know people who want to establish a healthy relationship with me. Unfortunately, in the past, I haven’t done enough to nurture these friendships though I am trying to do more as I change my friendship patterns. I am not quite there yet, but I am hoping I can reach out and do a better job reciprocating once I’ve healed.

There are three main reasons why I stifled healthy relationships: one, the toxic ones took up more time and energy so I couldn’t think about fostering another friendship; two, I didn’t think I deserved healthy friendships because of my own low self-esteem; and three, I was so uncomfortable with the healthy dynamic that I did not know how to handle it.

I found myself suspicious of any healthy relationship. Clearly, the other person wants something out of me and I was unwilling to give it to them. Ironically, I was willing to give a toxic person everything and more, but when the relationship had an equal dynamic I didn’t know how to handle myself. I found myself freezing and not pursuing the friendship hoping it would go away.

Emotionally healthy people scared me for the longest time. I resented that they highlighted my own inadequacies because I never measured up in comparison. I wanted to be where they were without doing the emotional legwork.

I sabotaged healthy relationships throughout my life, which I deeply regret. I don’t know how many awesome friendships I’ve missed out on in favor of the toxic ones. I am very lucky for the healthy ones I have today, and I recognize how patient these friends are with me and how they pursued my friendship with no expectations.

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Evicting Toxic Tenants, Part 1

This is part one of a two-part post about coping with toxic friendships. Today I will talk about the formative toxic relationship in my life, how I connected with others to encourage a toxic relationship, the red flags I ignored, and my own role in a toxic relationship.


For the month of August, I am writing about tidying up the home life: from cleaning the house to effectively organizing my time.

I am also working through some internal cleaning: my mental headspace. Living healthy doesn’t exclusively mean eating right or exercising on a regular basis. It means being mindful of my emotional and mental health as well. It’s easy to focus on the external stuff, like what I eat and how much I exercise, but very hard to concentrate on the energy I give to thoughts, interactions, and even friendships.

Friendships are a sticking point in my internal life.

I have a lot of people I consider friends, some I consider close friends, and fewer considered best friends. In my 30+ years, I have a lot of failed friendships and until recently, rarely did I focus on the successful friendships, but much of my mental energy went towards the unhealthy ones.

Many, if not all, of these failed friendships, were toxic in nature. It is important to note I am not talking about friendships that died due to time, distance, and a lack of communication. The toxic friendships generally did not have geographic issues nor was there a lack of time for the friendship, they failed for other reasons.

When the friendships were dying or at a clear end, I would repeatedly reflect on my perceived failures: lack of perception for the warning signs from the beginning, my role in encouraging the negative friendship, and the length of time I allowed myself to endure the unhealthy dynamic.

What follows is my experience with toxic friendships, the self-reflection I needed to complete to move towards healthier friendships, and the fallout from these situations. This process wasn’t easy, and I am nowhere near finished with it, but I wanted to share my current position both as catharsis and hopefully to show that there isn’t anything wrong with you if you realize you’re in a toxic friendship.

My Toxic Origin Story

I am rather lucky that I can point to the origin of my toxic friendships. It was one individual in my life and how everyone surrounding them responded to their toxic behavior.

It was a family member that I dealt with since I was six years old. I have allowed geography to cut them out of my life which helped me heal, but the scars and patterns remain today from the experience.

This person controlled everyone around them with such toxicity, that the only way to reasonably handle them and keep familial harmony was to give in to their desires. We would eat on their terms. Do activities on their terms. Listen to their problems on their terms. There’s video evidence of them completely changing the mood of the room when they walked in for my sixth birthday. This video saved me from believing I imagined their behaviors when they tried to gaslight me as I grew older.

What I saw growing up with this relative was the following:

  1. It’s important to love a toxic person no matter what. Unconditional love will help them.
  2. Give that toxic person whatever they desire because that’s part of the expression of love. They are broken and only you can help fix them by giving into them.
  3. How they treat you is a measure of your worth: if they treat you badly then you are doing something wrong. If they treat you well, then you are doing something right. Always strive to be treated well.

I dealt with this relative for 18 years, which straddled my formative years on how to foster friendships with others. Unfortunately, what guidance I received to navigate my troublesome peer-relationships didn’t match the example I was given regarding this ever-present familial relationship.

So instead of seeking healthy friendships, I sought the relationship I was most familiar with: a toxic one. I don’t know how many friendships I’ve had that were toxic on some level, and that’s the thing, not all these relationships were toxic in the same way.

Think of it as gradations of toxicity. Sometimes I can overlook toxic behavior because the time spent with the person is more important than the slightly toxic behavior they exhibit from time-to-time. With others, they wrapped up so much of my time and energy that it was a drain to think about the next time I would see them. I will be focusing most of my post on the latter.

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